Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Banned Books Week

The last week of September is honored each year as Banned Books Week. The American Library Association (ALA) has activities of all sorts. Bookstores, libraries, and a variety of literacy groups participate. Lists of most frequently challenged and banned books are published. Some people get quite excited. Others--probably most people--ignore the entire discussion.

When my daughters were in upper elementary school and older we would sometimes play a silly game of trying to think of a reason for any book to be banned.

What could be objectionable about Goldilocks and The Three Bears? Surely, you don't want children reading about a child who enters a house that is not hers, eats their food, breaks their chairs, and generally makes herself at home. What kind of lesson does that teach?

The Cat in the Hat? That classic can't be bad, can it? Let's see--a parent leaves children unattended and they let a total stranger come into the house. At the very least, that is not good parenting, at worst it is a lesson in trickery and ultimately lying to that neglectful parent.

I won't go on with this because you get the idea, I am sure. Can you think of other examples?

Just to get you excited, here are a few of the most challenged books of the 21st century. I think you will find some favorites on the list. Can you understand why some people might object to them?
Captain Underpants (all of the them) by Dav Pilkey
The Golden Compass
by Philip Pullman
Harry Potter (all of them) by J. K. Rowling
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
Here are some authors who have had many challenges, often on more than one book, in the past 10 years.
Judy Blume
Roald Dahl
Kevin Henkes
Lois Lowry
Lauren Myracle
Barbara Park
I am eager to know what you think about banning books. We could get a good discussion going here.
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A side note: Lauren Myracle was one of our best visiting authors, ever. Her challenged books are the ones for high school students. We don't own those books, but many, many girls have enjoyed reading her books for upper elementary and middle school--Eleven, Twelve, and Thirteen. They are great books to read to get inside the mind of a girl of those ages. They are funny, touching, and very real. If you are about ten, you can think about what lies ahead. If you are older than the ages of the girl in the book, you can remember what you survived so well. If you are 11, 12, or 13, you will recognize yourself and your friends in these books.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

What's Special About This Week--Sept.29-Oct. 3

September 29--National Chimney Sweep Day

While most folks probably think of Mary Poppins and the rooftops of London when they think of Chimney Sweeps, there are still many chimney sweeps around today. Professional chimney sweeps encourage you to get your chimney cleaned regularly. Chimney sweeps are also considered lucky in some parts of the world. Read this to learn about how seeing a chimney sweep on New Year's Day is supposed to bring good luck.

September 29, 1829--Scotland Yard established

By going to this site from Scotland Yard I not only learned about the history of the Metropolitan Police (the official name for Scotland Yard), I also learned about some of the famous investigation carried out by what may be the most famous police agency in the world.

At the Smithsonian site I learned why London's policemen are called "bobbies".

September 30--Chewing Gum Day

"Does your chewing gum lose its flavor on the bedpost overnight?" asked a silly song my parents used to sing. I don't know the answer to that one, but you can find lots of information about chewing gum at the official website of the National Association of Chewing Gum Manufacturers.

September 30, 1868--Louisa Mae Alcott's Little Women published

I already told you that I have never read this book, but clearly lots of people have if it is now 140 years old and still popular.

October is National Dessert Month

I just thought you would want to know that.

Why is dessert spelled with a double 's'? Because with dessert you always want more. With a desert--especially if you have no dessert--you don't want more very often.

October 1--Tuvalu Independence Day

Tuvalu is an island in the South Pacific, so you know it has to be beautiful. It was granted independence from Kiribati on October 1, 1975. Read all about this island paradise at their official website.

October 1--World Smile Day

Isn't the Internet wonderful? I even found a site that tells you how to smile.
SMILE. :-)

October 2--National Custodial Workers Day

Emerson has the some of the best custodians in the world. Today, take a minute to thank Lisa, Ron, Brad, and Seth for all they do to make the school a better place for all of us. Take time every day to pick up after yourself.

October 2, 1967--Thurgood Marshall sworn in as U. S. Supreme Court Justice

Thurgood Marshall made history for many reasons, not the least being the first African American to serve on the United States Supreme Court. There are many good biographies of him such as Up Close: Thurgood Marshall by Chris Crowe that you can check out from the library. You can see pictures of Thurgood Marshall and then surf around the site for much more information.

October 3, 1955--Captain Kangaroo premieres on TV

You may have grown up without ever watching Captain Kangaroo, but his TV show was the favored show of young people for many, many years. It ran from 1955 to 1984, making it the longest running children's show in history. My generation could tell you all about Mr. Greenjeans and all the other Captain Kangaroo characters. Click here to learn about all the folks on the show. There are even videos of clips that may have kept your parents--or even your grandparents--entertained.

