Sunday, April 26, 2009

What's Special About This Week--April 27-May 1

April 27--Musicians Day Kudos also to the wonderful musicians at Emerson School who performed at the 2/3 Art and Music Night last Thursday and all of the those who will performing in the weeks to come. Bravo!

April 27, 1985--Over 70 inches of snow fell in Red Lake, Montana. Yesterday I went out to lunch with my college roommate. We have barely seen each other since we went our separate ways. It was a tlovely day here in Ann Arbor. The sun was shining and there was a gentle breeze. While we visited, two of her daughters called from Montana. They were both complaining of cold and snow. I just looked up Red Lake, Montana, on Google. Interestingly, the map I found puts Red Lake almost directly in the mid-point of a triangle formed by Missoula, Great Falls, and Kalispell (where my friend's three daughters live). As an aside, let me warn you about Google searches. I asked for "Red Lake, Montana". There were sites putting Red Lake in two different counties. I have settled on Lewis and Clark Country, because it works so well with this story. However, if I were going to make any claim for the validity of that information, I would have to do some more sophisticated searching. Just because something is on the Internet does not mean that it is true or even remotely what you wanted to find.

April 28, 2001--First tourist in space Dennis Tito was 60 years old when his dream of going into space came true. He paid $20,000,000 for this great adventure. He was turned down by NASA for this trip because he had not gone through their official training. The Russian government allowed him to join one of the their trips. Now, according to this site from How Stuff Works, there are many others, including some hotel chains, who are interested in offering space tourism.

April 28, 1855--First U.S. Veterinary School opened. The Boston Veterinary Institute was opened by a British "medical man" (Does this mean he was a doctor? The article linked here doesn't really make that clear.) The school only had a handful of graduates before it closed just a few years later. You can read stories about pets being helped by veterinarians in the Animal Ark Series by Ben Gaglio or Wild at Heart Series by Laurie Halse Anderson. To get a feel for the work of real veterinarians, check out ER Vets : Life in an Animal Emergency Room by Donna M. Jackson. Warning: If you don't like to see pictures of animals having surgery or looking less than perfect, this is not the book for you and you might want to reconsider going to veterinary college.

April 29, 1911--Michigan's state flag adopted. The flag we currently use in Michigan is the third official flag of the state. The first flag had a picture of Michigan's first governor, Stevens Thomson Mason, on the front with the state coat of arms on the back. In 1865, the governor's picture was removed from the flag and replaced with the coat of arms of the United States. "The Yak's Corner" from the Detroit Free Press did a section on Michigan which included this article about the flag. Learn more about Michigan by visiting the Michigan E Library site. MeL is the official site of the Michigan State Library. All Michigan residents can use its many databases by typing in their Michigan driver's license number. Use it for all kinds of research or just some fun browsing. The Michigania section of the site is open to everyone and has marvelous digital collections that can keep you entertained for hours.

April 29, 1852--First edition of Peter Roget's Thesaurus published. Peter Mark Roget was born in London in 1779 and graduated from Edinburgh University in 1798. As a doctor he wrote articles about tuberculosis and the uses of nitrous oxide (which is sometimes called "laughing gas"). In 1814, Roget invented a slide rule that could calculate roots and powers of numbers and was the basis for the slide rule that I used in high school--before the advent of the calculator. He also did work on improving kaleidoscopes and tried to invent a calculating machine. Few people remember him for any of this. Most people know of him for the work that he began in 1840 to compile a dictionary of synonyms. Roget's Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases has never been out of print since that first edition which had 15,000 entries. gives glossary, lexicon, word list, and (my favorite in the list) onomasticon as a few of their synonyms for thesaurus. Further search on other sites reveals that an onomasticon is a dictionary of proper names and place names.

