Monday, December 03, 2012

Monday Poetry Stretch - Opposites

I picked up a couple of books  by Richard Wilbur at our fabulous used bookstore last week. One was THE POEMS OF RICHARD WILBUR (1947), and the other was MORE OPPOSITES (1991). Here's a bit of info from the jacket flap of the latter.
"Richard Wilbur, his wife, and their four children used to play a rather unusual game around the dinner table. One member of the family would suggest a word, and then everyone would join in a lively quarrel about its proper opposite." 
Wilbur's first book based on this game, OPPOSITES, was published in 1973. The poems in both volumes are a bit nutty, thoroughly entertaining, and downright clever. Here's one from MORE OPPOSITES.

The opposite of kite, I'd say,
Is yo-yo. On a breezy day
You take your kite and let it rise
Upon its string into the skies,
And then you pull it down with ease
(Unless it crashes in the trees).
yo-yo, though, drops down, and then
You quickly bring it up again
By pulling deftly on the string
(If you can work the blasted thing).

Here's a nice video of Wilbur reading a number of opposite poems.
So, your challenge for the week is to write on opposites. Leave me a note about your poem and I'll share the results in time for Poetry Friday.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Monday Poetry Stretch - Alexandrine Verse

Last weekend I saw Molieré's play The Learned Ladies performed by the University Players. I was surprised to learn that poet Richard Wilbur had translated/adapted the play. I was quite caught up in the meter and rhyme, and loved the turn of many of the phrases. In some cases I found myself trying to anticipate how the verses would finish. The play opens with two sisters discussing the younger sister's intent to marry the man cast off by the older sister. Here's an excerpt.
What, Sister! Are you truly of a mind
To leave your precious maidenhood behind,
And give yourself in marriage to a man?
Can you be harboring such a vulgar plan?
Yes, Sister.
Yes, you say! When have I heard
So odious and sickening a word?
The rhyme scheme used by Wilbur was based on Alexandrine (Alexandrian) verse. In English this is usually a 12-syllable iambic line, though you can see Wilbur often used 10. 

I do love to write in iambs, and since I've just seen a play about love and marriage and contemplated both a lot while hosting my in-laws this holiday (she writes with a smile), let's write about the virtues (or vices) of love and marriage! There is no requirement for length here, just to write to the topic in iambic pentameter or hexameter.  Leave me a note about your poem and I'll share the results in time for Poetry Friday.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Nonfiction Monday is Here!

Hi Folks! Welcome to Nonfiction Monday. I'm offering up a review of a book about autumn, as well as rounding up today's posts. Read on!

Author/Illustrator: Bruce Goldstone
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
Publication Date: August, 2012
Pages: 48 pages
Grades: K-4
ISBN: 978-0805092103
Source of Book: Borrowed from my local library

Inspired by Thanksgiving, the mounds of leaves in my yard, the rising of Orion in the sky, and the chill in the air, fall is still very much on my mind. As classrooms prepare to head into winter, I hope they'll hold onto to fall for just a bit longer and delve into Bruce Goldstone's book AWESOME AUTUMN. One of the most comprehensive books on fall I've seen in a long time, the text opens with the heading "AUTUMN IS A SEASON OF AWESOME CHANGES." In text and bright photographs Goldstone explains how these changes affect plants, animals, and humans. Readers learn how days get colder and clothes get heavier, days get shorter and nights get longer, leaves change color, frost forms, crops are harvested, animals migrate and hibernate, and so much more. In addition to a cause/effect approach to some of the double page spreads, there are pages about the feel, tastes, shapes, and sounds of autumn. There are also nods to Halloween, Thanksgiving, and what people do in autumn.

The scientist in me is particularly thrilled with the treatment of leaves changing color, how leaves "know" when to fall off the tree, what happens to fallen leaves (decomposition, anyone?), and how frost forms. The text is straightforward and highly accessible for kids. Here's an excerpt.
Leaves that fall can help keep the environment healthy. As they break down, they give food to the earth and to tiny living things in the soil. Fallen leaves also act as sponges. They mix with the soil to help it hold rainwater.
The book ends with pictures of autumn activities and then directions on how to do them.

Overall, this is an engaging and wide-ranging book about fall. Highly recommended.
And now, on to the round up!

Myra from Gathering Books shares a review of Queen of the Falls by Chris Van Allsburg.

Tara from A Teaching Life tells us about a number of books she's been reading including Count on Us: American Women in the Military, Spirit Seeker: John  Coltrane's Musical Journey, and Hand in Hand: Ten Black Men Who Changed America. Check out these Monday reads and more.

Jean from True Tales & A Cherry On Top features the picture book biography Helen's Big World - The Life of Helen Keller.

Jeff from NC Teacher Stuff has a review of Apples A to Z by Margaret McNamara.

Sarah Albee shares an interview and review of Michaela Muntean's book Stay: The True Story of Ten Dogs.

Louise from A Strong Belief in Wicker shares Alison Lester's book about Macquarie Island (a remote subantarctic island), One Small Island.

At Booktalking, Anastasia Suen is reading A Christmas Cookbook: Simple Recipes for Kids by Sarah L. Schuette.

Alice from Supratentorial is sharing three picture book biographies on the likes of Thomas Edison, Julia Child, and Abraham Lincoln.

Jennifer from Jean Little Library also has a picture book biography. See her review of Annie and Helen by Deborah Hopkinson.

Roberta from Wrapped in Foil shares a review of the picture book biography I, Galileo by Bonnie Christensen.

Wendie Old from Wendie's Wanderings writes about the Common Core Standards and encourages us to read the NYTimes article about why kids should read nonfiction.

Ami from A Mom's Spare Time reviews From Peanut to Peanut Butter and Circles, Stars, and Squares: Looking for Shapes. Be sure to leave a comment and your ideas for pairing the books with gifts for a chance to win these titles!

Cindy from Bookends is digging up a hoax with a post about Jim Murphy's book The Giant and How He Humbugged America.

