Archive | September, 2013


16 Sep



The announcement has been made. If you haven’t read these, do so.  I’ve either read them or have them on my  hold list at the library. This is a rather excellent list.

  • Kathi AppeltThe True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp (Atheneum Books for Young Readers/Simon & Schuster)
  • Kate DiCamilloFlora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures (Candlewick Press)
  • Lisa Graff, A Tangle of Knots (Philomel Books/Penguin Group USA)
  • Alaya Dawn JohnsonThe Summer Prince (Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic)
  • Cynthia KadohataThe Thing About Luck (Atheneum Books for Young Readers/Simon & Schuster)
  • David LevithanTwo Boys Kissing (Alfred A. Knopf/Random House)
  • Tom McNealFar Far Away (Alfred A. Knopf/Random House)
  • Meg RosoffPicture Me Gone (G.P. Putnam’s Sons/Penguin Group USA)
  • Anne UrsuThe Real Boy (Walden Pond Press/HarperCollinsPublishers)
  • Gene Luen YangBoxers & Saints (First Second/Macmillan)


Deb CalettiCecil CastellucciPeter GlassmanE. Lockhart, Lisa Von Drasek

Red Hand Adventures

15 Sep

Portland has a vibrant arts community, including a lot children’s & YA Authors. Some, like Craigmore Creations, began as self publishers, and have grown into a fully operational publishing house.

If you go a little further afield from the metro area, there are others, too. Like Black Ship Publishing. Their front page states that they specialize in adventure novels and their flagship series, if I may continue in a nautical vein for a moment, is the  Red Hand Adventures series, by Joe O’Neill.

The series for middle readers begins with  Rebels of the Kasbah.


When Tariq is captured from his safe life in a Tangier orphanage and sold into slavery as a camel jockey, his adventures begin.

Along with his new friends Aseem, Margaret and Fez, Tariq gets sold to the tyrant Caid Ali Tamzali—entering a dangerous world of deceit and violence.

Forced to compete in deadly camel races, and suffer the abuse of his slave master, Tariq must rely on his wits and his newfound friendships to survive.

From the corrupt slave trade of Tangier, to the wild frontier of the Moroccan desert; into the heart of ancient China, and onto the pirated seas of the Mediterranean; Rebels of the Kasbah is an exhilarating tale of adventure, daring, danger, and friendship.

In the second book, Wrath of the Caid, the adventures continue. And a third books is on its way.


If you visit the website, one of the most notable things, besides the books, is that Red Hand Adventures encourages kids to write and  offers writing contests on adventure themes.

So check it out and see what a small publishing house can do.

I heart Margaret Atwood

13 Sep


MaddAddam is here. In my house. We are spending the weekend together.

This is the 3rd book in the  post-apocalyptic science fiction trilogy she began with 2003’s Oryx and Crake. Now I realize that this has nothing to do with children’s lit, YA lit or basset hounds, but I have to talk about it because I’m so thrilled.

My first encounter with Margaret Atwood came in my Grade 13 lit class where we read her poetry. (Thank you Mrs. Enticknap!) Then, I got to meet her because, like me, Margaret Atwood is a Vic girl. She attended Victoria College in the University of Toronto and attended sour annual Christmas dinner every year. I was surprised at how small she was.

I think the first novel I read was The Handmaid’s Tale. Next, I was given  The Blind Assassin  as a Christmas gift. And over the years, I’ve read her other books, novels and short stories. I think the older I get the more I like her.

If you’ve never read any Margaret Atwood, consider starting with one of her short story collections.My two favorites are Moral Disorder and  Wilderness Tips.  I hope they lead you to read more.

Gearing up for battle

12 Sep

Today I hold the first meeting for the 2013-14 Oregon Battle of the Books (OBOB).


I have visited all the 3rd, 4th and 5th grade classes and made the presentation. Today, at 2:15, I  will see who is ready to take up the challenge. Last year my team came 2nd at the state finals. Three of those four readers are still at my school. One moved away. I am assuming they will stay together, but I’m not 100% certain of that. What is most exciting to me is seeing the 3rd graders. They are so keen to participate and I love their enthusiasm. I know that there is a group of 4th graders eager to beat last year’s winning team, too.

