Thursday, January 29, 2009


Hi Veronica. See I remembered to post something for you, perhaps my only regular reader.

Ground Hog Day--It's more than just Phil

It is nearly as hard in this part of the world to escape the escapades of Punxatawney Phil as it is to evade the encroachment of lace, pink, hearts,and flowers into our daily lives as Valentine's Day approaches or the semi-frightening aspects of Halloween hype that start around September each year.

We do not as often hear about Wiarton Willie. Wiarton Willie lives in Wiarton, Ontario. He is the latest of a long line of Williams, all of them albinos. This fantastic genetic quirk makes him all the more amazing and his predictions all the more accurate. The legend began when one brave Wiartonian tried to create a lure for friends to visit him in the winter months. His hype of a Groundhog seer was so effective that a reporter from the Toronto Sun came to see for himself. Alas, at that time there was no Willie, so a white fur hat was tossed in the snow for photographic purposes. While the journalism may have been a bit suspect,the results were momentous. Now if you do a Google search for Wiarton Willie you will find yourself faced with over 30,000 hits. Then you could try spelling Willy with a 'y' and get even more information--it seems there are conflicting interests who promote themselves with conflicting spellings. Try it. The stories, jokes, and information can be a real hoot.

Those of you who never thought about groundhogs and those of you who thought that you knew oh so much because you, too, had heard of Wiarton Willie still have a lot to learn. Thank the Internet for access to lots of information about Groundhogs around North America who will be celebrating on February 2. Here is a partial list.

Punxatawney Phil: Perhaps the most well known and often imitated marmot type, Phil lives in Punxatawney, PA, where he resides in the local library. He weighs about 15 pounds, eating mostly dog food and ice cream. On February 2 he is carried from his comfy home to a heated burrow under a simulated tree stump. At precisely 7:25 a.m. he is gently tugged out into sunlight or shadow.

Jimmy of Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, makes his appearance at precisely 7:00 a.m. Central Time to make his prediction at 7:10. He claims a record of 80% accuracy. Perhaps it is the ride in a firetruck that keeps him on his toes.

General Beauregard Lee can be found if you travel to the Yellow Creek Game Ranch near Atlanta, GA. Meet this friendly fellow who has been recognized for public service by four Georgia governors and awarded a DWP (Doctor of Weather Prognostication) by the University of Georgia and a Doctor of Southern Groundology by Georgia State University. He lives in a southern style mansion with a water fountain, post box, monument, marble lawn marker, doormat, satellite TV (so he can watch nature programs on PBS), a wine cellar, a laptop, and a swimming pool. His motto: "Only the Beau Knows".

Pee Wee is a Mile Square Farm Sports chuck who lives in Vermont keeps most of his statistics down in the burrow with him. He website includes ground hog facts as well as some favorite ground hog carols.

Huckleberry Holland of Holland, Ohio, joined his current family when he was but three weeks old. They fed him soy based baby formula until he was about six weeks old when they gradually introduced the foods he eats now: gerbil/hamster food, dried apples, dried apricots, acorns and his favorites peanut butter on toast, red clover, salted peanuts, potatoes chips and very sweet iced tea. He is litter box trained. His routine is to go to sleep about the first of September. Left to his own resources, he would sleep until April 1, but the family usually pulls him out briefly on February 2.

Connecticut Chuckles of Manchester, Connecticut, bounds out of bed at 7:05 a.m. on 2/2. He is a bit angry and litigious. Currently, he is demanding a grand jury investigation of Phil who believes has indulged in some unethical activities in years past. The site is thus very restrained in what they are saying about his activities.

Sir Walter Wally This resident of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences has a classy name but little more to say for himself. His site does have promises of educational activities throughout the Ground Hog Day season.

Pierre C. Shadeux The Cajun Groundhog gets my nod for the best classy name. He lives in New Iberia, Louisiana, and is proud to let the world know that the he is much more civilized than that Yankee up north. He gets up at 8:00 a.m. and will not defile Sunday if Groundhog Day should try to interfere with people going to church.

Shubenacadie Sam lives in Nova Scotia so he has the honor of making the first prediction in North America. He also claims to be the first predicting ground hog in Canada.

Upchuck This guy wins my prize both for good name and for honesty. His purpose is solely to promote Silver Point, Tennessee.