Margo from The Fourth Musketeer shares a review of The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau by Michelle Markel.

Tammy from Apples with Many Seeds writes about The Ruins of Detroit by Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre.

Keep those links coming and check back frequently as I round up today's posts. Happy Nonfiction Monday all!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Monday Poetry Stretch - Prayers and Morning Rituals

Don't ask me where I was last week because I surely won't remember! Work has been crazy busy and I'm feeling like the hole I've dug myself is getting bigger. Perhaps this holiday will afford me some time to catch up.

Even thought I'm going slightly crazy, I still have time to read poetry. These days it's Mary Oliver's work that graces my nightstand. I've been thinking a lot about the poem "I Happen to Be Standing," in which Oliver meditates on her morning ritual with a notebook. The poem begins this way:

I Happened to be Standing

I don't know where prayers go,
   or what they do.
Do cats pray, while they sleep
   half-asleep in the sun?
Does the opossum pray as it 
   crosses the street?
The sunflowers? The old black oak
   growing older every year?

You can hear Oliver talk about this poem and others in this NPR interview.

Do you have a morning ritual? Do you say prayers at night,  in the morning, or whenever the urge hits you? These are the things I'm thinking of and want to write about. Won't you join me? Leave me a note about your poem and I'll share the results in time for Poetry Friday.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Monday Poetry Stretch - To the Dogs

My pound puppy turned 15 on Saturday. She's had a rough year but seems to be doing much better these days. It makes me a bit sad to know her days are numbered. She's been a loyal and constant companion and a good friend. In her honor I'd love to see some dog poems this week. (Sorry all you cat lovers. You'll get a turn one of these days!)

Leave me a note about your poem and I'll share the results in time for Poetry Friday.

Friday, November 02, 2012

Poetry Friday - O Captain! My Captain!

Election day is around the corner. All eyes are on the presidential election. When I think of presidents and poetry I can't help but think of Whitman.

O Captain! My Captain! 
by Walt Whitman

O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done;
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won;
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring:
    But O heart! heart! heart!        
      O the bleeding drops of red,
        Where on the deck my Captain lies,
          Fallen cold and dead.

Read the poem in its entirety.

The roundup this week is being hosted by Donna at Mainely Write. Do stop by and check out all the great poetry being shared. Before you go, do take a minute to see the wonderful poems written for this week's poetry stretch on weather. Happy poetry Friday all!

Blog the Vote - Why Every Citizen Matters

When I was visiting my mother a few weeks ago she told me that the "seniors" she knew weren't going to vote this year. She asked, "What's the point?" Since then I've heard many people suggest that their votes don't count, their voices aren't heard, and that they just don't matter. You know what? THEY'RE ALL WRONG. Before I explain why, here's a bit of a history lesson. Forgive me please, I'm a teacher.

Question - What does the Constitution say about voting rights?
Answer - Actually, there is no right to vote in the United States Constitution. However, a number of amendments to the Constitution have made provision for this right in circumstances where it had been denied.
Fifteenth Amendment (Ratified on February 3, 1870) - The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.
Even though the 15th amendment was ratified in 1870, it took passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 before the majority of African Americans in the South were actually registered to vote. For years states in the south used literacy tests, poll taxes, and other means to prohibit and disenfranchise large numbers of African American voters.

Nineteenth Amendment (Ratified on August 18, 1920) - The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.
It took decades in which suffragettes marched, wrote, picketed, lobbied, spoke, and protested before they were granted the right to vote. At the time, many in America considered this amendment to be a radical change to the Constitution.

Twenty-fourth Amendment (Ratified on January 23, 1964) - The right of citizens of the United States to vote in any primary or other election for President or Vice President, for electors for President or Vice President, or for Senator or Representative in Congress, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State by reason of failure to pay any poll tax or other tax.
Should your financial circumstances determine your eligibility to vote? At the time this amendment was passed the states of Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, Texas, and Virginia were still using poll taxes as a means to exclude African American voters and extend the practice of segregation.

Twenty-sixth Amendment
 (Ratified on July 1, 1971) - The right of citizens of the United States, who are eighteen years of age or older, to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of age.
Imagine you live in a world where you can be drafted to fight for your country, yet aren't afforded the opportunity to vote. That's the position young people found themselves in during the Vietnam War when the voting age was 21. This amendment has the distinction of being ratified in the shortest period of time, only 107 days after its proposal.

It took people from all walks of life many long years of fighting for what was right to ensure that all Americans are entitled to vote. I cannot and will not take for granted the privilege their hard work won for me. The law of this land can only take us so far. If we wish for our "government of the people, by the people, for the people" to serve us well, we MUST exercise this right and see it for the solemn responsibility it is.

It is easy to become complacent and believe that one vote, one voice doesn't matter. But when those missed votes and voices are added up, important and diverse groups in our society are left out. For many, many years voting was a right afforded to privileged white men. We have a come a long way since those days, but we still have a long way to go. Every voice, every opinion matters. We cannot move this country forward without the thoughtful participation of ALL our citizens, young and old, male and female, partisan and non-partisan.

On November 6th I will fulfill my civic responsibility. I will wait in line, no matter how long, and cast my ballot. I will wear my "I Voted" sticker to work. At the end of the day I will come home and spend the evening watching history unfold. No matter the outcome, I will be proud that I participated.  Won't you join me?

You can read what others have to say about the importance of voting at Blog the Vote 2012.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Monday Poetry Stretch - Weathering the Storm

I'm home from school today as we wait to see what Sandy will bring. The forecast is calling for rain, wind, and even snow. Folks around here have doing quite a bit of storm tracking. We're as ready as we can be. So, today I'm thinking about weather. Will you write a weather poem with me this week? Leave me a note about your poem and I'll share the results in time for Poetry Friday.