Today’s meeting is mostly a reiteration of the things I told them when I visited their classes. I will do book talks for kids who are hearing this for the first times, but I know a lot of last year’s kids spent the summer reading the stack of OBOB books, just like I did.

3-5 Poster

There are a few repeats from a couple of years ago and some new ones as well.  Here is the complete list:

Grades 3-5 Division

Abraham Lincoln by Mary Pope Osborne, 2011

Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich, 1999

Clementine by Sara Pennypacker, 2008

Dear Mr. Henshaw by Beverly Cleary, 1983

Eleven by Patricia Reilly Giff, 2008

Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins, 2003

Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai, 2011

Into the Firestorm by Deborah Hopkinson, 2006

Kenny & the Dragon by Tony DiTerlizzi, 2012

Marty McGuire by Kate Messner, 2011

Pie by Sarah Weeks, 2011

The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo, 2004

Umbrella Summer by Lisa Graff, 2011

Waiting for the Magic by Patricia MacLachlan, 2011

Who was Neil Armstrong? by Roberta Edwards, 2008

Young Fredle by Cynthia Voigt, 2011

You can get more information about OBOB at

The voices in my head

10 Sep

Many years ago, I checked in with my class after having a substitute. Their verdict was that she did a good job, but didn’t  read voices they way I did during the read aloud. I thought that was odd because I didn’t think I made up voices for characters while I read.  Now that I’ve listened to hundreds of audiobooks, I think I know what the students meant. In my humble opinion, the best readers don’t always make a voice for a character, but they do alter slightly the way they read in another’s voice. It’s much more subtle than making up  a voice.

I reflected on this as I began reading The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp, by Kathi Appelt. It just screams READ ME ALOUD!


I sooooo want to read this one because the voices are so compelling. It is a magical tale, where raccoon Scouts listen for information from the radio of an abandoned De Soto. There is a legendary Swamp monster. There are bad guys, too: a sounder of feral hogs and 2 greedy people out to convert the swamp into an amusement park. There is the story of a boy who has lost his beloved grandfather. And they are all connected by Bayou Tourterelle.

It reminded me a little of Carl Hiaasen’s novels because it combines humor and environmental awareness, and it felt a little bit like The One and Only Ivan  in the way animals are portrayed. A definite Newbery contender.

Written in Stone

7 Sep

I’ve taught at William Walker Elementary School in Beaverton, Oregon since 2002.


I am now an embedded part of the community but I am also aware of the history, tradition and stories that precede me. Interestingly, author Rosanne Parry is an alumnus of William Walker. She came for a visit a few teas ago, just after the release of  Heart of a Shepherd.

Her new book, Written in Stone, has a similar feel.


 It draws on Parry’s experience living and teaching in the Olympic Peninsula and honors the history, tradition, stories and culture of the Makah.

The book is set in the 1920’s, a time of great change for the Makah. After an unsuccessful whale hunt, in which her father dies, Pearl tries to find her place in her family and community. In the end, Pearl draws on her own creativity and ingenuity as well as the wisdom she has learned from her parents and grandparents to stay true to her heritage while forging a path for the future.

This is a sensitively written book with a string female heroine, set in a time and place not often visited  in middle grade fiction.

Crazy inventors

5 Sep

When I was in teacher’s college, we had an “Invention Convention”, the 80’s alternative to the Science Fair. I innovated Band Aids for my teapot that were placed around the spout to catch drips. Very practical.

The main characters of 2 new books are a little less practical.


Poco Loco, by J. R. Krause and Maria Chua, tells the story of a rat who invents things by combining two seemingly unrelated items into unique but practical creations. This book is fun for a number of reasons. First, there are the wacky inventions like salt & pepper gloves, vacuum cleaner socks and yo-yo pants. Secondly, it incorporates Spanish vocabulary into the text. A glossary of terms used in the story appears before the story begins, but the context clues often help readers decipher the meaning of the Spanish words without needing to consult the glossary. This would be a fun read aloud, or an inspiration for crazy things kids could invent and write about.

