Archive | June, 2013

What Type Are You?: A Mr. Penumbra follow-up

17 Jun

 I finished Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore last night. I simply couldn’t put it down. And it brought back memories of a non-fiction book I read last year, Just My Type: A Book About Fonts by Simon Garfield.


Although it sounds dull, it is very readable, even funny at times. I found out about it in an interview with Neil Gaiman in the New York Times Book Review “By The Book” section in which they interview an author. The ask about reading tastes and habits, favorite/influential books, and what books are in their  current reading pile. Just My Type: A Book About Fonts  was in Gaiman’s so I got it from the library and was enthralled. I learned a lot and really looked at fonts with much more detail. I even decided to make Didot my default Word font because of the book. It makes a nice non-fiction companion to Mr. Penumbra.

In the back, there are links and references, but my favorite is What type are you?,  an interactive website in which an analyst asks you 4 questions then tells you the font that best reflects your personality. He gives you a lot of think time, but it is worth the wait.


2013 Hub Reading Challenge check in #19

16 Jun

The HUB Reading challenge ends in a week, but I’ve pretty much been done for a while. I met the goal of 25 books weeks ago and had good intentions about reading  all the Alex, Morris & Printz winners, but my enthusiasm flagged a little. I mostly managed one book a week for the last few weeks and now I’m reading my last Challenge book. I saved this one


for last because it is about books and reading. And it got a great review from a friend. I just started it yesterday and i’m not that far in but I’m already hooked.  Mr. Penumbra won an Alex award ( adult fiction great for YA). The main character is a young art college grad who falls victim to the economy, loses his first job and stumbles into a new job at Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. The store is not what it seems and I’m just discovering what it’s really all about.

So, adult reader friends, add this one to your summer reading list.

Etiquette & Espionage & Ennui

13 Jun


I really want to like this book. It has a lot of features I usually enjoy in books: it takes place in a historical time period, there are strong female characters, there’s a boarding school and adventure.I love the Steampunk setting and the concept of flywaymen. But those feel like parts of the problem, too. It might be that it is the end of the year and I’m just flat out tired, but this book feels like it is trying too hard to be clever. It has received a lot of positive press but I’ve been struggling to read it. If I loved it, or even just liked it, I’d have finished it days ago. But I just don;t feel drawn to the characters and I’m not that interested in finding out what happens to them. I think I might put it aside and come back to it later in the summer, rather than forcing myself to finish now.  A little space and a new perspective might be what we both need.

Frogs for the armchair traveler

12 Jun

In my teens, I spent a year in Denmark. In my 20’s, I lived in South America for 3 years. Now, as I end my 40’s, I like to stay home. But that doesn’t mean I’m not interested in far off places. And that’s the beauty of reading. I can “visit” other places, but still curl up at night, pinned between two basset hounds. As you can see, they don’t leave much room for me.


So when I discovered Frog Song, written by Brenda Z. Guiberson and illustrated by Gennady Spirin, I was rather excited.


Each two page spread celebrates a frog from a different place: Costa Rica, Oklahoma, Ecuador, Australia, Spain,Chile, Ethiopia,Borneo, New Zealand and Canada. My favorite species’ name  is the Scarlet-sided pobblebonk from Australia. The book is a good intro to frog species. The illustrations are huge and magnificent, adding to the young reader’s knowledge.

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More details about each species are given at the back, as are details about threats to frogs, a bibliography and links to online resources.

Another great book for budding herpetologists.

Almost to the finish line

11 Jun

Three more days.

The 4th grade is finishing up the Oregon trail unit, among other things and I think I know how the travelers must have felt as they approached Oregon City.

The kids in my high reading group are finishing up their biographies of famous Oregonians. They are making pizza box biographies, which are in various stages of completion. No matter what, they go home tomorrow afternoon. Here are some samples what they’ve been up to.

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I only let them use two online resources for research: The Oregon Encyclopedia and The Oregon Blue Book.

Women of the Frontier on the other hand, is a new print book written by Brandon Marie Miller.


Its subtitle is  16 Tales of Trailblazing Homesteaders, Entrepreneurs, and Rabble Rousers. The author uses journals, letters and song lyrics to give voice to the women who helped steel the West. Some of the women in this book were subjects of the 4th graders’ pizza box biographies. Most are unknown or not very well known.  The men seem to get all the glory, but these are important stories about real, down to earth people. It even has a section dedicated to the Native American experience as settlers moved onto traditional Native lands.

The book includes photos & drawings from the period and has an extensive bibliography. Most of my 4th graders won’t read this (though a couple of the girls might be interested), but I found this a very useful resource for me.

Let My People Read by Donalyn Miller

9 Jun

Here’s an excellent article from Donalyn Miller, author of The Book Whisperer. Enjoy!

Nerdy Book Club

Last week, our daughter Sarah, a rising freshman, brought home the reading list for her pre-AP English class next year and asked us to order all of the books for her. Scanning the list, I couldn’t help sighing: To Kill a Mockingbird, Fahrenheit 451, Lord of the Flies, Ender’s Game, Frankenstein—the usual suspects. We have copies of all of these books in our home library. Sarah would never ask for our copies, though, because reading these texts in school requires defacing every book with marginalia and required annotations.