Before you go, check out the fabulous collection of fairy tale poems written for last week's stretch.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Monday Poetry Stretch - Fairy Tale Poetry

Friday I shared this poem in honor of the upcoming holiday. 
by Eve Merriam

sweet apple,
what do you hide?
Wormy and
rotten inside.

sweet apple,
so shiny and red,
taste it,
don't waste it,
come and be fed.

one bite and
you're dead.
I've always liked this poem, in part because I love fairy tale poetry. Here's another poem I love.
by Neil Gaiman

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

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

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

"Well, yes, perhaps she saw cows,
but also she saw a house."
Read the poem in its entirety.
You can read more poems like this at The Journal of Mythic Arts: Fairy Tale Poems.

This week I'm heading down the fairy tale path. Right now I'm writing poems about magical objects, having been inspired by the apple poem. Perhaps I'll write about a pumpkin coach. Who knows?! I hope you'll join me in writing some fairy tale poetry this week. Leave me a note about your poem and I'll share the results in time for Poetry Friday.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Poetry Friday - Apple

My son asked me last night if he was too old to dress up for Halloween. I've never liked the holiday so I should have said yes, but it seems we'll be making a costume in the coming week. Hoping for a little inspiration today, I pulled a few beloved Halloween poetry books off the shelf.

I actually have two Halloween books by Eve Merriam. One is Halloween ABC, published in 1987 and illustrated by Lane Smith. However, I must say that I am even fonder of the 2002 revised edition retitled Spooky ABC. Besides the absolutely pitch-perfect poems and illustrations, one of the most interesting things about the book is the section at the end entitled "The Awful Truth Behind The Making Of Spooky ABC." In it, Lane Smith describes how the first book and revised edition came about. This section also includes images that were created for the first book, but ultimately dropped because Merriam's poems suggested other illustrations. For example, vampire was lost to viper, tree to trap, and cat to crawler. (I do LOVE the cat illustration, as well as the one for invisible. I wish you could see them!) There is just so much to love in these words and illustrations. Today I'm sharing the poem for the letter A. In the book it is accompanied by an image of a red apple held in a hand with long, slim fingers tipped with long fingernails.
by Eve Merriam

sweet apple,
what do you hide?
Wormy and
rotten inside.

sweet apple,
so shiny and red,
taste it,
don't waste it,
come and be fed.

one bite and
you're dead.
The round up this week is being hosted by Irene Latham at Live Your Poem. 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 on the topic of home. Happy poetry Friday, all!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Monday Poetry Stretch - Home

First, I want to thank everyone who wrote for last week's challenge. While I did not have access the internet while I was away, my smartphone and your poems kept me going. A few of these poems even had me laughing in the face of airline delays and bumpy plane rides. So again, I thank you! Please check out the poems written for the topic On the Road.

I went home last week, but it really isn't home anymore. It happens to be where I grew up. It's where my mother still lives. On the flight back to Richmond I realized that more than half my life now has been spent somewhere outside of the place I still call home. When people ask where I'm from, I still think New York, not Virginia. That response always makes me wonder how people define home. Can you have two homes, not the brick and mortar type, but homes of the heart?

Maybe our poems this week can answer that question. Let's write about home.  Leave me a note about your poem and I'll share the results in time for Poetry Friday.

Monday, October 08, 2012

Monday Poetry Stretch - On the Road

Do you like to travel? I've been doing a lot of obligatory travel lately and it's not nearly as much fun as long-planned and awaited trip. It's also not as much fun as an impromptu day trip. 

I was at a conference last week and I'm leaving again this week to visit my Mom. The former will be much more enjoyable than the later. In any case, travel is on my mind. Whether by car, train, plane, boat, or any other form, hitting the road can be exciting. No matter what happens, travel is always bound to be interesting.

So while this is on my mind, let's write about hitting the road this week. I may even write my own poem while making my way home. Leave me a note about your poem and I'll share the results in time for Poetry Friday.

By the way, last week the challenge was to write personal ad poetry. The results were a lot of fun, so do stop by and check them out.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Cybils Nominations Open Today!

Nominations have opened for the 7th annual Cybils award! Anyone may nominate one book per genre during the public nomination period. If you try to nominate more than one book per genre, or if the book's already been nominated by someone else, you'll get kicked back to the main page. That's okay though, just go with your second or third choice!

Here's the nomination form. I'm off myself to nominate a few favorites.

Monday Poetry Stretch - Personal Ad Poetry

When my issue of The Horn Book arrives in the mail I first turn to the last page. I know I should save it for last, but it's one of my favorite things about the magazine. In the January/February 2008 issue is an  Ad Hoc page by Alicia Potter that reads like the want ads. There are sections on Services Rendered, For Sale, Real Estate, and Personals. These are all perfect little puzzles that beg the reader to determine the books and characters alluded to by the writer. Here's an example.
FRENCH TWIST. Me, you, Paris? Contact Madeline at (011) 33-494-55-87-24.
Now just imagine how much fun this would be if it were written as poetry. 

I gave it a try and here's what I came up with. 
Winter sleeper, spring peeper.
Champion hopper, eyes copper.
Log squatter, loves water.
Eats flies, swimming prize
It needs work, but you get the picture. I tried to write it like the example above, but the lack of line breaks bothered me.

So, there's your challenge, to write a little personal ad poetry. Extra points to you if you can write about a character from children's literature. Leave me a note about your poem and I'll share the results in time for Poetry Friday. Have fun!

