Monday, December 15, 2008

Review: The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree

This year I went shopping for a Christmas story for my five-year-old nephew. When I looked at the range of titles on display, before I realized it, my hand had picked up The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree. In so many ways, it was the perfect book for him.

Although it is a very sweet story of love and hope fulfilled in an earlier time than ours, it isn't necessarily a simpler time because the story occurs during and immediately following World War I. It was a time of such upheaval in the world that it reached even to the farthest places in the Appalachian Mountains where the story takes place.

The real connection for my nephew is that his mother went to school not far from where this story takes place at Grandfather Mountain, North Carolina. And he actually has come to visit a friend in a cabin in Maggie Valley - also in the same mountain range. Since he lives in Florida where there is not much of a chance for a white Christmas, I know that he will be able to relate this story to his post-Christmas visits in our snowy mountains.

There doesn't have to be a personal connection for a story to have an impact on us, of course, but I think it's a lovely bonus when there is one. This story by Gloria Houston and illustrated by Barbara Cooney is one of the handful of modern classic Christmas stories that stands the test of time year after year. It is a story that is gently told and beautifully illustrated about love and hope and the magic of Christmas.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Review: Singing to the Sun

What a beautiful storybook this is. This new fairy tale by Vivian French unfolds as it should and Jackie Morris' illustrations are lush and gorgeous. Renaissance motifs and jewel tones bring this magical story alive.

In all good fairy tales, there is a clear depiction of good and evil and Singing to the Sun follows this tradition. Our hero is raised in a loveless home by a father focused on power and a mother focused on wealth. He is watched over and nurtured by the court jester and a wise tabby cat.

When he leaves his home to find his fortune, adventure and surprises are in store. There is a unique twist at the end of the story which brings the story to a delightful and satisfactory conclusion. This is a book to linger over and read again and again with your favorite child.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Review: Give a Goat

This true story of a fifth-grade class that raised money to donate to Heifer International was written by the daughter of the organization's founder. Jan West Schrock grew up in a house where philanthropy and community were integrated into family life. As a career educator, Mrs. Schrock had many opportunities to travel and work with children around the world and to see in person the impact of "passing on the gift."

Investing in families by giving them a goat (or a cow or chickens or...) provides them the opportunity to feed their families and improve their situation. "Passing on the gift" requires that the family pass on a baby goat or chicks to another family and so on throughout the community until all the families have increased their standard of living. From a tiny idea, Heifer has now helped more than 8.5 million people in more than 125 countries - even in the U.S.

The idea that even "regular fifth graders" can change the world is an inspiring story that deserves to be shared with young children so that just like Mrs. Schrock, they will grow up with an understanding of the importance of helping others and building communities.

Watercolor illustrations by Aileen Darragh complement the story by bringing the kids and their journey to life realistically and with a dose of humor.

At the Tilbury House website, there are curriculum activities and lesson plans that will help teachers integrate this book into a larger unit on global issues, world poverty and hunger, philanthropy, and the importance of helping others through service learning.

This is a terrific story of how anyone and everyone can make a significant difference in our world - an increasingly important message as we prepare our students to become 21st century global citizens.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Most Interesting Bookstores in the World

Readers are booklovers and booklovers love libraries and bookstores. Some of us make it a point to visit well-known libraries and bookshops as we travel. If I ever get to Buenos Aires, the El Ateneo bookstore pictured here will definitely be on my itinerary.

It looks magnificent and practically worth the trip all by itself. Of the stores around the world featured here, the only one I have been to is Shakespeare & Co. in Paris. I understand that they've moved the shop now and I can well believe they had to. It was cozy and historical and in need of some repair.

But whenever you've found this many books in one place, whether it be a library or bookshop, you've found a sanctuary. Enjoy.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Review: Late for School

For many families, getting out the door and to school on time each day is a challenge. But what happens if the teacher wakes up late? That is the premise of Stephanie Calmenson's inventive story accompanied by Sachiko Yoshikawa's whimsical illustrations.

Mr. Bungles has a strict rule that absolutely no one should be late for school. When he wakes up late one morning, he experiences one travel disaster after another - the kind of cascade failure that many of us have experienced when running late. Beginning with his car not starting, Mr. Bungles tries a train, bus, animal van, hot air balloon, unicycle and finally his feet before he finally gets to school. Once there, of course, his students remind him of his rule which then, of course gets modified.

A fun quick read, colorful charming illustrations with lots of conversation starters about transportation and the reasons for rules.

Monday, October 6, 2008

The Case of the Missing Books

Although not specifically a book for the teen-YA crowd, The Case of the Missing Books by Ian Sansom is a terrific introduction to genre fiction for teens looking for a good read. Very commonly, genre fiction such as science fiction, romance, and mystery are the first adult books that teens read outside of the classics they study in high school English.

There is much to recommend genre fiction for teens.
First of all, with rare exceptions, they are "appropriate" by most standards meaning there is little in the books to morally offend. It's clear who the white and black hats are. Secondly, the emphasis in genre fiction is on telling a good story rather than creating literary beauty. Although those things are certainly not mutually exclusive. Thirdly, if a teen likes the story, they are usually part of a series; so more to read.

