Monday, December 22, 2008

Quote of the Week--#013

"Books may well be the only true magic."

Alice Hoffman
Quoted in
Quotable Quotes
Compiled by Reader's Digest

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Maggie Mab and More

Today, December 20, brings us to the winter solstice (the actual time is 7:04 a.m. EST, December 21). A Detroit area Celtic band called Finvarra's Wren does an annual solstice performance. This year they will be at the Ark in Ann Arbor at 8:00 p.m.--just 11 hours before the actual solstice.

From my standpoint, the most important part of their performance will be the inclusion of a book by a friend of mine. Valerie Scho Carey retold a British folktale in her book Maggie Mab and the Bogey Beast (Arcade/Little Brown & Company, 1992). While the book is now out of print, Finvarra found it and will bring it to life as a part of their performance.

Valerie is one of the few authors I know and she is certainly the only one I can say, and I say it with great pride, is a good friend of mine. I first got to know Valerie when her daughter and my daughter were in the same first grade class at Emerson School. Now both of those young women are well into their adult lives, but Valerie and I still get together semi-regularly (though not often enough) for lunch and a good visit.

You may never have the opportunity to sit down to lunch with Valerie Scho Carey, but there is no time like the present to acquaint yourself with her books.

Maggie Mab and the Bogey Beast is the tale of a kind, good-natured old woman who was "poor as the sound of a tin bell." One night Maggie Mab stayed out later than usual helping a farm wife with chores. Even as she set off for home she knew that the bogey beast could be about on such a night, just waiting to do a little mischief. The shape-shifting bogey beast, as everyone knew, could play relatively harmless pranks or turn to mean tricks that had led to some real trouble. As she walks, Maggie Mab's foot suddenly hits something hard that turns out to be an iron pot left in the middle of the road. The pot is full of gold. She decides to haul it home. When she stops to rest, she finds that the gold has turned to a lump of silver. Maggie Mab does not complain nor does she complain when it changes again and again. By now, the reader knows this must be the work of the bogey beast. Will Maggie Mab finally get the best of the beast? This tale is full of wonder, wisdom, and good, old-fashioned humor.

Harriet and William and the Terrible Creature (Dutton Children's Books, 1985) was Valerie's first published book. Harriet and William are twins who seem to have little in common. William prefers to stay at home and tend his garden, but Harriet, who loves adventure, builds a space ship and travels to strange planet with nothing but "rocks and stumps, stumps and lumps" and a dragon-like creature who has eaten all the trees and flowers leaving only rocks to crunch. Perhaps if Harriet can bring back William and his gardening skills things can be improved. In 1985, Booklist saw this as a story about accepting people for who they are. That is but a part of the story, especially if viewed from today's perspectives. It seems to me to also be a story about the importance of saving our natural resources.

Quail Song (Putnam Publishing Group, 1990) is one of my favorites to tell or read. Set in the American Southwest, this Pueblo story features the familiar trickster coyote. However, in this tale, he is tricked by a clever quail. "Ki-ruu, Ki-ruu," quail cries in pain when she cuts herself on a piece of grass. Coyote thinks this a beautiful song and demands that quail teach it to him. The song just won't stick in coyote's head, falling out at every stumble, and he must repeat his demand until finally quail gets the better of him.

Tsugele's Broom (Harper Collins, 1993) is an old Polish tale that Valerie tells me has special meaning to her because it was shared with her by her parents. In this clever tale, Tsugele is a strong willed girl who vows that she will never marry unless she can marry a man as faithful and dependable as her broom. This story caused me to think about what I value in my husband and in a broom. I think if I used my broom more often I could make a better comparison.

The Devil and Mother Crump (Harper and Row, 1987) features an old woman who some folks said was as "mean as the Devil." Others would argue that this baker woman was "meaner than the Devil." When news of Mother Crump reaches Lucifer himself, he decides to find out for himself who really rules the world of mean. Mother Crump settles for no nonsense and outwits the devil himself. This is the longest, most detailed of all of Valerie's books. (The others are all in picture book format.) Each full page of text in this book is faced with a full page illustration by none other than Arnold Lobel who gives added humor and depth to the tale.

As you can tell, I am quite fond of Valerie Scho Carey and of all the books she has written. She has a unique way of bringing old folk tales and new stories to life for readers of all ages.

Bravo, Valerie! Thank you for being my friend.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Wacky Wednesday--Joke of the Week #011

The first part of this joke is that I am posting this on Friday.

Here is the season joke that I have heard for years. Please sing the last line.

"Knock, Knock"

"Who's there?"

"Megan, Elise, and Chicken"

"Megan, Elise, and Chicken who?"

"He's Megan Elise and Chicken it twice. Gonna find out who's naughty and nice."

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Reading to Inspire Family Stories

This year Emerson School is hoping to collect family stories to highlight our communities unique stories and our commonalities. The holidays are a perfect time to get the family talking about these stories. Perhaps grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins will be joining together at some point in the coming weeks. Get out recorders, cameras, pens and paper and start talking and listening.

National Public Radio sponsored a National Day of Listening for the day after Thanksgiving. Their website has lots of good ideas for interviewing family members.

I have compiled a lit of books that might also help to inspire conversations and memories filled with family stories. This list is rather arbitrary. Any book that is read together can stir memories of family stories. You need only take off from there. All that is needed is for you to think about what is being read through this lens. With each title I have given a few connections to stories to get you started. I am confident that you will find many more.


My Dog Is as Smelly as Dirty Socks by Hanokh Piven talks about family members and their unique qualities. The illustrations use everyday items to create a collage face of the person. Each item represents one of that person’s traits, talents or special interests. This would be fun to do on a day when the family is bored. Gather things like bottle caps, tiny toys, and whatever else you can find and create pictures of the extended family. This will surely create stories of all sorts. If you need more ideas Piven also has books about the presidents and athletes using the same kind of illustrations.

Chloe’s Birthday…And Me by Giselle Potter is a family story that will sound familiar to everyone with a sibling. It is little sister Chloe’s birthday, but Giselle feels left out as she watches the attention all fall on Chloe. Think back to your family birthday stories and build from there. Sometimes it is not the best birthday but the worst birthday that has the best stories to share.

The Diary of a Worm by Doreen Cronin is a popular book as are the other Diary books by Cronin. They maybe about a worm or a spider or a fly but the stories of kids of any species teasing their sisters, making friends, and more can get you started talking your own youthful adventures.

David Goes to School by David Shannon is based on the author’s own youth and from the sounds of this story and his more familiar No! David! he was one of those children that parents worry about while enjoying every mischievous act. Get grandfather to read this with your irrepressible boy and get them comparing school and life experiences. There are few words in this book--the illustrations say it all. Perhaps they will inspire some drawings to go with your stories.

Olivia by Ian Falconer is the story of a young pig with a wild imagination and a sense of style that will again remind folks of their own childhood adventures. Read any of this series and find ties to memories that may have been buried under years of being good.

One Green Apple by Eve Bunting is the story of a girl coming to a new school. In this case she speaks little English and dresses differently from all the other students. A trip to the apple orchard gives her not only new experiences but also a way to relate to the others in the class. Use this book to talk about coming to a new place—whether it is down the street or around the world. Also talk about what helped you find a place to fit in. This is also good for talking about immigration experiences and differences between and among people and places.

The Stray Dog by Marc Simont is about a family finding a stray dog and adding him to the family. Did your family ever find a stray animal? What did they do with it? This leads to more pet stories. From grandparents through aunts and uncles to the youngest cousins, you will find interest in family animals (pets or farm animals) and stories that seem commonplace become stories that tie the family together.

Show Way by Jacqueline Woodson traces the strong women of an African American family. Trace the strengths of your family’s women and how they showed the way for the current generation to face new challenges with courage and ability.

NOVELS—Short enough to read over break, long enough to keep you all interested, these novels are great to read aloud to the whole gang and discuss as you go.

Ramona Quimby, Age 8 by Beverly Cleary is at its heart a collection of stories about growing up. They are clearly autobiographical. They will remind the older generation of stories of their childhood. Other good stories from this genre include most of Cleary’s work, the Fudge stories by Judy Blume, The Moffats by Eleanor Estes, the Junie B. Jones stories by Barbara Park, the Clementine stories by Sara Pennypacker, the Judy Moody and Stink books by Megan McDonald, and so very many more. All are great for reading aloud and full of things that will start stories of the “good old days”.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney is written just a like a diary so it includes myriad asides, jokes, and worries about growing up as a boy. Compare family childhoods with that of protagonist Greg Hefley. There will be amazing similarities and your kids will gain respect for their elders when they learn that some of the same worries affect all generations.

Love That Dog by Sharon Creech is about a boy who comes from a family not at all like what you would like yours to be. This beautifully written book will get you talking about family experiences, pets, and favorite poetry. Poetry was such a part of my childhood that it is impossible to separate many of my family memories from the poems my parents and grandparents and recited. This book, or a book of favorite old poems, may stir some memories for you.