October 3, 1955--Mickey Mouse Club premiered on TV

The Mickey Mouse Club has changed a lot since the first version of it premiered in 1955. Now there are games and activities on the Internet if you go to the official Mickey Mouse Club site.

Quote of the Week--#006

"Readers are lucky--they will never be bored or lonely."

Natalie Babbit
Quoted in Quotations on Education
Compiled by Rosalie Maggio

Friday, September 26, 2008

It's Working

Good news!

Now that I have shown most of the 3-5 classes how to get to my blog, they have gotten excited. While there are no new comments, there is a wait list for The Lightning Thief. So people are talking.

Now I need you to talk back to these posts.

Remember, Emerson students, I am eager to post your book reviews for comment, too.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Falling from the Sky

Some of you may think of me as just as a boring old librarian. This video is to show you that I also have a little bit of a daredevil side. This was filmed in Taupo, New Zealand, in February of 2006, and was the highlight of a wonderful vacation.

Skydiving was truly the most fun I have ever had. I am ready to go again, so let me know if you would like to join me on an excursion--tandem, of course, with a trained professional. I think you have to be at least 18 years old. It is not cheap, but worth every penny.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Wacky Wednesday--Joke of the Week #005

Q. The alphabet goes from A to Z. What animal goes from Z to A?

A. (written from A to Z)--Arbez

Saturday, September 20, 2008

What's Special About This Week--Sept. 22-26

September 22--Elephant Appreciation Day

There is so much information around about elephants that it is hard to narrow it all down. Try this website for an encyclopedia of elephant facts. The San Diego Zoo has pictures, video, and even a chance to hear a trumpeting elephant.

There are also many books in our library about elephants. Come look at all the elephant non-fiction books we have. One of my favorites is Elephants Can Paint, Too by Katya Arnold. With full page photos of elephants happily swinging paint brushes, this book tells a little bit about elephants who have been trained to paint plus some basic elephant facts.

If you are not in the mood for elephant facts, try some of these wonderful stories.

The Elephant's Child comes from Rudyard Kipling's Just So Stories and may be my very favorite. The language is beautiful and the story is funny and exciting. You will want to go down to the banks of "the great grey-green greasy Limpopo River, all set about with fever trees" just to see it for yourself, though you won't want to meet a crocodile or ask what he has for dinner.

Dr. Seuss has two elephant classics--Horton Hears a Who and Horton Hatches an Egg. As with any Seuss book, they are worth reading and re-reading many times.

When I was little the Babar books by Jean de Brunhoff always fascinated me. The copy we had was written in script so I spent hours amazed by the beauty of that script look before I could read it. When my children were growing up, I read the books to my girls. Because of these books, Celeste is one of my favorite names. Now you can read more about Babar and his family because Jean de Brunoff's son Laurent keeps writing a few more, though every few years I hear that he has decided to quit.

Michigan's own and much loved Patricia Polocco has abook with an elephant who is very different from Babar but just as enchanting. When you read Emma Kate you must decide for yourself if it is about a girl who has imaginary elephant for a friend or about an elephant who imagines a girl as a friend.

September 22, 2890--Bilbo Baggins' Birthday/Hobbit Day/Fantasies are Fabulous Day

If you would like to read Bilbo's biography and trace his family tree, here is the site for you.

Bilbo is almost like a personal friend to all of us who read and enjoyed this book when I was growing up. Be sure to read it before you read The Lord of the Rings trilogy. You will enjoy them all more this way.

"I am in fact a Hobbit, in all but size," J. R. R. Tolkien said about himself. He was a fascinating man who created an entire world right down to the language and script which the inhabitants used. He changed the world of fantasy. It is safe to say that Harry Potter and all the other fantasy stories that are so popular with Emerson students would be much different without the influence of Tolkien.

September 23, 1986--Rose declared to be official flower of the United States

It was on this date that the House of Representatives passed a declaration regarding the national flower. The Senate had passed the same resolution the previous year. In November of 1986, President Ronald Regan the proclamation that made the rose the official floral emblem of the United States. Be sure to stop and smell the roses today.

September 23, 1934--The Detroit Lions play their first game

While the Lions were not the first professional football team in Detroit, they were the first to stick around for more than a year or two. The official Detroit Lions site has a wealth of information on the history of the team as well as everything you might want to know about the current team.

September 24--Buy Nothing Day

What would it do to your piggy bank or to the national economy if you decided that for this one day you would buy absolutely nothing? What if everyone in the country made the same decision?

