Archive | May, 2013


31 May

My all female university  residence was across the street from the Royal Ontario Museum and beside the Gardiner Museum of ceramics in downtown Toronto. (Yup, I’m a Vic Girl: Victoria College, University of Toronto, 1984).  I first remember going to the ROM in grade one. we’d been studying dinosaurs and I was very excited to see the skeletons. I remember walking into the hall where they kept them and looking up at the biggest one and getting dizzy. I was overwhelmed by it’s immensity. It far surpassed my expectations. Something stirred deeply  in my heart and soul and I was almost physically overwhelmed by it.

The Museum, written  by Susan Verde and illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds, begins with the line,

When I see a work of art, something happens in my heart


As the protagonist makes her way through the art museum, she emerges from within. She is silly, sad, hungry and frightening. when she arrives at a blank canvas she knows just what to do.  Reynolds’ illustrations bring out the energy and emotion of the text of this fun book.

Paul Fleischman’s The Matchbox Diary, illustrationed by Bagram Ibatoulline,


tells of a different sort of museum. It is a personal collection of memorabilia, saved in matchboxes. The boxes belong to a grandfather and, in opening each one, his granddaughter learns about her grandpa’s life and is a beautiful, poignant book.

As we get wrap up the school year, I hope people are thinking about the museums they might visit and the museums they might make.

Pig Tales from Portland

29 May

I don’t really think this is a trend, but I have come across two novels by Portland authors that feature porcine characters. One is for young adults, one is for younger readers. Both are worth reading.


Poison, by Bridget Zinn, is funny. As I was reading it, I thought about how few YA fantasy novels are funny. The heroine, Kyra, keeps coming to the wrong conclusion. Her pig, Rosie, just smiles dreamily at her and loves to snuggle, when she’s not following the scent she’s supposed to be tracking. The Princess and heir to the throne is outspoken. On top of all this good stuff, Zinn creates a world of potioners and poisoners, people who fight with chemistry. As I finished the book, I was thinking that, although the problem came to a conclusion, it would be great to read more about this world Zinn created. But I can’t, because Bridget Zinn passed away two years ago of colon cancer at the age of 33.

On a happier note, the main character of  The Adventures of a South Pole Pig, by Chris Kurtz, is Flora, a piglet on a mission.


She is not content wallowing on the farm and longs for adventure. when she escapes from her pen, she discovers the world of sled dogs and decides it is her destiny. When Fate lands her aboard a ship bound for the South pole, she assumes she is to be a sled pig, although he reader quickly realizes that Flora has come to the wrong conclusion.When the ship  is wrecked and all seems hopeless, an unexpected heroine emerges. Can you guess who it is?  Young readers will love this tale of adventure and reaching for your dreams.

A day, a year: Denmark, Paris, Amsterdam

28 May

In 1982, at the age of 17, I left Canada to spend a year in Denmark as a Rotary exchange student. I lived  with three families in Rudkøbing, Nordenbro  and Tryggelev on the island of Langeland. It was an amazing year lived in a truly idyllic countryside. I started with my first family on a large, traditional farm, Nordenbrogård.

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Here’s a picture I found of my “counselor’s”farm and one of my friend Else’s family home & orchard.

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My last house was in Tryggelev, just south of Humble.

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My bus to school, crossed over three bridges and went past the place where Elvira Madigan  is buried on Tåsinge.


I had other exchange student friends in Odense (home of Hans Christian Andersen) that I visited often. Because they didn’t want us getting Eurail passes and traveling on our own, the Danish Rotary club arranged an end of the year bus tour of Europe for us. We looped down through Germany and Austria, went across Italy Into France, then drove up to Paris, from which we went to Brussels & Amsterdam before retiring “home”. I have very fond memories of that year and that trip. Our “leaders”, Annie & Tommy, pretty much let us go where we wanted when a group activity was not planned,  and trusted us to make reasonable decisions.They were nothing like Ms. Foley, the leader of Allyson’s trip in Gayle Forman’s  Just One Day.


I loved so much about this book.  It was like reliving my youth to some extent and I had actual pictures from my memory as Allyson went places with Willem, and looking for Willem. Forman creates a great story that captures the two characters and the places they visit.I must admit I read this in one day, I was so obsessed with the story.

The first half of the book tells about Allyson, who  is on the final leg of her graduation present from her parents; a teen tour of Europe. She is a careful girl, never deviating from the program, on this trip as well as in life. But everything changes in London. She meets a young man who convinces her to go to Paris where they share an amazing day. and then he leaves her. Devastated. How she rises from the devastation is the subject of the second half of the book.And I was right there with her all the way. To Paris & Amsterdam, all over again.

