Archive | October, 2013

Scary books I couldn’t read

31 Oct

I have not had a TV for over a decade. As a result, I find that I can no longer watch or read scary things. I have nightmares. I am that much of a weenie.

So, my Happy Halloween post is about books that I started reading, but found too scary to finish. It is really a testament to the writing of these authors, because they created scenes so vivid I had to stop. If you are less of a fraidy cat, you might enjoy these.


I thought I’d be able to read this one. In fact, when I was reading the first few chapters, I was sure I’d make it to the end. Then the kids got on the bus and met Tin-Shoe Joe. I knew I had to stop. I was getting that creepy feeling. I even peeked at the end to be sure all ended well, but I couldn’t keep going.

Oh Rick Yancey, how I wish I could read you. I listened to The Isle of Blood it in the car this summer, but I abandoned


when the oozing monster appeared. I actually gagged while driving. then, I popped the disc right out.  I abandoned  The Monstrumologist a few years ago. Pathetic, aren’t I.

Ransom Riggs’ Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children was more creepy than scary. But I still couldn’t finish it.


The too realistic pictures gave me weird dreams and I had to set the book aside and read something less disruptive to my sleep.

Finally, I also gave up on  Far, Far Away  by Tom McNeal, which is a National Book Award finalist.


The ghost’s voice simply frightened me. I could imagine it talking to me and that was way too frightening to imagine.

Have a safe and fright-free Halloween!

Art: from the beginning to the end

29 Oct

Did I ever mention the time one  of my students asked me if we were doing real art or art with science? I am not the world’s greatest art teacher, but I love teaching about art. When I moved into the library, I increased the collection of kids’ books about art. If I were still there, I would add these two books, which cover art’s early days, and the end of an artist’s life.

FIrst, we have The First Drawing written and illustrated by Mordicai Gerstein, who imagines the life of the first artist.


The book has a basset hound with a wolf ancestor, just as does the main character has a prehistoric ancestor..


Stepping back into time, Gerstein imagines a young boy whose eyes are filled with wonder at the world and who sees pictures in clouds and fire. When he translates his ideas into concrete form to share with others their awe and fear are palpable. You really understand how powerful and magical art really is.

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Finally, we see Henri Matisse at the end of his life in Henri’s Scissors, written and illustrated by Jeanette Winters.


OK. I didn’t even know Matisse did paper cuts. I knew he painted, but somehow I missed the rest. When he became too old and ill to paint, Matisse did not give up art. He could no longer paint, but found a new way to honor his muse. See, here are Mother Superior’s words again: When God closes a door he opens a window. Bed-ridden as he was, Matisse created a world of paper cuts around his bed, so he could still enjoy the world’s beauty.


The book chronicles Matisse’s early life, but focuses on the later years. It is peppered with quotes by Matisse, that reflect his ease with the end of his life. “You see, as I am obliged to remain often in bed…I have made a little garden all around me where I can walk…There are leaves, fruits, a bird.”

What a beautiful, upbeat way to spend your last days.

Holy Unanticipated Occurrences!

28 Oct

In 1984, I read Blaise Pascale’s  Pensees in ny 17th century French lit class, and I learned about Pascale’s wager. Now, young people everywhere can learn about it simply by picking up Kate DiCamillo’s newest book


They can also learn about cynics, superheroes, poetry, love, and finding your way home. Holy bagumba!

The story is simple. A young girl rescues a squirrel, whom she names Ulysses,  that has been sucked up by a vacuum cleaner, only to discover that the experience has transformed him into a poet and a superhero. She must save him from his arch-nemesis (her mother) and learn to embrace the possibility of hope and the promise of a capacious heart(her father).

Complementing DiCamillo’s text are K. G. Campbell’s black & white drawings.



I liked this book a lot, although not as much as I liked  The Tale Of Desperaux  or  The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane.  I think it would make a great read aloud. It is fast-moving, and the vocabulary is wonderful. I will add this to the list of books for my teacher read aloud book club, if we ever get it going again. It would also be fun to see how the Kids could take a superhero story of their own, write part, and illustrate part.

Acupuncture week 2

27 Oct

I had a great sleep last night, and so did Fiona. She had her second acupuncture treatment yesterday. She only knocked one needle out. Last week she knocked out 3 or 4. She slept really well after the first treatment. In fact, we had 4 nights of really great sleeps. Fiona frequently walked through the night for a drink, to go potty, to pace. There was a lot less of that.  She did well on our walks. there was less stumbling or tripping over her own feet, and the pace was better.