September 24, 1961--The Bullwinkle Show premiered on NBC

This was my favorite cartoon show when I was about 10. Just watching the trailer video on this website brought back great memories. (The link I offer you is to a site that is trying to sell you stuff. All you need to do is watch the trailer, get a good laugh, and move on.)

September 25--National Ask a Question Day

"There is no such thing as a dumb question."

But I have heard plenty of answers that were not very well thought out.

September 25, 1849--The nation's first state fair was held in Detroit

You've missed the state fair for this year. It was ran from August 22 to Labor Day. Next year you could be part of the crowd that has headed to Detroit every year since 1947. Prior to that year, the state fair moved to a different city each year. It was held in Ann Arbor in 1850.

September 26, 1985--Kalina becomes the first orca (killer whale) born in captivity at Sea World, Florida

Go here to see photos of Kalina. All of the whales who perform at Sea World have the stage name of Shamu, but behind the scenes they have their own names. If you want to watch the whales swimming in real time, visit the Shamu Cam,

September 26, 1580--Francis Drake completed circumnavigation of the globe

Francis Drake was a well known pirate before he became an explorer and the first British citizen to sail all the way around the world. Students have created this website of basic facts about Sir Francis Drake.

Quote of the Week--#005

"There's no thief like a bad book."

Italian Proverb.
Quoted in 1,911 Best Things Anybody Ever Said
Selected and Compiled by Robert Byrne

Often people have the belief that once one reads the first page of a book it is somehow "The LAW" to read the rest of the book. Wow! Doing that would mean that I would miss reading bunches of books that I truly enjoy. There are too many good books to read. Why waste time on something that bores or scares or confuses you?

Nancy Pearl, the Seattle librarian who gained fame by talking and writing about her favorite books, has a rule of thumb that appeals to me. With the exception of books assigned as classwork, there is no book that you HAVE to read. (It is good to try to finish a book for a book club, but sometimes you can add to book club discussions simply by telling the group why you simply could not finish the book.) Pearl suggests that you read fifty pages of a novel. If you don't like it by then, quit and find a book you do enjoy.

I would augment this idea in a couple of ways. If you are reading a book of less than 200 pages, read about a quarter of the book before making your decision about finishing the book. Further, if you really, really dislike the book after even fewer pages, don't waste your time unless two people tell you that they were glad they kept going and finished the book.

Remember that this is different from selecting a book using the famous Five Finger Rule . Simply put, the Five Finger Rule suggests a simple check to see if the reading level of the book you are considering is just right for you. Open the book to a random full page of text. As you read, hold up a finger every time you find a word or concept that you don't understand. At the end of the page, if you have 4 or 5 fingers up, you may find that this book is more difficult than you want. This doesn't mean that you can't read the book, but it does suggest that you have a found a book that may not be much fun to read if you are struggling with reading it. If you only have one or two fingers up, the book may bore you because it is so easy. Of course, sometimes we all want to read a nice, relaxing book, so don't toss the book aside if that is just what you are seeking. If you have put up 2 or 3 fingers, this book may be the perfect degree of difficulty for you. It will have enough difficult words and ideas to challenge your thinking but will still be an enjoyable read. Some folks call this the Goldilocks part of the rule. If you have 2 or 3 fingers up, the book is not too easy. It is not too hard. It is just right.

If you have other ideas for selecting a book, please let me know. We could create our own rule.

The Emerson library has one of Nancy Pearl's books in the collection. Book Crush: For Kids and Teens--Recommended Reading for Every Mood, Moment & Interest can't please everyone. Avid readers will find many favorites missing and will question why some of the titles got into this extensive list. It can offer a jump start to thinking of new books for you to read. Many of the suggestions are exactly the same the I or your parent or your best friend will give you. Maybe with the word of an "expert" will convince you to try.

The library also has another item for which Nancy Pearl has become known around the world. Ask me to show you my librarian action figure which supposedly looks just like the real Nancy Pearl. There were many people (mostly stuffy librarians, I suspect) upset about this figure because, with the push of a button, it raises its hand to say "Shhhhh" . Most of the world's librarians want folks to think of libraries as welcome and open to a little talking and a lot of happy looking. I know that is how I view the library. (I do enjoy watching my action figure though.)

How quiet do you think a library should be? Should I say "Shhhh!" more often?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Wacky Wednesday--Joke of the Week #004

A class is taking a test on things that they have learned about writing research papers. One passes a quickly scribbled note to the other.

"Hey, I don't have a clue what plagiarism is. Can I copy what you have written?"

