Friday, July 31, 2009
On Thursday we used up some old but still shiny CDs--thank you tech team--by gluing felt on one side of them to use for mini-felt boards. Then the kids made little felt scenery, people, and animals to stick on the boards. There were some very creative stories from that project. We discovered that you can also stick a sticker to felt and have a ready-made character for the felt board. Now I will be thinking of other ways to use my felt board.
This quick project was followed by the reading of two simple but vastly enjoyable books--Not a Stick and Not a Box by Antoinette Portis. These were a huge hit when I did this camp last year and they garnered praise and excitement again this summer. The premise of each book is that while adults may see a stick or a box, kids can see much more. After reading the books, boxes of all sizes and shapes were distributed to the campers who spent the rest of the morning using scraps and things from the summer stockpile to make something that was definitely NOT a box. In fact, the word b-o-x was officially banned from the camp. We ended up with a wide range of things including many fairy houses and bat caves as well as canoe with a paddle, a book, a race car, and a telephone booth. I can never again look at a box without seeing a wee bit of its potential to be so much more.
Today we set in to finish all of the unfinished projects that accumulated throughout the week plus used up left over boxes and other items to take use wherever the creative urge took us. Our day was broken up with a reptile exhibit by the Reptilemania camp. I even got to hold (or was he holding me?) Shaggy, the carpet python, who is quite charming. There were several other geckos, snakes, and other critters to touch and appreciate along with informational talks from the campers. Later we saw four short puppet shows that were created by the campers in Playwriting in Puppetry. Paper bag puppets, all wildly decorated, told the story of The Five Fiends. The Very Hungry Caterpillar came to life through shadow puppets. The campers created a script and amazing cloth puppets for Where the Wild Things Are and paper plates were used to make stunning fish to tell the story of The Rainbow Fish. The stories fit perfectly with the theme of our tale twisting camp.
We ended the day with just enough time to read Pete's a Pizza by William Steig and No Such Thing by Jackie French Koller. A rainy day that needs some cheering up is what inspires Pete's dad to turn him into a pizza. I wish I had a young Pete to knead, roll, toss, and cover with oil, flour, cheese and tomatoes before tossing him into the sofa oven. Young monsters, or so our second book says, are just as afraid of being eaten by boys as young boys are of being eaten by monsters. I think that there may be a monster under my bed but I have never had the nerve to look. I am a mother; I know that there is no such thing.
I will take next week off from camp and then go back for my favorite camp of the summer. Jump Start is just for those students who will be beginning kindergarten at Emerson this September. It is a special privilege to get to meet and spend time with those young ones before even their teachers meet them.
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
The tales twisted here are stories that are used as a part of the half day camp that I am doing this week with students entering grades one to three. We read and tell stories and then do activities that tie in with the stories with the goal of having fun while inspiring both a love a stories and some creative storytelling from the participants.
On Monday we read Dirty Birdy Feet by Rick Winter which is a reliving of what the author says was a rough day in his mother's life. The evening after the white carpet was cleaned, a family sits down to a dinner of sloppy joes. (What was that mother thinking?) Suddenly a bird flops down the chimney and chaos ensues. There is a good dose of humor involved--there has to be or that mother would still be beating her head on the wall. After reading the story, the campers looked at and identified various animal footprints and talked about them a bit.
Did you know that most people are six feet tall? It is true and this camp proved that they fit that statistic by cutting out models of their own feet and using those feet to measure themselves. While they were not six of their friends' feet tall, most people were between 5 1/2 and 6 1/4 of their own feet tall.
For our final project we did some foot painting. Thank goodness it was a nice morning so we could go outside, paint our feet (and later our hands) and press them onto big sheets of paper.
Tuesday we read several books to get our creative juices stirred. Patches Lost and Found by Steven Kroll is both a good story about the number one problem faced by authors (specifically, struggling to find a story idea) and a touching tale of the recovery of a lost guinea pig. We had a good discussion of how we write. Is it words first and then pictures or pictures first? Many students told me that their teacher, just like the teacher in the book, always said that words have to come first. Tell me it isn't so. Inspiration comes where and how it comes, as this story suggests.
