Tuesday, November 27, 2012


It's been a hard six weeks. The first week of October Son #1 tore his ACL. That same weekend, Son #2 made one of those stupid, stupid, stupid, underdeveloped frontal lobe, two second teenager decisions that has had enormous and  far reaching consequences for him, and also for me.

And as so often happens, when the big things start falling apart, so do the little ones. Or maybe the little ones fall apart regularly, but you just notice them more when the big ones are hard. Two weeks ago, for instance, I broke a crown on a tooth. And last week my computer died. 

When I took my computer to the shop I've used for the last ten years, they told me it would take 3-5 business days. After five days, the computer store called. The off/on switch was shorted out, and they thought it I might have spilled liquid into the computer. I hadn't. They wanted $380 to replace the switch and the top case. I wasn't sure whether my four-year-old computer was actually worth that much. My twitter friends suggested I get a second opinion.

Last Saturday I went to pick up my computer. They guy said I couldn't take have it. It was in pieces on the workman's bench and I would have to wait until he put it back together on Monday. I couldn't get there on Monday or Tuesday, so I went to pick it up on Wednesday morning (on my way to the dentist to get the crown repaired). The repairman offered me $30 for parts. I didn't take it. He then suggested that I try the Apple Store.

I should confess that I am not a big fan of the Apple Store. It's always super, super, super busy. There are all kinds of different computer noises, and classes, and conversations, and it puts my ADD brain into full fight or flight mode. That day, the day before Thanksgiving, was no different. The store was busy, busy, busy. And super noisy. And I couldn't get an appointment at the "Genius Bar" until Saturday.

So on Saturday I went back. And it was still busy, busy, busy. And super noisy. And I had to stand in front of the speaker display and every time someone needed to look at the speakers, I had to kind of scootch over and try to make room in this really crowded store. At one point someone asked me for advice about which speaker they should buy. And I was really, really glad when it was my turn for the Genius Bar and I could sit facing away from the craziness of the store. 

Mr. A., my genius, was very personable. In the first five minutes, I knew that his favorite part of Thanksgiving was cornbread. And that he has a sister who is a social worker in Minneapolis. And about his friend who is a football player that tore his ACL. He knew about my boys. And all the while, he was plugging in my computer and running different tests.Soon he was able to confirm that there is something wrong with the on/off switch. I thought about the $380. And I wanted to cry.

"Let me see what I can do for you," he said. And he walked away and went over to a different computer. In five minutes he was back. "Ok, here is what they are going to do," he said. They are going to replace the top case. And then they are going to replace this part on the bottom too. But it will take about 3-5 days."

"How much?" I asked, hoping I wouldn't start to cry in the store, in front of all of those people.

"Nothing," he said. "Apple is taking care of it."

"Nothing?" I said, thinking of the $380 I was expecting to hear.

"I don't joke about money," says Mr. A. "Really. You just need to sign with your finger."

I sign and leave the store quickly, then go to my car and cry.

It has been a long hard six weeks.

Tonight I am going to write Mr. A a note, to tell him how much his kindness meant to a very tired mom.

Monday, November 26, 2012


Thanskgiving weekend. The weather has been gorgeous in Colorado, so I spent a lot of time outside, but I did get a little bit of reading done. Rebecca Stead's LIAR AND SPY was at the top of my list- I've been seeing it on lots of Newbery lists for several months, so I finally put it on reserve at the public library. It did not disappoint!

When the book opens, Georges (pronounced George) and his mother and father have just lost their home, and moved into a new apartment. The first day there, Georges and his dad are in the basement and notice a sign that says SPY CLUB. Through the Spy Club, Georges comes to know Safer and Candy, two homeschooled kids who live in his apartment, and learns a lot about truth and friendship…

What intrigued me about this book was the bullying thread that ran throughout. Georges is an outcast at his middle school and is subject to some really unkind treatment by other students. Even so, he manages to maintain his center and sense of okay-ness. I think back to myself in middle school-- I wasn't bullied, but even so, I remember feeling like I never quite fit in, and hating it. I lived for 3:00, when I could escape to ride my horse, and hang out with other kids who were more like me.