As I am always a sucker for stories about books and libraries, and I was looking for a quick, fun read, I picked this up at the bookstore over the weekend. As is true in much genre fiction, this book is part of a series. In fact, it is the beginning of a new series called "A Mobile Library Mystery" series.

The protagonist, Israel Armstrong, is a nebbish, vegetarian Londoner who has taken a job in a small Northern Ireland community to become the local librarian only to find upon his arrival that the library has been closed and all the books have gone missing. As he learns about his new community as chief sleuth, he encounters a full range of eccentric characters on the search for the missing books. As this is the first of a new series, there are introductions to a host of characters who are quirky. Some are recognizable stock characters who we would expect to see more of in future stories, but others are intriguing introductions with back stories that we can hope will be shared in further adventures.

Because at heart this is a book about libraries, there are some wonderful lyrical passages about libraries and books such as the following:
Israel had grown up in and around libraries. Libraries were where he belonged. Libraries to Israel had always been a constant. In libraries, Israel had always known calm and peace; in libraries he'd always seemed to be able to breathe a little easier. When he walked through the doors of a library it wa like entering a sacred space, like the Holy of Holies: the beautiful hush and shunting of the brass-handled wooden drawers holidng the card catalogues, the reassurance of the reference books and the eminent OEDs, the amusing little troughs of children's books; all human life was there, and you could borrow it and take it home for two weeks at a time, nine books per person per card.


Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Banned Books Week

Even though I've been distracted by other things (like working for my clients) and not keeping up with this blog very well, I can't let Banned Books Week pass without a comment or two.

Special interest groups or individuals who force the banning of certain books from school and public libraries are anaethma to a free society. Restricting access to information is not a component of a free and democratic society. Period.

Many wonderful titles have suffered the indignity of being challenged by people who have appointed themselves as moral watchdogs of their communities. The list of banned books which you can find here, always surprises those who see it for the first time. Not only are dictionaries on the list but also such beloved classics as the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Farenheit 451 (ironically), and Catcher in the Rye, etc.

For a wonderful essay on Banned Books, check out Cheryl Rainfield's blog. Here is my review last fall on the wonderful Higher Power of Lucky - also a banned book. And, as always, the most up-to-date information about challenged and banned books can be found at the American Library Association.

Don't let someone else make the decision about what you will or won't read.Freedom to choose our own reading material is a critical success factor for vibrant societies.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

"Mrs. Riley Bought Five Itchy Aardvarks" and Other Painless Tricks for Memorizing Science Facts

Brian P Cleary and J.P. Sandy have written and illustrated (respectively) a marvelous science books for kids. Filled with mnemonic devices (tricks that help us remember facts), this book is chock full of poems and memory tricks for earth and space science, physical and life science, and the scientific method.

One year ago in a Meme post, I mentioned that something I knew that I would not blog about were the prepositions in alphabetical order to the tune of Yankee Doodle. That is a mneumonic device and a very successful one since I haven't gotten it out of my head since 5th grade.

The title "Mrs Riley Bought Five Itchy Aardvarks" is a mneumonic device to help us remember the six major animal groups: Mammals, Reptiles, Birds, Fish, Insects and Amphibians. Another terrific device ticks off the list of planets in our solar system in their order from the sun: "Mel's Very Excited Ma Just Served Us Nachos." This reminds us that the planets are Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. Pluto was demoted last year to dwarf planet status so is no longer part of the list.

My favorite item in the entire book (which is saying something as there is so much here) is a long poem about matter. Here are the first two verses:
Whether you hold it
or mold it or spin it
Whether you drink it
or mix something in it
Everything, everywhere's
one of these things:
a Solid, Liquid or Gas.

Whether it's floating
or streaming or gleaming.
Whether it's shedding
or spreading or steaming.
Everything, everywhere's
one of these things
a Solid, Liquid or Gas.

The humorous illustrations and rich saturated colors make this book a fun read. And, hey, you'll learn some great science facts as well.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Silent Music: A Story of Baghdad

Silent Music by James Rumford is a wonderful yet heartwrenching tale of a young Iraqi boy named Ali who loves to play soccer, listen to loud music and practice calligraphy. As he practices the intricate Arabic letters of simple words and family names, he says:

"I love to make the ink flow - from my pen stopping and starting, gliding and sweeping, leaping, dancing to the silent music in my head."

Or this, "Writing a long sentence is like watching a soccer player in slow motion as he kicks the ball across the field, as I leave a trail of dots and loops behind me."

Ali and his family live a normal, middle-class life until a "frightening night in the year 2003" when a series of long night of bombing forever changes their city of Bagdad. Ali stays up all night during th bombing and practices his calligraphy over and over trying to fill his mind with peace.

As the months of war turn into years, Ali notes:
"It's funny how easily my pen glides down the long, sweeping hooks of the word HARB - stubbornly it resists me when I make the difficult waves and slanted staff of SALAM - much I have to practice until this word flows freely from my pen."

The pallette of the illustrations reflect the sun-kissed tones of a desert landscape as well as the intricate and vibrant patterns of traditional Muslim art and decoration.

This would be an excellent story to discuss the impact of war with young children. By seeing Ali as a boy much like themselves, children can learn about the disruption of life that war causes. As the war in Iraq continues after five years, we can only wonder what has happened to all the families like Ali's who were once living a life very similar to our own and that now has been forever changed.