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You may have to think for a minute or two to know why that is funny. Or is it?

Percy Jackson and the Olympians

Thank you, Kate M.

Without the wonderful Kate, I might have gotten out the door without having to rush yesterday morning.

Without Kate, I might have gotten some more work done at home.

Without Kate, I might not have rushed home after work the past few days to stick my nose in a book.

Yes, it was Kate who forced me-- even she admits that she forced me--to finally read The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan. I am ever so grateful. It was well worth ignoring other chores and even being almost late several times to read this exciting, funny, wonderful book.

The Lightning Thief is the first in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. Number five, The Last Olympians, is due out in May of 2009. I have a feeling I will not be the only person ready and waiting for its arrival at the bookstore.

Although Percy Jackson struggles with ADHD and dyslexia, his life is not too rough. Sure, his father was "lost at sea" before he was born and his mother has since married a rather obnoxious and very smelly guy, but things could be worse. Percy has been kicked out of several schools for behavior problems, but that happens to the best folks sometimes. He just considers himself to be a pretty normal kid. In sixth grade, however, things start to get a little strange. Monsters appear at school and on field trips--monsters that want to kill him. A pen his teacher gives him turns into a sword just to in time to help him slay his math teacher, who is a monster in the most literal sense and not just a bad teacher with a short fuse. What in the world is going on?

This is when Percy learns that he is a demigod, the son of a mortal woman and a Greek god. He also learns that those Greek gods he has been studying still exist. In fact, Mount Olympus is currently located on the 600th floor of the Empire State Building. All is not well in the world of the gods and Percy has been called to Half Blood Hill, the summer camp for demigods, and will soon have to prove his worth.

What follows is a road trip across America like none you have ever imagined. It seems that the gates to the underworld are located in Los Angles and Percy must travel to the underworld to help straighten things out for the entire world. He is accompanied two friends--a daughter of Athena and a well-meaning, if sometimes a little nervous, young satyr. There are battles of the most outlandish kinds. (Did you know that ADHD can be a real benefit if you are in a battle? It makes you able to see things going on all around you, helps pick up activity on all sides, and allows you to act impulsively. Percy also learns that his dyslexia is because he is programmed to read ancient Greek which he realizes he reads and understands with little effort.)

The story is also jam packed with humor and typical middle school worries. Social comments are generously sprinkled throughout. It seems even the gods are troubled with pollution, overcrowding, political in-fighting, and financial worries.

I just checked out Rick Riordan's website and discovered lots of interesting things. If you are writing a report about the books he even has a section of "biographical info for school reports". He has been a middle school English teacher for many years, something that I am guessing makes him so aware of how middle school operates and how middle school students would react to attacks by monsters from the underworld. We missed his "Mythology Bee" but maybe we could stage our own if any of you are interested.

So, thank you, Kate. I had a great time with Percy. Guess what I started reading last night? Right--The Sea of Monsters, book two of the series.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

What's Special About This Week--Sept. 15-19

September 15--Someday

Yes, today is that day to do all the things you have been planning to do "someday".

September 15--American Novel Day

Think of all the great American novels you love. Then read a new one. I will spare you suggestions today, but do stay tuned.

September 16, 1630--Boston, Massachusetts, founded on the Shawmut Peninsula

My daughter lives in Boston so when I visit Boston, she is my very first, and often almost only, attraction there. If you go to the City of Boston site you can find all the other things to see and do in the former Shawmut, including a video series of walking the Freedom Trail.

September 16--Stay Away From Seattle Day

This day was created, or so folks on line tell us, to give "America's Best Place to Live" a break from all of its visitors and the many new people moving to Seattle. Since Ann Arbor is a place that keeps getting high ratings as a great place to live, I think this should be easy to observe. Besides, you are still thinking about the wonders of Boston.

September 17, 1931--First long-playing record demonstrated

A major development in sound recording came when RCA created a 12 inch flexible vinyl disc that turned at 33 1/3 revolutions per minute. This innovation made it possible to record and play longer works on a single record. Do you know how many grooves are on each side of a record?

September 17, 1787--The United States Constitution signed

If you were not in Philadelphia in 1787, you can read all about this historic event at the Library of Congress website. The Library of Congress is a great place to view information about anything related to America and American history.

September 18, 1981--The Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum opened in Grand Rapids

Michiganders are proud to claim President Ford as a native son. He grew up in Grand Rapids and went to college in Ann Arbor, where you can visit his presidential library. You can learn about both places at their website.

September 18--Chile Independence Day

Read all about Chile's fiestas patrias .