As I was reading, I kept thinking about WONDER. The message in that book is really powerful, but I think the message in LIAR AND SPY is equally as powerful. I could see myself reading aloud  WONDER, then following it with LIAR AND SPY. I think the two books together could open up some really amazing conversations about the way we treat each other…

Reading has always been an escape for me. When I need to get out of my life, I just find a good page turner and lose myself in it. Recently I have come across Lisa Scottoline, a new to me author who writes those kind of books for adults (If I taught high school I would be book talking some of these because I think they could get reluctant readers into books). The first day of break, I read SAVE ME by Lisa Scottoline. SAVE ME is the story of a mom who is in an elementary school cafeteria when an explosion occurs. She is faced with the dilemma of rescuing her own daughter who has gone to a bathroom to hide from some kids who are bullying her, or saving the other children who have just bullied her daughter.  She makes her choice, then has to deal with repercussions from other parents and the media. In the attempt to clear her name, she uncovers a secret…

On Saturday, I started ENRIQUE'S JOURNEY, the book for ONE BOOK, ONE DENVER. ENRIQUE'S JOURNEY is nonfiction, the story of how a young boy travels from Central America, via train, and crosses over the border, to find his mother, who has left her family to earn a living working as a housekeeper in California. I'm not very far into this--- got bogged down in the author's prologue and almost decided to return it to the library, but then read a little more when I was waiting in line at the car wash, and decided to try it again. That's at the top of the pile for this week.

I am deep into CYBILS judging, also read lots of poetry, but will probably blog about that later this week. Some of the ones I read were EDGAR ALLEN POE'S PIES by J. Patrick Lewis, FORGET ME NOTS: POEMS TO LEARN BY HEART, selected by Mary Ann Hoberman, and THERE'S A BANANA IN YOUR EAR by Michael Rosen. Piles and piles of poetry on the TBR stack this week as well.

Friday, November 23, 2012



It's Black Friday. I'm not going shopping, instead, I plan on spending the day in my backyard, raking leaves and enjoying the glorious fall weather. Actually, I don't plan on spending a lot of time shopping this year at all (probably much to my sons' consternation), because quite simply, we have enough. Early this week, I saw this image on a friend's Facebook page. When I googled it, I found out this is one of a series of similar images- I don't know the story behind them, but I'm thinking about sending one to my boys each day during the Advent season. I also came across this poem on YOUR DAILY POEM, which is one of my all-time favorite poetry websites.

by Bruce Dethlefsen
After my reading
a very serious sixth grade girl
asked me if I was wealthy
well I said I have twenty-two
dollars in my wallet right now
and my pickup truck has two hundred
thirty-five thousand miles on it…
Read the rest of the poem at Your Daily Poem.

Mary Lee is hosting Poetry Friday (and making 50 bags of Christmas candy, and reading, and doing school work, and sewing on buttons, not to mention recovering from a week in Las Vegas at NCTE).

Happy Friday!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012


I am not going shopping on Black Friday. I hate shopping on regular days. And shopping on Black Friday is like shopping on regular days times a million. But…if I was going shopping, and was buying presents, I would most likely be buying books. Here are a few new ones I would need to buy for someone…

I'd definitely be buying Eric Littwin's newest, PETE THE CAT SAVES CHRISTMAS, for the primary grade readers in my life. A take off on Clement Clark Moore's TWAS THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS, it's a little more text than most of the other Pete books, but it's still lots of fun.
Twas the day before Christmas and Santa was ill
In the cold winter wind he had caught a bad chill. 
Our good friend Pete, in a red minibus which is eventually pulled by reindeer, steps in to save the day.
"I'll do it," said Pete.
"And although I am small,
at Christmas we give, 
so I'll give it my all."
And then one of Littwin's famous repeated refrains
 "Give it your all, give it your all,
At Christmas we give, so I'll give it my all…"
This PETE THE CATE would also be a great gift for anyone who collects different versions of 'TWAS THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS.

 SANTA ON THE LOOSE, by Bruce Hale, illustrations by Dave Garbot, is not a book for read aloud. Instead, it's a kind of "Where's Waldo?" (do you remember that series?) does Christmas. On the first page, we learn that the North Pole is in a tizzy, because all of the Christmas toys have been stolen. There are six possible suspects. On each of the next ten two-page spreads, the reader has to find Santa, then figure out what clue he is holding. When all of the clues are pieced together, the guilty party can be identified. And then, as an added bonus, there are nine other objects the "reader" can go back and find on each page. This would be a perfect present for the week/night before Christmas, when everyone is excited and needs something to stay busy.