Review: I Know an Old Teacher

This story based on the old song "I know an old lady," is a zany take on that song written by teacher Anne Bowen. One day as she watched and listened to her students singing the song, she wondered what it would be like to have a teacher star in the song/story and she started eating the class pets one by one.

Fanciful and humorous, the story is told in sing-song rhyme so that you can almost hear the students saying the verses out loud:
I know an old teacher who swallowed a lizard.
Got stuck in her gizzard, our sweet Lizzie Lizard.
She swallowed the lizard to gobble the snake.
She swallowed the snake to gobble the rat.
She swallowed the rat to gobble the fish.
She swallowed the fish to gobble the spider.
She swallowed the spider to gobble the flea
that fell from her hair and plopped into her tea.
Artist Stephen Gammell's illustrations are done in watercolor, colored pencil, pastel and crayon. The illustrations are really the heart of the story as the students observe Miss Bindley, their mild-mannered teacher turn into a gobbling monster.

But there is a line over which she does not cross. Can you guess what it is?

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Review: Turtle Girl

With the emphasis on the development of reading and math skills during the last few years, many elementary schools have pushed science instruction to the margins. So, it's wonderful to read a good story that is built around a science topic.

Turtle Girl by Carole Crowe and illustrated by Jim Postier is a lovely story of the special times a girl shares with her grandmother each year as the sea turtles come ashore to lay their eggs. The special nature of Magdalena's relationship with her grandmother is linked to the need to protect the turtles.

Then when her grandmother dies, Magdalena is bereft and tries to protect herself from the hurt by ignoring the turtles' annual rituals. In the end, she remembers that her grandmother said, " I will always be with you, Magdalena, especially at turtle-time."

She wakes her mother to go to the beach in the middle of the night just in time to see all the turtle hatchlings scurrying to the sea. She realizes that her grandmother was right as she can feel her presence all around her during this special night.

Jim Postier's illustrations are integral to the story as they complement the narrative and create context for this annual ritual that few are privileged to see.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Review: What the Moon Saw

Earlier this summer I found myself in Denver for a meeting. It is impossible for a book person to visit Denver without making a pilgrimage to one of the greatest independent bookstores in the country, The Tattered Cover. What made the trip even better was that I was in the company of three other book lovers. Once we walked into the store together, we dispersed to the four corners of the store and met up again two hours later.

The reason I share this is that before I ever opened the cover of What the Moon Saw by Laura Resau which I purchased there, I already had warm and positive feelings about this book written for young teens. And I was not disappointed.

Clara Luna's name means "clear moon" in Spanish, but other than learning to speak Spanish from her father, there is not much connection between her life in suburban Walnut Hill and the life her father left behind in the rural hills of Mexico. One day a letter arrives out of the blue from Clara's Mexican grandparents inviting her to spend two months of the summer with them. Even though she has never met them or heard from them before, it is decided that she will go. Struggling with curiosity, fear of the unknown, reluctance to leave her life in Walnut Hill and her friends for the summer, Clara also feels a compulsion to go. Dreams and feelings she cannot even articulate are pulling her there.

The story of what Clara finds in Mexico is one of the most beautifully written stories I've read in a long time. The language is rich, luscious, and evocative. Prose written by a poet. Among other things, it presents a picture of rural Mexico caught between the traditional lives of the people and their connection to the land and each other with the reality of uprooted lives as men have left the region and their families behind to make a life for themselves in the United States. What they leave behind and the sacrifices their families make is a poignant commentary on the "other" side of the immigration debate.

What Clara learns and the connections she makes with her grandparents and the people of the mountain village of Yucuyoo is not to be missed. I cannot recommend this story highly enough. It is wonderful.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Poetry Friday: This is Just to Say - Poems of Apology and Forgiveness

It's been many moons since I've shared a poem for Poetry Friday, so I've been saving this book. Written by Joyce Sidman and illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski, this book holds delights on every single page.

It has the two characteristics that the best of children's literature always exemplifies - compelling text that can be understood on many levels with charming illustrations that amplify the text and entertain over multiple readings.

Inspired by the poem of the same name by William Carolos Williams, Mrs. Mertz has her sixth graders write poems of apology as part of their poetry unit.

The book is divided into two parts. First come the poems of apology. They are then followed by the responses. Each pair of poems reveal a relationship between one of the student's and someone else.

Stolen jelly doughnuts, unrequited love, and failing in the spelling bee are just a few of the topics that are turned into lovely and delicious poems. The apology and its response echo together much like traditional call and response songs. The effect is both bittersweet and affirming as we delve below the surface of Mrs. Mertz's sixth graders and their emerging selves.

I highly recommend this book. It's charming, sweet and invites the reader to linger and savor the emotional landscape. Before I share sample poem, Poetry Friday is being hosted at Read, Imagine, Talk today. Head on over to find more terrific poems to celebrate Poetry Friday. Here's your poem!

To my Mom:

Brownies - Oops!

I smelled them from my room

a wafting wave of chocolate-ness.

I listened for movement,

ears pricked like a bat's.

I crept down, stepped

over the sleeping dog.

I felt the cold linoleum

on my bare toes.