A Year Down Yonder and A Long Way From Chicago by Richard Peck are stories of two children who travel to spend time with their quirky grandmother. The setting in rural Illinois during the depression will stir family stories that may come from even before grandparents were born but that were told so many times that folks feel like they lived through them. A Long Way from Chicago is easy to read in bits and pieces as each chapter can stand alone as a story.


Of course, history books of a time or place that is important to your family history can get your family started on discussions of all sorts. Here are a couple of other suggestions that might not occur to you.

The Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman by Marc Tyler Nobleman is a new book that sprang from the author’s lifelong interest in comic book heroes. With balloon dialogue and comic book style illustrations, this book will transport anyone who has loved reading comics back to those golden Saturdays spend with a new comic book. Talk about comic books can naturally lead to heroes, fictional and the real heroes in the family. Go to to look at Superman covers and stir more memories.

Strong Man: The Story of Charles Atlas and The Aliens are Coming!: The True Account of the 1938 War of the Worlds Radio Broadcast by Meghan McCarthy will take older folks back to times and places and advertisements that the younger generation will find new and exciting. I know I am dating myself by admitting that I remember reading about Charles Atlas in the backs of magazines (or do I just think I did because it was such a part of family lore?) I wasn’t alive in 1938 but I know the radio broadcast much more than the H.G. Wells story. See what your family remembers about these or other culture shaping events and people.

There’s a Frog in My Throat: 440 Animal Sayings a Little Bird Told Me by Loreen Leedy and My Momma Likes to Say and My Teacher Likes to Say by Denise Brennan-Nelson are bound to get discussions started. They are full of similes and familiar sayings that may not be so familiar today. See if the kids can finish sayings like “sleeping like a _____”, “as snug as a ________”, or “like looking for a __________”. This can be a game to at the beginning and then a family story that springs from the discussions. Even if no stories emerge, you will have a great time testing each other.

A final option is to read a favorite story from your youth or that of a grandparent. It will bring back memories and start discussions.

Make Way for Boston

Today, December 16, is the anniversary of the Boston Tea Party when colonists dumped tea into Boston Harbor. By coincidence, yesterday I returned home after a long week-end in Boston. I went to hear my daughter sing the soprano solo in Handel's Messiah. She was wonderful. Her voice brings tears to my eyes and shivers to my spine. Of course, I am a biased mother, but she is getting more paid singing jobs all the time and it makes her happy. Makes me happy, too.

While in Boston we we had the time to go for a walk in the Public Gardens which have been a part of Boston since the 1600s. My husband, who was born and raised in India, does not have the connections to American history that I do so, while he was interested in the history that surrounded us, he did not feel quite as I did.

It was when we rounded a bend in the path and saw the Swan Pond just ahead that I felt the biggest surge of memory. It wasn't that I was picturing our colonial forefathers gathering on the the green grass. No, I was seeing the pictures in Robert McCloskey's Make Way for Ducklings.

There, ahead of me, was the island where the Mallard Family had settled to raise their family. That must be the street that they crossed with all of their family in tow. I could almost see the plump policeman with his hand in the air, stopping traffic for the family.

Frankly, I was amazed at how moved I was and how it all came crashing to my attention. The swan boats are put away for the season, but the rest is there. The only change from the picture above is that the ducks were wearing festive red ribbons to help them celebrate the holiday season.

If you have not read Make Way for Ducklings in awhile or, perish the thought, you have never read it, I highly recommend that you give it a try. When you are lucky enough to go to Boston, you will relive this favorite story the same way I did.

Quote of the Week--#012

"I believe that any book, however trashy and ephemeral, is good for a child if he finds pleasure in reading it. Any book that helps him to form a habit of reading, that helps to make reading one of his deep and continuing needs, is good for him."

Richard McKenna
Quoted in
Quotations on Education
Compiled by Rosalie Maggio
Librarians argue this from all sides. Parents constantly come to me to worry over what their children are reading. Is reading Bone by Jeff Smith--now up to eight books, all in graphic format--a waste of time or a good way to lure reluctant readers into reading for fun? How long should a young reader be immersed in a favorite series?
When one of my daughters was in third or fourth grade she was so enamoured with The Babysitters Club series that she strongly hinted that she would like to change her name to Stacy, her favorite club member. I was less thrilled with the books, viewing them as brain candy, at best. My mother, a veteran children's librarian, read one and commented on how it was a nice story of girls and their relationships. It also offered familiar characters who were easy to follow from one adventure to the next. I relaxed in worrying about my daughter, while fuming over how my mother had tried her best to stop me from reading one Nancy Drew book after another when I was in grade school. Then one glorious day my daughter came to me, saying, "I just realized that these books are mostly the same story with just changes in names and places." With that realization, she moved on to read other things. Now in her mid-twenties, she is an avid reader who reads both for pleasure and for information. In retrospect, I know that she needed that time to read what I saw as fluff.
Parents, be aware of what your children are reading, but don't worry excessively about it. They will find that book or series of books that starts them on their road to reading. Until then, reading anything is better than not reading. Let them watch you enjoy reading and nine times out of ten they will find reading that they enjoy, too.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Wacky Wednesday--Joke of the Week #010

The book fair and the election are over so we can get back to some regulars. Here is the joke of the week.

Q: Why did the chicken get punished at school?

A: He used fowl language.

Monday, December 8, 2008

This Just In--Election Results

The poll has closed and the results have now been tabulated. Those of you who were closely following the poll will notice that the final totals are not what was on the poll when it closed. That is because our kindergarten and first grade students did not vote on the poll. They voted in their library class by putting their ballot in an appropriate bag. One bag was put up for each of the tickets. The nominated books were beside the bags to help make sure that voters knew for whom they were voting. This added 53 more votes to our total, bringing the voters to 305. That is a great turn out.

Now, the results:

The BOOKocrats
The Kid Who Ran For President/ Where the Wild Things Are--42 Votes (14%)

The Democats
A Series of Unfortunate Events/Cat in the Hat--104 votes (34%)

The Indepublicrats
Holes/Amelia Bedelia--64 votes (21%)

The READpublicans
Eragon/Green Eggs and Ham--95 (31%)

The winner is (drum roll) The Democats with A Series of Unfortunate Events and The Cat in the Hat. This party will be writing to author Lemony Snicket to tell him of the remarkable success of his book. The other classes will write to their authors as well. As they say at the Oscars, it is an honor to be nominated.

It should be noted that every party did remarkably well, garnering votes from all grade levels as well as from voters outside the school. The percentages are very close. In many states this would require a run-off between the top two candidates. Everywhere, there would probably be a demand for a recount. For any future elections of this sort we will have to find an improved method of voting to assure us that there is no voter fraud and that everyone gets an equal chance to vote. However, for this election, these will be our final results.

The only demographic for which we have clear data is the kindergarten and first grade block. They voted overwhelmingly--34 votes--for the Indepublicrats, suggesting that Amelia Bedelia is very popular with this youngest group of readers.

The students (and others) who voted and the students who went through the nomination process and supported their candidates are to be commended on a job well done. I hope everyone enjoyed this experience as much as I have.

Friday, December 5, 2008

I am so proud

Our election is winding down. Like most elections from the local to the national level, it has not been without incident. We have had some questionable campaigning, squabbling, and hard feelings among and within the parties. This is not what has made me proud.

What has made me proud is how well our students have handled the problems. People who realize that they may have been part of a problem have stepped forward, shouldered the responsibility for their actions, and gone beyond a simple apology to try to make amends for their actions. Wow. How often do you see that in a political campaign?

Bravo, students and teachers who help to guide these amazing young people.

P.S. There is still time to vote if you have not done so. The poll closes on Monday, December 8. The election may be very close. Your vote counts.

Friday, November 28, 2008

It's Time to Vote

Voting for the President and Vice President books for the Emerson library is now open.

The poll which you see to the left will be open for your vote until December 8. Anyone is welcome to vote. You do not need to be a student at Emerson School. Please vote only once, however, just to keep the election honest.

Before you vote, carefully consider the various candidates. There is information about each party and their candidates posted below. All of the postings include links for more information.

Let your voice be heard.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


The Democats have selected The Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket as their presidential candidate. Their vice presidential candidate is Dr. Seuess' The Cat in the Hat. Here is what they have to say about their candidates.

"The Series of Unfortunate Events is a great set of books. The series is full of excitement, drama, and mystery. The expertise of Lemony Snicket's style overflows into these truly wonderful novels. Will these three orphans escape the claws of a villain beyond thought? Will all unhappy endings finally take a turn for the better? Find out inside this fantastic series."

"The Cat in the Hat (published in 1957) is about two children and a fish that are having a dreary day in the house. Then the Cat in the Hat comes and he gets into a big mess. Then they are having so much fun that they forget about the mess. Suddenly they think that they are going to get into trouble. Will the Cat in the Hat clean the mess? Will the dreary day go on? Find out in The Cat in the Hat."