April 30--Walpurgis or Feast of Valborg Walpurgis is celebrated throughout Sweden with customs varying from place to place. Common factors are the building of bonfires and singing Spring Songs. Since King Carl XVI Gustav of Sweden was born on April 30, 1945, this day also includes honoring the king with flags flying throughout the country. Here is an interesting post with a video from a blog called Swenglish Rantings. A similar welcome to spring is called Vappu in Finland. If it is spring in Scandinavia now, it must be spring in Michigan, too.
April 30, 1904--Hamburgers introduced Many places claim that the very first hamburger can be traced to their home town. However, many people feel that a patty of ground beef does not become a hamburger until it is put in a bun. The first well recorded use of a specially made bun for ground beef patties was at the St. Louis World's Fair in 1904. After you read about the fair, take a look at these very close up photos of those burgers and fries that you are craving at this moment. If you want to learn more about the St. Louis World's Fair you might enjoy reading Meet Me in St. Louis: A Trip to the 1904 World's Fair by Robert Jackson. To learn more about fast food try Chew on This: Everything You Don't Want to Know about Fast Food by Eric Schlosser and Charles Wilson which is the young adult version of Schlosser's Fast Food Nation.
May 1--Mother Goose Day This day was created to celebrate the nursery rhymes that almost every English speaking child encounters. Scholars study the social and historical aspects of Mother Goose in great detail as they reveal much about what was going on in society at the time these rhymes were created and popular. When you first heard Mother Goose rhymes, you may have been a baby just learning language. Rutgers University has a site that will tell you everything you ever wanted to know about Mother Goose The site includes pictures and links to digitalized Mother Goose books as well as many, many Mother Goose sites.
May 1--Cheerios Introduced The managers at General Mills did not want Lester Borchardt and his team to keep working to develop puffed cereals, but he asked for more time. The resulting puffed oats cereal with the distinctive hole in the middle was originally called "CheeriOats". One of the most interesting things I learned from the Business and Companies web site was about in other countries. Cheerios in the United Kingdom have five grains (corn, oats, barley, wheat and rice) in four colors instead of just the oats in American Cheerios. The New Zealand version has 6.5 times as much sugar as you will find in U.S. Cheerios.
May is Get Caught Reading Month so put your nose in a book and see where it will take you.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Books for People Who Love Cats

Since today is Cat Lovers' Day, it seems like a good time to look at some of the great books out there about cats.

For some reason it is dog or horse books that first come to mind when thinking of novels about pets and their people. Ah, but there are some great things just waiting for you to to find them. Here are a few from the over 200 cat subject books in the Emerson Library.

If you are looking for a"chapter book" for readers at the upper elementary level, there are a few that I like a great deal.

My all time favorite has to be Time Cat by Lloyd Alexander. I have gotten several kids excited about this amazing tale and each time they enthusiastically talk about it I want to rush out and re-read it for the umpteenth time. We learn early on that cats don't really have nine lives. They do have the ability to travel to nine different times and places. The cat and the boy do just that, providing a historical trip that focuses on felines from the well loved cats in ancient Egypt to Germany's fear of witch cats in the Middle Ages. In addition to rollicking adventure, the reader gets a painless and easily remembered dose of history.

It helps to know a little bit about the Pied Piper to get the most out of The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents by Terry Pratchett, but anyone can enjoy the adventure and interesting twists of plot. The premise here is that a Maurice, a cat, has learned to speak to humans and to rats. Maurice gathers a few rats and a boy with a talent for playing the flute and they travel from village to village with an ingenious scam. The rats make it look as though the town has a major rodent infestation. The boy comes in with an offer to rid the city of rats for a fee. The flute plays; the rats follow; and Maurice lines his pockets with a little more gold. As you have guessed by now, all does not always go smoothly. Be prepared to laugh out loud.

The Underneath by Kathi Appelt got great reviews but I have trouble suggesting it to most of my students. It appears to most of them to be easier reading than it is. In fact, it is a very dark and creepy story with angry creatures, cruel humans, and much pain. The writing is classically beautiful and the story is strong. Read it and weep, but be prepared to also be a little frightened and overwhelmed by the many themes that haunt this tale.

Picture books abound with cute, charming pictures of little kittens just begging to be petted and snuggled. Happily, there are also many good picture books that include cats with character and interesting stories to tell.

My childhood favorite is Millions of Cats by Wanda Gag. I am totally enamored with the quaint black and white illustrations. The repeated phrase "Cats here, cats there; cats and kittens everywhere. Hundreds of cats, thousands of cats, millions and billions and trillions of cats" trips happily of my tongue.

My favorite new cat book is harder to pick. There are too many of them.

Chester and Chester's Back by Melanie Watts have a clever premise. Melanie is trying to write a sweet story but Chester proves that cats like to get their own way. This plump (that's the nice term for a quite large cat) orange cat whips out his red marker and changes the book to suit his taste. Each time Melanie tries to bring the story back, Chester asserts his will. The battle carries the story. I am glad I don't live with Chester but I love to read about him. (Note: As I type this my cat Tsunami is deciding whether it is more comfortable to sit on the keyboard or my lap. I worry that if I give her the chance she will change what I write here. Clearly I live with a Chester in the making.)

Tsunami is a silly cat but she is not as silly as the cat in My Cat, the Silliest Cat in the World by Giles Bachelet. Be sure to look at the bright, interesting pictures in this book because when I look closely I start to wonder if maybe it is not the cat who is silly. It could be the author. Something seems very different about this big, gray cat--maybe it is his long trunk.

Bad Kitty by Nick Bruel is an unusual alphabet book. First it looks at all the ways Kitty can be bad and then all the ways that Kitty can be good. The motivator for both behaviors is food. If you like this book, read the chapter book Bad Kitty Gets a Bath which includes some facts about cats along with a wild tale of giving a bath to a very reluctant cat.