I saw the warm, thick,

brick of brownies.

I slashed a huge chunk right out of the middle.

The gooey hunks of chocolate

winked at me as I gobbled them.

Afterward, the pan gaped

like an acusing eye.

My head said, Oops!

But my stomach said, Heavenly!

by Maria

Monday, August 18, 2008

A World of Words

I found this delightful book at the library last week. It's a wonderful example of how books have staying power long past their copyright dates. A World of Words by Tobi Tobias and illustrated by Peter Malone uses the ABCs as a device to spotlight quotes from famous poets and writers. Originally published in 1998, it is still fresh today.
Although this book is not the basic ABC primer that one would use to teach the ABCs, it is a rich and luscious journey through the variety and uses of language. It is important for children to hear the patterns and cadence of language even if they don't understand entirely what is being said.
The magical realism of the illustrations are inventive and complement the texts that range from Native American sayings to poets such as Langston Hughes, William Blake, and Emily Dickinson. Here is a sample:
P is for Pocket - You love me so much, you want to put me in your pocket." - D.H. Lawrence
This is a lovely book that will provide hours and years of enjoyment for children and adults alike.

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Boy Who Wouldn't Share

Anyone who spends any amount of time around young children knows that the concept of "sharing" can be difficult to convey. One of the first words most children learn is "mine".

Edward is such a child in The Boy Who Wouldn't Share written by Mike Reiss and illustrated by David Catrow. The opening verse sets the tone of the story:
Edward was a frightful boy who wouldn't share a single toy
Edward didn't allow his sister Claire to play with any of his toys. Then one day, he gets stuck under a giant pile of toys. He is so stuck that his mother who brings in a plate of fudge doesn't seem him at all and gives all of the fudge to Claire.

Fortunately for Edward, his little sister is the bigger person and offers to share the fudge with him and this leads to one of the best lines in the story:

Edward knew that he'd been crabby,

grouchy, grumbly, greedy, grabby.

Edward apologizes nicely to his sister and the rest of the day "turned out fine". In the end, this is a little morality tale with comic illustrations sure to amuse youngsters while making an important point.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Review: A Day with Dad

This is a very sweet story about a boy and his dad. Tim has moved to a new town with his mom and his dad lives in another town. The story begins with Tim waiting at the station with his mom for the train to arrive that will bring Tim's dad to spend the day with him.

Everywhere Tim and his dad go that day, he proudly states, "this is my dad." They go for hot dogs, a movie, pizza and the library before dad must return to the train station to return to his home. Before he does, he takes Tim onto the train and after getting everyone's attention the train, he loudly states, "This is Tim. He is my son. He is the best son anyone could have." Back on the platform, Dad hugs Tim tightly and promises another visit in the near future.

Many children in similar situations will find comfort in this story that suggests that even with distance, the parent-child relationship can still thrive. Author Bo R. Holmberg and illustrator Eva Eriksson demonstrate their experience with wonderfully matched text and pen and colored pencil drawings.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Finding Time to Read

Research tells us that reading aloud to children every day is the single best way to help them become strong readers. Often in our desire to read to kids, we neglect our own reading. In lives crammed full, it's often the most dispensable activity.

But when we don't read for pleasure ourselves, we deny ourselves intellectual sustenance and relaxation. How do we find time in a crowded life to read to our children and for ourselves?

Ann Kingman and Michael Kindness of Books on the Bookstand blog share 10 Ways to Find More Time for Reading. Here is the one that sparked this post:

Read aloud to your children, an elderly neighbor or family member, or someone else who would enjoy it. Sometimes we don't really count that as "reading time," but really, it's time spent in an even more fulfilling way. At a recent event, Barack Obama was quoted as saying, "Over the course of four years I made time to read all of the Harry Potter books out loud to my daughters. If I can do that and run for president, then you can find time to read to your kids. That's some of the most special time you have with your children."

Click here to read the other 9 Ways to Find More Time for Reading.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Review: Mrs. Muddle's Holidays

What a fun book to start up this blog with again. "Mrs. Muddle's Holidays by Laura F. Nielsen and illustrated by Thomas F. Yezerkski is the story of a woman who moves into a neighborhood where they are already active celebrants of all the regular holidays. Mrs. Muddle, however, introduces them to lots of holidays they've never heard of before like "Earthworm Appreciation Day", "The First Shower of April Day", and her annual "Garlic Jubilee".

The wonderfully fun illustrations complement the text by bringing to life many of the details of each of the celebrations including all the teamwork and preparation required for a sizeable celebration across the neighborhood.

The neighborhood children are so appreciative of everything they've learned about celebrating life that they determine to create a suprise holiday that Mrs. Muddle has never heard of before. They enlist the help of all the families in the neighborhood to suprise Mrs. Muddle with a brand new holiday, Mrs. Muddle Day!

If I had to choose my favorite illustration, it would probably be the February celebration of "Let's Pretend it's Summer Day" with the entire neighborhood decked out in their heaviest winter wear enjoying picnics, barbecues, baseball and volley ball games, flying kites and sliding around on the ice at a backyard pool.