Mr. Prozac is known as Zac to his friends. Mr. Prozac is a llama who lives in Oxford, MI. Before you get all upset about a llama usurping the job of a groundhog, it must be pointed out that Zac was carefully trained by a groundhog named Noah John.

Ridge Lea Larry has very little information that I could find on the Internet. Perhaps you can do better. The Geology Department of the State University of New York at Buffalo probably is the least likely to be bitten by their groundhog who has long been stuffed. They seem to cheat a bit in other ways. Their website shows them testing the weather on January 31.

Staten Island Chuck has a really poorly done video of his coming-out party last year. Travel to Staten Island and for only $10 per person you can join Chuck at 7:30 a.m. for his forecast and then join him for breakfast.

For information about other ground hogs, check out this site.
Here you will learn about Birmingham Bill from Birmingham, Alabama, who sleeps in until 10:00 a.m. for his predictions.

Buckeye Chuck of Marion, Ohio, who claims to be the state groundhog.

Chester who lives at the St. Louis Zoo.

Claude the Craw fish who is, yes, a craw fish who predicts the weather in Louisiana.

Dunkirk Dave a proud citizen of Dunkirk, New York.

French Creek Freddy lives in the almost heaven of West Virginia

Octarara Orphie of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, gives Punxatawney Phil a run for his money.

Pennichuck Chuck hails from Hollis, New Hampshire.

Unadilla Bill seems to be the favorite of people in Nebraska.

Don't forget Woody who has been on the job at Howell Nature Center not so far from Ann Arbor for eleven years. Some claim he is much better than any of the others.

A Woody in Vermont is campaigning to get Ground Hog Day changed to Woodchuck Day because they are, after all, one in the same animal.

Which ever ground hog or woodchuck you prefer, your day to celebrate is just around the corner.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Three Cups of Tea

On Saturday, January 24, 2009, Greg Mortenson, author of Three Cups of Tea for adults as well as a new young reader's edition by the same title and a picture book called Listen to the Wind: The Story of Dr. Greg & Three Cups of Tea, spoke to a packed auditorium at Ann Arbor's Huron High School. Mr. Mortenson (he is a nurse but not a doctor) has gained well deserved praise for his work to bring schools to remote areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan. His work began when he was trying to climb K2, the world's second highest mountain, as a memorial to his sister. He got lost after failing to reach the summit and wandered into a small village. After they nursed him back to health, he stayed to learn more about the village. He saw the children gathering in a clearing and scratching in the dirt with sticks to try to learn from the teacher who could not come to the town every day. He vowed to build them a school.

The books all tell this story and how he worked to get the school built in that first town. His fund raising was truly grassroots. It did not become productive until he got school children in the United States behind his project. Children collected their pennies to make major contributions to his building projects. As his funding grew from children and adults, the scope of Mr. Mortenson's project grew as well. Now he has funded and helped build more than sixty schools for both boys and girls in remote areas that previously had little or no educational opportunities for their children.

There are many ways that you can learn more about Greg Mortenson, his books, and his work.

You can visit his personal website.

You can read more about the books at the website linked to Amazon.

You can learn more about Mortenson's Central Asia Institute at its website.

You can learn how to schools are helping to support the building of peace and schools at the Pennies for Peace website.

I have great praise and admiration for what Greg Mortenson has done and continues to do. He is a moving speaker who clearly believes strongly in what he is doing and makes great personal sacrifices to see that his work will continue.

With that in mind, it gives me great pain to complain about his books. It seems that all too often books about good and meaningful things are poorly written. I enjoyed reading Three Cups of Tea for what it talked about. It was exciting at times and interesting. It was inspiring. It was not, however, an enjoyable read. The ghost writer usually writes for Parade Magazine--the one that comes in Sunday newspapers. Unfortunately, he writes this book much like he writes his brief magazine articles. Sometimes they simply fall flat. It gives the book the book a feeling of being rushed and not of great importance to the ghost writer. Where Mortenson's voice comes through is where the most inspiration appears.

The young readers version, while also important to be read, is a bit "dumbed down" for my taste. The questions in the end for Amira Mortenson get a little simplistic, though Amira's voice is clear and real. The study guide, like so many book club or readers' guides, asks questions that are too fact related ("What is the name of ________?") or that will not lead to discussions that will last longer than a couple of sentences. This is a big complaint of mine about most of these end-of-the-book questions. Please read this book. It is valid. It is important. It just is not that well written.

