Archive | January, 2014

Wild Animal Neighbors

31 Jan

Many years ago, in the days before Fiona & Lucy, I had Clara & Louie. We lived in a little green house in NE Portland with a woodsy backyard. As they aged, they often had to potty through the night, so I would open the back door for them and go back  to bed. One night I did so, and as I was almost back to sleep i heard the great alarm sound of basset hounds following their prey. I got up quickly and went out to find that they’d cornered a possum. In typical possum fashion, it didn’t move. I had to drag the gigs back in. The next morning my very kind neighbors wondered what kind of party we’d had. They laughed when I told them about the possum.

My sister lives on a rural road outside a small town in Canada. they frequently get deer, but have also seen a black bear in their yard. And this brings me to a new book.


Wild Animal Neighbors: Sharing Our Urban World by Ann Downer addresses the issue of human and animal interactions as we move into their habitat. We often hear about these stories in the news, and them seem sensational. Downer explains situations, what caused them and what people are trying to do to help the situation. Not all the endings are happy.

Each of the 7 chapters features a particular animal in a particular setting.


Each situation has impressive photos of the animal in the urban setting she is describing, and  a sidebar with facts about the animal. The animals footprints dot the pages as you read. This book is very well laid out, pleasing to the eye and full of great information. Backmatter includes source notes, a bibliography,resources for further information and, an index.

Animal lovers will gravitate to this book.  It would be a wonderful addition to discussions about habitats, nature, the environment, and animals in general.

Thank you, Crazy Basset Lady!

30 Jan

My work day started off really poorly. I wanted to say crappily, but thought I should have more decorum. But it really was a crappy start to my day. I won’t belabor you with details. Let’s just say I’m looking forward to Spring Break because February is always the longest month at school. even though it is the month with the fewest days. Apparently I’m not alone because you can buy a t-shirt letting everyone know how you feel.


My day got better once the kids arrived and I could do what I love doing. It continued to improve as the day rolled on.

I got home & took the girls out for our usual evening constitutional. Just as we were about to round the last corner before home, a woman stuck her head out of the car and yelled “I love bassets!” The car pulled over and a nice young couple got out. Their basset, Sam, was in the back of their car. I warned them about Lucy’s personality disorder and they just accepted it & left Sam in the back. He & I got to meet a bit later, once the woman had a good hold of Lucy. They were such nice young couple!!!!!  And they sort of restored my faith in humanity. They moved to Portland not that long ago and were super excited to find out about the Oregon Basset Hound Games and other outlets for crazy basset people.It was just nice being around a positive adult.She helped my end way better than it started.

So to all the crazy basset ladies out there,


Coming Soon: The 2014 Hub Reading Challenge

29 Jan

Hub Reading Challenge logo

Get excited, YA lit enthusiasts! Now that the Youth Media Awards have been announced and the selected list committees are wrapping up their work, we are pleased to officially announce that the  2014 Hub Reading Challenge is almost here!

When? The 2014 Hub Reading Challenge will begin at 12:01AM EST on Monday, February 3. Once the challenge starts, you’ll have about four months (until 11:59pm on Sunday, June 22) to read as many of the following as you possibly can:

  • 2014 winner and honor books for  YALSA’S 6 Awards (Alex, Edwards, Morris, Nonfiction, Odyssey, Prinz)
  • The books on the Top Ten lists from YALSA’s 2014 Selected titles 
  • The YA titles honored by the 2014 Schneider family Award and the 2014 Stonewall Award

If you participated in the Morris/Nonfiction Challenge, you can count that reading toward your progress in The Hub Reading Challenge. Otherwise, only books that you both begin and finish within the challenge period count, so if you’ve read any of these titles before, you’ll have to re-read them to count them.

What? To complete the challenge, read or listen to 25 of the selected titles before the deadline. Everyone who completes the challenge will be invited to submit a reader response (which can be text, audio, video, graphics, or some combination) to his or her favorite (or least favorite!) challenge title, which will be published on THE HUB.. Additionally, everyone who completes the challenge will be entered into a random drawing to win a grand prize: a YALSA tote bag full of 2013 and 2014 YA lit titles! (If you’re a librarian or teacher, they’ll also toss in a couple of professional development titles.)