Great fun and heartwarming.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Gone Fishin'

If only it were true, it would mean that these weeks that I've been absent from Crazy 4 Kids Books would mean that I've been off for some R & R. Not really. The reason I've been absent from this blog is that I've been occupied with launching another blog more closely aligned with how I earn my living. If you're interested in K-12 publishing, check it out at

At this point, I'm sure I've lost whatever Google Juice I had built up and will need to start over to build an audience. But, that's where I am. I hope my readers will treat my extended absence as a long trip to the library or favorite book store. I promise to be back shortly to talk about some terrific books, wonderful educators and librarians and more.

In the meantime, if YOU get a chance to go fishing literally or figuratively, my wish for you is that you enjoy every single second.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Books, books, books, everywhere!

Today I spend the day at the largest book show in the U.S. - Book Expo which is in Los Angeles this year. I have been attending a small pubisher's meeting this week and today I am walking the floor of one of the most awesome trade shows for a bibliophile. Publishers, authors, librarians, and miscellaneous other vendors all in one building to celebrate reading and talk about and sell books.

Many of us have been in large bookstores and libraries and have been overwhelmed by the rich array of stories and information just there for the choosing. But that experience pales in comparison to the feeling you get from being in a convention center, the size of a small town where everywhere you look there are books and book people.

Today I will be with my people. The ones who respect and promote books. The ones that talk passionately about the books they are reading - the books that have helped form them as people - the books that have taught them, comforted them and uplifted them.

It's going to be a great day!

Friday, May 23, 2008

Review: The Boat in the Tree

Sibling rivalry is initiated when a boy's family adopts a brother for him in this fanciful and imaginative story. I love the opening line, "The day Mom and Dad went to pick up my new brother, I built a raft." Our hero sets sail for Bongodongo and then other ports as he tries to distance himself from this new brother he obviously resents.

Tim Wynne-Jones doesn't disappoint as the younger brother hangs about trying to establish a friendship with his new older brother. The Boat in the Tree was one of the books entered for the Cybils awards this year and is still one of my favorites. Although the story is quite good, what really makes the book sing are the illustrations by John Shelley.

As the boy dreams of ships that will carry him away from the new brother, Shelley skillfully captures the breadth of the ship-crazy boy's imagination complete with a pirate's island and smoking volcano. He also details the day-to-day world the boys actually live in. When a storm sends a boat into a tree and Simon helps his older brother bring it down , it is enough to bridge the gap between the boys and between the real and the imagined.

There is so much detail in the illustrations that young children ages 3-6 will be entertained for hours. I recommend this book.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Daring Adventures in the Arctic Circle

This action-packed, real-life story of Marie Peary, the daughter of Arctic explorer Robert E. Peary, is a wonderful introduction for tweens to the family life of a great explorer. Most often, the families of famous explorers were left at home in relative safety while the explorers (usually men) were gone for months and years at a time traveling to unknown and often dangerous parts of the world.

However, the Peary family was quite different. The real star of this unusual story is Peary's wife and Marie's mother, Josephine. Breaking with the convention of the day, Josephine traveled with her husband on several of his attempts to find and claim the North Pole. In fact, Marie was born in a remote northern corner of Greenland during one of these expeditions.

Marie's earliest memories and friendships were with some of the Inuit people who populated the far north. Her family depended on these kind people for help as guides and in constructing clothing to protect them against the fierce cold. Marie spent months and years living aboard ship going to and from Greenland. In fact, she and her mother, along with the ship's crew, were locked into the ice for 10 months in 1901 while trying to reach her father's new base camp.

Marie and her family developed close relationships with some of the Inuit and considered them friends. For a good part of her early life, Marie lived and played among Inuit children and had many adventures with them. Sledding down an ice mass and finding fun on nearby icebergs with her Inuit friends was a frequent pleasure.

The Inuits gave Marie the name "The Snow Baby" when she was born with blond hair and blue eyes. The book makes clear that there was much mutual respect and affection between the various explorer parties and the Inuits, and that there personal association extended over a period of years during Peary's many expeditions to the Arctic. In fact, it took until Marie was 16 before her father successfully journeyed to the North Pole and claimed it for the United States.

The book's author, Katherine Kirkpatrick, has made good use of her source material. This remarkable story is significantly enhanced with a generous collection of photographs. Even though some are extremely grainy, most are clear images of their lives in northern Greenland. The bulk of the book concerns itself with Marie's early years as part of the expeditions. Even though she and her mother spent years moving back and forth between this adventure life and a conventional life in the states, Marie was separated from her father for long stretches of time while he remained in the Arctic to winter and prepare for the next foray to the North Pole. He and his expedition did not successfully reach and claim the North Pole until 2009. Those years in between were consumed with supplying and resupplying the expedition between forays.

For anyone interested in a non-conventional life, or intrigued by the spirit of adventure necessary to pushing out to the ends of the world, this is a delightful story. For one thing, it centers on a girl's experience and that is unusual in itself. Secondly, Marie had extraordinary, enlightened parents who saw nothing wrong with exposing their daughter to such an exceptional life. Marie grew up to spend many years of her adult life helping her father organize his notes and papers for the early National Geographic Society.

And in 1932, traveling to Greenland with her own two sons, Marie placed a monument honoring her father at the place where she was born - "the first piece of land sighted when a ship approaches Greenland from America."