I love the pictures in the picture book. They are marvelous collages that give a feeling of warmth and depth. The writing will not win awards, but the point will get across to the youngest reader that it is important to give of one's self.

Read these books. Think about what Greg Mortenson is doing and how it will positively change the world.

Quote of the Week--#016

Be who you are and way what you feel,
because those who mind don't matter and
those who matter don't mind.

Dr. Seuss

Book Quest--The Grand Finale

Friday, January 23, the fourth and fifth grade Book Quest teams gathered for the final event. As always the challenges that were offered were impressive both in their scope and their diversity.

Dressed as Secret Service agents, the Fire Dragon Readers presented a quiz game based on "Wheel of Fortune." The players had to know some fine details from The Kid Who Ran for President by Dan Gutman if they wanted to score big. It was clear that they knew a great deal about the book and enjoyed showing that knowledge can be put to good use with a good spin. Their wheel was very impressive, thanks to a talented parent.

The Roadrunner Readers created a maze through which competitors could only progress with the correct answers to questions about Joey Pigza Swallows the Key by Jack Gantos. If they landed on the correct squares in the maze they were able to collect--but never swallow--the six hidden keys. The maze was amazing with lots of possible routes.

The Castle in the Attic by Elizabeth Winthrop inspired The Hornets to create a giant crossword puzzle that proved to be a real challenge. I don't think that any team completed the puzzle in the time allotted but no one failed to get a good start on it. Bravo! Thank goodness I did not have to meet that challenge because I would still be scratching my head.

The Atomic Blueberry Muffin Readers took the rat theme to heart with their challenges for Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert O'Brien. Unhappily for me, I did not get to see how their challenge actually worked all together. Suffice it to say that they included a mousetrap game, crackers and cheese, and clay projects. I heard lots of laughing coming from the room so I know that a good time was had by all.

Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes by Eleanor Coerr got high praise for the fun and the final creation. A variety of skills--drawing, thinking, acting, creating--were tested as the players answered questions, created origami cranes to be sent to Hiroshima, Japan, and added pieces to a three dimensional peace symbol. My apologies here to the team who worked so hard to create this challenge; your team name is so long and amazing that I can't remember it without your poster here to give me clues. I know it included amazing coolness, which aptly describes all of the Book Quest participants.

Special thanks goes to the adults--parents, friends, and even a child care worker--who gave up many hours of their time to coach the these five teams. The kids had a great time because these people cared and inspired these fine readers.

Thanks also to the families who supported their readers and came to the pot luck dinner on Friday.

Above all, thank you to the wonderful team members who made my day on Friday and keep inspiring us all to do this again and again.

Now it is on to the second and third grade version of Book Quest.

Sunday, January 18, 2009


When I was growing up the term "knucklehead" was commonly applied to kids in general, but most often, I suppose, to boys. My father often referred to my brother as a knucklehead. I always figured that what something that was unique to my neck of the woods but not the rest of the world. Now I find out that it was also a term that was used in Flint, Michigan, in about the same time that it rang in my ears in Huntley, Montana.

How did I learn this nugget of truth? I just finished reading one of the best memoirs I have ever found--Knucklehead: Tall Tales and Mostly True Stories About Growing Up Scieszka by Jon Scieszka. With lots of family pictures and other memorabilia of life in the 1950s and 60s, each chapter relates some wonderful memory of this man who is now the first National Ambassador for Children's Literature. (This gives him a job of championing children's literature throughout the nation.) He says he is attempting in this book to answer the question of why he decided to become an author. Perhaps he answers this question, but mostly he entertains.

My first reaction upon completing this book was to think about my own childhood. Let me begin, then, by apologizing to my brother Karl for not being a boy. Scieszka was one of six boys. My poor brother just had a little sister to harass, but no on with whom he could bond as boys surely do. He never played football with me so he never got to break my collarbone. Scieszka participated in games that resulted in four broken collarbones for his little brother Gregg. Brother Karl never got to play any of the great (that depends on your perspective here) bathroom related games that Scieszka played with his brothers. Karl did introduce me to some great swear words--but, of course, I have forgotten all of them.