"Dr. Seuss is a a great author because he uses his creative imagination, mind and good attitude, and his knowledge, experience, expertise, and love of children in his great books. His books are great because they are fun for children to read and they nudge at the truth of the real world while still being fun, creative and imaginative. He was born in 1904 and died in 1991. His Dad owned a zoo and that is probably why his books sometimes star zoo animals. To wrap this up, Dr. Seuss is a great author and VOTE FOR HIM!"

Learn more about the presidential candidate at the Lemony Snicket Official Website.

For more about the Vice Presidential candidate read and listen to this report from National Public Radio.


The Indipulicrats worked hard to represent all facets of the population when they selected their name which combines Independents, Republicans, and Democrats into one inclusive title.

Here is what they have to say about their book candidates.

"You should vote Indipulicrats for President because they are cool. We have two great books running--Holes by Louis Sachar and Amelia Bedelia by Peggy Parish.

is a great book for the teenage reader of fiction.

Amelia Bedelia is a great book if you are beginning to read or if you like a good laugh. It is really funny.

Holes is about a boy named Stanley who is in trouble with the law for stealing some Air Jordans! Then he is sent to Camp Green Lake where he has to dig, dig, dig. It is torture there. Then he escapes.

Amelia Bedelia is about a funny woman who sees directions differently. Then she really gets crazy. She is weird, weird, and, did I say, weird.

So vote Indipublicrats."

The Indipublicrats have also created a list of their cabinet members.

Secretary of State--The BFG by Roald Dahl
Secretary of the Treasury--Brisngr by Chrisopher Paolini
Secretary of Defense--The Hardy Boys by Franklin W. Dixon
Attorney General--Dragon Rider by Cornelia Funke
Secretary of the Interior--Castle in the Attic by Elizabeth Winthrop
Secretary of Agriculture--The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Secretary of Labor--Otis Spofford by Beverly Cleary
Secretary of Health and Human Services--The Fairy's Return by Gail Carson Levine
Secretary of Transportation--Warriors by Erin Hunter
Secretary of Energy--Mackinaw City Mummies by Jonathan Rand
Secretary of Education--Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls
Secretary of Veteran's Affairs--The Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney
Secretary of Homeland Security--Alex Rider by Anthony Horowitz

More information about the presidential candidate can be found at the Louis Sachar website.

Take a look at the vice presidential candidate here.

Monday, November 24, 2008


The Bookocrats have their nominees ready for your consideration.

President: The Kid Who Ran for President by Dan Gutman

"The Kid Who ran for President is very funny and will teach you about how much work you have to do to run for president. Who knows? You could run for president like Judson Moon, the main character in the book. Find out at the end of the book if he will get elected or not."

"Dan Gutman was born on October 19, 1955, in New York City. As a young baby he moved to Newark, New Jersey, where he grew up. He originally wanted to a be a psychologist, but he found that it was not for him. He wanted to move to New York and decided to be a writer. After awhile he tried writing magazine articles but they were not successful. In 1982, Pac-man came out and he started a video game magazine. Soon he began writing books for kids. He lives in Haddonfield, New Jersey."

Vice President: Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

"Where the Wild Things Are is a classic children's picture book. The main character, Max, puts on his wolf suit and amazing things start happening. His room turns into a forest! This is a true blue children's book. Read it to find out what happens."

To learn more about the presidential candidate you may visit Dan Gutman's home page.

The vice presidential candidate invites you to learn more at this site.

Sunday, November 23, 2008


The READ-publicans have nominated their top choices for library president and vice president.

Eragon by Christopher Paolini for President

"Eragon is a great book and is not the junk some people think it is. Eragon is the story of a boy who finds a mysterious blue "stone" in a wilderness mountain range called "The Spine". The blue stone turns out to be a dragon egg and Eragon becomes a rider in an amazing adventure never imagined for a poor farm boy. What makes this book the more impressive is that Christopher Paolini, the author, was only fifteen years old when he wrote the book. The series continues in Eldest and later in Brisingr. The fourth and final book is yet to come."

For more information on Eragon and Christopher Paolini visit the official website.

Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss for Vice President

Learn more about Green Eggs and Ham here.

The READ-publicans have also compiled a list of potential cabinet members in the Eragon/Green Eggs and Ham administration.

Secretary of State: Snow Falling in Spring by Moyling Li

Secretary of the Interior: Trail of Tears: The Rise and Fall of the Cherokee Nation by John Ehle

Secretary of the Treasury: The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman

Secretary of Defense: The Warriors series by Erin Hunter

Secretary of Education: Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson

Secretary of Energy: Pendragon by D J MacHale

Secretary of Transportation: Olive the Other Reindeer by Vivian Walsh

Secretary of Health and Human Services: Garfield by Jim Davis

Attorney General: Emily Windsnap by Liz Kessler

Secretary of Agriculture: The Yellow House: Vincent Van Gogh and Paul Gauguin Side by Side by Susan Rubin Goldman

Secretary of Labor: The Secret of Platform 13 by Eva Ibbotson

Secretary of Homeland Security: Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat by Lynne Jonell

Head of the Environmental Protection Agency: The Great Kapok Tree by Lynne Cherry

More information on the Secretary of Defense--Warriors

"Warriors is the exciting tale of a kitty pet named Rusty who dreams of life living in the forest. One day Smudge, his friend, dares him to go into the forest. As Rusty enters the forest a whole new life opens up in front of him and soon he becomes a warrior of a clan. His dreams come true. Follow him in this exciting series."

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Election of the Year--Coming Soon!!

No one seems to have been able to fight the urge to get involved with politics this year. In an attempt to keep our students from arguing the pros and cons of Obama and McCain, it seemed to be a good idea to have our own election. Over the past several weeks, fourth and fifth grade classes have gone from the primary process to being almost ready for our own election. The difference from earlier elections is that they are creating their own parties to run books for President and Vice President of the library.

We began with nominations for each position. The students worked to define the eligibility requirements for president, settling on candidate being a work of fiction of at least 150 pages that is suitable for upper elementary and middle school students. The nominee can be a single book or a series. The nomination lists were long--much like the national presidential process which seemed to begin with everyone but me throwing a hat in the ring. We had repeated votes (primaries) to eliminate candidates until we came to one winning candidate. Much like the Clinton and Obama battle. it was not always easy to get a consensus for a final candidate. Students gave brief speeches supporting their favorites and some heated, but really quite logical and generally civil, discussions ensued. Not everyone was always happy with how things went. Feeling that they were being disregarded throughout the process, we have had threats of walk-outs by part of at least one party.

Unlike human candidates, books rely on their supporters for a voice, so the presidential candidates did not get to select their vice presidents. Instead, we did another nomination and elimination of candidates. For our purposes, the VP has to be a picture book or easy reader. There was much discussion about a good book versus a recognizable name that might be more electable.

Then there was the selection of a good party name. Some great names were discussed (and some pretty ridiculous ones as well) and the names were slowly winnowed away. There was a desire to appeal to the masses and to cross existing divisions for a party name that appeal to voters and represent a united front.

The parties are currently busy making posters and other advertising. They will have short statements about their candidates and the authors behind those candidates. They are also selecting their potential cabinet.

You, the readers of this blog, will have the opportunity to join the students of our school in voting for the winners. In the coming week, information about each of the candidates along with the cabinet selections will be posted on this blog. A poll will be added to the blog so that you may vote for your favorite party and its candidates. It will be a tough decision since each party has put a lot of thought into picking the very best candidates for this prestigious position. Please consider all that you read about the candidates and vote wisely.

Until the actual election, feel free to leave your comments. Let's get a healthy discussion going here.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

What Have I Been Doing?

One of the problems that I am discovering with keeping a blog is that it takes a lot of time to write and edit posts. Another thing that bothers me is that I have no idea how many people read this blog so I have no idea if anyone at all has missed seeing new entries for the past couple of weeks. (If you do read this blog sometimes, please leave a message just so I know you exist out there in cyberspace.)

When I could not find time to write for the past two weeks it was almost always work related--or least related to exhaustion caused by work related activities.

Way back on November 8, I spent the entire day taking advantage of a unique opportunity offered to educators lucky enough to live in the Ann Arbor area. I was one of 50 or so people, including four others from the school, who spent the day learning about the Arab-American community in and around Detroit. Thanks to the University Musical Society (UMS) and their education programs, we all spent 12 hours immersed in Arab culture. Ask me about the day which included a visit to an Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church, some basic Arabic language lessons (plus some children's songs), talks about being a Christian in the Arab World and and Arab Detroit, a tour of the Arab American National Museum--a must see for anyone who has the chance to see its well-planned and informative displays, a lesson in calligraphy, a hands on mosaic project to share with students, some energetic dancing, a tour of a fabulous sweet shop where we tasted sweets straight off the grill, a trip to a market filled with Arabic foods and spices, and a tour of the Islamic Center of America Mosque. Don't forget the food! We ate so well--breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I think there are people who may soon start avoiding me because I can not seem to quit talking about all we did and saw and learned in that one very full day.