Not challenging enough, you say? For the speed readers out there, The Hub offers this: on top of completing the challenge, you can go on to conquer it by reading all of the eligible titles.

As you read, you’ll also be earning badges that you can post on your blog or website or include in your email signature to show off how well-read you are, and if you conquer the challenge by reading all of the eligible titles, you’ll earn a super-elite badge.

How? Keep track of what you read every week and how many titles you’ve finished. Every Sunday, the HUB will create a check-in post; comment on the post with what you’ve read or listened to that week (and what you thought of it!). If you’ve completed the challenge, fill out the form embedded in the post . The challenge runs on the honor system, so be good!

Format matters, because listening can be a very different experience from reading in print, so be sure to experience challenge-eligible titles in the format in which they were honored. For example, Scowler won the Odyssey Award, which recognizes outstanding audiobooks, so even if you’ve already enjoyed the print version, you’ll need to listen to the audiobook to count it for this challenge. Better Nate than Ever  won for print and for audio, so you can read and listen to it and it will count as 2 books.

Who? All readers of young adult literature — teachers, librarians, publishers, booksellers, bloggers, parents, teens, anyone! — are welcome to accept our reading challenge.

ALA Youth Media Awards

27 Jan

WOW! I got up 15 minutes earlier than usual today, so I’d be showered and have coffee when they announcements began. And I made a second pot of coffee part way through. Here’s what I am most excited about:

THE NEWBERY: Flora & Ulysses!!!!!  and  The Year of Billy Miller  was an honor book.

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THE BELPRE AWARD: Niño Wrestles the World  and Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass!!!

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SCHNEIDER FAMILY AWARD:  A Splash of Red  and  Rose Under Fire




What an emotional morning. I have to go and present to 4th grade teachers now,all wired on caffeine and excitement.

Stephen Krashen on the Common Core

26 Jan

WOW! Stephen Krashen really doesn’t like the Common Core. His article in the ALA’s Knowledge Quest, and published in his Friday blogpost The Common Core: A Disaster for Libraries, A Disaster for Language Arts, a Disaster for American Education blasts the whole idea. Here are his main points:

1. There has never been a need for the common core, and there is no evidence it will do students any good.

2. The real problem in education is poverty (Food insecurity, Lack of health care, Lack of access to books)

3. We need to protect children from the effects of poverty.

4. We can improve school funding and address the effects of poverty by reducing  testing.

5. The nature of the language arts standards (especially Reading: Foundational Skills, Writing, and Language) make it hard for teachers to do anything but direct instruction.

Those of us working in education are adapting to the new demands of the Common Core, whether we like it or not. It seems to be a done deal. I’m glad to know there are people beyond the reach of a school district, asking questions and making demands. Just to let you know, Stephen Krashen and Alfie Kohn are two of my pedagogical heroes. That alone tells you a lot about me. Krashen  has a lot of other posts about the Common Core, among other things. You can read them at

ALA Youth Media Awards Predictions & Musings

24 Jan

They’ll be here Monday.


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8 am ET, so 5 am here, I will be up & ready to watch before I go to work. You can, too, by clicking HERE.

What are the ALA Youth Media Awards, you might ask. My funny answer is the OSCARS of the youth book world: The Newbery, Caldecott, Prinz, to name a few. The YALSA Morris/Nonfiction Challenge I;ve been reading is about the nominees for 2 YA awards. So, let me begin with those.

1. Morris Award for a debut YA novel: I really hope Sex and Violence  by Carrie Mesrobian wins this and I think it will.

2. YALSA Nonfiction Award: This is more complicated. I want Neal Bsscomb’s  The Nazi Hunters to win

but I am pretty sure that Courage Has No Color by Tanya Lee Stone or Imprisoned:The Betrayal of Japanese Americans During World War  II by Martin W. Sandler will win.

3. The Caldecott is awarded to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children.I’m torn here between The MightyLalouche and Mr. Tiger Goes Wild.