Friday, September 28, 2012

Poetry Friday - Reading the Brothers Grimm to Jenny

This week's poetry stretch was to write about school supplies. Folks contributed some really wonderful  poems. You can read the results at Monday Poetry Stretch - School Supplies

I'm still reading poetry about fairy tales. Here's one by Lisel Mueller.
Reading the Brothers Grimm to Jenny
Dead means somebody has to kiss you.
Jenny, your mind commands
kingdoms of black and white:
you shoulder the crow on your left
the snowbird on your right;
for you the cinders part
and let the lentils through,
and noise falls into place
as screech or sweet roo-coo,
while in my own, real world
gray foxes and gray wolves
bargain eye to eye,
and the amazing dove
takes shelter under the wing
of the raven to keep dry. 
Read the poem in its entirety.
The round up today is being hosted by Marjorie at Paper Tigers. Be sure to visit and take in all the great poetry being shared this week.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Monday Poetry Stretch - School Supplies

There's nothing better then getting poetry in your inbox on a daily basis. So, given my love for all things school-related, I was particularly thrilled that this week's American Life in Poetry included a poem ostensibly about a school supply every child needs.
by Daniel J. Langton 
I was sent home the first day
with a note: Danny needs a ruler.
My father nodded, nothing seemed so apt.
School is for rules, countries need rulers,
graphs need graphing, the world is straight ahead. 
Read the poem in its entirety.
This got me thinking about the movie You've Got Mail and this note sent by Joe Fox.
"Don't you love New York in the fall? It makes me wanna buy school supplies. I would send you a bouquet of newly sharpened pencils if I knew your name and address. "

Yes, I ADORE New York in the fall, but I also LOVE school supplies (not the shopping so much). Honestly, have you met a teacher that isn't enamored of the newest twist on colored pencils? Or crayons? I'm quite intrigued by the poetry of Joe Fox's "bouquet of newly sharpened pencils."

Your challenge this week is come up with some poetic turn of your own for some deserving school supply. Leave me a note about your poem and I'll share the results in time for Poetry Friday. 

Monday, September 17, 2012

Monday Poetry Stretch - Photographs

I've been having trouble wrapping my head around a new challenge, as I'm still having fun thinking about last week's stretch, writing the homophoem. (Check out the comments of the post to see all the great poems folks shared.)

Since we've been writing to form the last few weeks, I thought we'd take a topic this week. Did you happen to hear the NPR story last week about the photo historian who found an archive of more than 14,000 photos taken by Charles W. Cushman? Cushman began using Kodachrome soon after it came out and used it to capture the world in ways it had never been seen before. 

You can hear the story at The Found Archive of Charles W. Cushman. Better yet, you can see some of the photos at Lost and Found: Discover a Black-and-White Era in Full Color.

Where is all this leading? I'm thinking about the power of a photograph. Do you have one you treasure? Does it capture a person or a place? What do you love about? Why does it move you?

Let's write about photographs this week. Leave me a note about your poem and I'll share the results in time for Poetry Friday. 

Monday, September 10, 2012

Nonfiction Monday - Planting the Wild Garden

I've seen a number of books over the years about how seeds move from one place to another. PLANTING THE WILD GARDEN, written by Kathryn O. Galbraith and illustrated by Wendy Anderson Halperin, is a beautiful, quiet book that had me hooked from the opening pages. It begins:
The farmer and her boy plant their garden. They drop seeds--tiny, fat, round, and oval--into the earth. From these seeds, pumpkins and peas, carrots and cabbages will grow. In the wild meadow garden, many seeds are planted too, but not by farmer's hands. 
On this first double page spread is a pictures of a woman and her son, both kneeling in the dirt planting seeds. I was most enamored of the illustrations of the growth stages of the pumpkin, carrot, cabbage and pea that border the main illustration.

On the pages that follow are may examples of how wind, water, and animals help seeds disperse. Galbraith uses language that evocatively describes the sounds of the wind (Oooooo--whishhh!), rain Plip-plop!), acorns falling (thump, bump) minnows dining (Gulp! Gulp!) and more. The sentences are simple but so carefully crafted. There is a lovely rhythm to the lines and the story they tell. It all comes full circle when readers learn that people also help to plant the meadow. 

The muted colors and dreamy quality of Halperin's work gives readers much to appreciate. Many of the illustrations beg to be pored over. 

This book is a terrific introduction to seeds, how they travel, and can even be used to introduce the growing stages (life cycle) of plants. I'm using this one with my preservice teachers next week and predict this will become a classroom favorite. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

Author: Kathryn O. Galbraith
Illustrator: Wendy Anderson Halperin
Publisher: Peachtree Publishers
Publication Date: April, 2011
Pages: 32 pages
Grades: K-5
ISBN: 978-1561455638
Source of Book: Personal copy

This review was written for Nonfiction Monday. Head on over to Books Together and check out all the great posts highlighting nonfiction this week.

Monday Poetry Stretch - Homophoem

It's always a pleasure to receive an e-mail from our Children's Poet Laureate, J. Patrick Lewis, especially when he's writing to share a new poetic form. We have him to thank for our stretch this week.

homophoem is a two- to ten-line poem that contains at least one homophone, preferably as the surprise end-word.  

If you haven't studied grammar in a while, homophones are words that share the same pronunciation, irrespective of their spelling, but differ in meaning.  

Here are some examples of the form, all written by Pat.


   No one understood
genetics until Mendel
     went to take a pea

*  *
Zen Football

      The quarterback folds
his hands under the center—
“18, 6, X, haik-! “    

*  *
Not Aloud

A horrid fifth-grader named Nate
Was a bully to every classmate.
     When she sent him to school,
     His mother—no fool—
Made certain Nate’s jacket was strait.

*  *
Foul Ball

When the high school band took their places
In the stands for the Rams vs. Aces,
     A kid hit a home run,
     But confused by the sun,
He kept running around all the basses.

*  *  *  *  *
So, the challenge for the week is to write a homophoem. Leave me a note about your poem and I'll share the results in time for Poetry Friday. 

Friday, September 07, 2012

Poetry Friday - Humdrum

This week's poetry stretch was to write a Nonet. A nonet is a nine line poem where each line contains a decreasing number of syllables, from 9 to 1. You can learn more about this form and read the results at Monday Poetry Stretch - The Nonet.

The poetry stretches since their return have been all about new forms (or at least forms new to me). On Monday, I'll be sharing a new form the J. Patrick Lewis sent me. Do stop by and check it out!

In my spare time (the few minutes before bed each night) I am reading Sandburg.

57. Humdrum
by Carl Sandburg

If I had a million lives to live
    and a million deaths to die
    in a million humdrum worlds,
I’d like to change my name
    and have a new house number to go by      
    each and every time I died
    and started life all over again.