It took a trip to New Zealand to introduce to me to the dog Hairy McClary, but I met Slinky Malinky by Lynley Dodd here in Michigan. Dodd is well loved in her home country of New Zealand for her sprightly, rhyming books about both Hairy and Slinky. Thank goodness many of her books can be found in U. S. bookstores as well. Slinky is a sleek black cat who goes out on many a mission. My favorite is when she collects (steals) all kinds of items from homes in the neighborhood. The story offers a good blend of humor and friendly adventure.

Splat, the Cat by Rob Scotten is a British import. (Scotten is a greeting card artist who also created Russell, the Sheep, a book that everyone who ever has trouble getting to sleep should read immediatley.) In this first story of Splat, our soft furry feline protagonist is setting off to his first day of school. He is frightens about what awaits him at this strange place, so takes his pet mouse along for moral support. Imagine his surprise when the teacher tells the class that cats are supposed to chase mice. The story is strong but it is the illustrations that give life to every page. I love Splat.

Anthony Browne is also from English and first and foremost an artist. I have never met a book by Browne that I didn't like. Little Beauty is touching and beautiful. It is almost of the story of Koko's Kitten because it features a gorilla who is given a kitten to love. This story is fiction, however, so it has a satisfying surprise ending.

Here are few more pictures books that are neither brand new nor old enough that parents read heard them at their parent's knees.

Here Comes the Cat by Frank Asch is the joint effort of an American and a Russian in the midst of the Cold War. It has few words, all given in Russian and English. The illustrations have a distinctly Russian feel to them. A mouse races across the pages and the countryside announcing "Here comes the cat." All the mice prepare for the cat's arrival and soon enough a page is covered by the shadow of a cat's head. This book was written to promote peace and understanding so the ending is not what you might be expecting.

The Grannyman by Judith Bryon Schachner tells the touching story of an elderly cat who is rejuvenated by the addition of a kitten to the family. Schachner also wrote the Skippyjon Jones books, but Grannyman has a lot more to it. I may have to get a kitten to keep Tsunami--and me--young.

Kat Kong by Dav Pilkey offers a wealth of word play but even the kids who don't get all of the jokes or really understand the King Kong story that it parodies love this goofy book. The illustrations are photos of adventurous mice who set off to an unexplored island. There they discover a feared giant feline who is lured to capture by the promise of tuna fish. They take the cat back and put it on display. You can guess most of what happens but not the way they finally put an end to Kat Kong's reign of terror. (Think of all the well-worn adages about cats that you know. They are probably in this book.) Pilkey also wrote the well-loved Dogzilla and the Captain Underpants books that adults love to hate and kids just love.

Finally, two picture books that show what good friends cats can be. Missing! by Jonathan Langley shows the bond between a girl and her cat. When routines change the girl suddenly can't find her cat and the cat can't find her. They look everywhere, imagining all kinds of unpleasant events. The illustrations are perfect for following the discomforts and confusions of each. Of course, all ends happily, and the journey to that happy end is well worth taking. Cat and Mouse by Tomasz Bogacki reveals that a cat and a mouse can be friends as long as the adults try to convince them otherwise. There is something about the bold illustrations that draw me into this story.

Hug your cat if you have one. Whether you own a cat or not, it is always a joy to read a good cat story. Maybe you an read it to your cat.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

What's Special About This Week--April 20-24

April 20, 1859--The first installment of A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens published. The story behind the work of Dickens is as fascinating as his stories. He figured out a way to get his stories to sell at a price that people felt that they could afford. The way he did this was to write his novels in serial form. He would get a few chapters published and leave the reader with a cliff-hanger that meant they would buy the next installment. This technique is now popular for many genres but at the time that Dickens was writing it was a unique concept. His stories were sold in paperback form in numbers that previously were impossible to imagine. Families would gather around to listen to the stories being read the first evening that they were published. An interesting side effect of this reading was that servants of the wealthy families huddled nearby to hear stories that they could not read for themselves. A Tale of Two Cities is a marvelous sweeping story of the French Revolution. When I was called to jury duty many years ago, I could not help but think of Madame DeFarge who sat and knitted as people were sent to the guillotine. Reading this long novel truly is "the best of times" and "the worst of times" because it is not a quick read though it is hard to wait for the next exciting chapter.

April 20, 1912--Tiger Stadium in Detroit and Fenway Park in Boston open. The final game at Tiger Stadium was September 27, 1999, but it has legions of fans to this day. Visit one of the many sites about the old stadium here. Fenway Park and its distinctive Big Green Monster is still very much in use (just ask my daughter who dreads taking the subway home on game days). Here is information on the history of Fenway Park.

