Tuesday, March 31, 2009
The play also got me thinking about my first introductions to Annie. I must be old because I remember the comic strip with curly-haired Annie and the well-dressed Daddy Warbucks. Think for a minute of all the comic strips that have touched the lives of people over the years. Some of you may now want to bemoan a presumed lack of comics in today's world. Wait! There are many comics for you to enjoy.
Perhaps the most popular books in the Emerson library are the Garfield, Calvin and Hobbes, and Far Side collections that rarely stay in the library more than a day before being checked out again and again.
Tin Tin and Asterix also have a great following.
The "regular" comic books that we have also get good use whether they are the old favorites like Superman and Archie or the more recent Manga types.
What I want to talk about here, however, are the graphic works that are becoming increasingly popular for all ages of readers.
Babymouse by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm now numbers ten in this popular series. The girls are drawn to them because of the pink, pink, pink that permeates these joyful stories, but recently I have had a few boys bravely open the books and are just as hooked as girls in grades two to six. I am hooked, too. Babymouse reminds me a little of Walter Mitty because she has wild dreams of what should be happening to her, only to be shaken back to reality. They are set in school or other familiar kid settings and are full of the friendship highs and lows that are such a part of life. The graphics are inviting and add much to the tales. Parents will enjoy these books as much as their kids. I am especially fond of book 10, Babymouse: The Musical for all of its references to popular musicals from all eras.
There are many folks at Emerson who are not so patiently waiting for the second in the Jellaby series by Kean Soo. The first in the series takes the interesting creature that is Jellaby and the little girl who finds him right to the brink of an exciting adventure in the city and then stops. What will happen next? It's due out April 21, 2009. We are all waiting.
Bone by Jeff Smith is read and re-read by boys. It is full of odd creatures, exciting adventures, and lots of humor. More than one parent has reported that these were the books that turned a reluctant reader into someone who now consumes all kinds of books in great gulps.
I laughed out loud more than a few times as I read The Magic Pickle by Scott Morse. The plot is wonderfully outrageous. A young girl finds a very special pickle that has been created in a lab under her bedroom. Jo Jo joins the pickle in a crusade to stop the Brotherhood of Evil Produce. Together they will save the world...or will they?
On a more serious note, check out Satchel Paige: Striking out Jim Crow by James Sturm and Rich Tommaso. While the famous African American pitcher Satchel Paige is in the story, it really focuses on a young sharecropper who wants to play in the Negro League. Paige strikes him out almost immediately and the sharecropper returns to his home town. The realities of the segregated South factor into every aspect of his life. One day, Satchel Paige comes to town for a demonstration game against the land owners. It is on this day that Jim Crow strikes out. Graphic novels can give a feel of the time and place in ways that a regular novel can not. This is a wonderful example of that skill. One can not help but feel the tension and the elation in that baseball game.
There is one very special graphic novel that does not have a single word but must be studied carefully by a more mature student to be understood and appreciated. The Arrival by Shaun Tan tells the story of a man immigrating to a new country where he must establish a life for himself and his family. The beauty of the story is that this could be any country because it is no real country. The finely crafted pictures make that clear from the unidentifiable script on the buildings to the strange little creature who befriends him. There is much to be found in this book. You will want to read it over and over to find all the details in the pictures. The story will change with every reading. Or you can just enjoy the high quality art that fills each page.
There are many more graphic novels out there waiting for you to discover them. Whether you are 6 or 60 they are there for you.
Adults, there are some great graphic novels for you, too. For example, Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi is one that has gotten well justified praise for its look into life in Iran before and after the Shah. There are many more. Tell me what ones you have found so I can enjoy them, too.
Sunday, March 29, 2009
March 30--No Homework Day I will pass the word on to your teachers but I can't guarantee that they will be willing to celebrate with you. There are lots of good discussions waiting here. Do you think that homework is useful to your learning? What is or should be the purpose of homework? Is homework ever harmful to your learning? There are huge educational debates about this. I would love to know what students and parents and teachers think on this one.
March 30, 1964--First Jeopardy show on Television My family and I have long been fans of this classic game show for the truly brainy so I should not have been surprised when my daughter Jaya, an Emerson alumnus, got a chance to appear on the show a few years ago. She did not win big money but she surely did us all proud. You can learn a little more about the game show by going to the official Jeopardy website but you will learn more by watching the show and playing along.