I wouldn’t want the same name every time
    and the same old house number always,
    dying a million deaths,      
    dying one by one a million times:
    —would you?
              or you?
                    or you?

The round up today is being hosted by Katya Czaja at Write. Sketch. Repeat. Be sure to visit and take in all the great poetry being shared this week.

Monday, September 03, 2012

Nonfiction Monday - Bugs By the Numbers

BUGS BY THE NUMBERS, written and illustrated by Sharon Werner and Sarah Forss, is a book I have a love/hate relationship with. Let's start with the stuff the "bugs" me (no pun intended) so that I can get on to the many things I love about it. Please bear with me while I put on my scientist hat.

First, I really dislike the use of the word bugs as a broad classification for arthropods and other "creepy crawly" creatures. Here's a rundown on the classification system and where these organisms are found.
Domain - Eukarya / Kingdom - Animal / Phylum - Arthropod

Arthropods are composed of five classes of organisms--arachnids, insects, crustaceans, centipedes, and millipedes. Now, hemiptera is an order of insects known as "true bugs." Included here are stink bugs, cicadas, aphids, water striders and more. 

The animals highlighted in this book are ant, butterfly, dobsonfly, fly, ladybug, spider, centipede, grasshopper, walking stick, leaf insect, scorpion, dragonfly, bee, mosquito, firefly, flea, cockroach, praying mantis, tick, bed bug, beetle, termite, and earthworm. All come from the phylum arthropod with the exception of the earthworm. This raises my second concern regarding the use of the word bug. Annelids are a phylum in the animal kingdom consisting largely of segmented worms. Earthworms fall within this phylum. They are not bugs in any sense of the word. I will admit that the term "worm" is used rather loosely and  is sometimes used to refer to certain forms of insect larvae (think mealworms, glowworms, inchworms, etc.). The authors do explain in the fine print on the earthworm page that all bugs evolved from earthworms. Even so, I find their inclusion here troubling. It's the one page that I skip while sharing this book with students.  

Now that I've had may little science rant, let's talk about the really amazing features of this book. When I read this book I begin by reading a bit from the jacket flap, as two brief rhyming stanzas do a terrific job introducing the contents of the book.
Each bug on these pages
Looks unique and rare,
Not like the insects
You see everywhere.

They're made up of numbers:
The ones that you count.
'Cause when you think bugs,
You think BIG amounts.
When you open the pages you'll find 23 different animals constructed from numbers of varying sizes and font faces. Many of the pages have fun flaps and flip-out sections. On every page there is a wealth of information on the animal, always highlighting in some way the numbers used to create it. For example, the ant is composed of 1s, 2s, and 3s, with each number comprising a different body segment (1s-head, 2s-thorax, 3s-abdomen). A fold-out flap of a leaf includes the number 3 and the fact that like other insects, ants have 3 body parts. When the flap is lifted up, 50 ants form the number 50. Beneath the number is this fact. "Ants can lift 50 times their own body weight. If you could do that, you'd be able to life a car." The fold-out flap on the bottom of the page looks like a pile of dirt. When it is folded down, a picture of ant tunnels beneath the ground is accompanied by the fact "An ant colony can reach 20 feet below ground. " In addition to these numbers and facts, readers learn that ants have 2 stomachs, that worker ants can take 250 short naps a day, and that queen ants can live for 30 years. As you can see, this one double-page spread is jam-packed with information. Nineteen of the animals in the book receive such extended treatment, with only four (dobsonfly, fly, tick and bedbug) garnering only a single page each.

My favorite page is the beetle page. While the graphic highlights the rhinocerous beetle, the bits of information along the bottom of the page describe a few standouts in the beetle family. Did you know that the fastest-running insect is the Australian Tiger Beetle? Or the that Goliath Beetle is the world's heaviest insect? Or that there are over 300,000 species of beetles on the planet? 

Want to know or see more? Check out the BUGS BY THE NUMBERS photostream on Flickr.

It's clear from the outset that Werner and Forss anticipated the kind of concern I raised about the use of the word bug. Here's an excerpt from the introductory page.
Now some smarties might notice
As the go through and look,
Not every creature is a bug in this book. 
Not all critters that fly or crawl  on the ground
Are technically bugs, but we both have found
Mos folks call them bugs, and since they do,
We figured, why not? We'd call them "bugs" too. 
Real bugs are insects, but not all insects are bugs
And spiders are neither (oh, please don't say, "Ugh").
So yes, the authors beg a bit of latitude in the beginning. I do think that if you use this in any kind of science context this needs to be explained and perhaps examined in a bit more depth.

Despite my concerns regarding the use of the word bug and the inclusion of the earthworm, I find the bulk of the book to be gorgeously constructed, highly engaging, and chock full of interesting tidbits. The kids in your classroom will be fighting over this one, so you may want more than one copy. RECOMMENDED.

Author/Illustrator:  Sharon Werner and Sarah Forss
Publisher: Blue Apple Books
Publication Date: April 2011
Pages: 56 pages
Grades: 3-8
ISBN: 978-1609050610
Source of Book: Copy borrowed from my local public library

P.S. - Did I mention that their new book, Alphasaurs and Other Prehistoric Types, comes out in October?

This review was written for Nonfiction Monday. Head on over to The Swimmer Writer and check out all the great posts highlighting nonfiction this week.

Monday Poetry Stretch - The Nonet

I've been spending time researching forms I haven't tried before. I'm actually pleased with how many new ones (new to me, at least) that I've found. This week I'd like to try the nonet. Here's a description of the form.
A nonet is a nine line poem. The first line containing nine syllables, the next line has eight syllables, the next line has seven syllables. That continues until the last line (the ninth line) which has one syllable. Nonets can be written about any subject. Rhyming is optional.
You can read more about this form and see a few examples at Poetry Dances - Nonet

Leave me a note about your poem and I'll share the results in time for Poetry Friday.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Poetry Friday - Assorted Bits and School Buses

Happy poetry Friday all! I have some odds and ends and an old favorite to share today.