Jon Scieszka clearly had an interesting (and completely normal and happy) childhood. It is difficult to predict what the current generation will find the most humorous, but there will surely be snorts of laughter rising from faces hidden deep in this book. It is written for grades three to seven, but should be read by everyone. You can learn more about Jon Scieszka at his official site which has information about his books and a generous dose of Scieszka humor.

What are his other books you ask? Well, they include The Time Warp Trio series, The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, The Stinky Cheese Man, The Math Curse, Science Verse, and Baloney, Henry P. among many more. I know very few people under the age of 20 who have not read at least one of these books. If you haven't read them, now is a good time to give them a try.

The Time Warp Trio series keeps growing with books for recently established readers who want to travel back in time with a trio of wild and crazy boys. Even their titles are good for a life because they often contain a pun like The Not-So-Jolly Roger or Da Wild, Da Crazy, Da Vinci.

The True Story of the Three Little Pigs lets the wolf finally tell his side of the story and is a favorite picture book that is remembered and enjoyed well into middle school and beyond.

The Stinky Cheese Man is another favorite, especially of boys who like the almost potty humor of it, that keeps being read long beyond the many other picture books have been discarded.

The Math Curse shows how math is a part of everything we do and how, if one is to dwell on it too much, it can take over your life.

Science Verse gives a scientific bent to favorite poems and familiar songs. It is one of my favorites to dig out and relearn the great verses that also confirm scientific facts that I may have forgotten.

Baloney, Henry P. is great not only for the tall, tall tale it tells, but for all the words from other languages that are quickly learned while reading it.

Knucklehead is the story behind all of this humor. So, all you knuckleheads should get your hands on it as soon as you can. You will be wiser for it.

Quote of the Week--#015

It ain't braggin' if you can back it up.

Dizzy Dean

Friday, January 16, 2009

Snow Day--Hooray

Before any of you call me on the title of this post, I know that today was technically a "cold day". That means that for at least an half an hour this morning the outside temperature with the wind chill was twenty degrees below zero (Fahrenheit) or colder. At that temperature the schools of this area fear that folks waiting for buses can get colder than is healthy. I know that those of you who live and have always lived in warmer climates are thinking that we wait too long to make this call. Likewise, those of you who live where zero is called a heat wave think we are a bunch of sissies here. Make more comparisons when you realize that we here in Southeast Michigan keep kids in for recess at 10 above zero.

Snow day sounds more exciting than cold day. And it is. On a cold day parents have little or no excuse other than kids suddenly stuck at home to call off from work. On a cold day no one is rushing outside to make snow angels. On a cold day the cabin fever that has been haunting us at school simply moves home with you. On a snow day there are those snow angels, snowmen, and sledding hills waiting to offer entertainment. Parents can call off work by blaming the icy roads if they are covered with snow and often by noon there is a path through the snow to a friend's house.

For teachers, either variety of day off is appreciated. Yes, it is a holiday for all the students but it is a gift to teacher's as well. Lesson plans are already done, so with no students around there is little that is directly school related that has to be done immediately. Just like students, we luxuriate in sleeping in, goofing off, and reading a good book.

A good book to read on these days might be about warm and sunny places, but if you have a good furnace or a roaring fire and a snugly blanket try Blizzard! by Jim Murphy. This non-fiction reads as compellingly as the best novel, using first person accounts of the blizzard that paralyzed the Northeast from Maine to Delaware in March of 1888. Not only will you learn about the course of the storm but also about life at the end of the 19th century. I was most moved by the story of the young girl who, in her finest clothes and little soft shoes, heads off for her first solo train trip. Things go from bad to worse as the snow blocks the tracks and the passengers have to choose between the snow and bitter cold or the fires that started from swinging lanterns in the cars. If you are in grade 5 or up, you will find this to be an interesting and, as at least one review said, chilling tale. Find out more about this book and others by Jim Murphy at his official site. To warm up, read his The Great Fire about the great Chicago fire.

Adults, if you want to read about blizzards try The Children's Blizzard by David Laskin which talks about the blizzard that swept across the Great Plains in January of 1888. It is a gripping story that will make you double check that your child does not leave home on a cold day without coat, hat, mittens, boots, and all the other winter weather necessities. 1888 must have been quite the winter for wild weather.

Keep warm.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Quote of the Week--#015

Sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.

Lewis Carroll

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Joke of the Week

Why did my silly spouse throw a can of beans and a can of pears into the air?