Then we did an Amy Krouse Rosental-a-thon by reading four of her books--Little Hoot, Little Pea, Little Oink, and Spoon. These are good twists are familiar issues. Little Hoot is a young owl who complains because his parents make him stay up late; Little Pea has to eat all of her candy before she can get her vegetables for dessert, and Little Oink does not like making the house look like a pigsty. These inspired some thoughts about what other animals nag their children about. Spoon finds a spoon envying other silverware for all the cool things they can do--knife can spread butter and cut the bread; fork gets to stick a hot dog over the grill; and chopsticks have exotic experiences. After reading these books some of the campers created silverware experiences pictures and others settled down to write a story. I wish you could see the marvelous tale that is still evolving about a very hungry bird who was eating a spoon girl the last time I peeked into the book. Also in the works are a detective story and a guinea pig adventure tale, both of which promise unexpected endings.
We also had time to read some of Mo Willems' classic (at least they are now classics in my mind) Pigeon books--Don't Let Pigeon Stay Up Late and Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog. The simple illustrations have so much expression and the text just begs for interaction so they are the perfect to read aloud.
Today we began with a book I had never read before, having run to the public library yesterday to get a book about dragons because I had forgotten to pull one out before packing the library this spring. The Egg by M. P. Robertson has beautiful illustrations of a giant egg being read to by the young boy, George, who finds it under his mother's favorite hen one morning. When the egg hatches, George finds himself mother to a young dragon. He teaches basic dragon skills--flying, breathing fire, distressing damsels, and defeating knights--and always reads the dragon bedtime stories. We found that we had to make time to look closely at all the details in the lush illustrations. With this inspiration we decorated some lovely flying dragon models, while some folks continued with their stories and other projects from yesterday.
We also took time during the day to read two of my favorite books. (One of the big perks of this camp is that I get to read several of my favorite books every day.) Bark, George! by Jules Feiffer would be worth reading if only for the picture of the vet reaching deep, deep, deep, deep, deep, deep, deep down inside George to pull out various critters. The twist at the end always gets a chuckle. The Diary of a Wombat by Jackie French makes me want to move to Australia where I could have a troublesome wombat living in my back yard. French does live in Australia with multiple wombats around so she has a good idea of what a wombat's diary might say. The pictures are warm and inviting. The wombat's matter of fact voice and certain misconceptions about human life is perfect.
We ended today with some made-to-order stories. The kids had me create a story that included a girl who liked to comb her hair, a fairy, a red, fire-breathing dragon, and George Washington. I was as amazed as anyone to learn what a good diplomatic skills George had when dealing with dragons, fairies and vain little girls. The campers then were given four random toys from my prize box. They looked at their toys which ranged from ugly eyeballs to Dora the Explorer to myriad Disney figurines and much more and came up with their own stories. This group of 15 came up with some pretty amazing tales.
Stay tuned to hear what we do for the remainder of the week.
Sunday, July 26, 2009
That got me to thinking of how many classics or well-loved books I have never read. (Though I do not think that I ever did not read books assigned in high school and only skipped a few in college. I can't say I always wrote papers that got and A either.)
Here is the short list of books I have never read, a probably never will. I know the list could be much, much longer, but not having read the books, I can't think of what they are.
- Other than The Old Man and the Sea I have never read anything by Ernest Hemingway.
- I have never read William Faulkner but one of my book clubs is curing that with As I Lay Dying which I will begin as soon as I finish Black Boy which is another book I have should have read years ago.
- I have never read much Jane Austen and what I did read made so little impression on me that I can't remember which one I read that led to my rejection of all things Austen.
- I know that Little Women by Louisa May Alcott is loved by the multitudes but my mother tried so hard to get me to read it that I dug in my heels and refused to read in my youth and still can't quite bring myself to try. Alcott and her family were fascinating people with interesting friends and beliefs. I am probably making a mistake in being so pig-headed.
- Herman Melville is someone else who has never appealed to me, even though I know that he shaped American literature.