This week's poetry stretch was to write a Lai. The Lai is a French syllabic verse form consisting of one or more stanza of nine lines with two rhymes. This was a tough challenge, but many folks took up the gauntlet. You can learn more about this form and read the results at Monday Poetry Stretch - The Lai

If you haven't been to David Harrison's blog lately, you've missed a lot of fun. J. Patrick Lewis contributed poems for a form he calls First Lines, Bowlderized. Many wonderful writers contributed their own poems. Do stop by and check them out!

Many have gone back to school, while others will return next week. This time of year always reminds me of this poem.
School Buses
by Russell Hoban
(found in The Pedaling Man and Other Poems) 
You'd think that by the end of June they'd take themselves
Away, get out of sight -- but no, they don't; they
Don't at all. You see them waiting through
July in clumps of sumac near the railroad, or
Behind a service station, watching, always watching for a
Child who's let go of summer's hand and strayed. I have
Seen them hunting on the roads of August -- empty buses
Scanning woods and ponds with rows of empty eyes. This morning
I saw five of them, parked like a week of
Schooldays, smiling slow in orange paint and
Smirking with their mirrors in the sun --
But summer isn't done! Not yet!
The round up today is being hosted by Sylvia Vardell at Poetry for Children. Be sure to visit and take in all the great poetry being shared this week.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Nonfiction Monday - Potatoes on Rooftops

I grew up in western NY surrounded by dairy farms. Even today the house I grew up in is surrounded largely by fields and not the kind of suburban housing developments that seem to be swallowing up our green space. Because of these roots I've always made room in my teaching for agriculture lessons. Too many kids today just don't understand where their food and fiber comes from. If they live in a city, they may have even missed opportunities to tend a garden of their own. However, urban gardening has grown in popularity as families and individuals explore ways to eat healthier and in a manner that is more environmentally conscious.

In POTATOES ON ROOFTOPS: FARMING IN THE CITY, Hadley Dyer gives us a book that shows just how manageable eating locally can be and how important it is for personal health and the health of our planet. She also highlights the urban farming movement and shares a wealth of ideas for getting kids involved.

Part 1: Hungry Cities does a fine job outlining the issues concerning city living, the number of miles it now takes to get food to people, and how many city dwellers find themselves living in a food desert, an area where there are no sources of good food close by. Imagine you live on a low income and can't easily travel to another neighborhood. The options aren't good, especially when "convenience stores charge up to one-and-a-half times as much as a grocery store. So a carton of eggs might cost $4.00 instead of $2.50. The only other option might be a fast-food restaurant, where the calories are plentiful but the food is full of fat and salt." All this important background information sets the stage for delving into the myriad of ways urban farming can and does occur.

Part 2: Plant a Seed describes the different forms urban gardening takes. Beyond traditional pots and rooftop gardens, people can grow food on trellises or on specially designed walls. In Los Angeles, the Urban Farming Food Chain Project "created food-producing wall panels that are mounted buildings." Dyer provides readers a great deal of information on how to get started, what to grow, and what to grow it in. The ideas are clever and often use recyclable materials.

Part 3: Green Your City looks at harvesting water, composting, raising small animals, growing vegetables inside, and much more. There's an interesting look in this chapter, as well as the others, at what folks in other parts of the world raise and how they do it.

Part 4: Your Green Thumb focuses on the principle of "Think globally, act locally." It is much easier to become involved in this movement, both personally and at the community level than one would think. Dyer describes some fo the projects in cities around the world, as well as the ways people are reclaiming spaces in their cities for agriculture. For example, in Detroit many vacant lots are being used for agriculture projects. The charity Urban Farming "has established gardens throughout the city that are tended by community groups, and the harvest is given away for free."

The book ends with a glossary, a section entitled Learn How to Start Your Urban Farm which contains a number of suggested titles, an annotated bibliography of web sites for further information, and a lengthy list of acknowledgements.

The images in the book have been carefully selected and nicely complement the text. I was particularly surprised and engaged with the number of "extra" facts/stories that were inserted that expanded on an idea or presented something tangentially related to the topic. I learned quite a bit from these pieces and they gave me even more to ponder. Here's an excerpt.
Former South African president Nelson Mandela spent 27 years as a political prisoner on Robben Island. He dug into the rocky soil with his bare hands to create a vegetable patch that was just 0.9m (one yards) wide and shared his harvest with fellow prisoners. People visit his garden today as a monument of kindness, perseverance, and hope. 
If Mandela's humble garden had the power to transform lives, what could we do with the space, tools, and technology available in our cities?
I've been growing herbs in a pot for some time now, constantly frustrated by the poor soil in my yard. Dyer has convinced me that I can do so much more with just a bit of effort, and that it will be well worth it. Overall, Dyer makes an inspiring and powerful case for urban farming. I'm ready! How about you? RECOMMENDED.

Author: Hadley Dyer
Publisher: Annick Press
Publication Date: July, 20102
Pages: 84 pages
Grades: 5-10
ISBN: 978-1554514243
Source of Book: NetGalley digital review copy

This review was written for Nonfiction Monday. Head on over to Simply Science and check out all the great posts highlighting nonfiction this week.

Monday Poetry Stretch - Lai

The Lai is a French syllabic verse form consisting of one or more stanza of nine lines with two rhymes, though the rhyme can vary from stanza to stanza. Here are features of the form.

  • 9 lines.
  • Rhyme scheme is a-a-b-a-a-b-a-a-b.
  • Lines ending with rhyme a are five syllables in length.
  • Lines ending with rhyme b are two syllables in length.

 You can read more about this form and its variants at Poetry Form - The Lai. You can read an example at The Poet's Garret.

Leave me a note about your poem and I'll share the results in time for Poetry Friday.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Poetry Friday - Edgar Allan Poe's Pie

I'm a sucker for math poetry, love parodies, and am a J. Patrick Lewis fangirl, so it should come as no surprise that the book I shared with all my teachers this summer was EDGAR ALLAN POE'S PIE: MATH PUZZLERS IN CLASSIC POEMS.