Yes, I was tired when I got home from that long day, but I was still eager for the next day. Sunday morning I was ready to go to the bookstore where we held our annual library fundraiser/book fair. One of my favorite pastimes is shopping for books, so I enjoyed the time searching for books to buy for the library, as well as a few for myself. However, the real fun began when people from the school community began to come to the store. There were familiar faces everywhere. Every year I look forward to this event, with the highlight always being the moment when I come upon a group of students discussing their favorite books and making recommendations to people from other classes, people of all ages who may have never talked together at any other time. Then there are the students and parents who come to me for reading ideas and I can get excited over and over again for a favorite title that I read long ago or one I have just discovered. It was a wonderful evening, even if the year's first snow made it hard to go outside in the cold when the last books had been paid for and boxed for delivery to school on Monday morning.

The fun didn't end then. On Wednesday, the library played host to math man and author Greg Tang. A wonderful melding of luck and research brought Mr. Tang to our school where he talked to students in every grade and then came back for a parent presentation in the evening. Mr. Tang probably started thinking about math long before he completed degrees in economics at Harvard, but his books came out of thinking about how people use basic skills for working with numbers and working with young math users. He looks for ways to make math fun and easy. He taught the students (and the adults) some fun games to play and tricks to make adding, subtracting, multiplication, and division easier and faster while making the principles behind his ideas make sense. In short, he was great. Don't believe me? Ask the students of all ages who are still playing his games, testing each other on how to multiply any number by 11, and telling me that things are making more sense every day. Read more about Greg Tang and his books at his website. If you are like me, you will be seeing math in a new light.

One more exciting opportunity for learning came just yesterday when I attended another UMS sponsored event. (Check out their site to learn about other offerings that those of you who do not live in the area will surely envy.) This was a "book club" to discuss a fascinating book by Sandy Tolan called The Lemon Tree. The book is the true and well-researched story of two people who have lived in the same house and picked lemons from the same back yard tree. One is a man who was born in the house in a town in Palestine and forced to move out with his family when the state of Israel was created. The other is the woman whose Jewish family left Bulgaria right after the Second World War to seek a safe homeland and settled in the same house in a city now called Ramle, Israel. Through their two stories, the book gives a balanced and insightful look into the continuing conflict. The book club began with a slide show about the book that you can view here and perhaps get inspired to read the book yourself. The panel for the discussion included several women from Zeitouna which is a group of women from the Ann Arbor area who have been meeting for about six years to discuss the Israel/Palestine conflict. They are a special group in many ways, but primarily for their ability to make their differences into strengths. You see, half of the women have close ties to Palestine and half are Jewish women, many of whom have lived in Israel. They do not try to make changes in the world, only to understand the stories that they each have to tell. Learn about the Zeitouna mission and their film Refusing to Be Enemies and you will probably be as interested and impressed with them as I am.

So, it has been a busy couple of week. I promise to do better in the coming weeks--just as soon as I finish cataloging all the books we got from the book fair, writing thank you notes to the generous people who donated so many books to the library, and thinking on the many things that I have been learning recently.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Wacky Wednesday--Joke of the Week-#010

Susie: Mom, how old is our car?

Mom: It's a 2004, so it is four years old.

Susie: What style is it?

Mom: It's a hatchback.

Susie: What company made it?

Mom: Susie, why are you asking all these questions about our car?

Susie: Today the teacher told us we have to write an autobiography.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Quote of the Week--#011

"A child develops individuality long before he develops taste."
Erma Bombeck
The individuality of your preferences for reading are an interesting way to let others know who you are and what you think. Keep reading what you like and let others try to understand exactly what that says about you. If you skip from one kind of book to another, you keep folks confused. That is half the fun of it.

Some Great Non-Fiction for All Ages

Non-fiction is rarely thought of as a relaxing afternoon's read, but these books could prove that concept wrong. Any of these books, and so many more that are out there, is as interesting and enjoyable as a good novel with the added advantage of offering a chance to learn something new. Non-fiction: It's not just for report writing any more.

Sandy’s Circus: A Story about Alexander Calder by Tanya Lee Stone is a good representative of the popular practice of biographies in a picture book format. By focusing primarily on the youth and early work of Alexander Calder, the author increases the book's appeal to younger readers. The pictures are inviting and do a good job of conveying the energy and whimsy of Calder’s circus people. This is a good start for aspiring artists or those who are writing a report.

The Trouble Begins at 8: A Life of Mark Twain in the Wild, Wild West by Sid Fleischman makes it immediately clear that this is a biography that, like Twain, may take some liberties with the truth. The end result is a light and airy read with plenty of personality, though I suspect that Flesichman’s respect for Twain results in a character with a little more charm than the original. The text is peppered with quotes from Twain’s shows and illustrated with photos and other memorabilia. Students in grades four through eight will find much to enjoy in this friendly biography.

This is Your Life Cycle by Heather Lynn Miller uses the format of the old TV show “This is Your Life” to teach about the life cycle of the damsel fly. Even second to fifth graders who have never heard of that old show will enjoy the humor of the presentation while gaining a more clear understanding of insect life cycles.

Duel! Burr and Hamilton’s Deadly War of Words by Dennis Brindell Fradin contains much more information than its picture book format might suggest. If you are like me and want to know more about the people and the problems of American history, this is a good place to start. The famous duel was not a new argument and it seems both men had some right to be angry while neither is free of blame for the problems that brought them to face off in a field.

The Night Olympic Team: Fighting to Keep Drugs Out of the Games by Caroline Hatton takes the reader to the basement laboratories at the Salt Lake City Olympics as scientists scramble to find new tests for drugs that athletes might use. Since the use of drugs has become such a part of sports around the world, this is a very pertinent subject. The author worked in those labs at Salt Lake so she knows her stuff. I was glad to see the clear explanation about why performance enhancing drugs are banned and their effects on the human body.

Where Does Pepper Come From? And Other Fun Facts by Brigitte Raab offers creativity, facts, and ideas for research in one attractively illustrated package. Starting with a question that needs some research for an accurate answer, this book first offers a creative and humorous suggestion for an answer. The correct answer is offered in a few short sentences on the next. Here is an opportunity to laugh and learn that will appeal to kindergartens through fifth graders.

Sisters and Brothers: Sibling Relationships in the Animal World by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page contains Jenkins’ trademark collage-style illustrations and interesting facts about nature. Look here for information about animal child-rearing, quirks of birth order, and other idiosyncrasies of families in the wild. Any title by Steve Jenkins is a good bet for learning about nature from a new angle. You can't beat his pictures.

Lady Liberty: A Biography by Doreen Rappaport is the most interesting and eye-pleasing book I have found about the Statue of Liberty. The biography of the statue is told through biographical sketches of the people who had something to do with the creation and erection of this powerful symbol. The illustrations are clear and bold, carrying the sense of the immensity of the statue itself.

Close to the Wind: The Beaufort Scale by Peter Malone is much more than a story of the common sense measure of wind speed. It is a story of sailing in the 19th century presented through imagined diary entries along with facts about the realities of survival at sea. The importance of the Beaufort Scale becomes clear as the weather at sea changes and the sailors must respond appropriately.

The Whale Scientists: Solving the Mystery of Whale Strandings by Fran Hodgkins is just one of many in this informative series about scientists working with wild animals. Look for all of them for upper elementary and middle school students interested in a science career. This particular title discusses the whaling industry, whale genealogy, and the current research on whales that seem to beach themselves for no apparent reason.

Eggs by Marilyn Singer goes beyond where most books about end by looking at all of the world’s creatures that lay eggs from birds to the platypus, insects to snakes, and more. The introduction talks about all aspects of eggs including fertilization, hatching, and rearing the young. The illustrations are soft yet detailed. Facts are presented amidst the illustrations in a way that will inspire further investigation.

One Well: The Story of Water on Earth by Rochelle Strauss comes with a clear agenda. Water conservation affects the whole world, it states, because essentially we all share the same well, the same limited amount of water. The author talks about everything that uses water, the water cycle, the abuse of water, and the rescue efforts that are currently under way. I wish that the illustrations were better, but the message is well worth sharing.

Wild Tracks: A Guide to Nature’s Footprints by Arnold Arnosky is just what the budding tracker needs because it contains life-size footprints of animals likely to be found in the woods of North America. There are just enough facts to keep things interesting without detracting from the tracks that will be the top priority for most readers.

Frogs by Nic Bishop is yet another collection of this Michigan author/photographer’s amazing work. He must spend hours and hours just waiting for a frog to leap to get the perfect picture. The facts that are added to every illustration are well presented to provide a wealth of information. Look for Bishop’s Spiders and anything else you can get your hands on by him.

Good Reads for Middl School

Young Adult literature grows every day. There are so many new titles that it is overwhelming to try to keep up with them. Here are few that I have read and enjoyed recently.

