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.