What's not to love about cleverly disguised math problems? Or rib-tickling parodies of classic poems?

Can you guess the classic that inspired this poem?
Once upon a midnight rotten,
Cold, and rainy, I'd forgotten
All about the apple pie
Still cooling from the hour before.
I ignored the frightful stranger
Knocking, knocking . . . I, sleepwalking,
Pitter-pattered toward the pantry,
Took a knife from the kitchen drawer,
And screamed aloud, "How many cuts
Give me ten pieces?" through the door,
          The stranger bellowed, "Never four!"
Go ahead, draw a circle and give it a try! The answer can be found upside-down on the opposing page. (Look it up or figure it out because I'm not telling!) Mathematically you could use four cuts, however, the pieces would not be equal in size.

Another poem takes the final lines of "Stopping By Woods On a Snowy Evening" and replaces them with these words:
My tightie whities look so sad.
My tightie whities look so sad.
Yup, it's sacrilege of the best kind. Kids will have fun reading and solving these. Hopefully some smart teachers will share the originals with kids and maybe even have them try some mathematical parodies of their own.

Here's one more to whet your appetite. Yes, it contains fractions, but be brave!
Edward Lear's Elephant with Hot Dog
Inspired by "There Was An Old Man With a Beard" by Edward Lear 
When an elephant sat down to order
A half of a third of a quarter
     Of an eighty-foot bun
     And a frankfurter, son
Was it longer than three feet, or shorter?
The round up this week is being hosted by Doraine Bennett at Dori Reads. Do stop by and take in the terrific poetry being share. Happy poetry Friday!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Nonfiction Monday - World Without Fish

Last year I wrote a review of THE STORY OF SALT by Mark Kurlansky. I love Kurlansky's work in children's literature as he possesses great skill in making complex ideas accessible to kids. Heck, his work for adults is just as well-written, clearly conveying history and science in interesting and meaningful ways.

Unlike THE STORY OF SALT and THE COD'S TALE, which are nonfiction picture books aimed at ages 7-10, WORLD WITHOUT FISH weaves a graphic novel throughout the informational text and is geard towards older students, perhaps ages 10-16.

When I picked this book up last year I was looking for resources for teaching about food chains and food webs, but Kurlansky goes well beyond this in his determination to describe the causes and effects of overfishing on marine ecosystems.

In the Introduction Kurlansky writes, "Most stories about the destruction of the planet involve a villan with an evil plot. But this is the story of how the Earth could be destroyed by well-meaning people who fail to solve a problem simply because their calculations are wrong. Most of the fish we commonly eat, most of the fish we know, could be gone in the next fifty years."

Yeah, so this is not a happy story. It carries a heavy dose of doom and gloom, and while this is a scary message, it's one everyone needs to hear. I'll admit that I'm not usually keen on introductions, and this one is a crash course on Darwin, biological classification, the interconnectedness of things living and nonliving in the environment, and more. It does set the stage for the book, but it's a lot to take in at the beginning. The introduction ends with The Story of Kram and Aliat: Part 1, the graphic novel woven through the text. In fact, each chapter ends with a page of the story. These parts follow a young girl, Aliat, and her father, Kram, over a number of decades as the condition of the ocean grows increasingly bleak. Eventually it becomes an orange mess inhabited largely by leatherback turtles and jellyfish.

Following the Introduction there are these chapters:
  1. Being a Short Exposition About What Could Happen and How It Would Happen
  2. Being the True Story of How Humans Frist Began to Fish and How Fishing Became an Industry
  3. Being the Sad, Cautionary Tale of the Orange Roughy
  4. Being the Myth of Nature's Bounty and How Scientists Got It Wrong for Many Years
  5. Being a Concise History of the Politics of Fish
  6. Being an Examination of Why We Can't Simply Stop Fishing
  7. Being a Detailed Look at Four Possible Solutions and Why They Alone Won't Work
  8. The Best Solution to Overfishing: Sustainable Fishing
  9. How Pollution is Killing Fish, Too
  10. How Global Warming is Also Killing Fish
  11. Time to Wake Up and Smell the Fish
You'll also find a lengthy section of resources and an index, but surprisingly, you won't find any references. Now, Kurlansky did work at one time as a commercial fisherman and has written a number of books on the industry, so he does have firsthand knowledge of the topic. He also thanks a number of biologists in the Acknowledgements at the end of the book, so I know he's talked to the experts. However, given that this is not a nonfiction picture and is targeted to an older group of readers, I think references are a must. 

Now that you know what I perceive to be the main weakness of the book, let me talk for a minute about all Kurlansky and Frank Stockton, the illustrator, do well. First, the text is imminently readable. Kurlansky makes the science understandable, underscores the causes and effects of the problems with many meaningful examples, and uses an arsenal of writer's tools to make the reader want to press on despite the incredibly depressing content. Kurlansky is a terrific storyteller, seamlessly integrating history, science, and politics into a compelling narrative. The text is littered with photographs, illustrations, sidebar pieces, maps, and more. Graphic variations in the font, similar to "SHOUTY CAPITALS" in e-mail correspondence serve to highlight important ideas and keep readers involved with the text. They also serve as natural stopping places to reflect on the gravity of the situation. Every so often reader's run across a full-page illustration that highlights some bit of information on the opposing page. Like the endpapers of the book, they are beautifully rendered and dramatic. Sadly, there are too few for my liking. 