September 19--International Talk Like a Pirate Day

This day has become something of an event at Emerson thanks to our piracy elective. There was even a big article about it in the Ann Arbor News .

September 19, 1982--Supposed First Use of an Emoticon : )

While the folks at Snopes, the famous debunkers of computer myths, disagree, many people proclaim that Carnegie Mellon University professor Scott E. Fahlman was the first person to use the now almost too common smile made of with punctuation marks. Now there are hundreds of emoticons and still room for folks to add more.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Quote of the Week--#004

" In recommending a book...the less said the better. the moment you praise a book too highly you awaken resistance in your listener."
Henry Miller
Quoted in Quotations in Education
compiled by Rosalie Maggio

From personal experience, I can tell you that there is much to that quote.

Much to the surprise of many people, I have never read Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. It was a favorite of my mother, a children's librarian. She praised it regularly and told me I just HAD to read it. Years later, one of my daughters read and loved it. People I know and admire often refer to this classic. Critics still rave about it. I probably will never will read it because someone told me I "had" to read it. Don't tell me how much I am missing. That will just make me dig my heels in deeper.

Parents, let this be a warning to you. You know your child best but you may find better results from just leaving a book around the house with no comment at all. Perhaps you could include sly references to the book in discussion of every day topics, but not make a big deal out of it. Better yet, let your child see you reading it and laughing or sighing. Be sure to let your child that no one should touch the book until you have finished it.

Don't ask your librarian or teacher to push a book on your child. Kids see through that and they take as much glee in rejecting an educator's ideas as they do in rejecting yours.

There are so many wonderful books in this world that missing a few--even if they are best books you have ever read--will not hurt anyone.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Loose Teeth

My niece's young daughter has her first loose tooth. Elise is very excited about it all and rightfully proud of this huge event. I thought of her today as I looked at my first grade students and saw how many of them have those wonderful, huge gaps in their smile. Don't you think that there is something really special about those smiles, even if they do make it almost impossible to eat corn on the cob. For adults and older kids they bring back memories of first loose teeth. Losing a tooth is a sign that you are growing up. A loose tooth is a great way to get the attention and, sometimes, disgust of others. Then the tooth fairy comes. Wow! It doesn't get much better than that.

As I thought about teeth, I realized that there are many great books about losing teeth. My favorite is a collection of world customs regarding lost teeth. By reading Throw Your Tooth on the Roof: Tooth Traditions from Around the World by Selby B. Beeler, I learned that there are many ways to treat a lost tooth and many of them have nothing to do with a tooth fairy. In some places it is a mouse that comes to collect the tooth. Others bury their teeth or throw them on the roof. You will find customs that surprise you and ones that make perfect sense.

To learn more about tooth fairies and customs around the world you can visit the Tooth Fairy's own website or on this site of multicultural practices. You will see that in many cultures the growth of new healthy teeth depends in large part on how you handle that tooth.

The tooth fairy got her start in the United States. Immigrants who came to the U.S. from Europe were used to planting lost teeth in the ground. This was hard to do if you live in a tall apartment building in a big city, which is where many immigrants found them selves. It was common then for people to put lost teeth in a flower pot but even that was not as easy as putting the tooth in a glass of water (that is where I left my teeth for the tooth fairy) or under the pillow. That is when the tooth fairy started claiming the teeth and leaving behind a coin.

There are many books about the tooth fairy. Here are some of my favorites.

Jane vs. the Tooth Fairy by Betsy Jay reminds me of many people I know, including the obstinate girl I was at age 6. Jane knows that the tooth fairy will leave money for her tooth, but Jane is not ready to give her tooth that easily so she argues all the reasons why she should keep it. (When I lost my teeth, I always left instructions that I would like the money--which was never more than a dime--but I also would like to keep the tooth. Sometimes the tooth fairy agreed; sometimes she didn't. You see, I had this great idea that I would someday make a necklace out of my teeth and it would be beautiful. Before you decide to do this, let me warn you that lost teeth crack easily and are pretty hard to string. They also are not really that pretty when out of your mouth for too long.)

The Bully Boys Trick the Tooth Fairy by Mike Thaler also has kids who want to keep their own teeth, but they loose them to those bullying Bully Boys. When the boys learn that they can get money for teeth, they quickly decide that more teeth will mean more money. They trick people left and right to collect more teeth. They make a mistake, though, when they decide that the dentist's office is the best place to add to their tooth collection. This book may make you laugh so hard that you loose a tooth or two. Mike Thaler talks some more about teeth in The Dentist From the Black Lagoon.