TOGETHER AT CHRISTMAS, by Eileen Spinelli, is a counting book. Ten little mice are huddled together in the snow on Christmas Eve. One by one, each mouse finds a warmer place to sleep. But…
Though every mouse is snug alone
on feather bed, in nest, by stone--
somehow it doesn't feel quite right
to be without one's friends this night.
And so all of the little mice come back together to celebrate Christmas.

I'd buy this book for Bin Lee's beautiful illustrations. I think kids are going to love them.

IT'S CHRISTMAS by Jack Prelutsky, is not a new book, I think it was first published about twenty years ago. It's been reissued, however, as part of the "I Can Read!" series, with new full color illustrations. First and second graders love the "I Can Read" series- there's enough text and content to make the books interesting, but there is not so much text that they are intimidating. IT'S CHRISTMAS is twelve rhyming poems about various Christmas traditions-- mailing cards, standing under the mistletoe, writing a list for Santa, getting a sled when there is no snow, etc. And there's just enough naughty- Auntie Flo who gives underwear for Christmas, and a puppy who piddles, to grab the attention of kids who are not totally sold on reading yet.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

IN THE SEA- David Elliott, illustrated by Holly Meade

For those, like me, who like a little science with their poetry, and gorgeous language besides, here is a  perfect new poetry book for you. IN THE SEA, by David Elliott and Holly Meade, is a collection of  25 poems about sea creatures- seahorses, coral, blue whales, octopus, sharks, puffer fish, moray eel, mackerel, starfish, herring, sea turtles and more. The poems are short- most are between four and ten lines, but they are filled with terrific information.

"The Sea Turtle"
Swims the seven seas
for thirty years
then finds the beach
where she was born--
by magic it appears.

How can she know to come upon
that far and sandy place?
Rare instrument of nature,
fair compass in a carapace?

 And in case you didn't notice, Elliott also fills his poems with gorgeous, gorgeous words for kids to wrap their mouths and brains around. Take a look at this poem…
"The Moray Eel"
Ferocious. Cunning.
Belligerent. Brave.
A sword without its sheath
a dragon in its cave.
Other words you will find in these poems include apparition, briny, jester, cunning, and belligerent. 

And Holly Meade's woodcut print/watercolor (I think?) illustrations are absolutely gorgeous-- beautiful combinations of tans and aquas and blues and greens and golds, and sweeping lines that capture the movement of the sea perfectly.  I want to share this book with the art teacher at my school, because I think she would love using it with kids.

I could see lots of uses for this book. I might just put it in a poetry basket, or an ocean basket, for kids to enjoy. I might use the poems as mentor texts in a multi-genre unit- I could see studying Elliott's work, then writing our own poems embedding facts about animals we were studying (for people who are interested in doing that, Elliott has also written two companion volumes- ON THE FARM and IN THE WILD). I might have kids study Meade's illustrations, then try something similar. I might also use this book when I was talking with writers about word choice.

For teachers who like a little science with their poetry, this book is a perfect choice!

Saturday, November 17, 2012


There are some authors that kids are always just plain glad to see. And Jack Prelutsky is definitely  one of those authors. The newest (or at least I think it's newest) book from this very prolific poet, is classic Prelutsky. There is a lot of silliness…
I swallowed a third of the turkey,
A tenth of the carrots and peas,
A quarter of half the potatoes
A fifth of a ninth of the cheese,
A sixth of an eighth of the pudding
A seventh of all of the cake,
And so I am now doubled over,
With triple a whole bellyache. 
 There is a lot of word play…
My snake can do arithmetic
My snake is far from dumb
My snake can take two numbers,
And come up with a sum. 

She can't subtract, which makes her sad,
And two things make her sadder…
She can't divide or multiply--
My snake is just an adder. 
Prelutsky employs a variety of formats- everything from free verse to haiku to limericks, to concrete poetry. And, as always, he's a master at tools like repetition and alliteration. I taught both of those in intermediate grades this week, and am wishing now that I had started each day with humorous poem, then gone on to more serious examples.