Houdini: The Handcuff King by Jason Lutes and Nick Bertozzi is a fictional biography of Harry Houdini in graphic format. The illustrations are all done in shades of gray and black but manage to capture the feel of the times, like an old fashioned photograph. The story shows the bravado and trickery used by Houdini as a part of his showmanship. Drama and energy are apparent throughout the story.

The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd is told in the voice of an autistic boy who lives with his parents and older sister in London. When a rarely seen cousin comes to visit before reluctantly moving to the United States with his mother, the family agrees to visit the London Eye Ferris wheel. The cousin eagerly accepts a ticket from a strange man who approaches the children as they wait in a long line. He goes off to ride alone. Although the narrator and his sister are sure they see their cousin get on the Ferris Wheel, he never gets off when the ride comes to a stop. Using the kind of thinking that often is a part of autism; the narrator is able to solve the mystery before the police can crack the case.

The Buddha’s Diamonds by Carolyn Marsden and Thay Thap Niem is written in a style which evokes Buddhist writings more than a contemporary young adult novel. Set in post war Vietnam, the story is of the dilemmas and guilt a boy faces when his family home and fishing boat are destroyed by a storm. Not surprisingly, there is a strong message included with the story.

Uprising!: Three Young Women Caught in the Fire that Changed America by Margaret Peterson Haddix is the well-researched and well-told story of three young women from varied backgrounds who are drawn together by the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. Two of the young women work in the sweatshop and participate in the strike there. The third is the daughter of one of the owners of the factory. Through their three voices a balanced and interesting record of the factory and the famous fire is given life.

Peeled by Joan Bauer has the requisite cute boy as required by the laws of good young adult girl books. It also has a good story and a faith in the power of journalism. A girl in an apple farming community sees the town’s identity being threatened by a developer who is buying up farm land to create expensive suburban housing. Using her role as a high school newspaper editor, she is able to let the community know what is happening.

The Dead and the Gone and Life as We Know It by Susan Beth Pfeffer are two looks at a world sharply changed when an asteroid hits the moon, throwing it out of orbit. The first title is told as the diary of a girl living in rural Pennsylvania. The second is seen through the eyes of a Puerto Rican boy living in one of the rougher sections of New York City. Both stories are frighteningly believable. While neither actually portrays the end of the world, they are not very optimistic.

Satchel Paige: Striking Out Jim Crow by James Sturm and Rick Tommaso is a graphic novel that offers insight into life as a sharecropper in the South. The narrator wanted to play baseball like the great Satchel Paige but Paige quickly ended that dream with one well directed pitch. So the narrator went back to the farm and a life shaped by Jim Crow and segregation. When Satchel Paige comes to town for an exhibition game, the narrator and the town feel somewhat vindicated by another well-directed pitch.

Cracker! The Best Dog in Vietnam by Cynthia Kadahota is a new twist on dog stories. Cracker is a young boy’s beloved dog but the family must move to an apartment with a no-pets allowed policy. So Cracker is volunteered to the Army and, after training, is sent to Vietnam to defend his keeper. The story gives a feel for the love between boy and dog as well as the trust and faith between soldier and dog. A strong story of the realities of Vietnam without too much blood and gore is integral to the story. Kadahota’s master storytelling in this book is as evident as it was in her award winning novel Kira, Kira, though the story is very different.

100 Cupboards by N. D. Wilson is being hailed as the new Harry Potter. This does not mean that it is about a school for wizards. Instead, Henry in this book is sent to the farm of relatives where he finds 100 little cupboards hidden behind the attic wall. When he opens their doors he is transported to different times and places, even different worlds. At other times they release their good or evil into the world.

Charlie Bone series by Jenny Nimmo is very similar to Harry Potter in the first story line. Charlie gets sent to a school for wizards and magic and then has many adventures. Some die-hard Potter fans may find it too similar, but the stories have their own power and magic. In fact, some folks like them better than the famous works by J. K. Rowling. These can be read by folks as young as fourth grade and enjoyed by everyone, including adults.

Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate will surprise those readers who think of Applegate only as the author of the Animorphs series. Written in free verse, this book offers a compassionate view of immigration and references to the atrocities faced by the people of Sudan.

I talked about Twilight by Stephanie Meyers in an earlier blog post. Go here to read that post.

Novels for Grades 3-6

Some of the best novels in the library fall into this category. Readers in grades three to six get special attention from authors and publishers. There are so many from which to select. Don't limit yourself to the popular, often overdone, series that fill so many bookstores and school book orders. Look a little harder and find some real gems like those on this list.

Hate That Cat by Sharon Creech carries on where Love That Dog ended. It amazes and pleases me to this day that kids get so quickly involved with a novel that at first glance seems too unusual to be enjoyable. Hate That Cat will have that same effect. It is again written in free verse and tells the story of a young boy whose teacher insists that he write some poetry. The poems that are referenced are included at the back of this slim volume. The story is filled with emotions that ring true and a story that is sure to touch your heart. (Cat lovers should not worry since cat is loved by the end of the book.)

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman has Gaiman’s trademark creepiness. The young hero, known as Bod from his realization that he is nobody, was lucky enough to escape from his home before being murdered with the rest of the family. Just a toddler, he manages to reach a graveyard when the ghosts are out for their evening air. A kindly ghost couple adopts him and he is raised in the graveyard. He grows up in each chapter, adapting to his lifestyle, meeting living beings only rarely, and learning how to survive in this half-way world of his. Always there is the very real fear that the murderer will find Bod and finish his mission. This novel is very different from Gaiman’s Coraline, but just as creepily enjoyable.

Kenny and the Dragon by Tony DiTerlizzi includes a young rabbit named Kenny, a dragon named Graham, and literate Badger named George. Kenny finds Graham on the hill near his home and soon befriends the gentle giant. The neighbors are not as easily charmed and call for someone to come slay the dragon, perhaps someone named George. There are many literary references but the story is charming, exciting, and satisfying whether or not you understand them all.

Kip Campbell, Funeral Director’s Boy by Coleen Paratore is an unexpected title to say the least--funny and informative book about living about a funeral home. It turns out to be a pleasant story that pays attention to how hard it is to be a little different from everyone else. Jan M., Emerson’s former music teacher, grew up in just this setting, living above her father’s funeral home. Many of the scenes in this book are very similar to memories she has shared with me.

Bat 6 by Virginia Euwer Wolfe is not a new book nor is it read as often as it deserves. The setting is rural Oregon in 1949 where families are trying to put themselves back together after World War II. The girls who tell the story in their many voices are carrying on a fifty year tradition of playing a special baseball game between neighboring towns. One team includes a girl whose family has just returned from a Japanese internment camp. A girl on the other team never really knew her father because he was killed at Pearl Harbor. The girls and their communities watch the fears and angers of the war come to a head on the baseball field. This is a moving book.

Sticks by Joan Bauer is about pool, math, real kids, humor, and family tensions. What more could you want? The just slightly off-beat characters and the surprises of humor make this a great read. In fact, it is so great that you won’t even notice the math and you will want to learn to play pool.

Seer of Shadows by Avi brings New York City in 1872 to life. Horace is a sensitive and hard-working photographer’s apprentice. The photographer for whom he works is a bit of a con artist and tries to get Horace to go along with the scam of a wealthy woman who believes she is being haunted by her daughter’s ghost. The trouble is that Horace sees the ghost. The ensuing story is fueled by adventure, cultural clashes, and some true surprises. I am always amazed at the wide range of Avi’s talents. Read anything by him and you are sure to be entertained but do not expect his books to all be alike in any way.

Fish and A Dog For Life by L.S. Matthews caught my eye with their unusual covers. I confess I bought these books because of their covers. The stories are at least as good as the covers. They are filled with touches of the mystical, strong characters, and a wealth of determination. Fish is the odder story of the two and maybe, therefore, the stronger. A boy and his parents are forced to leave their home due to political strife, drought and famine. The boy finds a fish in the last mud in front of their home and takes it him as a sort of talisman that helps with the many trials they face as they travel to a new place. A Dog for Life tells of two strong boys who offer their dog a good life. In the process one of the boys decides to take the dog across the country to what they hope will be a welcoming home. Descriptions do not do justice to either of these books.

The Magic Pickle by Scott Morse is an appropriately odd graphic novel about a pickle superhero, evil vegetables, and a charming little girl with social issues of her own. To add to the enjoyment are myriad plays on words. Even though the story is a little predictable in places, no one will really care because it such an enjoyable and unusual book.

Under the Watson’s Porch by Susan Shreve is just what the cover blurb says, “a touching story of first love”, but it is also much more. It is easy to imagine a girl finding friendship with this boy who is her parent’s worst nightmare. He has been kicked out of school several times and is not exactly welcomed by the woman who has volunteered to give him another chance. The young heroine of the story finds his strengths as they become good friends with each other and with the young children in the neighborhood. Together they teach the adults some valuable lessons.