April 21--Kindergarten Day Freidrich Froebel, the man who developed the idea of offering kindergarten, was born on April 21, 1782. He opened the first kindergarten in Germany in 1837. The word "kindergarten" is a German word meaning "children's garden". He was one of the first to think that children could and should learn through songs and play with lots of artistic endeavors and certainly a dose of healthy fun. What a concept! It was many years later that people realized that the most important things that we know in life we learned in kindergarten--resulting in a book, a play, and lots of introspection. I never went to kindergarten. My rural Montana school did not start until first grade. I wonder what important things I have never learned because I never went to kindergarten.

April 21--Tiradentes Day in Brazil Joachim Jose de Silva Xavier is a Brazilian hero who is still known as "Tiradentes", the tooth puller. He was born in 1748 and, in 1789, became the leader of the first movement to overthrow Portuguese rule in Brazil. Not surprisingly, the Portuguese rulers were not too pleased with Tiradentes who was well educated and worked as a doctor and dentist. Tiradentes arrested, tried, and sentenced to death. He was hung in Rio de Janeiro on April 21, 1792. His life and death have made him a national hero who is still honored every year. For more information about Tiradentes, take a look at

April 22--Earth Day, Sniff the Breeze Day, Sun Day--Whatever you call it, today is the day to celebrate the earth and do something to help keep it working with us to promote good lives for all living things.

April 22--Cat Lover's Day Just for the record, I love my cat, Tsunami. She is the best cat in the world, or at least in my world. Speak up, cat lovers!

April 23--World Book Day, UNESCO World Book and Copyright Day When my family lived in Madrid, Spain, we happened upon a giant book fair in Retiro Park in celebration of Book Day. It was Spain that began the celebration of books on April 23. The day was chosen because it marks the death anniversary of the most famous of Spanish authors, Miguel Cervantes who wrote Don Quixote de la Mancha. Since medieval times it has been a tradition for men in Spain to give a rose to their lady love and the woman gives a book in return. That seems like a very nice tradition to me, though, frankly, I would rather get a book than a rose any day. Since April 23 is also the birth and death date of William Shakespeare and the birthday of many other famous authors including Vladimir Nabakov and Halldor Laxness, it was a logical choice for a world wide celebration. The best way to celebrate is to set aside time to enjoy a good book.

April 23, 1992--McDonald's opens in Beijing, China. When McDonald's opened their first restaurant in China it was one of the biggest in the world with 700 seats, 29 cash registers, and two kitchens. Over 40,000 people were served the first day. That specific restaurant was torn down in 1996, but more McDonald's restaurants keep opening every day, now numbering in the hundreds. McDonald's was an official partner at the 2008 Summer Olympics.

April 24--Ambivalence Day While I could find many e-greeting card sites offering Ambivalence Day greetings, I could find nothing on-line about the creation of this day. I feel a bit--but not too much--ambivalent about that.

April 24, 1792--"La Marseillaise" written The French National Anthem has to be one of the most moving anthems in the world. I loved singing it in my high school French class, though I don't remember all of the words any more. (I can still ask if that is the monocle of my uncle and ask Mama if Papa is at home, but my French is not what it once was.)It was written by a captain of the Engineering corps of the French military. It was sung when the the National Guard of Marseille marched into Paris in July of 1792 so the Parisian gave it the name by which we we now know it. The song was adopted as the national anthem in 1795 but it was abolished in 1799. It was restored as the national anthem in 1870. The words are call for French citizens to take up arms and includes many bloody references. While there are those who have talked of changing the song to fit more peaceful pursuits, La Marseillaise is so linked with France that it is doubtful there will be any changes made soon. Visit this site to learn more about La Marseillaise and then surf around the site to learn about other national anthems.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

The Great Weed of '09

The Emerson library is getting a much needed face lift this summer. By late August it will even have a real wall, which is pretty amazing to me after all these years of basking in the roars of happy children going from class to class. New shelves and chairs, a fancy circulation desk with room for all kinds of things, and a top notch projector system for my teaching area as well as one for general assembly use are just a few more of the exciting changes that await us.

In preparation for this major event, I have been weeding the library with an iron fist. We have to move all of the books out of the library before the new construction/remodel can begin. Why move more books than we have to? Besides, it seems logical to have attractive, inviting, and useful books on the spiffy new shelves that will line the new wall as well as the roll around the middle of the floor.

People have been asking me about the weed.

  • Why weed?

  • How do you decide what to remove?

  • What will happen to the discarded books? Will they get a new home?

I weed, therefore I am. I weed to keep the library filled with books that are useful and interesting and enjoyable. I weed to make space. I weed because it is good library practice. I weed because I can.

Deciding what to weed is not always easy. In fact, it rarely is. Even if the book is falling apart in my hands, I have to make the decision about whether it needs to be replaced.

For most books, there is a process that must be followed. I pick through a section of books looking at the condition of the book and the number of books we have about the same subject. I think about what the students are encouraged (or even forced) to study as well as what is interesting to most of our students. I look at the presumed last time the book was checked out (there are many flaws in the system of checking the date due slip, but it is a start) and make an educated guess about when it was purchased by looking at the bar code. The books that don't seem to fit my criteria as keepers get put on a cart and eventually make it to my desk.