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Death of Education but the Dawn of Learning: Learning to Change Video

It's not about building schools, it's about building communities of content creators and learners. Very powerful and long overdue. We're still not at the tipping point, but it's coming. As passionate book lovers, we are open and receptive to the wild, sometimes chaotic new worlds that great books reveal to us. Readers ARE lifelong learners.

How marvelous it would be if our schools could embrace an engaging, imaginative world of learning investigations previously available only to a lucky few. No longer is reading just a necessary skill for "book" learning, it is a critical skill for life in the 21st century where everyone has the opportunity to write and publish their own stories and to learn from each other by working collaboratively toward common goals.

How can each of us push the education bureaucracy away from test-taking to creating dynamic learning environments that stimulate the love of learning? Perhaps for some kids, it's not through traditional printed books at all, but the multi-media world of story available through technology. How do we as story passionistas embrace other delivery systems?

Monday, May 12, 2008

Celebrating Children's Book Week

Today is the beginning of Children's Book Week. It's a wonderful prompt to spend some quality reading time with your favorite child. Here are some sites to visit for recommendations.
The Children's Book Council
The Horn Book

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Teaching Reading v. Reading

Thousands of educators met this past week in Atlanta for the annual International Reading Conference where reading teachers, authors and publishers gathered to celebrate books and reading. This is one of the larger shows on the educational conference circuit as reading is such a foundational skill.

Some of the show buzz concerned the admission last week from the Department of Education that Reading First failed to make a difference in students' reading comprehension. The program has been under attack almost from its inception for cronyism and mismanagement. Although most educational publishers have been keeping close track of the program and have been aware of its deficits for some time, the announcement may have come as a surprise to educators whose districts and schools have benefitted from Reading First funding.

In a nutshell, evaluators agree that Reading First programs spend too much time on basic instruction and too little time on reading actual literature so that students have not substantively increased their comprehension. In fact, the decrease in reading actual books, both in the classroom and at home, is of great concern to those most passionate about the benefits of reading.

Reading First is inextricably linked to the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation which is currently before Congress for reauthorization. Good teachers are leaving the field because schools are decimating their curriculums to comply with NCLB testing requirements. I have never read such a poignant perspective as Jordan Sonnenblick's essay in the recent School Library Journal article where he states:

"What I loved most about teaching middle school English was the books, the stories, the poems. I loved putting great thoughts into the hands of my students, and watching what I really, truly saw as a holy communion between child and author, with me as the officiant. And it kills me to know that if I went back, I wouldn’t have much time to teach literature, which is increasingly seen as a frilly extra. So I’m leaving the classroom because my colleagues were right: going back without time for books would kill me. But it hurts very, very much to know that, in my absence, the classroom is killing my peers and my would-be students anyway."
NCLB has reshaped the landscape for educational publishers, and decreasing time and money is certainly affecting the amount of real literature students are exposed to in school. While there may be a cumulative negative effect, there are still teachers and classrooms where authentic literature continues to play a starring role as evidenced by the reading teachers at this week's meeting in Atlanta.

Teachers, librarians and publishers believe in the power of authentic literature to deeply affect a child's life and learning. As book enthusiasts, what can we do to support the educators who are struggling every day to find the balance between teaching reading and actually reading?

Thursday, May 1, 2008

From the Classroom: Reading Test Strategies

"Spending weeks, or horrifyingly in some classrooms, months, on test-taking lore denies students a lot of time that would be better spent reading and discussing real books—a practice that is shown again and again to positively impact students’ reading achievement."

Donalyn Miller, 6th grade teacher blogger at The Book Whisperer commenting on the sad irony of focusing on teaching reading-test strategies versus teaching reading. She concludes:

"I have never seen a student who could read and comprehend a wide range of texts fail these tests, but I have seen a few students, carrying only a handful of test-taking beans, who did."

Read more of her thought-provoking observations from inside the classroom.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Peace: The Biography of a Symbol (National Geographic)

A book for adults to share with the children in their lives. This is important. Order it here.

Peace: The Biography of a Symbol

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Review: Piper Reed Navy Brat

Like the author of Piper Reed Navy Brat, Kimberly Willis Holt, I too was born into a Navy family in Pensacola Florida, or Pepsi-Cola as Piper's younger sister Sam calls it. My dad was a Navy pilot for 20 years, so I experienced what Piper experiences in the book. The Navy tries to move families at the end of the school year. But sometimes, it doesn't work out that way and you move in the middle of a school year. That is the hardest.

Piper loves being in a Navy family. She calls her dad "Chief" which is his official rank and she has a wonderful sense of adventure that serves her well as she leaves good friends behind in California to move to Florida. Piper endures days and days in the car with her family as they drive across the country. The stories of who gets to sit where, for how long, and how they entertain themselves in the car is very familiar territory to me. One thing about moving a lot is that you grow very dependent on your family for company and entertainment. Piper's family is very much like my family was - so the story is true to life. The way the author portrays Piper's anxiety about making friends in a new place will be familiar to anyone who has moved to a new city.