The Willoughbys by Lois Lowry is very different from Lowry’s serious and dystopian titles like The Giver. It is also different from her friendly young girl books like Anastasia Krupnik. Here Lowry tries her hand at parody and succeeds beautifully. The story harks back to the classic stories of orphans who find happiness in hardship and other “old fashioned” stories. It is stronger than The Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket but has the same tongue in cheek references, including a glossary. If I try to tell the story, I will start laughing too hard and never finish so you will just have to read it for yourself.

My earlier blog posts have included these two titles. Clip on the titles to go to those posts.

Ferret Island by Richard Jennings

The Lightening Thief by Rick Riordan

First Chapter Books

One of the most exciting times in any one's life (and equally fun to observe over and over) is when the ability to read takes hold and the wonderful world of literature suddenly opens itself. Ever since Dr. Seuss wrote The Cat in the Hat there have been special books just for those readers who are just beginning to be able to read to themselves. There are increasing numbers of really good stories that fall into this category. Older readers still look for these books and remember them with great fondness. I read new ones eagerly and laugh at the jokes as hard as I would have over fifty years ago when I was just learning to read.

Here are some good titles to consider at the library or at Emerson's Book Fair on November 9.

Bad Kitty Gets a Bath by Nick Bruel is the second in a series about a cat who can be pretty bad. In this book, advice is given on bathing a cat who absolutely does not want anything to do with soap and water. The humor and the cartoon-like drawings are a guarantee that folks of all ages will like this book.

Babymouse series by Jennifer L. Holm and Jennifer Holm is a favorite with girls (and a few boys brave enough to overlook the ever-present pink) who are just learning to read and those who are confident readers who continue appreciate the humor, some of which is quite sophisticated on many levels. The graphic format means that it is easy to grasp what is going on whatever ones reading level. The stories are full of humor and everyday experiences.

Fly Guy series by Tedd Arnold is quite simply a hoot. With very few words Arnold weaves a wacky story of a boy and his fly. The fly can say the boy’s name, Buzz, as well as many other vital words with that zzzz sound. First readers and those who have been reading for 80 years will equally appreciate this humor.

Tornado by Betsy Byars is a good read for those non-so-brave readers who think they want to know what it is like to live through a tornado. While there is a tornado in this book, it is much more about a man telling stories about his favorite dog, Tornado, as the storm blows over. It will be no surprise if this book springs to mind when older readers select some of the many Byars books for older readers.

Houndsley and Catina series by James Howe focus on the friendship of a cat and a dog. The stories are similar to those other well-loved series like Howe’s Pinky and Rex, Cynthia Rylant’s Mr. Putter and Tabby or Henry and Mudge, and Jean Van Leeuwen’s Amada Pig. All of these books are solid stories of friendship and sharing.

Minnie and Moo series by Denys Cazet is one of my favorites, probably in part because I like cows so much. Friendly cows are not all this series has to offer. The stories have lots of humor as Minnie and Moo try to solve some common and some extraordinary problems in their lives. You have to love the illustrations that give these cows personality and charm.

Clementine series by Sara Pennypacker features a spunky young girl with definite ideas about how things should be. Her irrepressible nature gets her into trouble at times, but her heart is pure gold. The stories are realistic and remind me a bit of Ramona Quimby books by Beverly Cleary. They are not technically Early Readers, but will fit the needs of those who have gone just beyond those simplest of stories.

Sticky Burr: Adventures in Burrwood Forest by John Lechner is another graphic novel, a format that kids enjoy. This particular story teaches a little bit of botany and ecology while following the wild adventures of a burr who is not grumpy enough to please the other burrs. Some unexpected adventures lead to a happy ending for one and all.

Don’t forget the old favorite Early Reader authors like Dr. Seuss, Arnold Lobel, and James Marshall as you look among all the other offerings for the perfect titles.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Picture Book Suggestions

Everybody who can will be coming to the Emerson Book Fair on November 9. Since everyone loves picture books, let me suggest a few of the best that I have read recently.

Be sure to add your favorites by posting a comment.

New Clothes for the New Year by Hyun-Joo Bae is a book that I first admired for its beautiful illustrations and simple story. It tells of a little Korean girl getting dressed for New Year celebrations. Each part of her traditional clothing explained as she puts it on. The story took on new meaning when first grader Isabel’s mother told me that Isabel had an almost identical outfit sent to her from grandparents in Korea. Alas, the outfit is too small for Isabel.

Daft Bat by Jeanne Willis is designed to help people learn to look at things from varying perspectives. Bat is hanging upside down from a tree so he sees things differently from the animals standing on the ground. It takes wise old owl to ask the right questions to convince everyone that bat is not a bit batty.

Louise, the Adventures of a Chicken by Kate DiCamillo is a picture book with chapters. Each chapter takes Louise on a new adventure. The illustrations give more character than one would imagine possible for even as bold and inquisitive chicken as Louise.

Little Beauty by Anthony Browne, like everything else by Browne, has its charm multiplied by his wonderful artwork. A big, burly gorilla who has been taught sign language is given a tiny, fragile kitten. There is love at first sight between them but also a stern warning from the keeper that nothing must harm the kitten. The surprise ending is perfect.

Yoko Writes Her Name by Rosemary Wells finds the little Japanese kitten of other Yoko stories facing some teasing in her American kindergarten. Yoko can read, but only in Japanese. She writes beautiful Japanese characters but struggles with the English alphabet. As with the other books, the illustrations are lush and appealing. The ending is a bit simplistic, perhaps, but will appeal to everyone who has grown to love Yoko.

A Roomful of Questions by Tracy Gallup is truly a picture book for all ages. This Ann Arbor author and artist has created intricate and intriguing black and white illustrations to pair with simple, yet often profound and complex, questions. The entire family will enjoy discussing this charming little book.

Chester and Chester’s Back by Melanie Watt offers a story written by a human and then boldly re-written (in bright red marker) by her cat. This give and take creates a couple of amusing stories on top of each other right up to the clever resolution of the argument.

Lazy Little Loafers by Susan Orlean is written in the voice of a young girl who obviously has observed babies for some time. She wonders how come babies never have to do any work. Her pondering is apt and reasonable and quite amusing to the reader. She ultimately reaches the only possible and supremely logical conclusion.

Butterflies in My Stomach and Other School Hazards by Serge Bloch is a simply wonderful and wonderfully simple way to learn about idioms. Each page accompanies a one line idiom with a simple black and white illustration and a splash of color. There is an actual story line here, too, as narrator deals with first-day-of-school jitters.

Madam President by Lane Smith deftly includes political insight and a strong dose of humor. A young girl imagines her entire life as if she were president. This means that her acts are all official acts. Her every word is a press conference. She proves to be a president that is lovable and over-bearing at the same time. Sound like any people you know?

Two Bobbies: A True Story of Hurricane Katrina, Friendship, and Survival by Kirby Larson features a cat and dog who were abandoned when humans fled New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. They somehow found each other and supported each other until rescued by humans many weeks later. The story is even more moving when we realize that one of them is blind and that the story is absolutely true. Thank goodness for a happy ending.

Starlight Goes to Town by Harry Allard puts the spotlight on a chicken who dreams of movie fame. The story follows her successes and many foibles as she follows that dream. The pictures are funky fun and add much to the story.

Thump, Quack, Moo by Doreen Cronin is the latest adventure of the farm animals who typed in Click, Clack, Moo, a book that now has almost reached classic status. In this case the farmer is trying to create a super-special corn maze. Duck has other ideas. My favorite in this series is the first or last year’s Dooby, Dooby Moo. Don’t miss the “Diary” series by this same author. You will never look at a worm or a fly or a spider the same way again.

How to Heal a Broken Wing by Bob Graham has the perfect pictures for this gentle story of a little boy who finds a bird with a broken wing lying on the sidewalk. His understanding parents help him take it home and care for it. Much of the story is wordless making it even better for discussion and quiet appreciation.

John Patrick Norman McHennessy: The Boy Who Was Always Late by John Burningham offers a young man walking down "the road to learn” a variety of unexpected reasons for being late. His strict and crotchety teacher gives increasingly unreasonable punishments but the boy keeps heading back. The one day that John Patrick Norman McHennessy is not late leads to a very satisfying ending. John Burningham is a treasured author/illustrator. Look for his Mr. Gumpy’s Outing and Mr. Gumpy’s Motor Car for other pleasant adventures.

Beware of the Frog by William Bee has almost psychedelic illustrations, wild and strange characters, a sweet little old lady and her guard frog. Best of all, it has a surprise ending that will leave you chuckling. Be sure to read the cover flap to see just how interesting William Bee must be.

Reading Suggestions for Adult Readers

With the annual Emerson Book Fair coming upon us soon, it is time for me to give some reading suggestions for everyone in the Emerson community. Let's get the adults out of the way.

Here are a few of the books that I have read and enjoyed in the past few months. After reading the list, I am betting you will have some suggestions of your own or some comments on what I have been reading. Please add your suggestions and comments so that this blog becomes an active discussion board.