The wacky inventor in What Floats in a Moat?, written by Lynne Berry and illustrated by Matthew Cordell, is a goat name Archimedes.


Archie wants to cross a moat with out taking the drawbridge, as suggested by his friend, Skinny the Hen. Rhyming text introduces readers to the principles of buoyancy and the scientific method.  The author also includes a description of the real Archimedes’ experiment about water and displacement. A fun read that will encourage young scientists to persevere “in the name of science!”

Pigeonholing an author

4 Sep

I am sometimes surprised, and often excited when an author I thought of as one thing, writes outside my idea of them. In my mind, Lauren Myracle is a YA author, mostly because the first book of hers that I read, Shine, was targeted at that age group. She is often edgy and frequently controversial. According to the American Library Association, Myracle’s books were the most challenged books of 2009 and 2011. Her books continue to be challenged in school libraries, usually for scenes of alleged sexuality, homosexuality, or alcohol use.

Just to keep us on our toes, she has now entered the world of easy chapter books.  The Life of Ty:Penguin Problems returns to characters from The Winnie Years Series, focusing on Winnie’s younger brother, Ty.


Ty is s sensitive seven-year old. he has two older sisters and one baby sister. He’s stuck in the middle and feeling a little forlorn. Although the plot is more or less what you’d expect of a chapter book for this age group, what I like is how Myracle turns stereotypes upside down.

Ty is s sensitive male character. The rowdy and naughtiest lid in class is a girl. Nothing really earth-shaking, but planting seeds for kids to see the world beyond how it is so often portrayed. This book will be a less controversial than other Myracle has written and I think a lot of young readers will really enjoy this new series.

Facing challenges

3 Sep

Scan 3

I started kindergarten in the Fall of 1969. I was 4 and wouldn’t turn 5 until December. I remember being excited but around me people were worried. I was very shy and, apparently, the plan was to let me start and see how things went. If they went well, I’d stay. If they went poorly, I would get another year at home to mature.

Fortunately, I loved Miss Belyea, my teacher, and I loved school. I might have been emotionally immature, but I was ready to learn, so, I got to stay.  School was sort of my comfort zone. I felt confident in the structure, surrounded by people I knew and the work came to me easily. I still have my kindergarten report card and I get a little teary when I read Miss Belyea’s  end of the year comments:

” Adrienne has developed from a very quiet, insecure child to the most perfect little student…..I have enjoyed watching Adrienne blossom into a lovely little rose.”


For Vince, the main character in Paperboy by Vince Vawter, things aren’t quite as easy because he stutters.


Eleven year old Vince is an excellent pitcher and has a close friend he calls Rat. When Rat goes away for the summer, he asks Vince to take over his paper route. Vince agrees, but reluctantly. He was OK with delivering the paper, it was the collection, where he’d have to talk to customers, that worried him. As the summer passes, Vince faces this challenge, along with others, and, like I did with Miss Belyea, blossoms.

The story is set in Memphis in 1959. Although it is not a story about civil rights, themes appear, as Vince contemplates the world around him as an 11 year old might. Not really understanding the adult world, but wanting to, even when it is ugly.

This is a quiet novel that is well worth the read. It might also be a Newbery contender.

Happy New Year

2 Sep

It has been many years since I’ve stayed up late on December 31st. I think of that as the day we change the calendar. To me, as to many groups throughout history, the New Year comes in the Fall. A new calendar year feels the same as the day before.  A new school year is full of excitement, anticipation, a little anxiety and hope. Each new school year is like a journey into a new world; the curriculum stays more or less the same, but the kids make it an adventure. There are things I can’t control, and things I can.

It is the same in the wordless picture book  Journey by Aaron Becker.


A lonely girl picks up her red crayon, begins drawing on her bedroom wall and escapes to a world of enchantment. She begins simply at first, drawing a door, then boat, a balloon. When, after an act of courage,  she is captured by evil people, an act of friendship saves her and enables her to return home to find a true friend.

Each school year is like the arc of this story. We will begin tentatively tomorrow, take some risks, encounter some bums along the way, but will arrive at the end of the journey better people for having made it.

Randy Ribay

YA author, teacher, nerd

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