- Speaking of American icons, I have to confess that I have dabbled in Mark Twain but never really enjoyed his books.
- Alexandre Dumas is another author that never called to me. I am always surprised when folks tell me how much they like The Three Musketeers or any of his other swashbuckling novels.
- This is probably heresy of some sort for a children's librarian but I have only read the first Harry Potter book and, while I can see its appeal, did not feel compelled to read any more the series.
- Likewise, I have never been able to find anything to draw me to Eragon by Christopher Paolini despite the many, many students who have begged me to read it.
- Jerry Spinelli is a children's author who gets high praise. I have struggled to try to enjoy a few of his books with no luck. Wringer and Maniac McGee were not my cup of tea, so how can I expect to enjoy those of his books that did not get wild praise.
Am I missing great things? Possibly. Is that going to change my mind? Probably not, though being "forced" to read things for book clubs has certainly exposed me to things that I might not otherwise have tackled.
The essence of this post is that not every book is for everyone. I know I have previously praised books that others will not enjoy at all. Just winning a prize or getting the classic label does mean that a book is for me or you. (There are some prize winning books that I have trouble believing anyone would enjoy at all, but that is another blog entry.)
Thursday, July 16, 2009
We looked at some novels for older readers and talked about some that we had both read and enjoyed. Then she lead me to the display of picture books and pointed out Waiting for Winter by Sebastian Meschenmoser who wrote and illustrated this book which was first published in Germany.
The illustrations drew me in with their energy. At first they seem almost unfinished, like sketches waiting to be completed. However, as the story progresses the illustrations take on more life and the personalities of the characters shine through. By the end of the book, when winter finally comes, color appears and the pictures glisten with the joy and excitement of the new fallen snow.
This story of a squirrel who has never seen snow but now feels compelled to wait for its arrival is perfect for reading aloud or enjoying alone at any age, though it is written for kindergarten through grade three. Squirrel garners the help of his friends hedgehog and bear who find things that almost match deer's description of winter. A toothbrush is "white, wet, and cold". While hedgehog seems to think that a sky full of falling toothbrushes is reason for ecstasy, the reader will see the humor in the two page illustration of this imagined version of winter. Similarly tin cans and socks come close to snow, but not quite. Then a first flake is spotted on bear's nose. Awe and joy fill the final pages of the story. Be sure to look inside the back cover for the final twist to this story of friendship, patience, and the joy of winter.
Since I loved this book and the buyer at Nicola's loved this book, why did I title this post "We Can't All Agree". In my excitement I showed this book to my husband. He laughed, not at the book but at me. He thinks the story is odd and rather pointless; the illustrations are definitely not his cup of tea. I should point out that he is an engineer who likes to think in an orderly way. I don't know if he thought like a five year old when he was five. He certainly doesn't now.
Take a look at this book and let me know if I am the one who is right or if my husband is.
Monday, July 13, 2009
From there you can link to his blog and offer your own suggestions.
The good news is that while I might not of selected exactly the same dozen books, I have no argument with any of the suggestions. Needless to say, there are myriad other books that are well worth reading.
Sunday, July 12, 2009
When I was about 10 or 12, I declared to all who would listen that I would read at least ten minutes before bed every day of my life. (I was prone to major declarations in those days. There were giant sandstone rocks on the hills behind our house that I had to climb before I could get married; I had to find a certain kind of agate stone or be cursed; and many more restrictions I put on my life.) I have been fairly true to the pledge to read before bed, though I know children and other life events have forced me to skip a day here and there.
I also like to sneak off into quiet corners during the day to grab a chapter or even just a page or two. Of course, it is most enjoyable when one can devote an hour or more to absorbing the joys of the book at hand. Airplanes are perfect for these long reads because there can be no guilt about not addressing other pressing concerns. There just is no way to clean the house, do the dishes, or mow the lawn when you are flying. I also read in the car, but that is something I learned to do later after years of reading-induced car sickness. (Note: I only read in the car when someone else is driving. I don't even read at stop lights when I am driving, though there is generally a book on the seat beside me just in case.) I take a book with me everywhere. The doctor's waiting room has provided many an hour of good reading.