Don and I expressed dismay that another slew of great works will be slowly destroyed for our daughter during months-long novel studies next year. Sarah took the long view, “Mom, I would rather they ruin these boring books in school instead of dissecting ones I really like.”

I begged her, “Please read them first, then go back…

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The Families We Make: 2013 Hub Reading Challenge check in #18

8 Jun

This afternoon I’m taking Leroy to the vet to update his shots and get a microchip. We do that for all our dogs.

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Leroy has been on a home stay with John, who will soon sign the papers to officially adopt him. John is 79 and has been adopted by his neighbors who keep an eye on him. In fact, it was because of them that he ended up with Leroy, who, at 10, is also a senior gentleman.

A lot of  YA distopian fiction involves characters, separated from their families, creating new “families” of those they meet along the way. I just started  After the Snow by S. D. Crockett, set in a snow covered world after the oceans stop working.


It tells the story of Willo, who was out hunting when the trucks came and took his family away. Left alone in the snow, Willo becomes determined to find and rescue his family.But on the way across the mountain, he finds Mary, a refugee from the city, whose father is lost and who is starving to death. The smart thing to do would be to leave her alone — he doesn’t have enough supplies for two or the time to take care of a girl — but Willo just can’t do it. And so, they become a sort of family, relying on each other.

All this has me thinking about my friend, Alemash Ambaye, who died December 16th, 2010 at the age of  78.


Her life was distopian. Her husband, a general in the Ethiopian army, was executed and she spent 7 years in an Ethiopian prison. For those 7 years she had no idea where most of her children were. One daughter was in college in the United States but the whereabouts of the other 6 were unknown.  Once released, she eventually found them through the Red Cross and most came to the United States. In spite of these years of hardship she was gentle and kind. She rarely spoke of her experiences, but when she did she always mentioned how her faith kept her strong. We became acquainted because she needed a ride to church. Over time we became friends and she often referred to me as her other daughter. I think she worried about me because I was a single woman and would sometime send me home with injera and her excellent chicken stew (doro wat). I sometimes think I’d like to write a book about her. And I might do so someday.

A Place for Turtles

7 Jun

Right now, I wish I were a turtle. It is the end of the school year, I have a ton to do and I’ve added to my burden by taking on the ESL summer school coordinator position. I wish I had a shell I could pull my head into and disappear for a while. I don’t, so I can’t.

Thank goodness I can disappear into literature. And I found a great one about turtles. A Place for Turtles is written by Melissa Stewart and illustrated by Higgins Bond.


The text is simple but provides excellent information both about turtles and their habitats, as well as about threats to turtles and what we can do to help. Each two page spread has a  gorgeously realistic picture that shows turtles in their natural habitat. Basic information at the top is supplemented by more detailed information at the side which describes a particular species of turtle. The page below tells of the perils of plastic bags that turtles mistake for jellyfish. The text on the left gives details about the Leatherback Turtle.


This is a great text for a budding herpetologist or any kid who loves animals. Also for adults who wish they could be a turtle for a little while.

Fortunately, I have enough experience to know that I’ll make it through OK. I’ll be fine by August. And I’ll wear my night guard at night so I don’t have a headache every morning.

The Mighty Lalouche: A Mighty Fine Book

5 Jun



You must read  The Mighty Lalouche, written by Matthew Olshan and illustrated by Sophie Blackall.

Laloche is a postman with nimble hands, fast legs and strong arms. He lives in Paris with his beloved finch, Geneviève. When he loses his  job to modern technology, he is desperate to find a job that will keep Geneviève in the manner to which she has become accustomed. Then one day he sees a sign asking 3 very important questions:




And thus, Lalouche becomes a sparring partner at a boxing club, even though he is small and rather bony. The mayhem he cause is the wring is sensational as is the message about doing what you love.

The illustrations are knockouts! Sophie Blackall has completely captured  France during the Third Republic.  The details as he adds are exquisite. You can see how she did it at her blog:  Sophie Blackall.




The Top 10 Historical Fiction/Non-Fiction Pairings for Middle Grade Readers by Susan Dee

3 Jun

Here’s great post form the Nerdy Book Club

Nerdy Book Club

While it’s certainly not a new idea to pair fiction and non-fiction texts, it’s one I’ve been spending more time thinking about over the past few years in my work with middle grade readers.  About three years ago I began to notice that as I was conferring with readers in my classroom, they very rarely self-selected historical fiction stories. Trying to be responsive and knowing that sometimes readers need a gentle nudging to try something new, I started choosing more historical fiction books as read alouds, hoping that by reading and discussing these titles with my community of readers, they would begin to seek out more titles in this genre.  What I quickly discovered was that even though my students enjoyed the stories, they seemed to miss important nuances because they didn’t have any prior knowledge of the time period in the stories I was choosing. I wanted them to…

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