If you liked John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars (especially because of the trip to Amsterdam), or  the movie Before Sunrise, saw Before Sunset and plan to see  Before Midnight, just out now, you will love this book.

Leopard Lessons

27 May

I’m always on the lookout for good picture books to use as an introduction to a unit or as the inspiration for a writing assignment. Right now, my 4th grade ELD class is making predictions about what 5th grade will be like.One of my 4th grade colleagues has her class write a letter to next year’s 4th graders and she actually places them on desks so the new crew can read them their first day in her class. Snow leopards can’t read, but  Snow School, written by Sandra Markle  and illustrated by Alan Marks, offers life lessons that will help cubs survive in Pakistan’s Hindu Kush Mountains.


Just like humans, snow leopard cubs begin their life staying home with their mom. When they are a little older, their lessons begin. As with humans, the lessons are scaffolded at first, and slowly, Mother Snow Leopard, releases control so her cubs will grow to be successful and independent.

Markle writes in a poetic style, describing different aspects of the cubs’ lives. As a new lesson is learn, it is summarized in italics at the bottom of the text. Here’s a sample:

                    That night, mother kills an old markhor too weak to run fast.

                     But just as the family starts to eat,

                     six wolves trot up, snarling and flashing sharp teeth.

                     Outnumbered by these predators, mother quickly leads the cubs away.

                      The cubs will never forget this lesson.

                      Staying safe is more important than having a full stomach.

This got me to thinking about a new end of the year writing assignment, describing some aspect of 4th grade and summarizing it with the lesson learned.


The text is very accessible and I think any young animal lover will be thrilled with this book. Marks’ illustrations are lively and capture the fund as the cubs wrestle as well as convey danger when they are threatened, all the while portraying the beauty that is the Hindu Kush.

Scatology for Beginners

26 May

It’s Sunday morning so you might be thinking I made a spelling error in the title. Perhaps you expected Eschatology for Beginners. Eschatology is the theological study of end times, death, judgement, heaven & hell. Really deep  serious ideas.  No, I really meant scatology. Scatology is the study of poop. Sometimes deep, but often funny, just like Brief Thief.


Author Michael Escoffier tells the hilarious story of Leon, who eats a big breakfast & has to go. Alas, after answering the call of nature, he realizes there is no toilet paper. Fortunately, he spies a pair of undies on a branch, uses them, then tosses them in a bush and walks  away. Then comes the voice. Is his conscience pricking him? It would seem so and Leon has some regrets but makes amends. Just when you think the book is over, there is a twist, which made me laugh out loud.

Kris Di Giacomo’s illustrations are humorous and I like that Leon and the voice have different fonts.

What made this an especially funny book is a kindergarten incident I had a couple of weeks ago. I was walking through the kinder hall and a little voice called to me from the boys’ bathroom, “Teacher ,help.”. Standing in the doorway was a kinder boy with his pants around his ankles. He looked unharmed.  I couldn’t really get him to explain what was wrong but managed to get his name and his teacher’s name. I hustled to her room and she came to the rescue. She knew the right questions to ask and it turned out that there was no toilet paper in his stall. She told him to go look in the next stall and voila, problem solved.  Potty stuff happens all the time and it often makes for a great story. I shared my kinder story at a staff meeting. I bet you can easily find a young reader who would find Brief Thief hilarious.

2013 Hub Reading Challenge check in #16

25 May

Girlchild by Tupelo Hassman


I really wanted to love this books. I liked many things about it. The main character, Rory Hendrix, is very likable. She has a terrible life, but she’s resilient. Hassman’s description of the Calle gives the reader a real feel for the setting Rory lives in.

The problem for me was the writing. Don’t get me wrong, Hassman is a beautiful writer, but at times her creativity gets in the way of the story, and, in fact, seems more important to her than Rory’s story. As I read, I like to imagine the audience for a book. As good as the writing can be and as much as I like Rory, I think the audience for this book is small.

Dark and Scary Places

24 May

Last year at this this time, I was a wreck because my library job had been eliminated and my future looked like a dark & scary place. This year, as the school year winds down I’m stressing because I am co-ordinating our ELL summer school.  I am a big picture person and have a vision, but I am not detail oriented and I feel as though I am stumbling through the dark, trying to get all my ducks in a row. Fortunately, I have learned that things will be OK in the end. If I step into the dark and scary place, there is usually just enough light to get me through to a place of light.