I learned a great many things while reading this book and was reminded of some other things I hadn't thought of for a while. Here are few points that stood out for me.
  • The jellyfish is actually a very highly evolved type of plankton. It is the cockroach of the sea, an animal little loved by human beings but particularly well designed for survival (p. 13). (For more on this check out Zooplanton at
  • Several times the size of the elephant, the humpback whale is one of the largest mammals on earth—and yet it feeds on one of the tiniest forms of life in the world (p. 42).
  • For thousands of years, fishing was sustainable. But nowadays, between 100 and 120 million tons of sea life are killed by fishing every year (p.85).
  • Fish prefer colder waters. The warming of the seas is a crisis for fish. If the seas are warming and ice is melting, this means that the melted ice, which is freshwater, will make the seas less salty (pp. 139-140).
As you can see, there is much to learn and ponder here. There is a ray of hope beginning on p. 149 when Kurlansky writes "What can we do about this?" The answer is, quite a bit! What we need to do is educate ourselves about all the ways we can help.

One more thing worth noting and something I appreciated was the inclusion of a quote from Darwin's ORIGIN OF THE SPECIES at the beginning of each chapter, each quote nicely aligned with the overall theme. These quotes give readers just one more thing to chew on. Perhaps some will even be inclined to pick up the book to learn more.

Overall, Kurlansky makes a powerful case here for not only the promise of sustainable fishing, but also its necessity for the health of our planet. RECOMMENDED.

Author:  Mark Kurlansky
Illustrator: Frank Stockton
Publisher: Workman Publishing Company
Publication Date: 2011
Pages: 192
Grades: 5-12
ISBN: 978-0761156079
Source of Book: Personal copy purchased at a local independent bookstore

This review was written for Nonfiction Monday. Head on over to Jean Little Library and check out all the great posts highlighting nonfiction this week.

Monday Poetry Stretch - Trimeric

After a long hiatus, the Monday Poetry Stretch is back! I hope a few of you are still out there and ready to take on some new challenges and forms.

The trimeric is a form that was invented by Dr. Charles A. Stone. Here's how he describes it.
Trimeric \tri-(meh)-rik\ n: a four stanza poem in which the first stanza has four lines and the last three stanzas have three lines each, with the first line of each repeating the respective line of the first stanza.  The sequence of lines, then, is abcd, b – -, c – -, d – -.
At first I thought this would be relatively easy because the first lines of stanzas 2, 3 and 4 are already written (seeing as how they use lines 2, 3 and 4 of the first stanza). Boy, was I wrong! That first four line stanza is so important! The lines must hang together, but they must also be able to stand on their own as introductions to the other stanzas. 

There are many examples on Dr. Stone's trimerics page. Here is one of my favorites.
by Dr. Charles A. Stone 
I sent her a secret message on her birthday,
though she thought it was an ordinary card
in an every day envelope
from the innocent boy next door. 
Though she thought it was an ordinary card
she taped it to the wall with others she had
received in her eleventh year.  Then, 
in an every day envelope,
she mailed a simple thank-you note
back to me, but she forgot to sign it. 
From the innocent boy next door
to the man I am today, I’ll never forget how hard
I cried because I had forgotten to add I love you. 
Published with the author’s permission.
So, your challenge for the week is to write a trimeric. Leave me a note about your poem and I'll share the results on Poetry Friday.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Science, Poetry, and Inspiration From Lowry

I'm writing the syllabus for my science class right now and am finding a great deal of inspiration in this quote from Lois Lowry.
A sense of wonder comes built in with every child. Powers of absorption greater than the most up-to-date Pampers are part of youth's standard equipment.
This comes from a piece Lowry wrote in response to calls for censorship of THE GIVER and is called Trusting the Reader. You can find it in the Kerlan Collection's Censorship Portfolio. (Scroll down the page to the author's response section for the link to the pdf.)

While Lowry was talking about readers in this piece, it most certainly applies to the teaching and learning of science. That curiosity about the world around us is one of things teachers need to kindle and encourage. Too often it's what is quashed by the lack of time afforded to science and the emphasis on teaching to the test. It is hard to find balance, but I'm convinced it can be done.

This sense of wonder and the ability to look closely and see beyond the surface of things is not unique to science and the work of scientists. It is also the work of the poet. Poets not only see deeply, but they see uniquely and encourage us to view the world from a different perspective. For example, I've never seen numbers the same way since reading this poem.
Cardinal Ideograms
by May Swenson

0     A mouth.  Can blow or breathe,
       be a funnel, or Hello.

1     A grass blade or cut.

2     A question seated.  And a proud
       bird’s neck.

3     Shallow mitten for a two-fingered hand.

4     Three-cornered hut
       on one stilt.  Sometimes built
       so the roof gapes.

And I've never seen the sky the same way since reading this poem.
The Blue Between
by Kristine O'Connell George 
Everyone watches clouds,
naming creatures they've seen.
I see the sky differently,
I see the blue between—

Read the poem in its entirety
See what I mean about seeing the world through a different lens? In the hands of a skilled poet, poetry can astound. And therein lies another connection to science. When kids embrace science (play, discover, and do, NOT memorize), it too has the power to amaze. 

Unpacking and Finding My Way Back...

For most of the summer my office looked like this.

All the while I tried to teach and keep my cool while working out of boxes and bags. 
Now I am unpacking and working hard (yes, on a Saturday) to get myself ready for the academic year. Here's what my new digs look like.

I have new paint, carpet and lights. The window will replaced at some point (they're WAY behind schedule) during the semester. OH HOW I MISSED MY BOOKS! They were so close but so far away while packed up.

Monday poetry stretch will be returning this week, as will a few reviews here and there beginning with this book by J. Patrick Lewis.
Sorry, but I've got math on the brain right now so you'll have to be patient while I work it out of my system!

So yeah, I have my computer back (though it's still not 100%), my work space, and my books. I'm ready to go. And by the way, I've missed you too!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Where is Miss Rumphius?

This question has a two part answer.

Here is my office.

Here is my computer.

It's been MANY, MANY days and I'm still waiting for the new hard drive and the files from the corrupted/damaged disk to be transferred.

I don't know how folks update their blogs by phone. I just can't do it. Keep your fingers crossed that one day soon I'll get my computer back. As to my office, it looks to be behind schedule. I'm living out of bags, boxes and a storage closet. Are we having fun yet?!

I'll be back when the dust settles. I promise.