This is how I spent the past week--spring break. I looked at each of the pulled books and scanned its bar code to see when it was acquired, how often it has circulated, and, if I am lucky, who was last to check it out. (I saw many books that were checked out just once to Susie Q. who loves any and all fairy tales or to Bubba Bob who reads everything parnormal. Now that they have read those books, no one else has touched them in years. There are other books that I have checked out to Luckie Duckie in what appears to be a vain attempt to get others to read them.) Then I decide the book's fate. If it has spent ten years on our shelves without leaving the library, it probably gets sent on its way.

But wait, what if it is a really good book that everybody should read once in their life? Could I toss Winnie-the-Pooh book with the classic illustrations? Of course not, but those keep circulating so they are out of consideration. How about something by Kate Seredy who I loved as a child but no one seems to ever read? That will tear at my heart strings, but in the end it may well be "so long, Kate". Some of the fiction I left out for a long time with a sign saying "Only YOU can save these books" and encouraged kids to check out anything that looked interesting and let me know if it should stay. That didn't save many.

Non-fiction is a little easier. My first year in the library, not quite ten years ago, I easily deleted a book on U. S. presidents that ended with a chapter on the new president at the time of printing. It optimistically said that this president would not have any of the ethical issues that had troubled some of our previous leaders. This new man, you see, was a Quaker and believed with this fellow Quakers in maintaining the highest standards. Even Quakers have people that don't quite live up to expectations. The president to whom they referred was, of course, Richard M. Nixon. That one was easy to delete, especially when there were kids who said, "Who's Nixon?" There are other out-dated books that make saying good-bye much more difficult. What do I do with a 20 year old book about nature that has beautiful illustrations? I read, I think, I decide if it is too dated to keep or if the illustrations make it worthy of a few more years of presumed worth. Are there some books that are old enough to be curiousities or collector's items? Maybe, but they belong somewhere other than a school library.

So it goes with each books supposedly getting fair and equal treatment. I will admit that by the end of the week, I was getting very tired of the task and fuzzy memories of the process. The ratio of books saved to books tossed seems about the same whatever day or mood I had at the moment so we can hope that all is well.

The deleted books will be for sale at our upcoming Used Book Sale. It is my hope that this sale will give new life and appreciation to myriad books that had been neglected in the library.

Now it is on to other preparations for the remodel. Hmmmm.... there is getting all of the books back, inventory, packing up the books. I also need to tackle my desk and the clutter that surrounds it. Is there no end to the fun?

Thursday, April 16, 2009

April is National Poetry Month

Ah poetry.

Many people seem to think that they should hate poetry or, at the very least, refuse to understand it. Poetry, at least when I was a kid, is not cool. I suppose that explains why so much poetry aimed at kids tries too hard to be cool.

However, there is a lot of great stuff for children and young adults just waiting for you to discover it. The two most popular authors these days are two of the most humorous. Shel Silverstein will be enjoyed for years and years to come. Where the Sidewalk Ends is read, re-read, and quoted by students and teachers alike, but my favorite, because of my love of Spoonerisms, is Runny Babbit. I know that it drives some people crazy to have to decipher the flipped words (Runny Babbit is, of course, Bunny Rabbit) but the stories in the poems are funny by themselves and the flipping of sounds just makes them that much more hilarious. Silverstein's simple line drawings are a bonus in all of his books.

The nation's children's poet laureate is Jack Prelutsky who has more poetry books with a wider range of topics than anyone else I can think of at this moment--99 9/10% of them hilarious. He clearly loves writing poetry and enjoys children of all ages. You should dabble in his work yourself to find your favorites from Uggs to Ogres. I will tell you that my favorite poem of his to read aloud is "The Sneezy Snoozer" because the "Sneezy Snoozer snoozes where the Sneezy Snoozer chooses." That one is in The Baby Uggs are Hatching.

It is easy to think that there are no other children's authors besides Silverstein and Prelutsky. To do so means that you will miss myriad great poems full of laughs and tears and sighs of recognition.

My sister-in-law who is a former teacher introduced me to Antarctic Antics : A Book of Penguin Poems by Judy Sierra many years ago. The illustrations by two of my favorite artists Jose Aruego and Ariane Dewey are perfect compliments for these goofy poems full of facts about penguins. While everyone enjoys guessing the answers to the "Predator Riddles" it is "Regurgitate" that gets the crowd laughing. You will never forget how penguin babies are fed after this little rhyme that begins "It's been one whole hour since I ate./ Why is my dinner always late?" and ends "Cough it up, Dad! Regurgitate!"