Yesterday afternoon, my teacher read-aloud group held our final meeting for the year. The picture book we talked about was The Dark  written by Lamony Snicket and illustrated by Jon Klassen.


You know when two powerhouses like these guys get together, it’ll either be something awesome (Humphrey Bogart & Ingrid Bergman in  Casablanca) or a complete disaster (Dustin Hoffman & Warren Beatty in Ishtar). Fortunately, this is fantastic book.

Laszlo is afraid of The Dark, who mostly lives in the basement. But one night, The Dark comes to his bedroom. And so begins Laszlo’s journey to confront his fear. The text is written to effectively build suspense, making it an excellent read aloud. When I read it to 4th graders, I had them in the palm of my hand. The illustrations enhance the text, and Klassen’s use of black (The Dark)  is splendid. Before reading, I had delightful conversations with kids about things the fear; afterwards we told stories about times we faced are fears. It would be a great way to start a writing lesson.

Martian Chronicles

23 May

The  4th graders are learning about Lewis & Clark and the Oregon Trail, so I have a stack of books about journeys and explorations for them. In keeping with the theme of exploration, I used two books about Mars exploration with them and both were huge hits. I opened by reading aloud You Are the First Kid on Mars  by Patrick O’Brien.


So many reasons to love this book. I uses the future conditional verb tense. It is written in the 2nd person singular. The illustrations are amazing and the content is based on fact. We had some good discussions comparing the voyage of pilgrims in boats and the overland trip on the Oregon Trail to the 4 month trip to Mars. They had so many questions about Mars and space travel! It was awesome.

Fortunately, I had some backup in The Mighty Mars Rovers: The Incredible Adventures of SPIRIT and OPPORTUNITY. 


Written by Portland author, Elizabeth Rusch, the book explains the design and mission of the two Mars rovers. The text is lengthy but understandable, focusing on the Steve Squyres, the principal investigator on the mission. The photography is literally out of this world! Elizabeth Rusch was one of our keynote speakers at the 2013 Oregon Association of School Libraries conference. She is an excellent speaker, thorough researcher and write great non-fiction for young people. She has a new book coming out on volcanoes & I already have it on hold at the library, even though it is still on order. I just know it will be good.

Child Soldiers

22 May

I disagree with many of Marshall McLuhan’s ideas. He’s the guy that  coined the term global village. (He’s Canadian, too!) The idea was that all of our interconnectedness through media brings us closer together because we know more about what’s going on. I believe that we know more, but we have no, or very little, real connection to what’s going on globally. It doesn’t get me out there acting on the outrages I see, at home or abroad.

Having said that, I was deeply moved by War Brothers: The Graphic Novel by Sharon E. McKay and Daniel LaFrance.


They are both Canadian, too, but they have managed to bring me to an understanding of the plight of child soldiers in a way CNN and other media outlets have not.

It is a fictionalized account of the abduction of a group of Ugandan schoolboys and their forced induction into the Lord’s Resistance Army. It begins with a letter from the main character, Jacob, who says he understands if, after reading the letter, the reader closes the book because what he has to say isn’t pretty. And it is not. It is based on reality, which, in this circumstance is very ugly. McKay & LaFrance manage to portray the horrific circumstances these children encounter with great sensitivity and convey the idea of the horrors without overtly showing them.  They also effectively convey the impact on the children of what they are forced to endure.

When I was a kid I kept a notebook of quotes and I remember one from E. M. Forster that said,  “If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend I hope I should have the guts to betray my country”. The children in  War Brothers  are forced to make that decision. This is a worthy read.

The Fifth Annual #Bookaday Challenge

20 May

Hey friends!

Here’s a great idea for summer.

Nerdy Book Club

Every year, I prepare for summer with the same comforting rituals. I buy a pack of Goody black hair elastics and new flip flops. I write end-of-year notes to my students. I recheck my summer travel plans. And I publicly announce my intention to read a book for every day of summer break.

This ambitious challenge began as an attempt to catch up on the landslide of books piled around my house and reconnect with my reading life. Over the years, the Book-a-Day challenge has evolved into a social event connecting readers who share book recommendations and celebrate reading. Nerdy Book Club fun fact, I “met” Colby Sharp for the first time when he joined the Book-a-Day Challenge on Twitter in 2011. Mini Book-a-Day events pop up during spring and winter breaks, and literacy gurus like Teri Lesesne post book titles under the #bookaday hashtag all year.

That book on…

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