I was also struck, in reading I'VE LOST MY HIPPOPOTAMUS,  by Prelutsky's use of  rich and interesting vocabulary-- talk about text complexity! Here's a sample from a random two-page spread--fortunate, discern, gem, pity, commonplace, hard-pressed, strain, manufactured, insufferable, detect, odor, sniff. And in case you think I'm making it up, here's another randomly selected two page spread--crochety, miffed, appearance, cosmetics, strategically, perfumed, festooned, bangles, inexpressible.  I'm not big on "vocabulary" lessons where teachers find the interesting/difficult words and have kids look them up in dictionaries, but I do think this book would lend itself to lots of interesting discussions about how carefully poets/authors choose words.

Prelutsky is a hall-of-famer when it comes to poetry for kids. And this is another classic!

Friday, November 16, 2012


A found poem from Lin Yutang…  

I like spring, 
but it is too young. 
I like summer, 
but it is too proud. 

So I like best of all 
because its tone is mellower, 
its colours are richer, 

and it is tinged 
with a little sorrow. 

Its golden richness 
speaks not 
of the innocence of spring, 
nor the power of summer, 

but of the mellowness 
and kindly wisdom 

of approaching age. 

It knows 
the limitations of life 
and its content.

-  Lin Yutang

POETRY FRIDAY is at Anastasia Suen's Booktalking.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

THE QUILT WALK- Sandra Dallas

Last week at the library, I found THE QUILT WALK, the first children's novel by author Sandra Dallas (her best known novel is probably THE PERSIAN PICKLE CLUB). I was excited because Dallas is a Colorado author. And the family in the book, set sometime shortly after the Civil War, is moving west from Quincy, Illinois, to begin a new life in Golden, Colorado. Our third grade class is starting Colorado history next month, and I was hoping it would be a good read for some of that class.

Dallas has written about ten adult novels, most (maybe all?) historical fiction. She is a researcher who knows her stuff. Readers will come away knowing a great deal about pioneer life. Emmy Blue's father, for instance, is concerned that the wagon is too full, tells his wife and daughter that they can only take the clothes they can wear. Emmy and her mother wear three layers of clothes throughout most of the book. The book title comes from a bag of quilt square that Emmy's grandmother, who wants her granddaughter to grow up without domestic  skills,  gives to her as they are leaving. Emmy Blue makes the quilt squares throughout the journey. The family dines on typical pioneer fare, including staples like beans and dried apple pie.

The family face many typical pioneer challenges. They leave behind family and friends, realizing that it will be a very, very long time (if ever)before they see them again. They cross the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers. Emmy's friend, Joey, is bitten by a rattlesnake. Another settler accidentally shoots himself and dies, leaving a wife and three children. Celia Bonner, another traveler,  is struggling with the challenges of an abusive husband.

This is not a book I will recommend as a third grade read aloud. But it's a terrific read for kids who like historical fiction, or want to know a little more about what it might be like to be a pioneer traveling west in the late 1800's.  I'm thinking probably kids who liked the American Girl or Little House series, or maybe just kids who are ready to try historical fiction will enjoy this one.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

I like a few facts with my poetry…

I love it when poetry and science collide. You know, those books that include not only poetry, but also have a few facts thrown. One of my favorite 2011 CYBILS Poetry nominees was COUSINS OF CLOUDS, a book of poems and facts about elephants. This year's CYBILS nominees also include a couple of poem/fact books.

unBEElievables, one of Douglas Florian's newest books, is classic Florian- interesting information, clever word play, and gorgeous illustrations. Each two-page spread includes a poem, a paragraph of factual information, and then a gorgeous collage-type illustration. Here's a sample:

"Bees Buzz"
All day we bees
Just buzz and buzz
That's what we duzz
And duzz and duzz.
Why are we full
Of fuzz and fuzz?
Bee-cuzz bee-cuzz
The fuzz the fuzz
Helps pollen stick
To uzz to uzz.