Sweet Tooth by Margie Palatini is a lushly illustrated story more about a tooth than the tooth fairy, though she does appear at the end. Poor Stewart is an ordinary, nice boy who is always getting in trouble because of a loud and rude sweet tooth that shouts out in class and ruins a family wedding with its loud demands. Stewart comes up with a solution that the tooth find cruel but that is hilarious to the rest of us.

George Washington's Teeth by Deborah Chandra may not be one hundred percent accurate about George Washington's false teeth, but you will enjoy this book filled with rhyme and humor. There are some facts included in the end for those who want to know what the real story is.

Open Wide: Tooth School Inside by Laurie Keller is a fun way to learn more about teeth. Imagine that your mouth is a school for teeth who are learning about themselves. While learn where they belong and how to behave, you will learn the names of your teeth, a little about their "bodies", and a lot about how to take care of them.

What-the-Dickens: The Story of a Rogue Tooth Fairy: A Novel by Gregory Maguire is a novel for readers in fifth through eighth grade. Just when you reach an age that you are not losing teeth and questioning the whole idea of the tooth fairy, along comes this sometimes frightening, sometimes funny, always interesting novel about a lost and confused tooth fairy who ends up where it shouldn't and has an adventure that it never imagined, nor have you. Yes, this is written by the same creative fairy tale writer who wrote the adult novel that was made into the musical "Wicked".

Read a good book about teeth, then go give them a good brushing.

Elise, my grand grandniece, I look forward to seeing pictures of you when your first teeth falls out and then learning what you have done with it.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Wacky Wednesday--Joke of the Week #003

Rolf: Hey, did you guys just hear that computer sneeze?

Jan: I did. What do you think the problem is?

Steve: It probably has a virus.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Ferret Island

Since the day I finished Ferret Island by Richard Jennings sometime in mid-July, I have been thinking two things:

  1. Everyone needs to know about this great book.

  2. This book is impossible to describe adequately.

After all these weeks of debating these two issues, I sought out reviews. School Library Journal, a source I usually like, gave the book a big thumbs down. Booklist was a little more favorable, but not much. Hornbook seems to have enjoyed it, but without wild praise. The sole customer review on Amazon was a far-less than enthusiastic two stars. Is there something wrong with me or with the rest of the world?

The big flaw with Ferret Island is its terrible cover. (Look it up on the Emerson School catalog and see for yourself. Be sure to click on the cover to see the Title Peek for a close-up of the cover plus reviews of the book, including those that don't agree with me.) What kid wants to even open a book with a cover done in grays and browns? I wasn't sure I wanted to open it but having enjoyed other books by Jennings, I forged on.

It took maybe half a page to have me totally hooked. If I were to write a book, this is how I want to write. It is full of literary allusions--some very obvious, like the boy Finn who is befriended by a ferret he names Jim, and some that you will have to think about a little harder. There are myriad social commentaries on things like gossip magazines, fast food, and pop culture. Jokes abound. You may have to reread it--I plan to it once I have gotten everyone in grade four or above to give it a whirl--to get find them all. I laughed out loud. More importantly, I keep thinking about the story.

So, what is Ferret Island about? That's a really good question. Simply put, it is about a fourteen year old boy who falls off a tour boat in the Mississippi River near Memphis and ends up on an almost deserted island. He seems quite comfortable there, collecting trash to furnish a home for himself and keeping busy with interesting odds and ends. Even when he discovers that a number of giant ferrets share the island, he is much less concerned than I would be. He is thrilled, as I might be, to find that his favorite author shares the island as well. (Frankly, I am not so sure I agree with his choice of most admired author.) All of these elements soon mix together with strange plot twists that I couldn't adequately describe, even if I weren't afraid of telling too much of the story.

Read this book if you like Daniel Pinkwater's books. Read this book if you have a good sense of humor or wish that you did. Read this book if thing a little differently from some of the people around you--or the people who review books for a living. Read this book just because it is so very funny and good. Just don't read it while eating at McDonald's. (Read the book to find out why I said that.)

Saturday, September 6, 2008

What's Special About This Week--Sept. 8-12

September 8, 1973--Eviel Knievel jumped over the Snake River in Idaho on his motorcycle. What kind of a Montanan would I be if I did not mention this event? Eviel (also sometimes spelled Evel) was born in Butte, Montana, in 1938 and, with his motorcycle, became one of the state's most famous showmen. I am not so sure that Montana should be proud of his foolishness and loud mouth, but he sure was hard to ignore.

September 8--Merixtell
This is a national day celebrated in the small European country of Andorra to honor the Virgin Mary. Families travel to the visit statues honoring the patron saint of the Andorra.