March 31, 1889--The Eiffel Tower completed On March 31, 1889, Gustav Eiffel proudly walked up the 1,710 steps to the top of the tower he had designed for the Universal Exhibition of 1889. There he placed the French flag on what would be the world's tallest structure until 1929 when the Chrysler Building in New York City opened. The Eiffel Tower was a part of the celebration of the centenary of the French Revolution and the main attraction at the Exhibition. The tower weighs 10,100 tons and stands 324 meters high, including the antenna at the top. It is held together with 2,500,000 rivets. It is repainted every seven years, using 60 tons of paint. To learn more about this architectural and engineering marvel, visit the Eiffel Tower's official site. Alas, I found the children's section of this site to be less than wonderful. There are many other interesting things though, like a virtual tour of the tower.
March 31, 1943--"Oklahoma!" opens in New York City Rogers and Hammerstein made history with this musical as it was the first musical to tell a story with music, dance, and lyrics. (Click here to read a synopsis of the story.) Until this show, no play had ever managed more than 500 performances on Broadway. "Oklahoma!" lasted at the St. James Theatre for 2,212 performances. I used to be able to sing every one of the major songs from "Oklahoma!". That was not because I particularly liked the story but because my high school choir sang a medley of the hit songs and it stuck with me. In fact, it stuck with me so much that when my daughter sang the same medley in her high school choir so many years later I could still sing along. (Of course, I did not sing out loud or my daughter and the people sitting around me would never forgive such a breach of etiquette.)
April 1--April Fool's Day There is a long history to this often hysterical holiday. It can be traced back as far as 1528 when the calendar moved New Year's Day to January 1. New Year had previously been celebrated for eight days from March 25 to April 1. People who did not get word of the change or refused to change were teased and tricked for celebrating the new year on the wrong day. Learn more of the history of this day here. Then take a look at the top 100 April Fool's Day hoaxes.
April 1, 1999--Nunavat becomes Canada's third independent territory If you travel north and then further north you will get to the territory of Nunavut which is the largest territory of Canada. It is nearly one fifth of the total land of Canada but has a population of only about 30,000 people. Most of these people are Inuit people who speak Inuktitut. The majority of this territory lies within the Arctic Circle which means that the nights are long in the winter--some areas get 24 straight hours of darkness for much of December. In return they get 24 hours of daylight in June. June usually finds snow waiting to be melted by that sunshine. The people can not enjoy too much summer since winter will begin again by September. Read more about Nunavat here. This site even has a basic lesson in Inuktitut.
April 2--National Ferret Day My neighbors used to have two very cute ferrets that loved to curl around necks and frolic inside a pant leg or shirt sleeve. I bet my neighbors did not know that ferrets, a relative of the weasel, were first domesticated by the Egyptians around 1300 B. C. and used to hunt for mice and other small rodents. The Egyptians soon replaced ferrets with cats as helpful and friendly house pets but many people today prefer ferrets. The female ferret weighs only 1.5 to 2.5 pounds while the male weighs in at three to five pounds. They are friendly, frisky, curious, and fun. Since they are a relative of the skunk, ferrets who have not been de-scented have a distinctive and not-so-pleasant scent. Read more about ferrets here. There are old stories about a practice called "ferret legging" during which people supposedly put a ferret down a man's pants after tying the pant legs closed. Men would complete to see who could stand having a ferret in his pants the longest. According to Snopes, the urban myth debunking site, the facts are questionable. However, there are those who will declare that ferret legging was common in parts of the British Isles until very recently. It sounds to me like a sport that would be cruel to both the man and the ferret.
April 2, 1878--First White House Easter Egg Roll Although rolling Easter eggs had been popular for years, it was not until 1878 that the president invited children onto the White House lawn on Easter Monday for an egg roll. Previously, children had celebrated on the lawn of the Capitol building. The number and enthusiasm of their playing had done such damage to the lawns that Congress passed a law in 1876 prohibiting egg rolling at the Capitol. Rain prevented any egg rolling in 1877. It is said that a young boy approached President Hayes just before Easter in 1878 asking if the president would open the White House to egg rollers. While no formal invitation was issued, the boys were not chased away when they appeared on Easter Monday. Thus a tradition was born. There were no egg rolls during the two world wars, but Mamie Eisenhower re-established the tradition in 1953. This year tickets to the egg roll were offered on-line only. They are all gone now so if you did not get them weeks ago you will not be rolling eggs with Sasha and Malia Obama this year.