I have trouble reading in places that are two quiet--like a college library--because sometimes the quiet can be a distraction in itself. I prefer my reading to be done where there is some kind of white noise, easily ignored because you already know what it is and expect it to be there. Traffic, birds, the wind, the refrigerator cycling through are all examples that I soon can ignore when I get lost in my book.
What brings this discussion to mind was a recent revelation by a friend who declared that she has just discovered that she enjoys books more when she can read without distraction. By that she meant that she has just learned to turn off the radio or television when she settles down with a book in hand. For many of you that concept may seem obvious, but I bet there are many folks out there who believe that they can multi-task while reading. I will up the ante on that bet and say that there are people who believe that can't read--or do much else--without that drone in the background.
Here are a few points that may convince those of you who don't seek a quiet place to read, to at least give it a try.
- My friend says that the last two books she has read have both shot to the top of her favorite books list. They are also the first two books she has read without other distractions. She says it was all she could do while reading poolside not to ask the couple next to her not to be quieter.
- Most people would agree that serious "study" should be done without distraction. Serious enjoyment desires the same consideration.
- In a some goofy psychology class I took years ago we were told to read a paragraph while someone lectured to us on an entirely different topic. Then we were tested on both pieces of information. Everyone had gotten bits of both, but no one felt they knew either topic well. I could not tell you why we did this exercise, but it makes one realize how little outside noise we can successfully filter out of our minds.
- "Don't bother me. I'm reading." has worked for years to get a little more alone time. It is much more believable if your room is quiet.
When, where and how you read is a very personal experience. The most important part is that you enjoy it. If reading without distraction, increases the enjoyment. I say, go for it.
Sunday, July 5, 2009
Like all biographies written for young readers, the biographies I read left out lots of gossip and hardship and made their subjects sound like paragons of virtue and intelligence. Biographies for adults tend follow the opposite route, revealing every wart and flaw. It is interesting to compare the two options, which I have recently done with biographies of Alice Roosevelt Longworth.
What to Do about Alice? : How Alice Roosevelt Broke the Rules, Charmed the World, and Drove her Father Teddy Crazy by Barbara Kerley is a picture book style biography for readers in grades two to five. It is full of the wild and crazy antics of young Alice when she and her brothers and one sister lived in the White House. It gives one the feeling that life was carefree and fun and that Alice enjoyed stirring things up when her step-mother would have preferred a little more decorum. I am convinced that this was indeed the case most of the time. The story does leave out the other problems that plagued a little girl whose mother died two days after she was born and whose father was busy running the country, making a name for himself, and, yes, missing his first wife.
Alice: Alice Roosevelt Longworth, from White House to Princess to Washington Power Broker by Stacy A. Cordery is nearly five hundred pages of well-researched insight into Alice Roosevelt's long life. The tone of this book is much heavier than would ever be appropriate for a book for young readers. This Alice did have fun adventures in the White House but she also felt a little out of the group with her half-siblings, her strict step-mother, and her somewhat aloof father. She found her way by making waves, covering her shyness with bravado. It is clear from this book--and from the young reader biography--that Alice Lee Roosevelt Longworth was an intelligent woman who had strong ideas about right and wrong and what would keep people paying attention to her.
Reading biographies is not always as easy as reading a novel but it is generally well worth the extra effort. I have learned a lot from these two biographies and from the many others that I have read over the years.
The next biography on my list is not about someone who is such a familiar name as Alice Roosevelt but it is very special to me. Challenges: Above and Beyond by Tim and Betty Babcock and Linda Grosskopf is the biography of Tim and Betty Babcock who was the governor of Montana when I was growing up there. More importantly to me, Linda Grosskopf was a classmate of mine who continues to be a dear friend. It is interesting to read about someone who was a very real figure in my life. (Governor Babcock's niece tried to teach me to twirl a baton so I could be in the school majorette group.) It is more interesting still to read words written by someone who I have known for over 40 years, sharing the ups and downs of her life as she has shared mine. As I read about Alice Roosevelt, I often thought of Linda. Linda is in many ways like Mrs. Roosevelt Longworth, which I hope she takes as the compliment that it is.