Then the accompanying factual paragraph:
Bees beat their wings rapidly when they fly. This causes the air around them to vibrate, and the vibration causes bees' signature buzzing sound. The fuzzy hairs on bees' bodies have an electrostatic charge, which helps attract a flower's pollen grains.
Thirteen additional poems teach readers about bees' body parts, jobs (queen, worker, drone), dances, pollination and Colony Collapse Disorder. A BEEbliography includes books and websites where readers can find additional information.

TAKE TWO: A CELEBRATION OF TWINS is another poem/fact book. Two literary powerhouses, J. Patrick Lewis (a twin) and Jane Yolen (the niece, sister-in-law and grandmother of twins), have joined forces to write 45 poems about twins. There are sections  about "Twins in the Waiting Womb," "Twinfants," "How to be One," and "Famous Twins." And each two page spread includes at least one twin fact. Did you know that the study of twins is called gemellology? Or that identical twins have the same brain wave patterns? That there were 2,038 sets of twins at the Twins' Day Festival in Twinsburg, Ohio?


We are not 
The only twos:
Socks come in pairs
As well as shoes.
Eyes are double
Hands and feet
Legs are twosome,
Ears repeat
All the best things
Come in two"
You with me
And me with you.

Don Graves used to always say that poets were a lot like scientists. Both have to observe the world very, very closely. Generally, I agree with just about anything Don Graves said, but I especially agree with that. It's great to find a few other authors that agree.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

A PERFECT DAY- Carin Berger

So I am thinking about all of my friends in the Northeast. Many were without electricity and heat all week, had power restored over the weekend, and are now probably facing the same situation again this week. My heart goes out to them.

I also remember, however, how much I loved snowstorms. I grew up in Colorado, and we didn't have lots of snow days, but at least once or twice a year, the call would come that school was closed, and we would have the day to play outside, to sled on the hill on a cul-de-sac behind our house, to build snow forts and angels, and then to finally, to clump home, with frozen fingers, toes, and cheeks, and drink hot chocolate with miniature marshmallows.

A PERFECT DAY by Carin Berger, perfectly captures those kinds of days. The first few pages remind me of somewhat, of Ezra Jack Keats' A SNOWY DAY.
It snowed
         and snowed
and snowed
        and snowed

The whole world was white.

Emma got to make the first tracks in the snow…
Author Carin Berger follows Emma, her friends, and Otto the dog, as they skate, build snowmen, and make snow angels. One girl even sets up an icicle stand.

I loved, loved, loved the collage illustrations in this book. Carin Berger uses old catalogs, books, recipes, and ledgers to create the snow, a million shades of white and gray against a turquoise sky. And if I had a million dollars, I would be contacting Ms. Berger to ask if I could buy the picture of the snow angels, or the page when night falls, to hang in my living room. Gorgeous illustrations.

This is definitely one to add to your winter basket! Not only is it a perfect capturing of a winter day, but I'm guessing that it would draw writing out of a lot of kids. A PERFECT DAY is a perfect picture book!


Wednesday, November 7, 2012


To be honest, I'm generally not a big fan of celebrity authors. When I saw Julie Andrews' TREASURY FOR ALL SEASONS: POEMS AND SONGS TO CELEBRATE THE YEAR on the CYBILS list, then,  I was not expecting much. I was very pleasantly surprised. The anthology, consisting of approximately 150 poems collected by Andrews and her daughter, Emma Walton Hamilton (they even wrote a few) is terrific, one I would definitely love to own or give as a gift.

TREASURY FOR ALL SEASONS  contains a variety of poems to read throughout the year. First, there are 8-10 poems for each month of the year. Many are traditional, ranging from Longfellow and Coleridge to e.e. cummings and Robert Frost, but there are also many contemporary poets (e.g. Sandra Cisneros, Barbara Juster Esbenson, Bobbi Katz, Myra Cohn Livinston, Valerie Worth). November, for example, includes:
  •  "November" by John Updike
  •  "Autumn Fires" by Robert Louis Stevenson
  • "The First Thanksgiving"  and "I Ate Too Much" by Jack Prelutsky
  • "Father, We Thank Thee" by Ralph Waldo Emerson
  • "Rhapsody" by William Stanley Braithwaite
  • "Jack Frost" by Helen Bayley Davis.  
Within each month, there are poems for pretty much every holiday, all the ones you'd expect, but also others--  Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Chinese New Year,  and Grandparents Day. There are also poems for religious holidays such as  Ramadan, Purim, Rosh Hashanah, Hannukah, and Kwanzaa.