April 3--American Circus Day It is estimated that there have been more than 2000 circuses that have operated in the United States, however it was a British equestrian named Bill Ricketts who opened the first circus on April 3, 1793. Between 1770 and 1780 several states had passed anti-circus laws and the Continental Congress 1774 officially discouraged people from attending traveling shows. Once Ricketts had some success with his first circus, he traveled around the major cities of that time--Philadelphia, New York, and Washington, D.C. Circus in America has more information about the history of circuses in America than I ever imagined possible. April 3, 1940--Isle Royale National Park established Isle Royale is Michigan's National Park. This wilderness area of 571,790 acres of land and water is located in Lake Superior. The park can only be reached by boat. No cars are allowed on the island but there are plenty of bugs if you believe the entry on the website that lists all of the bugs you are apt to meet. But skip the bugs and view this virtual tour. Just put your cursor on the picture you choose and move it around to see the view from all angles. Then you can start planning your summer vacation camping trip.
Sunday, March 22, 2009
March 24--National Chocolate Covered Raisins Day Who doesn't love chocolate covered raisins? I am sure that there are folks out there who don't like raisins or chocolate or the combination of the two, but I am not one of them. Just in case you are thinking that because I am a big chocolate covered raisin fan I made this day up, check this site (one of many) and then send someone a National Chocolate Covered Raisins Day card. They will be so grateful.
March 24, 1900--The last sighting of a wild passenger pigeon occurred on this date (or, according to one site I found, Marcy 20, 1900). The bird was shot and killed by a 14-year old boy on his family farm in Ohio. The last known surviving passenger pigeon was kept in the wild until she was found dead in her cage at the Cincinnati Zoo on in September of 1914. The passenger pigeon was a beautiful bird as you can see if you visit the Extinction Website page on this long, lost bird.
March 25--Pecan Day Please note that National Pecan Day does not come until April. Nutty, isn't it? Check here to learn just a little--very little--more about it.
March 25--Greek Independence Day Greek history is traced back thousands of years and the world owes much to the philosophers, scientists, dramatists, and other thinkers and doers of ancient Greece. However, in 1453, Greece was taken into the Ottoman Empire and was ruled by the Turks for 368 years. On March 25, 1821, a bishop in the Greek Orthodox Church bravely raised the Greek flag and declared "Freedom or death." The fighting that followed lasted for many years. It was 1947 before the current borders of Greece were established. You can read much more of this history at this website focused on Greek Independence.
March 26--Make Up Your Own Holiday Day Let me know what day you would create today. Here is a site to help you get started thinking about a very special holiday.
March 26--Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalanianole Day in Hawaii. Prince Kuhio was one of Hawaii's most famous leaders. He was a cousin to Queen Liliuokalani, the last queen of Hawaii, and she named him to be her heir. But the he and the world had different plans for him. You can read all about him and his holiday here. If you are lucky enough to go to Hawaii for this holiday you will find celebrations ranging from parades to canoe races, cultural demonstrations and luaus.
March 27, 1790--Shoelace invented As with most dates for an invention, the exact date for the invention of the shoelace is debatable. Let's just assume this date is close. The year 1790 is the year I found most frequently in my brief search for the invention of the shoelace and the man most associated with it is Harvey Kennedy who is said to have made over $2,500,000 from his patent. You can decide for yourself whether Kennedy actually invented anything by reading this brief history of the shoe lace and shoes.
March 27, 1512--Ponce de Leon sighted Florida Juan Ponce de Leon was traveling north from Puerto Rico when he spotted land near what is today St. Augustine, Florida. He claimed the land for Spain and gave the region its name, Pascua de Florida--Feast of Flowers. You can read a little more about Ponce de Leon at this site. The story of Ponce de Leon often includes reference to The Fountain of Youth. When Ponce de Leon sailed with Christopher Columbus to Hispaniola he heard about a magical fountain with waters that restored youth to any one who drank from it. Many of his explorations were based on the hope of finding the fountain. He never found it. Read more about his search here. While you are thinking about a Fountain of Youth, you might want to look for Natalie Babbitt's Tuck Everlasting which talks about a family that never grows old. The book, beautifully written and rather exciting in places, leaves the reader wondering if eternal life would be a blessing or a curse. Would like to never grow old?
Saturday, March 14, 2009
March 16, St Urho's Day---This day is set aside to honor the man who drove the grasshoppers out of Finland, thus saving their grape crop. Grape growing in Finland sounds a wee bit unlikely, but that is the rumor. This legendary character is perhaps a figment of the imaginations of Minnesota Finns who wanted to get a holiday before St. Patrick. Decide for yourself when you visit this site with the "official" story.
March 16, 1801--U. S. Military Academy at West Point established--Since it was established 208 years ago, more than 50,000 people have graduated from West Point. Among them are some of the most famous military leaders in the United States--U. S. Grant, Robert E. Lee, Dwight David Eisenhower, Douglas MacArthur, and Norman Schwarzkopf. Visit the official homepage of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point to learn about everything from their history to their admissions policy.