Wednesday, July 1, 2009
The idea for this post came from the blog of my friend Jen. She is a mother, aspiring writer, great cook, a teacher of both my daughters and many other lucky students past and present, and generally an all-around amazing person. Check out her list, take a look at mine below, and then let me know what your sticky book list includes.
My list has three components: Books I read as a child that still have a place in my heart and mind, books written for children that I did not meet until I was an adult (yes, some of these are old enough that I should have read them years earlier), and books written for adults that I read as an adult. All of the lists are in no particular order.
BOOKS I READ AS A CHILD
The Singing Tree and The Good Master by Kate Seredy bring back such fond memories from my first forays into quality literature from other cultures. The illustrations are still fresh in my mind. They are always near the top of my list of favorite books even though I have not re-read them in many, many years.
Winnie the Pooh by A. A. Milne has been mentioned on this blog before. I recite the poems often--perhaps too often. The stories gain new insights every time I read them. I have fond memories of my children and my spouse laughing at antics of Pooh, Piglet, Eeyore and their friends.
Half Magic by Edward Eager is the book that got me started on a fantasy craze that lasted for most of my upper elementary years. It is creative, interesting, exciting, a little different, and the perfect introduction to fantasy that is not too fantastical but definitely fantastic. From here I moved on to the rest of the books by Eager as well as books by E. Nisbett, C. S. Lewis, and the myriad others that fill this genre.
Ben and Me by Robert Lawson may be one of my first chapter book excursions. It is the story of Ben Franklin as told by the mouse who lived in his hat. There are many others by Lawson that I devoured eagerly but this one is the best.
Mr. Popper's Penguins by Richard Atwater has so much to recommend it-- a goofy story with a little historical charm, great warm illustrations, and characters that stick to the ribs and the funny bone. I hope that kids keep reading this for generations to come.
Blueberries for Sal and Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey are two favorite picture books that still pull me in at the first page. The illustrations are amazing and the stories have the perfect charm. Now that I have been to Boston several times to visit my daughter, the depiction of Boston Commons is even more meaningful.
The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf may have influenced some of my beliefs in non-violence. Who knows? It certainly is a perfect story of peace, the truly important things in life, and adolescent rebellion of sorts. At least that is how I have always seen it. The illustrations are perfect and there are lines that are truly perfection. My favorite line comes early in the story when Ferdinand's mother worries about him because "she was an understanding mother, event though she was a cow." Somehow that always strikes me as funny and charming. Fun trivia fact: Munro Leaf's son James G. Leaf is a former head of Emerson School.
The Book about Moomin, Mymble and Little My by Tove Jansson is not an easy book to find. My copy, which was published in Helsinki in 1953, was given to me by Uncle Frank after he travelled to Scandinavia one summer. That connection is part of what makes it special. Also intriguing are the holes carefully cut in every page to offer tantalizing hints of what is to come. I only know one other person who knew this book as a child--Emerson kindergarten teacher Sigrid. No wonder I like Sig.
The Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling are perfectly written. I heard a story once that Kipling stood in front of a mirror as he read these stories aloud, checking to make sure that not only did the words sound right but that his mouth looked right as he read. I don't know if this is true, but the language of these stories does come close to perfection. Don't summarize them. Read them aloud and relish every syllable, oh best beloveds.
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg led me to many imagined adventures when I was young. I am sure that it did despite the fact that those imagined adventures came long before this book was published in 1968, when I was in my junior year of high school. At eight or ten, I imagined living in the most impressive store (in my mind at least) in Billings, Montana. This was a large furniture store, probably not nearly as large as I imagined it to be. It seemed to me--still does--that much of what happens to the kids in this book were just glorified examples of what I could have experienced had I ever gotten the chance to hide out in a giant furniture store.
BOOKS FOR CHILDREN THAT I READ AS AN ADULT (I am sure there are many missing here--and many more to be added as time goes by.)
Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery is one I did not discover until I was already a mother of a two year old. There are good reasons why this continues to be a very popular series around the world.