Piper discovers that one of the best things about moving to Pensacola is that it is the home of the Blue Angels, the highly-trained acrobatic flying team who are goodwill ambassadors for the Navy. I often saw the Blue Angels perform on special occasions at air shows on Navy bases across the country as I was growing up. They are thrilling to watch. When Piper's class goes on a field trip to see the Blue Angels, she gets to meet the pilots - one of whom is a woman. Now that's a lot different than when I grew up. There were women who flew planes, but not in the Navy.

I completely understand Piper's desire to become a Blue Angel. Thank heavens, times have changed so that a nine-year-old girl has just as good a chance to become a Blue Angel as a nine-year-old boy. Christine Davenier's pen and ink illustrations perfectly capture Piper's personality in this chapter book.

This story was a great trip down memory lane for me as it would be for anyone who lives in a Navy, Army, Air Force or Marine family. It's a different kind of life than most people have, but it is an interesting life.

Reading is Fundamental Funding Update

CEO Carol H. Rasco of RIF sent a thank you and an update to the recent "Dear Colleague" campaign to save RIF's funding for 2009. Thanks to some of you who responded to my post, more than 45,000 RIF supporters sent e-mails, phone calls, letters, and faxes to Congress and this year more legislators than ever before signed the funding letter. Democracy in action is a beautiful thing. Check to see if your senator and or representatives signed. If they did, be sure to send them a note of thanks.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Introducing New SLJTeen

The folks at School Library Journal have responded to the expanding 'tweens and young adult market with the launch of SLJ Teen. What a fab piece of news this is in the publishing world where there is more contraction than expansion.

It is a joy to read about teens so passionate about reading that they're creating book clubs and writing book reviews. It's enough to make one think that there is hope for the traditionally packaged printed story after all.

For public and school librarians who work with this age group, this must feel like tremendous validation. And if the rest of the SLJ Teen team is as passionate about teens and books as Editor Dodie Ownes, then this publication is well on its way to becoming a beloved and trusted resource. I have known Dodie for some years and we've had many wonderful conversations about books we love. She has a long history with SLJ and has always volunteered as a school librarian at her son's schools. As he's grown, she has relished the role of resident book promoter to younger students and now teens.

Be sure to sign up here for your free, bimonthly electronic newsletter from SLJTeen.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Time for Summer Reading Lists? It's Not Possible.

For school librarians and teachers, Easter and Passover are the traditional harbingers of the last push to the end of the school year in schools that end in May. This year, Easter was early and Passover was this past weekend. So, as hard as it is to believe, it's time to assemble summer reading lists.

Here are some terrific sources of reading lists for kids, parents and teachers. Franki Sibberson has assembled a collection of picture books and middle-grade novels at Choice Literacy that have summer activities as their theme.

Education World features a round-up of reading lists from around the web by grade level.

Check out Reading Rockets for book lists, parent tips, teacher recommendations and reading research.

Kids Read features new and classic titles including all of the Newberry winners from 1922 to the present.

In addition to books by category, The Horn Book also recommends books on particular topics each month.

There is much on all of these lists to inspire the readers and would-be readers in your life. There is absolutely nothing as wonderful as a sleepy summer day, a comfortable perch, and a wonderful engrossing story. Good planning now will help you share that experience with kids this summer. Hmmmmm.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

It's Official: Public Libraries are Engines of Economic Growth

Every year at this time during National Library Week, we get an update on the state of the nation's libraries. According to the ALA's newly released State of America's Libraries Report 2008, "New studies provide solid evidence that the nation’s public libraries are engines of economic growth, contributing to local development through programming in early literacy, employment services and small-business development. Other studies show that libraries provide an excellent return on investment, have a measurable positive impact on the local economy and contribute to the stability, safety and quality of life of their neighborhoods."

Given these stellar results, it makes me wonder why we are not better at supporting libraries in our communities? Budgets in some areas are in free fall. Hours of operation are being curtailed. Programs are contracting rather than expanding and staff positions are being eliminated. Perhaps we could be a better, healthier, smarter nation if we increased our investments in preventive measures like getting kids excited about reading and learning before they turned to gang activity instead of building state-of-the-are prisons on the back end. Perhaps we could create communities that engage in healthy, informed debate instead of polarizing rhetoric. Perhaps we could even turn off all our electronic toys for an hour a day and not only read ourselves but encourage others to read for pleasure and the pleasure of learning new things. Perhaps.

Friday, April 11, 2008

National Poetry Month Fun for Kids and Teachers

What better way to celebrate Poetry Friday than to celebrate National Poetry Month? Helping students create their own poetry is a wonderful way to fine tune their literacy skills. The following links will take you to some wonderful free materials to use with students to help them learn how to express themselves through this ancient art form.

Classroom activities, lesson plans and web links from the International Reading Association and the National Council of Teachers of English.

Online student writing workshop with
Jack Prelutsky - beloved children's poet.

All poetry all the time from the Academy of American Poets

Wonderful ways to celebrate National Poetry Month from the Children's Book Council

How to teach poetry to children, poems for kids, and lots of poetry activities

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

ABC Announces 2008 E.B. White Read-Aloud Picture Book Winner

Hooray for the Association of Booksellers for Children for choosing When Dinosaurs Came with Everything as the 2008 E.B. White Read-Aloud Picture Book Winner. I just love, love, love this book. In fact, I loved it so much when I read it for the Cybils Book Awards, that I sent a copy to my 4-year old nephew for Christmas and he love, love, loves it too.