September 9--Hot Dog Day
There seems to be no definite date for the "invention" of the hot dog as a sausage in a bun, but that does not stop folks from making up lots of stories. One day is as good as another for enjoying a good hot dog, whether at the ball park or in the back yard.

September 9--Party Party Day
When the number of the month matches the number of the day (as in 9/9) some people take that as being a good enough reason to have a party. You could serve hot dogs and celebrate two holidays at once.

September 10, 1966--The Road Runner Show premiered on CBS
While the characters of the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote have been around since they 1940's it was on this date that they began a regular airing on televisions throughout the country.

September 10--Swap Ideas Day
That is why there are blogs and classrooms and any place that two or more people meet for more than a few minutes.

September 11, 1955--First televised Miss America pageant
While the Miss America pageant began in Atlantic City, New Jersey, in 1921, it did not use the title of Miss America until 1951. Lee Merriweather, who went on to be a TV actress, was the winner in 1955.

September 11--American Short Story Day
There are many books of short stories in the library. Check one out or write a short story of your own. If you want to be frightened try The Dark Thirty: Southern Tales of the Supernatural by Patricia McKissack. If a good laugh is more your style you may enjoy Never Cry "Arp" by Patrick F. McManus

September 12, 1964--Canyonlands National Park established
This beautiful park full of unusual geological formations is located in Utah.

Video Game Day
The first video game was invented in 1951 but things have changed a lot since that first tic tac toe type game played on what would be a giant computer. Celebrate by playing a video game or, if you play video games every day, by not even touching a video game all day long.

Library Contest--September 2008

The contest in the library changes about once a month. This month we have what has become the traditional start of the school year. A variety of teachers and administrators have put items in the library showcase that represent summer activities. They also include some items that represent that activity to them.

One teacher brought us a rock formed by the cooled lava from Mt. Kilimanjaro where she and her husband hiked this summer. Another lava rock came back from Hawaii with a teacher. We have items collected in Beijing by the proud mom of an Olympic water polo silver medal winner. There are memories of hikes and runs as well as hours spent with legs elevated to recover from surgeries. Theater and beaches, long trips and short ones, hard work and leisure were all part of our summers.

The contest is for Emerson students to decide who did what. The winner will be the person who has the most correct. A drawing will be held in case of a tie. A cooler bag filled with items that reminiscent of summer awaits the lucky winner.

We have a fascinating team working at Emerson so it is no surprise that we have fascinating items in the display. Come take a look.

Quote of the Week--#003

It would be a good idea if children would write books for older people, now that everyone is writing for children.

G. C. Lichtenberg
Quoted in Quotations on Education
compiled by Rosalie Maggio

When I was young--probably about 10--I decided that I agreed with Lichtenberg. (I had never heard of him, but now, thanks to Wikipedia, we all can know about him. He really was an interesting guy.) I set out to write something tentatively titled "All About Adults by a Kid". I struggled unsuccessfully for several year to write something interesting.

Finally I decided that it was a lost cause. All I could think to say turned out to be roughly what my mother kept telling. "Adults just want what is best for their children." " Adults always know best." Who wanted to read that? I was never 100% convinced that this was even true much less that I it was worth repeating or that anyone would want to read it.

I think Lichtenberg would have suggested just writing a story and letting adults get some insight into what children think. I never did that. I hope that someone will take on that task and that publishers will publish it without platitudes or jokes about the improbability of a child being able to write a book. There are lots of published books out there that would have been had they been written by a child. There are also lots of things that children could say that adults have forgotten.

Yes, there are many, many books written by adults trying to use the voice of a child. Some are really quite good. The works of Christopher Paul Curtis, Roald Dahl, and Daniel Pinkwater come to mind almost immediately. I have had to struggle a bit to think of others. Even authors that we think of as really knowing children usually write in the third person. Any suggestions?

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Wacky Wednesday--Joke of the Week #002

This just in from NASA.

It has been revealed that the average astronaut's favorite part of a computer is......

The space bar.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

What's Special About This Week--Sept. 2-5

As many of you know, I am a collector of what makes each day of the year special. It is what makes Linda's daily contest work. I thought it might be fun to share a couple of the special days of the week here on the blog. You will have to check with me every day to get a more complete list.

September 2, 1752--The British Empire switched to the Gregorian Calendar. This is very confusing for us to try to understand because of all the politics and religion involved. Imagine, however, how confused the people in England, the American colonies, and the rest of the empire must have been to have gone to bed on September 2 and gotten up the next morning on September 14.