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery demands thought from the reader as it throws out profound thoughts—some identified as such and others interwoven within the tale—at every opportunity. The protagonist sees herself and assumes others see her as a short, ugly, plump concierge at a bourgeois building in a posh Parisian neighborhood. Her little secret is that she has a devout interest in art, literature, philosophy, and music. Also in the building is a super-smart twelve-year-old who works diligently to hide her intelligence behind a facade of mediocrity. When these two women meet, the result is both funny and heart wrenching.

A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future by Daniel Pink was one of the gift books that Oprah gave to Stanford graduates in June. It has been on best seller lists for quite awhile. Therefore, it had little initial appeal for a contrarian. This fall, however, the University Musical Society invited educators to gather and talk about the ideas found here, and I could resist no longer. I was amazed by how interesting and useful it was. I feel a need to re-read and underline it to I can promote for myself and others the valuable six traits that Pink says we all need to thrive in the world of the near future.

The Family That Couldn’t Sleep: A Medical Mystery by D. T. Max is a book I would never have selected had I not been pushed by one of my book clubs. The mystery here is in the sense of science trying to find the causes and cures for a range of diseases that seem to be caused by prions, a disorder affecting the shape and activity of proteins. Specifically this book looks at Fatal Familial Insomnia by following an Italian family with a history of slow, painful deaths marked by an inability to sleep. While it drags at times and rants at others, this proved to be an interesting and educational read.

People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks is not my favorite of her books such as March, Nine Parts of Desire, and Year of Wonders, but it is nonetheless worth reading. In this book, the reader is taken into the world of art fraud investigation as well as through history as it follows a 15th century illuminated Haggadah. Each stain or other out of the order find in the book leads to a dip into the lives of the people who handled and admired it though history. The result is a wide span of history tied together with stories past and present.

Lottery by Patricia Wood is told in the voice of a 30-something man with an IQ, he reminds us, is 76. This is important to him because it is one point above officially being mentally retarded. He lives with his grandmother for many years, learning how to enjoy life while getting by on limited funds. Together they buy a lottery ticket every week and spend much time dreaming of how they will spend their potential winnings. Alas, it is not until shortly after the grandmother’s death, that Perry wins the lottery. From there he learns who his true friends are as well as what is really important to him.

The God of Animals by Aryn Kyle seemed very real to me as it looked at the traditional folks out West—those who kept horses for ranch work—as they meet with the new suburbanites who want to be around horses for the social status they provide. The narrator of the story, Alice Winston, is a 12 year old trying to understand life as the family falls into more troubles as the horse farm gets further away from its roots. There is some humor here, but it is mostly a sad story of a family looking for the one thing that will give them the life they want, whatever that may be.

A Far Country by Daniel Mason creates a rather surreal world that soon becomes all consuming. Two young people live in a community that depends on the weather to keep the sugar cane providing jobs and others to deal with political strife. Inevitably in a story such as this, drought forces them to leave for the city. With many political, environmental, and social comments, this book includes much to ponder.

The Birth House by Ami McKay offers a mix of rural and urban Nova Scotia in the early 20th century, naturopathy, women’s rights, and history. The author’s other job is with documentary television and her fact checking is very apparent. The main character, Ms. Dare, is the only Dare woman in a long line of men. That, along with some other interesting quirks, leads many to consider her to be a witch. She learns how to be a mid-wife right at the time that the outside world is encouraging woman to give birth in modern hospitals. These two worlds of health providers conflict in an engaging story.

The Whistling Season by Ivan Doig features the beautifully skillful writing for which Doig has rightfully become famous. Once again, Doig sets his story in rural Montana. The family in the story needs a housekeeper after the mother dies leaving a father and three sons to fend for themselves on the ranch. With a beginning like that you can easily predict how it will be end, but the writing and some unexpected turns will keep you reading until that end is reached.

Stealing Buddha’s Dinner: A Memoir by Bich M. Nguyen takes place primarily in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in the 1970s, which is not where one would expect to find a Vietnamese refugee family. Nguyen came to Michigan with her father and sister after being separated from her mother as Vietnam fell. After a few detours, the family and their Buddhist grandmother arrive in Grand Rapids, sponsored by a Dutch Reform Church. This clash of cultures, complicated when the father marries a woman of Mexican decent, makes for an interesting story, told in large part through her views of food. Which does she crave more; a Twinkie or her grandmother’s Vietnamese cookies?

Maps for Lost Lovers by Nadeem Aslam mixes the beauty of language and the wonders of nature in a wrenching story of love, religion, pride, sorrow, and the full range of human strengths and failings. Pakistanis living in Britain deal in their own ways with the need to keep their religious roots and ties to the homeland strong, while facing the inevitable changes that come from living in a new society. This dilemma is brought to the forefront when two young people decide to live together until one can finally get a divorce. The young lovers are murdered for their perceived sin and the world that the community has so carefully constructed falls apart.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Wacky Wednesday--Joke of the Week #009

What did the fish Cinderella wear to the undersea ball?

Glass Flippers

Sunday, October 26, 2008

What's Special About This Week--Oct. 27-31

October 27--Global Environment Day

Today would be a good day to read some of the many books that are now out about the environment, global warming and other issues. Try Al Gore's book for young adults, An Inconvenient Truth or watch his movie by the same name. Maybe you would like The Down to Earth Guide to Global Warming by David Laurie or the DK book Climate Change by John Woodward. For a somewhat different viewpoint, take a look at The North Pole Was Here: Puzzles and Perils at the Top of the World by Andrew Revkin. If you prefer fiction, even if it is not very optimistic, the young adult novel Exodus by Julia Bertagna imagines the world in 2100. When the protagonist learns learns about communities in space, she tries to convince the others on her home island to head there before they are all covered by the rising seas.

October 27, 1787--The First of the Federalist Papers were published

The Federalist Papers are a collection of 85 articles that were written by the United States' founding fathers, primarily Alexander Hamilton, urging the ratification of the newly written Constitution. The Library Congress has kindly put the full text of the Federalist Papers on line, but I am going to bet that even with the link you won't be reading them any time soon.

October 28, 1846--The Donner Party is stopped by snow

As someone who grew up in the West, I suppose we learned a lot more about the history of that area than the people who grew up in the Mid-West. You can bet I did not know much about the history of the middle part of this country when I was in Middle or High School. None the less, it still surprises me that kids don't know about the gruesome Donner Party story. The essence of the story is that this group of people heading west to California from Laramie, Wyoming, and other points East took a wrong turn along the way. This meant they were trapped by late October snow in what is now known as Donner Pass. As folks died, the survivors had little or no choice but to eat the flesh of those who had already frozen. Read all about it at the PBS site or read the book The Perilous Journey of the Donner Party by Marian Calabro.

October 28, 1886--The Statue of Liberty dedicated

The Statue of Liberty sits proudly in New York harbor. This lovely lady may be the symbol of America that is most widely known around the world. Immigrants speak with awe of the first time they saw her, welcoming them to their new lives. Offered as gift for America's 100th birthday, the statue took years to build, arriving a full ten years late. You can read more about her at the Statue of Liberty official website or read one of the great books about Lady Liberty in the library. My personal favorite is Lady Liberty: A Biography by Doreen Rappaport which looks at all of the people who played a part in the creation of the Statue of Liberty, from the first germ of an idea, through the fund raising efforts, and on to the people still honor her today.

October 29--Biographies are Beautiful Day

What an exciting day it was when I discovered biographies. At their best--and there are many, many biographies that fit this description--biographies are as exciting as a good novel with the bonus that they are true. Think of someone who interests you and find their biography to read. You could also browse the shelves to discover someone you never knew existed. Reading a biography encourages one to wonder about how to live a biography-worthy life.

October 29, 1960--Muhammad Ali's First Professional Fight

Muhammad Ali grew famous not just for his boxing skills, but also for his political and social activities. Born Cassius Clay, he changed his name when he joined the Nation of Islam. He was an Olympic boxing champion in 1960. Soon after the Olympics he fought his first professional boxing match against Tunny Hunsaker who was then the chief of police in Fayetteville, West Virginia. Ali's win in that fight was the start of an amazingly successful boxing career. There was a time when every child I knew wanted to also "Soar like a butterfly/Sting like a bee". Read about this fascinating life at the official Ali website or check out a good biography from the library. The Greatest: Muhammad Ali by Walter Dean Myer is a good choice if you are in grades 4 to 7. If you would like a quick and easier biography try The Story of Muhammad Ali by Leslie Garrett.

October 30, 1864--Helena, Montana, founded

Helena, as you all know, is the capital of my home state. It has an interesting history. In July of 1864, four gold miners from Georgia, now affectionately known as "the Four Georgians", were about to give up and go home. They decided to give gold one last chance. They were near what is now Helena's main street when they struck it rich. The street is known as Last Chance Gulch. While it seemed like the city grew up overnight, the name took a while longer to settle. Among the names that were tried on for size were Crabtown (one of the Georgians had the name of Crab), Pumpkinville and Squashtown. Eventually many of the miners were from Minnesota and decided to name the town after the Minnesota town of Saint Helena. Helena was made the state capital in 1875. Today it is a beautiful, historic town worth a visit, if only in a virtual realm.