The other weird thing that happened was that 2 of her many cyst erupted. Usually these are nasty, oozy and take a long time to heal, but these were straight-forward and seem to be healing already. She is already on antibiotics for a bacterial skin infection, and has 2 more weeks to go, so I am hopeful that acupuncture and antibiotics will help these along. I asked the vet if acupuncture could be helping her body heal the cysts and she said maybe but would ask her sister, who is an acupuncturist.

Our first week has left me hopeful. When we got home yesterday, she had a snack and then slept. Last night she slept through my tossing and turning.  I am curious to see how Fiona’s  health plays out this week.


26 Oct

When I heard David Shannon interviewed on NPR about his newest book, I had to get it. It’s about head lice.


The artwork is classic Shannon, but I think the whole concept of Lice-a-palooza is brilliant, but still icky.


Head lice ice the power to make us shiver and giggle, often simultaneously. As a teacher, getting notice that someone in you class has head lice, just deflates you. And makes your head itch. The kind-hearted secretaries at my school chuckle the whole time they check my hair, at my request, after I find out that someone I teach has head lice.

Although, funny, Shannon manages to what the lice are doing (feasting on blood) with a cool vampire-lice picture. He talks about the shame and humiliation people feel, how they can get lice, and how to clear it up. It is a war and he explains the battle strategy.

This book would match up nicely with Nicola Davies’ more detailed What’s Eating you? – Parasites the Inside Story.


My apologies if I’ve made you itchy.

Play ball!

25 Oct

Normally, I don’t follow baseball, although I am aware of important baseball events happening around me. I am especially attuned to this year’s World Series because my teaching partner is  a Red Sox fan.  Ironically, one of my best baseball memories was attending a Cardinals game when I was at a conference in St. Louis.  We decided to go because we saw so many fans in Cardinals shirts that we wanted to know why they were so enthusiastic. I saw Albert Pujols hit a home run, ate a really wonderful hot dog and was amazed at the home town fervor for their team. I’d never really experienced that before.

Two new non-fiction picture books about baseball are worth looking at. Both have alliterative titles. So, in alphabetical order, let me present


Barbed Wire Baseball by Marissa Moss and illustrated by Yuko Shimizu, tells the story of Kenochi “Zeni” Zenimura, who learned to play baseball in Hawaii as a young boy. Although too small to play professionally, he managed to find his place as a manager. He met Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth. And after Pearl Harbor, he was interned along with all the other people of Japanese ancestry. But Zeni had heart and determination. He  built a baseball field and organized a baseball league of 32 teams and three divisions.

This is a great story and the artwork is excellent. Shimizu used a Japanese calligraphy brush and ink, than scanned and colored the illustrations with Photoshop, so that the colors give a real sense of the time.

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At the end of Barbed Wire Baseball, there is an afterword about Kenichi Zenimura life, as well as an author’s note,  an artist’s note and a bibliography for further exploration of Japanese American baseball.

Next up, we have Miracle Mud: Lena Blackburne and the Secret Mud that Changed Baseball by David A. Kelly and Oliver Dominguez.


Here we have the tale of another person who loved baseball, but didn’t make it as a player. After a chance conversation with an umpire about soggy baseballs and a fishing trip, Blackburne created a new way for players to break in new balls. He dug it out of the bottom of the river.  From this simple beginning Blackburne’s mud has gone from a fishing hole to Major League Baseball. The author’s note in the back tells us that the location of the source of the mud remains a secret.

Dominguez’ nostalgic, double-spread, painted illustrations are the perfect complement to this short and engaging biography.The front and rear end papers are especially fun – clean baseballs up front, muddy ones in the back! You can  see some  of the book’s paintings at the artist’s website: here.

So, even if you don’t really follow baseball, like me, you know a little more so you can converse about it with people who are far bigger fans.

Stop and enjoy the day, the moment, the minute

23 Oct

Everybody is tired at work. We have new report cards, new math targets, a new evaluation system that has us writing smart goals, and we are providing ESL services in a new way. Everyone’s plate is very full.  It makes me want to shout some Wordsworth from the rooftops.

The World is Too Much With Us
by William Wordsworth
The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.
If Wordsworth isn’t your style, I suggest reading The Man with the Violin by Kathy Stinson, illustrated by Dušan Petričić.

This book is based on the true story of Joshua Bell, the American violinist,  who played  anonymously in the Washington D.C. subway on January 12, 2007. More than a thousand commuters rushed by him, but only seven stopped to listen for more than a minute.  Every time a child passed, he or she tried to stop, but the adult they were with pulled them along. In The Man with the Violin, bestselling author Kathy Stinson has woven a heart-warming story that reminds us all to stop and appreciate the beauty that surrounds us.