Childrens' booksellers chose this title by Elise Broach and illustrated by David Small from among 43 picture books entered. The reading committee said it was the most highly recommended book on their list this year.

For those who have not yet read this book, you're in for a treat. Here's something to whet your appetite:

"Just when a little boy thinks he's going to die of boredom from running errands with his mom, the most remarkable, the most stupendous thing happens. He discovers that on this day, and this day only, stores everywhere are giving away a very special treat with any purchase." read more here.

If you are looking for a fun, imaginative story to read with little boys in particular, I highly recommend this book. And kudos to the childrens' booksellers for choosing such a great title as their 2008 winner. By the way, childrens bookstores are by definition independent, so support your local independent book stores!

Monday, April 7, 2008

Tom Chapin's Protest Song: It's Not on the Test

This is a wonderful commentary from singer-songwriter Tom Chapin on the end-of-year tests that students and their teachers are now focusing on. In addition to core subjects that have been virtually eliminated from the curriculum (like social studies), art, music, drama and author/illustrator visits are almost things of the past.

What kind of society are we creating here? Anyone like to chime in?

Thanks to Lee Wilson at Education Business Blog for his post on this song.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Poetry Friday: Ogden Nash

It's hard not to smile out loud with some of Ogden Nash's witty poems. Some could almost be considered "poem-lets" because of their brevity. But there are lots to choose from.
Here are a few samples:

The Guppy
Whales have calves,
Cats have kittens,
Bears have cubs,
Bats have bittens,
Swans have cygnets,
Seals have puppies,
But guppies just have little guppies.

The Firefly
The firefly's flame Is something for which science has no name
I can think of nothing eerier
Than flying around with an unidentified glow on a person's posteerier.

Further Reflections on Parsley
Is gharsley.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Review: Freedom on the Menu: The Greensboro Sit-ins

I've lived in Greensboro, North Carolina for almost 30 years and believe it to be one of the finest and prettiest places I have ever been in the U.S. Greensboro still has many of the charms of a gracious southern city and it much honors its past on a regular basis.

The city's bicentennial celebration has just begun and there are countless meaningful and fun activities planned for the upcoming year. The Battle of Guilford Courthouse was a famous revolutionary battle that is celebrated through re-enactments on a routine basis. Religious tolerance dates to large settlements of Quakers and Moravians in the 1700s and the founding of the only Quaker college in the southeast when Guilford College was founded in 1837.

But for all its religious tolerance, Greensboro was always a social product of its time and segregation was the law of the land for generations until 1960 when the actions of four brave African-American college students from NC Agricultural and Technical College sat down at the Woolworth's counter in downtown Greensboro and created an act of civil disobedience that literally changed the course of history. How that action changed the city of Greensboro and also set off a chain of similar actions that resulted in the repeal of the Jim Crow laws throughout the south is one of our city's finest moments.

In Freedom on the Menu, Carole Boston Weatherford tells this story from the perspective of a young girl and her family who were allowed to shop at Woolworth's but never allowed service at the lunch counter. Jerome Laggarigue's dark, impressionistic paintings are both emotionally evocative and suggest the time capsule nature of those historic days.

The author has posted a lesson plan on her website for grades 3-5 that will help educators and students explore the history of the Jim Crow laws and the social calls to action of leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King that emboldened those four young men to sit at the lunch counter and ask for a seat at the table of social justice.

Not only is this an important chapter of Greensboro, North Carolina, but it is an important chapter in the history of our country. Although it has taken another 48 years for the United States to evolve to a place where an African-American has a real shot at being elected President, it is a long awaited and important indication that our citizens truly believe in our U.S. Declaration of Indpendence from the British written in 1776 which states: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal...

Monday, March 24, 2008

Review: Angel

Easter Monday seems an appropriate day to review a YA novel about angels. In ANGEL, 14-year old Freya has spent years in treatment for mental illness stemming from a "visitation" when she was a young child in which an angel appeared in her bedroom and told her that she was special and foretold an important role for her in the future when she was older. After the visit, Freya spends years in and out of mental institutions struggling to cope with her belief in angels.

Just when she gets her life back on track and is navigating the social morass of high school popularity, a peculiar girl named Stephanie begins school and does everything she can to convince her classmates that angels are real. With Stephanie's appearance, Freya finds her carefully constructed world starting to crumble as she longs to believe but is held back both by her hard-fought struggles to be "normal" and by her desire to fit in.

With the exception of the angel theme, the plot of the book is a fairly conventional tale of a teen girl coming of age and dealing with the social and family changes that come with the territory. There are two sub-plots involving her brother and father that also feature in the culminating drama of the story.

What is so interesting about this book and is certainly a credit to the author, Cliff McNish, is that by the end of the book, the reader is left quesitoning whether angels are indeed real. The plot drives the book so it is a fast read. But there is enough character development that the reader cares about Freya and Stephanie and what happens to them and cheers for the predictable comeuppance of the snotty, manipulative and cruel "popular" girl.

Perhaps the greatest success of this story, however, is that for all it deals with the realm of fanstasy, it posits some important questions about how we treat each other here on earth. It's not a religious book, but it is a spiritual book -and one that makes some terrific suggestions about actions and consequences.