October 30, 1938--"War of the Worlds" radio broadcast

Imagine sitting around a big radio, the center of your evening entertainment. As you listen carefully to the usual scratchy broadcast, a voice interrupts to announce that there has been an alien attack. How would you react? The people who heard the "War of the Worlds" broadcast on their radios in 1938, but missed the introduction that stated that it was a radio play, got more than a little concerned. Orson Wells had little idea that his acting would have such an impact. You can read more about this evening of fear and excitement on the Internet or you can read the wonderful picture book by Meghan McCarthy called Aliens are Coming: The True Account of the 1938 War of the Worlds Radio Broadcast. This book includes actual text from the program, some history, and wonderful illustrations.

October 31--Halloween

Oh, but you knew that!

October 31, 1864--Nevada became the 36th state in the United States

Learn the facts about Nevada at the official Nevada Facts site.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Quote of the Week--#010

"If you wish to be a good reader, read."
Last Tuesday, Emerson teachers attended a full day workshop where we learned about the human brain. We learned all kinds of things about the reptilian brain, the cortex, and more. The most interesting part to me was how the brain stores information. We have just a short time to start growing those connections that will serve us throughout life. Most of those connections (for reading, language development, and so many other things that are related to what are generally considered to be academic skills) are formed by the time you read the age of 10. Many have to be firmly in place before age five to be acquired without a lot of extra work.
For me, life without reading is impossible to imagine. I read for pleasure and for information. I made a pact with myself when I was about 10 that I would read every night before bed. With few exceptions I have held to that pact for nearly fifty years. It may be no more than ten minutes, but reading gets me ready for bed and my mind processes what I have read while I sleep.
As a librarian and as a mother, I put a great deal of effort into getting the world to be a place full of readers. Read on, read on, and enjoy all that reading has to offer.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Dragon's Keep

Fourth Grader Arianna wrote this about a book she just finished today.

Dragon's Keep by Janet Lee Carey

"Dragon's Keep
is what I recommend for people who like active books. There is mean and and good and Queen/King war and, of course, dragons. It is a "cover to cover" book."

Thanks, Arianna, I know that I am putting this book at the top of my list of books to read next. The cover, for those of you who have not seen it, is a little creepy. It shows an otherwise normal hand with one green, scaly, dragon-like finger. Because this finger belongs to a princess, it cause more than a few worries for the queen. In fact, Rosalind, the princess, is forced to wear to wear gloves all the time. After all, Rosalind must be perfect to fulfill a 600 year old prophecy that she will restore her family to the rightful throne. I got this information from the cover flap. I got the excitement to open the book from Arianna.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Wacky Wednesday--Joke of the Week #008

This joke comes from my niece in San Jose, California. She made it up for her daughter. Proof of the creativity (or something) that runs in my family.

What kind of crown does a pirate princess wear?

A tiarrrrrrrra!

Thanks, Heather and Elise.

Now other folks need to share their wit and wisdom.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Book Quest Begins

This week Emerson students in grades four and five will begin regular meetings to read, discuss, and enjoy books as a part of Book Quest 2008. They will also be preparing to test other teams on how much they know about the books they are all reading.

This program was developed several years by Will Purves and myself to replace other reading programs that had resulted in more tears than teamwork. The idea is for every participant to share and enjoy the same five books. The teams then undertake the top secret task of creating a challenge regarding one of the books that they have read. This challenge can be almost anything. For example, if the teams had all ready "The Three Little Pigs" the challenge might include questions about the story. Each correct answer would result in some material for building a house fit for a pig. The team's construction would then be blow tested by a wolf or, more likely, a fan posing as a wolf. Perhaps the challenge would be to run a race that included stops at all of the pigs' houses, with questions to answers or feats to perform at each house. Maybe there would be an art and architecture challenge to built a house better house for the pigs. The options are limited only by time and imagination.

Of course, the books that this year's Book Quest members will read are a little more challenging than "The Three Little Pigs". Here are the great books that we are reading this year.
  • Joey Pigza Swallows the Key by Jack Gantos
  • Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes by Eleanor Coerr
  • The Kid Who Ran For President by Dan Gutman
  • The Castle in the Attic by Elizabeth Winthrop
  • Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O'Brien

After the challenges are completed by all teams at our grand finale event, families join for a much loved pot luck dinner.

This event is enjoyed by all, but could never happen without the help of parent coaches who give up their time to come to meetings and to create inventive ways to help students appreciate and understand the books. Thank you, wonderful parent coaches.

Second and third grade Book Quest comes in the spring.

What's Special About This Week--Oct. 20-24

October 20--Skydiving Day

Look through my earlier posts to find why this day seems special to me.

October 20--National Bring Your Teddy Bear to Work Day

My very special teddy bear as a child was given to me by my Uncle Frank who gave wonderful stuffed toys every year for Christmas. (After he got married, he always sent books instead. I suspect that idea came from his wife. Luckily, by that time I was old enough to read to myself so I could enjoy the books as much as I had enjoyed the many stuffed animals.) My teddy bear looked a little like Winnie the Pooh before Disney got their hands on him. I named him Pal because my brother got a Pal jack knife that year and I not-so-secretly wanted a jack knife. Pal slept with me every night for years (what jack knife would have done that?) and got toted around everywhere. At some point his foam stuffing started coming out of his paws. My mother took felt from some outgrown slippers to make covers for the holes. My brother's slippers were blue and mine were red. Pal got blue patches on his left side and red on the right. That is how I learned to tell left from right. If I still had my ratty, well-loved Pal, you can bet that he would come to work with me.

October 21--Infomaniacs Day

Infomaniacs are people who are constantly on the look out for information. You could say that librarians fit this description. Yes, they do, but they are not as obsessed with information seeking as those people who label themselves as infomaniacs. These information hounds spend hours every day searching the Internet (and, one hopes, books) for new information. Librarians take time out to read books, put things in order, and help others learn to find their own information.

October 21, 1959--The Guggenheim Museum of Art opened in New York City

The Guggenheim Museum of Art is as famous for the art within as for the unique Frank Lloyd Wright design of the building. The Guggenheim invites you to view its collection here.

October 22, 1938--First Xerography Copy Made

The invention of the copy machine made a huge impact on the world. Chester Carlson, working on his own time, had little idea how much his work would change the way people look at paper in their daily lives. It took more than five years and twenty tries to get a company to see the value of his invention. Now we take copies so much for granted that the copier company Xerox has seen its name become a verb, as in "Let me xerox this for you." Some people argue that we use much more paper in our world because of the copy machine. Do people really make more copies of things than they actually need? Look at the recycle bins by the copy machines and printers in the school. They fill up quickly with unwanted or misprinted papers.

October 22, 1883--The Metropolitan Opera House opened

The first performance at the Met, which was then located at Broadway and 39th Street in New York City, was Gounod's Faust. Since that time millions of people have enjoyed opera with the Met. The company moved to Lincoln Center in 1966. The Metropolitan Opera site offers audio and video of recent opera productions.

October 23--National Mole Day

From 6:02 a.m. to 6:02 p.m. on 11/23, join the celebration of National Mole Day. Known as Avogadro's number, a mole is a basic unit of measurement in chemistry. It is simply (and to non-chemists such as myself, not all that clearly) the quantity of any substance whose mass in grams is the same as its formula weight and is based on the amount of atoms in 0.012 kilograms of carbon-12. That number is 6.02 times 10 to the 23rd. It appears that there are many chemists around the world who enjoy using this number to come up with fun facts and even jokes. For example: One mole of pennies would pay off the United States national debt about 86 million times. A one liter bottle of water contains 55.5 moles of water. Go to this site for mole jokes, Mole Day celebration ideas, and mole cards.

October 23, 1964--First Olympic Women's Volleyball Championship Game

Since we at Emerson have all met a person who played in this year's Women's Water Polo Championship game, (Yeah, Allison) it seems appropriate to celebrate other women in the Olympics. This first Olympic Women's Indoor volleyball game was won by Japan, the host nation that year.

October 24--United Nations Day

This date has been recognized as United Nations Day since 1948 and remembers the day in 1945 when the Charter of the United Nations went into force. Read more about the United Nations at their website.

October 24, 1901--First Woman to go over Niagara Falls in a Barrel

Anna Edison Taylor was a teacher in Bay City, Michigan, (hometown of Emerson's own second grade teacher, Barb) when she decided to gain some fame by going over Niagara Falls in a barrel. The Niagara Falls Information site has pictures of Anna Taylor with her barrel. It also says that she took her pet kitten with her for the trip. I can only imagine how scared that poor little kitty mush have been.