March 17--St. Patrick's Day-- I am not going to tell you about St. Patrick's Day--you already have heard about it since before you started school. Go to this informative website if you want to get some real facts instead of worrying about getting pinched. Where did that wild idea originate?
March 17, 1941--National Gallery of Art opened in Washington, D.C.--- In 1920s, Andrew W. Mellon was one of the richest men in the country. He also had an eye for good art which he collected over many years. When he died in 1937, he gave his art collection to the people of the United States. An act of Congress established the National Gallery which was completed in 1941. Two more buildings have been added since that time. Our seventh grade students will visit the National Gallery when they visit Washington, D.C. this spring, but anyone can take a guided tour via the Internet right here.
March 18, 1837--The University of Michigan established in Ann Arbor-- Go, Blue!
I could not let this date pass since so many of us at Emerson School have ties with the University of Michigan. (Please note that most of my extended family would say that the real U of M is in Missoula, Montana, but I won't argue that point here.) We know what it looks like today, but the history is pretty interesting. Here is the place to go to see pictures of the University as it grew over the years. It sure has changed over the years.
March 18, 1965--First human to walk in space-- When I was a girl in the 1960s we all spent a great deal of time wondering and worrying about the Space Race. The United States and the Soviet Union were both rushing to be the first to explore space. I remember sitting in front of the television, watching with excitement as the latest rocket was shot from Cape Canaveral. As the last of the trail of smoke from the rocket disappeared from the screen my dog, Auggie, always rushed up to lick the screen as if asking where it had gone. It was the Soviet Union, however, that took the first chance of having a cosmonaut (the Soviet equivalent of an astronaut) bravely exit the space ship as it orbited the earth and walk in space. Alexei Leonov spent ten minutes outside while his crew mate worried about his safe return. Leonov did return safely to the ship and many space walkers have followed in his footsteps. Read more about them here.
March 19--The Swallows return to Capistrano--- There are so many songs and stories about the swallows that return each year to the Mission of San Juan de Capistrano in California that is hard to know where fact ends and fiction begins. It is true, however, that centuries ago the padres of the mission noticed that cliff swallows consistently returned from their southern migration on St. Joseph's Day, March 19. There are religious and scientific explanations for this on this interesting site.
March 19--Poultry Day--Here is a little celebrated holiday, but it really exists--just do an Internet search if you are wondering. Google offered me over 10,000,000 hits. You can save time and just visit this funky site that suggests eggs for breakfast and barbecue chicken for dinner.
March 20--Great American Meatout-- Did you eat too much chicken on the 19th? Maybe you should consider going vegetarian for awhile. The Great American Meatout was established to coincide with the vernal equinox when people are thinking spring. The reasoning is that it is a good time to think about healthy eating. You can read their explanations here and then decide what you want to eat today.
March 20--Big Bird's Birthday-- You can always celebrate another birthday, so why not celebrate with the friendliest bird on Sesame Street. The Muppets even have their own wiki where you can read all about Big Bird and plan your own party.
Thank you Sneha for a day full of artistic adventures.
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
Thursday, March 5, 2009
The evening after that lunch, my husband told me about all of his friends and what they were doing. Of course, the story of a high school student who had illustrated picture books caught by librarian's ear. I contacted Sneha Reddy and she agreed to come to Emerson to talk to our students. Finding dates that worked for everyone was not as easy as we had hoped. (Doesn't that so often seem to be the case?) Finally it all fell into place and Sneha will be here to work with our students on Friday, March 13.
Sneha will be talk with students in grades three to five about the life of an illustrator and share a drawing lesson that helped her find her artistic skill and joy. She will also be autographing copies of her books.
The books are all about cats who have been rescued from a less than happy life to live with a caring family. They are The Ballad of Victor the Cat, The Ballad of Calvin the Cat, The Ballad of Omar the Cat, and The Ballad of Furrio the Cat. The fifth is not yet published. All of them are written by Gaile Harpan. Sneha's illustrations add to the humor and interest of each story by adding detail and great expressions to the cats who tell their stories and the humans who love them.
To me the fact that Sneha is a successful artist while still in high school is perhaps the most exciting part of her visit. We so often think that an published author or illustrator must be an adult. Sneha is proving that theory to be wrong. Every person who loves to hone their art--be it drawing or writing--and diligently works to improve may follow in Sneha's footsteps. Emerson is lucky to have Sneha come and share her talent and enthusiasm with us.
Many thanks to Nicola's Books for helping us secure copies of all four books to offer for sale as a part of this visit.
The first two here are presented in a picture book format but are well worth reading at any age.