The Twenty-One Balloons by William Penne du Bois was written four years before I was born but I did not read it until I shared it with my own children more than 30 years later. It has humor, geography, history, and adventure. I never really appreciated Krakatoa until I read this book.
Ordinary Jack by Helen Cresswell is the first in the Bagthorpe Saga that had me laughing from the beginning of Jack to the end of the last in the series. I discovered this series in a listing of books for gifted children. The Bagthorpe children are all gifted--except for poor Jack who is always a little left out. The family is full of crazy characters and wild happenings. They are very British in their humor and style. I am sorry to report that they are currently out of print though Amazon has used copies from one cent.
The Warm Place by Nancy Farmer is the most gentle of the books by Nancy Farmer. It features a giraffe who is kidnapped from Africa to be taken to a zoo across the ocean and yearns to return to the warm place that is home. He has many amazing adventures along the way. Read everything you can get your hands on by Nancy Farmer. She will startle, astound, and stimulate your mind.
The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman and the rest of this trilogy are the most thoughtful and intriguing fantasy stories that I have ever read, generally even surpassing the works of Tolkein. My daughter got a pre-publication copy of this book when she accompanied a friend to Border's for Take Your Daughter to Work Day. (Coming to her own school with me was not that exciting for Geetha, so it made sense to go with a friend whose father did "something interesting".) The book, despite its cover with a huge polar bear on it, got stuck away on the shelf for a year or two. Then Geetha read it and was ready for the second book, which we both devoured with enthusiasm. Alas, the third book was not out yet and I was now as eager to find the end of the saga as she was. You, lucky you, do not have to wait to read all three in order.
The Return of the Twelves by Pauline Clarke was suggested reading from a former science teacher at Emerson School. The premise is that the little soldiers that once belonged to the Bronte children in England (they wrote about these soldiers in the journals and some stories) are found by a new family after years of being stored away in the attic. The soldiers come alive just as they did for the Brontes. Now they want to return to the Bronte home but they want to do it on their own three-inch man power. This book got me more interested in the Brontes and in the wilds of the north of England.
Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis is the newest book on this list. Curtis never fails to capture the voice of a young boy in all of his novels, but this is the book that carries the most punch. If it does not make you think about slavery and racism, nothing will. It will also make you laugh at the typical boy antics of Elijah and cry at the hard lives folks have had to face.
A FEW ADULT BOOKS THAT STICK WITH ME
The Tortilla Curtain by T. C. Boyle is one of the best looks at two sides of a story that I have ever read. Told from the points of view of both the well-to-do homeowner in Southern California who must worry about the wildlife threatening his family and the man who has snuck up from Mexico and is living in the woods with that same wildlife, this story has both sides making good and just points. Neither can be labeled the bad guy nor the good guy. You will think long and hard about the issues that are presented here.
The Night Listener by Armistead Maupin is another book that looks at what is truth. When the narrator of this story, based on an actual occurrence in the author's life, gets contacted by the mother of a boy who is very ill, what can he do but reach out to help. Through many twists and turns the author and the reader are soon wondering whether the boy is really in need of help. It is a bizarre and intriguing story.
Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn has become the basis for a thesaurus lesson I use almost every year. The premise of the book is that as letters fall from the town's tower, the residents must stop using that letter. When we play our game, letters drop from my list and the kids must re-write a sentence they have written using the thesaurus and their creative minds to find good substitutes for the words that now must go. It is always good for a laugh.
The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester got me thinking about words and dictionaries in new ways and with new respect. I enjoyed reading Winchester's The Professor and the Madman which was also about the OED, but this book has such detail that I have gone back to it often just to remember little tidbits about the work that was put into the creation of the most magnificent of dictionaries. I confess that there is a part of me that would love to be a lexicographer.
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck got even better when I re-read it with my daughters as they studied it in English class. It has to be my favorite Steinbeck novel.
Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond was given to me by my daughter who suggests that it should be required reading for everyone. It has changed how I look at history.
That is the short list. I know that there are others. Now, tell me what would be on your list of sticky books.