September 3, 1940--The first high definition color television was demonstrated. Read about the teenager who helped invent the television in The kid who named Pluto : and the stories of other extraordinary young people in science by Marc McCutcheon.

September 4 is Cook a Great Meal Day. Enjoy.

September 5 is Be Late for Something Day. Just don't make school that "something".

A Local Book Club for Grades 4-6

Today I learned about book clubs that are being organized by a group called Create Play Learn. They currently are planning three levels of book clubs from beginning readers ( ages 5-8), through intermediate readers (ages 7-10) to advanced readers (ages 9-13). Check out their book club website to learn how what they are reading and how to register to be a part of the fun.

It appears that meetings will be close to Emerson at Nicola's Books in the Westgate Shopping Center.

Ann Arbor Bookfest

The 6th annual Ann Arbor Bookfest is this Sunday, September 7, at the Farmer's Market and Kerrytown from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. This event includes events for people of all ages, including workshops for kids and adults in paper making, book making and more. Ernest Hemingway in Michigan will be the focus of many of the speakers.For a full schedule of events, go to the Bookfest website.

One event that particularly caught my eye is a workshop to be conducted by Ruth McNally Barshaw, author of the Ellie McDoodle series. Ms. Barshaw, who is a Michigan native. will demonstrate her approach to cartooning and sketching. Those of you who have already read about Ellie McDoodle know that doodles decorate all of her notebooks and are an important part of all of these pleasant books about a girl's everyday life. Many people have called these books the girl equivalent of Diary of a Wimpy Kid. You can learn more about this presentation by visiting Nicola's Books.

Go. Have fun. Tell me all about what you learn.

Monday, September 1, 2008


Here are some musing in alphabetical order.

(While it seems a little hokey to do an ABC for the beginning of school--I think it has been done before at least a million times-- the Ann Arbor News used one for football yesterday. At least that puts me in some sort of journalistic company.)

A--Arrival is always my favorite part of the new year. Parents are as excited as the students to see old friends, meet new ones, and start the year off right.
There is also the Anticipation of all that lies ahead.

B--Books, Books, Books I had to say that. I am, after all, the librarian.

C--Chalk and Crayons and markers of all sorts. Now you have the chance to create a masterpiece or a first class doodle.

D--Desk Ask me sometime about some of my stories of desks. I know that many of you now have tables, but I still hold a soft spot in my heart for a desk of my own.

E--Enthusiasm for education, of course, in all its many forms that you will find in and out of school.

F--Friends, Fun, and Frolic Above all else, school should be filled with fun and joy in learning.

G--Gang I remember that old school gang of me, a group of giggly girls. Find your group and start the year with a smile.

H--Hello and High Five

I--Investigation Investigate your class. Icebreakers will help you get to know your friends. Imagine, imagine whatever you want to imagine.

J--Jumble Let's face it, the mass of people the fill the halls on the first day are something of a jumble.

K--Kiss A kiss good-bye will make this transition easier for your mother so even if you are in 8th grade, give mom a little peck on the cheek. But do it at home, so none of your friends will ever know for sure what an awesome mom you have.

L--Laptop Thank goodness for laptops. Without them, I have no idea what I would have used for 'L'.

M--Moms One more wave good-bye and then she really has to leave you to your fun.

N--Normal Isn't it amazing how quickly school seems normal to you even after the long summer break?

O--Optimism When things seem strange or tricky it is a good time to be optimistic that the new year brings many more great opportunities than difficulties.

P--Pens and Pencils It is still good to have a few of these around in case your laptop batteries get low or the Internet connection is down or you want to pass a note to a friend.

Q--Questions Bring them on!!

R--Recess I bet you thought it would never get here. Enjoy. (Remember that you teacher was looking forward to it, too.)

S--Smiles They are everywhere on the first day. So are tears, of course, but those are soon replaced by smiles.

T--Tired Yes, your teachers are tired. They got used to going to bed late and getting up late just like you did.

U--Umpteenth My daughter tells me that umpteen is not a word, but it is surely the number of times you have been told most of the things on this list.

V--Voices The school is so quiet during the summer. It is great to hear voices ringing through the halls.

W--Wondering Wondering where you are and wandering the halls trying to find the rest of your class. For most of us, that gets cleared up by the end of the first week. Then you can wonder about much more interesting things.

X--eXceptional, eXtraordinary Everyone and everything you do will seem eXtremely eXceptional and more than a little eXtraordinary. That's only because you and they are.

Y--Yawn OK, I am awake again. School has started. Yeah!! Yippee!!

Z--Zip, Zoom, Zowie Zip off to school. Zoom into class. Zowie, this is fun.