With a title like Please Bury Me in the Library it was impossible for me to resist a peek into this collection by J. Patrick Lewis--an entire book of poems about books and libraries. Hidden here are some words of profound wisdom. In "Great, Good, Bad" is the best definition of what makes some books better than others. Lewis succinctly puts what we all already know into six short lines, ending with "A bad book owes to many trees/ A forest of apologies." Isn't that the truth? His definition of a classic is also right on target.

A certain young girl, now in high school, used to be drawn to Haiku! Gesundheit by Ross Venokur as if by a magnet. It would not surprise me to find that five years later she still has some of them memorized and giggles when she recites them. The tendency is to think of haiku is rather serious and difficult to decipher poems. Cast that thought away and enjoy the fully illustrated gems in this collection. There is good advice: "When brushing your hair,/ it is best to use a comb,/not a lawn mower." There are those that always makes kids laugh: "Flying over town,/ Beth saw a boy she hated / and spit on his head." There is a final summation of what haiku should be: "Haiku poetry. / Poetry or poet-tree? / Words where buds should be."

To learn about the many forms of poetry, take a look at A Kick in the Head : An Everyday Guide to Poetic Forms selected by Paul B. Janeczko and illustrated by Chris Raschka. From common forms like limericks and ballads to the much less familiar triolet and pantoum, every poem in this book is high quality and fun to read. A glossary of terms tells you just what to look for in each poem.

Janeczko is a poet who knows how to share his love of poetry. You will find him behind many many collections and included in many others. Don't miss A Poke in the I : A Collection of Concrete Poems. Concrete poems are impossible to reproduce here because they are words and pictures in one poem. These means that some are difficult to read aloud and all require that the reader and listener see the poem. They range from Chris Raschka's "Cat Chair" which, appropriately enough for an artist, is only one word in a lush illustration to "Swan and Shadow" by John Hollander which shows a swan and its shadow created entirely from the words of the poem which perfectly describes the subject.

For a book that is entirely a concrete story, check out Meow Ruff : A Story in Concrete Poetry by Joyce Sidman. There are many levels to this seemingly simple story of a dog and a cat. Be sure to read the grass and the table and the clouds, trees, and raindrops. Every illustration except the animals is a concrete poem. The animals speak in their own poetry from the tense beginning to the happy ending.

For strange poems, bizarre poems, that require thought, you need look no farther than F E G : Ridiculous Poems for Intelligent Children by Robin Hirsch. The title poem "F*E*G looks like gibberish "Abie's seedy effigy/ Eight chide Jake: a lemon". But is it? Read it out loud and you will discover its secret--or most of its secret. Why does it end the way it does? The book is flush with poems that play with words, like the many meanings for the word "flush". Sometimes it is a bit deep for me and other times it is perfect.

No list of children's poetry would be complete with mention of Douglas Florian who introduces the animal world through poetry. For example, Insectlopedia is filled with factual information about insects of all sorts, but each comes with a twist. Ticks are "Not gigan-tic./ Not roman-tic" and not many other things but they are "strictly parasi-tic." We wonder if the father giant water bug who lugs his kids on his back ever gets anything for Father's Day. Did daddy longlegs get such long legs "From spiderobic/Exercise?"

Joyce Sidman also writes about nature in the award winning Song of the Waterboatman and Other Pond Poems and its sequel Butterfly Eyes and Other Secrets of the Meadow. They are beautiful, imaginative, and amazingly illustrated as well as being chock full of information. Read them. But then explore some of the other things Sidman has to offer. The World According to Dog : Poems and Teen Voices is a collection of poems that will tug at your heart and make you laugh--especially if you are a dog lover. Don't forget Meow Ruff, mentioned above. My favorite Sidman to date has to This is Just to Say : Poem of Apology and Forgiveness which presents itself as a collection of apology poems by children in an imagined sixth grade class. Those poems make up the first half of the book. Some are very funny and some are heart wrenchingly sad. Thomas apologizes for swiping a doughnut or two from the teacher's lounge. Kyle and Reuben both have apologies to make about a dodge ball game gone wrong. Carmen apologizes to the teacher for criticizing her fashion sense or lack thereof. There are apologies to parents for missed opportunities and for missing them. There are apologies to pets who died and siblings who want to die of embarrassment. The responses that make up the second half of the book are as real as the apologies. All were inspired, of course, by a famous poem by William Carlos Williams called "This is Just to Say" in which he apologies for eating the plums that someone else was probably saving, admitting as he apologizes that he enjoyed every delicious bite.

There are authors who seem to think it is a good idea to combine poetry and a novel in one succinct book. When this is done well, it is amazing. Done poorly, it is a torture to read and will drive legions of readers away from poetry for a life time. For a taste of the good take a look at two of the best authors for middle grade readers. Love That Dog by Sharon Creech is so simple and so satisfying. It will take a short time to read but will stay with you for a long, long time. It is the story of a boy who adamantly does NOT like poetry but his teacher requires that he write some every day. Gradually he pours out his life story and learns to express why he loves a special dog. Hate That Cat follows the same boy and his teacher the next year. It was not as satisfying and I have had more than one student refuse to read because nobody could or should ever hate a cat.