Abe Lincoln Crosses a Creek: A Tall, Thin Tale by Deborah Hopkinson is great fun to read aloud because it has a certain Kentucky twang to it. "Now, here's an old tale," it begins, "of two boys who got themselves into more trouble than bear cubs in a candy store." If that doesn't capture your interest, take a look at the pictures by John Hendrix. They often include the hand of the artist who seems to be hurrying to finish the picture. The moral of the story--that what you do may never make it into history books while greatly affecting the course of history--is not all that is learned by reading this book. The classes to whom I read this book were intrigued by the concept that historians really don't know everything that happened. They can't tell us what a person was thinking or even what actually happened in the midst of the event. Did Lincoln's pal rescue Abe by pulling on his shirttail or did he reach out with a long stick? No one can ever truly know, so the author here let's the artist decide what to draw. How many times do historians fill in the gaps in the story with something that appeals to them or perhaps is easier to illustrate? The story ends by asking "And without Abe Lincoln, where would we be?" This leads to interesting discussions. I prefer to think that someone else would have stepped up to write an Emancipation Proclamation, but what else would we have missed. Our seventh grade students this year contemplated what would be different if Lincoln had either died before the end of the Civil War or lived out his term and into retirement. This is a topic than can be pondered and discussed over and over. That is a mental exercise that I always enjoy.
Mr. Lincoln's Boys: Being the Mostly True Adventures of Abraham Lincoln's Troublemaking Sons, Tad and Willie by Staton Rabin made me immediately think how happy I am that there are once again children in the White House. The story is of how much Lincoln doted on his young sons even while others in the White House saw the boys as misbehaving, terrorizing the many people who worked and visited their oh-so-public home. The boys, according to this book, did take liberties with proper conduct. They were known to ring all the call buttons for the servants at the same time or at least in rapid order to keep the servants running from room to room, trying to answer the call. The crux of the story is of the boy's toy soldier, proudly dressed in the red uniform of the Fire Zouaves. Jack, the soldier, constantly gets into trouble for various breaches of military conduct. Tad and Willie put him on trial, convict him, and sentence him to death by firing squad. It is the grave they dig in the rose garden that gets them in trouble. When an angry gardener interrupts their digging, the boys rush to their father, bursting in on a meeting with various generals. The solution to the problem with Jack is to offer a presidential pardon. The document that Lincoln wrote is reproduced in the book, showing this side of a president in the midst of one of the hardest times in American history. When asked why he caters to his children, Lincoln talks about how they offer a bright spot in his darkest days. That is what made me think of Obama, or any person who needs an opportunity to think about something other than the tough issues that they are facing. That is maybe the biggest reason why I want to continue working where I am as long as possible. Thank you, kids, for daily giving me reasons to smile.
Abe Lincoln's Hat by Martha Brenner is not one of the new books; it was published in 1994. It is, however, one of my favorite non-fiction easy reader books. It tells the story behind Abe's fondness for tall top hats. He stored papers in that spacious hat. Otherwise he tended to misplace important notes that he made. Books that make the people in history books seem human are always favorites with me.
Our Abe Lincoln: An Old Tune with New Lyrics adapted by Jim Aylesworth is a picture book that bests suits those in Kindergarten to grade three. Using the tune of "The Old Gray Mare" (though I learned this first as "Old Abe Lincoln") the verses on two page spreads tell the story of Abraham Lincoln in the simplest of terms. The illustrations are of a young class putting on a play based on the words of the verse. The play/story begins with "Babe Abe Lincoln was born in the wilderness." and ends with "Great Abe Lincoln died hard for his noble deeds." Along the way, the story of his life unfolds with lighthearted illustrations by Barbara McClintock. For those who want a little more information, facts are listed at the end of the book for each of the events shown. The kids and I had fun singing along with the story. I am sure your family will, too.
Finally, a biography for older students. This is not another biography of Abraham Lincoln, however. By upper elementary or middle school most students feel that they know all about the president. They are more interested in others who were a part of the Lincoln story. Good Brother, Bad Brother: The Story of Edwin Booth and John Wilkes Booth by James Cross Giblin tells about the man who assassinated Lincoln as well as his lesser known good brother, Edwin. Both brothers were actors but there lives diverged in an important way when John took his political feelings too far. The book not only looks at the assassination's impact on the nation but also on the Booth family. Like the young pal who saved the life of Lincoln in the first book on this list, this book looks at a part of history that is often left out of history books, especially those for those in elementary and middle school.
Happy Birthday, Abe. American school children will be thinking about the impact you had on history and on their lives for years and years to come.