Dylan is someone who notices things. His mom is someone who doesn’t. So try as he might, Dylan can’t get his mom to listen to the man playing the violin in the subway station. But Dylan is swept away by the soaring and swooping notes that fill the air as crowds of oblivious people rush by. With the beautiful music in his head all day long, Dylan can’t forget the violinist, and finally succeeds in making his mother stop and listen, too.

So take a little time today to be still today and enjoy something beautiful, just for beauty’s sake.

Zero tolerance

22 Oct

In 1997, when I was teaching ESL at Meadow Park Middle School, I accidentally got an 8th grade boy suspended. He was sitting in my ESL class and suddenly his pants exploded. It wasn’t a big explosion, but it was loud. He had caps in his pocket, had stuck his hand in to play around with them as an old man might play with coins in his pants. He accidentally set them off. I sent him to the office because he’d burnt his hands a little and he ended up suspended for having explosives at school. I learned my lesson.

A few years later, I’d moved to the elementary school I now teach at. I taught 4th grade out in a portable. I had a scatterbrained gifted kid who showed up one day with a toy knife. It was very realistic. I knew exactly what had happened before he even told me. He’d been playing with it at home, Mom told him it was time to go to school and it just travelled along. I took it from him and told him he could have it back when I saw his mom at conferences. I called Mom to let there know about it. He came back the next day and told me that his mom said he had to than me and say I was the nicer teacher ever. We all knew that if this incident had made it to the office, he would have been suspended.

In this zero tolerance world, kids aren’t allowed to make any little  errors of judgement. No little mistakes to learn how to keep from making big mistakes.


Enter Zero Tolerance by Claudia Mills.  When perfect student  Sierra Shepherd realizes she has her mom’s lunch with a paring knife, she tries to do the right thing. She tells the lunch lady who takes her to the office. There, she is put into in school suspension (ISS) pending an expulsion hearing. It seems so ludicrous, but the school policy is clear.

Mills totally nails Sierra’s voice.  The book is narrated in the 3rd person, but it really feels as though Sierra s telling the story. As she spends time in ISS she gets to know kids she hasn’t really spent much time thinking about. She understands that everyone doesn’t love school or have a supportive family. She learns about the real world and herself. I imagined her growing up to be a laser like her father, but fighting for the little guys. A solid read for middle grade students.

What are your demands?

21 Oct


Did I mention I got an autographed ARC at my conference? Reality Boy  comes out tomorrow, October 22nd. You should go get it.A. S. King takes a damaged kid with a broken family and  lays it bare in her  raw  and edgy way. The story is incredibly heart-breaking.

Gerald was the star of a reality TV nanny series, famous for pooping in inappropriate places. No one listened to him then and now, no one sees him as he really is. What makes this terrible story beautiful is Gerald’s awakening. When things get hard, he disappears to a fantasy world he calls Gersday (rhymes with daresday), where he eats strawberry ice-cream and Snow White is his guidance counselor.  As he gets to know Hannah, a girl he works with at his afterschool concession stand job, he struggles with trying to make his first true friend, and perhaps girlfriend, and what that means if he truly opens up to someone. As he approaches his 17th birthday he realizes he has demands and needs to voice them if he is ever going to survive.

A powerful, beautiful novel.


19 Oct

Two new lovely books for train fans!


Brian Floca’s Locomotive is a look at a family’s 1869 journey from Omaha to Sacramento via the newly completed Transcontinental Railroad. This is a wonderful piece of historical fiction that gives readers tons of information from the sights and the sounds to the machinery and the people who work on the locomotive.


Watercolor, ink, gouache, and acrylic illustrations give readers a variety of views from up close details of the locomotive to vignettes of the different stopping points along the trip.  The endpapers give details about the trip and steam power. Notes at the end provide information about the sources Floca used. Clearly train enthusiasts will love this book, but so will kids interested in history, historical fiction and westward expansion.

More amusing is How to train a Train written by Jason Carter Eaton, and illustrated by John Rocco.


Essentially this is a how to book for kids who don;t want a puppy, kitten or goldfish. This is a guidebook on how to catch and train a train. Told in a very straightforward manner, you can’t help but love Mr. Eaton’s  dry sense of humor the way Mr. Rocco captures it.


The opening pages describe different types of trains and suggest  how to get one.  The book  then describes ways to make the new train feel comfortable and earn its trust. We also learn that there are others who lean towards other modes of transportation, like planes, trucks or submarines. You can all meet up on the open road and make new friends.

It gets me thinking of  other things kids might like to have as pets, and the stories they can write to teach others how to have an unusual pet.

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