A. He said he wanted to see toucans (two cans?) fly.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

I Do Like Spiders

Jan, Emerson's wonderful computer teacher and confirmed arachniphobe sent this link out to the entire staff. I am sharing it with you here because it is a great distraction plus a good demonstration of the things people can do on a computer.

If you don't like spiders, don't click here.

Sounds Like Fun

A student at Emerson came to my desk this morning saying, "I want to show you something on the computer. It is really cool."

She is right. This is cool.

A website promoting fantasy and science fiction for children and teens now has a book club. Members will read the same book and then "meet" in the virtual realm to discuss it. The site charges a small fee ($8.00) to join the group. If you are under 13, you must have your parent help you sign up for this group. As with any group that allows discussions, you need to be aware that some people will post things which you may not like. You should also be willing to participate often with the discussions. Check it out. Let me know if you join.

Wands and Worlds Book Club

They are starting their book club with one of my favorite books which, by lucky coincidence, I introduced awhile ago to this very friend who completes the circle by sharing this book club with me----The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex. I have talked about it in a previous post on this blog so scan back through to find more complete information. It is one of the funniest books I have read in a long, long time. It is also filled with much to ponder about colonization, treatment of indigenous peoples, and history in general. The premise is that space aliens have taken over the earth. A young girl is asked to write about her experiences when the aliens arrived. Her experiences with her cat and a an alien who calls himself JLo are hilarious. Enjoy.

I love hearing about these things, so if you know of something else that would be fun to share with everyone, please let me know.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Bookmonster Babs--A New Celebration for Our Times

One of my holiday gifts this year was The Future Dictionary of America. This book was created in 2004 through a collaboration of more than 200 American authors, artists, and musicians. (A CD is included.) It consists of words and ideas that these authors invented or modified to fit the world as they imagine it will be sometime in the future. Much of it is political with a definite and intentional progressive bent, but some of it is just future thinking that should appeal to all political perspectives.

Dictionaries are difficult to read cover to cover. They have no plot. I have not yet read every entry but I have skipped around to find myriad interesting and humorous ideas. My favorite entry of all that I have read so far appears in the middle of the 'B's and was written by Anne Ursu, an author I have never before encountered.

"Bookmonster Babs," the entry says, is "a mythological creature who delivers presents of books to children every year on the anniversary of their first read word." Think on that! Isn't it a wonderful idea. This anniversary is known as the child's "Wordversary."

The first day you actually begin to read is certainly worth celebrating for the rest of your life--not just for children as is suggested in this definition. I don't remember the exact date that I begin to read, but I do vaguely remember the excitement of that moment for me. I certainly remember the excitement when each of my daughters sounded out their first words.

Bookmonster Babs is described as "a five-foot tall, purple-furred, eggplant-shaped monster with magical yellow boots." She delivers her books around the world, flying in "a spherical silver hovercraft". On their Wordversary, children write a book that they leave out for Babs to enjoy. This book contains drawings and stories created by the child. Children also create Wordversary songs to help welcome Babs.

I am hereby proposing that we all unite to make this special celebration a reality. I learned on Christmas Day that my grand Grand-niece Elise is now a reader. I don't know the exact date of her Wordversary, but I am putting a couple of books in the mail for her tomorrow. Until Bookmonster Babs shows her purple furry face, that will have to do.

Happy Wordversary, Elise.

Quote of the Week--#014

Today I found a little read book full of quotes that are attached to pictures from the Olivia series by Ian Falconer. Even without the illustrations, some of the quotes are just perfect. So, until further notice, I will be featuring quotes taken from Dream Big Olivia.

Logic will get you from A to B.
Imagination will take you anywhere.
Albert Einstein

Joke of the Week

I know it is not Wednesday, but it is break and it is hard to know what day it is when one sleeps in everyday.

Here are some riddles to get your brain thinking again after its long rest.

1. What letter always ends a party, but never ends a vacation?

2. What is the simplest combination of letters?

3. How is an island like the letter 'T'?

4. What letter do you always see if you look in a mirror?

5. What letters make a drinking glad sad?

6. What letters get jealous when they get together?


1. Y

2. E-Z (easy)

3. They are both in the middle of water.

4. U (you)

5. M-T (empty)

6. N-V (envy)