Karen Hesse is a master of this form, adding historical fiction to the mix for a triple whammy effect. Out of the Dust is the most moving description of life during the Dust Bowl that I have ever read. By the second poem the reader forgets that this is in free verse and is swept up in the story, egged on by the beauty of the words. Witness is an even greater undertaking because it is told in many voices, each ringing true and clear. The time is 1924. The place is small town Vermont. The Ku Klux Klan is trying to establish roots in the town. Hear the voices of the people who think this is just what the town needs and those who fear that the coming of the Klan will shatter their lives.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

National Library Week

Did I mention that this week is National Library Week? I don't think so. Being off from school this week means that it is going by without note here. So head off to your public library and see what exciting things they are offering.


Monday, April 13, 2009

Not Too Late for Bunnies

Easter passed and I never found the time to mention a perfect addition to that Easter basket. It is never too late for a good book and this one is good for any season, though it does seem especially appropraite for spring.

Emmaline and the Bunny by Katherine Hannigan is perfect to share with your young listener or read by someone who has newly mastered the art of reading chapter books. . Read it out loud if you can, because the language is a large part of what I love about this book. It is even the perfect shape, size, and color to appeal to all the senses

Emmaline and her family live in Neatasapin, a town where everything has to be in its place all the time. There are no mud puddles, no trees, no grass, and certainly no bunnies. Children are supposed to be neat, tidy, and quiet at all times. Emmaline just doesn't fit in. She likes to jump in puddles, run down the street, and shout out wondrous happy phrases like "Dinglederrydee" and "Hoopalala". Because she doesn't fit in with the other "perfect" children, Emmaline is lonely. She wants a bunny to be her friend. When she finds one--perhaps in a dream--she learns that she must make her home an invitation to a bunny. Yes, there is a moral there, but it is told with delight and humor so I can overlook how sweet and sappy it could be. Instead of saccharin, this story is fun, engaging, and just plain charming. The author's soft illustrations are a perfect accompaniment.

As a final bonus, the book is printed in the most earth friendly manner that they could find--at least that is what the publisher says. It is entirely recycled papers. There is even an accounting of how much energy and paper was saved. I know there are those who will scoff at this, but, even if it is not absolutely accurate in the tally of savings, it is nice to see publishers thinking about the earth as they turn out truly enjoyable books.

Take Me Out to the Ballgame

I heard on the radio today that it was baseball's opening day in Washington, D.C. A little research informed me that the Tigers had their opening day last Friday. It seemed like a good time to talk about baseball.

Anyone who knows me knows that I don't know much about baseball and most of the time care even less. I did see the Mets play at Shea Stadium in the very early 1970's and I went to a Pittsburgh Pirates game at Three Rivers Stadium about four years later. That is all that I remember about those games except for the relief of the seventh inning stretch.

That said you can imagine that I don't read a lot of books about baseball. But wait--I have some baseball books that I have thoroughly enjoyed.

Just last night I finished The Desperado Who Stole Baseball by John H. Ritter. Mix together the Wild West, Billy the Kid, and some baseball excitement and you have a pretty good story. Jack is an orphaned boy who sets off to find his uncle Long John Dillon who has made a fortune in gold mining and baseball. Along the way, Jack meets Bill Bonney, a.k.a Billy the Kid. Jack tells lots of tall tales to make himself sound brave and smart, but Billy takes him on anyway, mostly to provide a bit of a distraction to those who are hunting for the famous desperado. Together Billy and Jack make it to Dillontown just in time for a big game with the National League Champion Chicago White Stockings. The year is 1881.) There are many twists and turns in this story. The desperado is not who you might thinking it will be. Uncle Long John Dillon isn't who Jack expected either. The book's afterward includes notes that separate fact from fiction. This is a prequel to The Boy Who Saved Baseball which I think I will have to read soon. Our library has two more baseball books by John H. Ritter that probably deserve a look as well. These books are aimed at grades three or four to six, but can be enjoyed by older readers, too.

My favorite baseball books, however, are in the Baseball Card Adventures series by Dan Gutman. Joe, the protagonist in these books, has discovered that baseball cards are magical in his hands--they have the power to transport him back in time to meet the player on the card. Time travel is a favorite topic for me so that drew me into the series. It is the history and the adventure that keep me reading. The first I read was Shoeless Joe and Me. Remember, I know very little about baseball so I had never heard about the scandal that surrounds Shoeless Joe. I also did not know that Shoeless Joe could not write so one of his painfully scribbled signatures is very rare and very valuable. The book includes information on all of this as well as the influenza epidemic which was a part of life in 1919. The adventure filled story ends with a moral decision that I have thought about many times since reading the book. There are many other titles in this series including ones about Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Jackie Robinson, Honus Wagner, Abner Doubleday, Satchel Paige, Jim Thorpe, and Ray Chapman. If baseball is not your cup of tea, try other titles by Gutman such as the popular The Kid Who Ran for President, the My Weird School series, and various titles about sports, school, elections, and more. Dan Gutman is a school-wide and interest-wide favorite at Emerson. Most of his books are directed at upper elementary level readers.