Andrews and Hamilton also include  ections for other holidays or occasions, including The Sabbath/Shabbat,  Birthdays, New Babies,  and Coming of Age/Rites of Passage. Many of the sections begin with a letter from Julie Andrews, explaining why they chose certain poems, or making personal connections. These letters would be good mentor texts if kids were trying to assemble their own poetry anthologies

I also love the layout of this book. Most poems have their own page or two-page spread, so there is plenty of "breathing room" on each page. Marjorie Priceman's illustrations are gorgeous- vibrant, joyful, bright and flowing.

Adding this to my repertoire of gift books- it would be perfect for a baby shower, or family Christmas/Hanukkah gift, or for a student teacher or mentee, who was just starting a collection of poetry books.

Monday, November 5, 2012


Question: What am I reading?

Answer: A whole lot of poetry (and ON THE ROAD TO MR. MINEO'S, but I reviewed that yesterday.  Some of it is for the CYBILS.

Some of it is for work- I'm at a bilingual school  and am always on the lookout for high quality children's poetry in Spanish.


Some of it is just because…

Sunday, November 4, 2012


Yesterday, I set out for the Denver Public Library. I had two goals. First, I wanted to pick up a batch of CYBILS poetry books. Second, I wanted to pick up Barbara O'Connor's newest book, ON THE ROAD TO MR. MINEO'S. I  I got about ten poetry books, which will keep me busy for at least a week. I couldn't find MR. MINEO, however, and when I asked the children's librarian about it, she said she had taken it home, because Barbara O'Connor is one of her favorite authors. She promised that she would bring it back and save it, and I could have it next week.

I did what any self-respecting reader would have done. Even though I am in a total spending (especially book buying) moratorium, I immediately headed over to Tattered Cover, found the book on the shelf, and bought it. Then went home, and didn't do laundry, didn't wash the kitchen floor, didn't clean bathrooms, instead, I just sat down and read. I have to tell you, Barbara O'Connor has another hit. HOW TO STEAL A DOG is still my all-time favorite, but this one is really, really good.

MR. MINEO is the story of a one-legged homing pigeon named Sherman. Sherman is supposed to live in a coop with a flock of homing pigeons (Edna, Frankie, Martha, Samson, Leslie, Taylor, Amy Joe, Christopher and Martin) and their owner, Mr. Mineo, and his fat dog, Ernie. When the story opens, however, Sherman has, literally, flown the coop, and is making appearances all around the town of Meadville, South Carolina.

Throughout the book, a variety of different characters try to capture Sherman.  Of course, Mr. Mineo wants Sherman to come home. But  the adventurous Stella, and her best friend, the much-less adventurous Gerald, are trying to catch the bird. And there's Stella's older brother, and his friends CJ and Jiggs, middle school bullies. And Mutt Raynard, the town liar.  Several adults- Amos and Ethel Roper, an elderly couple who fight all the time, and Luther, who owns the Chinese Take Out, and his friend Edsel. And then there's a little brown dog…

The amazing thing about Mr. Mineo is how Barbara O'Connor knits all of these character's lives together. At the beginning of the book, each chapter is about a separate character or group of characters. Gradually, they come closer together, until bingo, you are at the climax, and everyone's lives connect around Sherman. MR. MINEO is a book I read once for plot, then wanted to start all over again, right away, to read to see how in the heck she managed to put the whole thing together. And like I always do with O'Connor's books, I have already marked a few favorite paragraphs/scenes as mentor texts for kids, to teach them about specificity, and dialogue and character development.

Can I just say, too, even though I'm not sure how it fits with my review, that I love using Barbara O'Connor with struggling readers. The content is complex enough for my intermediate grade and middle school readers. But the book is relatively short-- only 181 pages. And the chapters are short. A struggling reader could easily get through a chapter, without forgetting what it's about. And the writing is really clean and rhythmic and easy to read. The sentences are short. It's totally supportive of kids who have not quite got the hang of the reading thing.

I'm really glad I spent money I wasn't supposed to spend on this book. It's a keeper.