Step up to the plate and try some good baseball novels.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

What's Special About This Week--April 6-9

I won't be telling you about Friday this week. Good Friday is good for more than one reason this year, at least as far our school is concerned. It will be good to begin break then. The weekly happenings will return after break is over. Happy Spring.

April 6, 1992--"Barney and Friends" premiers on PBS Whether you love him or dread hearing his cheery voice, Barney has had a huge impact on television for children. Barney's website offers games, songs, activities and more.

April 6,1930--The Twinkie invented Here is another icon that is loved by some and mocked by others and has changed the way Americans find sweetness for their lives. The Twinkie, a Hostess product, was invented when a baker was looking for a thrifty way to keep in use pans that were previously only used to make strawberry shortcake. The season for strawberry shortcake was very limited so James Dewar used the pans to make cakes filled with banana filling. During World War II there was a shortage of bananas so the filling was changed to vanilla cream. In 2007, a banana flavor of Twinkie was offered again so now you have a choice of Twinkie when your sweet tooth starts complaining. The Twinkie even has its own space on the Hostess website. If you want to laugh about a sweet tooth, pick up Sweet Tooth by Margie Palatini. Poor Stewart keeps getting into trouble because his sweet tooth keeps shouting out for more sweets. Never fear, Stewart finds a way to give his sweet tooth its just desserts in this boldly illustrated and hilariously funny picture book. Don't just take my word for it. Read some of the reviews here from our library website.

April 7--No Housework Day Hmmmm...this is a day I try to celebrate as often as possible. I am not a woman who finds housework exciting. Some suggest that those who do not usually do housework--like a few kids I have met--take over all the housework for one day. What do you think? Will that catch on with your friends?

April 7, 1864--First Camel Race in the United States Believe it or not, there are still camel races in the United States--mainly in the desert states of the Southwest--but the first was an excuse to do something with the remaining camels from the U. S. Army's American Camel Corps. Everything that I know about the first camels in America comes from reading the great book Exiled by Kathleen Karr. Written in first person as if told by the camel, this book for readers ages 8 and up tells of the capture, transport, and resettlement of camels in the Mojave Desert before and during the Civil War. I found it to be very interesting. Imagine being taken from your home to be handled by a person who really did not understand camels in a new and different land. Nonetheless, this is one camel who keeps his wits about him and stays true to his heritage and his future. You can learn about camel racing in the United Arab Emirates here.

April 8--Hana Matsuri in Japan It is primarily in Japan that Buddha's Birthday is celebrated on April 8. It is called Hana Matsuri which means "flower festival" so it makes sense that it comes in the spring time when Japan is filled with beautiful flowers. Some of our Middle School Japanese students are heading to Japan on Friday. Sensei is hoping that early warm weather will not mean that they will miss the blooming of the cherry trees for which Japan is famous. Maybe some recent cooler temperatures will keep the blooms around for them to enjoy during their week in Japan. Read about Hana Matsuri and see some beautiful pictures here.

April 8, 1730--First Synagogue founded in North America Jewish people came to what is now New York City when New Amsterdam (as it was called at that time) was still very young, but it was not until 1730 that the first synagogue was built. The Mill Street Synagogue was built by Jewish people who had mostly come from Spain and Portugal as early as 1654. They were the only Jewish Congregation in New York City until 1825. You can see pictures of the Mill Street Synagogue and read about its history as here.

April 9--Thank Your School Librarian Day Actually, there is no need to thank me. I should thank you for all the fun I have every day. In looking for more information on this vitally important day, I discovered that there are many School Librarian Days and Librarian Days. Maybe you should thank a librarian more often so they don't feel the need to keep creating special days for themselves.

April 9--Longest Word Day As a true blue word lover the idea of a longest word day is especially appealing to me. When I was a kid we all thought that "antidisestablishmentarianism" was the longest word in the English language. It has 28 letters. Then along came Disney's version of "Mary Poppins" and we were all singing about "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" with its 34 letters. My personal favorite long word is "hippotomonstrousesquipedalian" (30 letters) which means, appropriately enough, "pertaining to a very long word". The Fun With Words website has many more long words and arguments about makes a word a real word. Are chemical names real words? Does the word have to be in the Oxford dictionary? Can I make up a long word and call it the longest word?

Enjoy the week and then enjoy the week of Spring Break.