4. The Newbery is given to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children. You have to be American to win this one. As much as I’d like to say Kevin Henkes’ The Year of Billy Miller  will win this one, I think it’s intended audience is to young & the committee won’t pick it. I also wish they’s pick Flora and Ulysses  by KAte Di Camillo, but humor rarely wins. That said, I’d like it to be The Center of Everything  Linda Urban but it will probably be The Thing About Luck  by Cynthia Kadohata, which I still have not read because I can’t get into it.

5. The Prinz Award is an award for a book that exemplifies literary excellence in young adult literature. I hope Reality Boy by A S King os somewhere on the list.

6. The Alex Awards are given to ten books written for adults that have special appeal to young adults, ages 12 through 18.My top 2 are Loteria  and  The Ocean at the End of the Lane.

7. The  Pura Belpre Award   is presented to a Latino/Latina writer and illustrator whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth. Hands down, Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina should win this one. I also predict that Yuyi Morales will win for Niño Wrestle the World. 

8.The Robert F. Sibert Award goes to the the most distinguished informational book published in English. This one always overlaps with the YALSA Nonfiction award, so my prediction there also applies here. I hope to see Elizabethe Rusch’s  Eruption  as well. This list also includes informational books for younger readers so I’d like to add a  A Splash of Red by Jen Bryant or  Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers’ Strike of 1909  by Michelle Markel or Who Says Women Can’t be Doctors: The Story of Elizabeth Blackwell by Tanya Lee Stone.

Stepping off the Path with Neil Gaiman

23 Jan

Have you read Neil Gaiman’s article in the Guardian entitled Why our future depends on libraries, reading and daydreaming ? It made the rounds in the library and FB world. Perhaps it landed within your universe, too. If you haven’t read it, please do.

I must admit that I haven’t loved everything Neil Gaiman has written. I don’t think one has to love everything an author writes. But I am currently  listening to Neil Gaiman’s  book  The Ocean at the End of the Lane and I am entranced.


 At first, I thought it was Alan Rickman reading. I love Alan Rickman’s voice. But it wasn’t him.


I was pleasantly surprised to find out it was Mr. Gaiman himself. I like hearing authors reading their own work well.

Can I just tell you that this book has me entranced. The story is a little scary for me, but here’s why I can keep listening: Gaiman isn’t graphic. He takes aspects of real life and twists it just enough to make it eerie. Even though I know the events in the book can’t really happen, it seems like they could, especially if I were 7 years old, like the narrator. Gaiman really captures the essence of his unnamed protagonist. Another character has one of my favorite names in a long time: Lettie Hempstock. I like how it rolls off my tongue.

And then there is Gaiman’s beautiful prose. I loved this line the best:

Adults are content to walk the same way, hundreds of times, or thousands; perhaps it never occurs to adults to step off the paths, to creep beneath rhododendrons, to find the spaces between fences.

When was the last time you stepped off the path?

Giving Voice to the Voiceless

22 Jan

About 10 years ago I had a self-selected mute in the 4th grade class I was teaching. Let’s call her J.  She had an honest to goodness diagnosis, this wasn’t just something we in the educational establishment had labelled her with. J had experienced a trauma recently in her life and mutism was her way of dealing with it. She was a really great kid and we hit it off. That was the year the 4th grade started writing interactive reading journals. The kids had to write me a weekly letter about what they were reading and I would write them back. They turned their journal in on Monday and I had til Friday to write my 20+ letters back. . Of course the kids write about more than just what they were reading, but it gave us a chance to “talk”.  Each Friday, I would sit with each kid and read my letter to them. It gave me a chance to have uninterrupted time with each student at lest once a week. J was able to use her journal to give herself a voice. That;s how she and I were able to connect, and get to know each other.

But what if you can’t write, either because you are too young or never learned?  All the Truth That’s in Me by Julie Berry examines this idea.


Like Charm and Strange, the story unfolds in fragments. Slowly we get pieces of where Judith lives, what happened to her and her friend Lottie, and how she lives now. It is not pretty. Judith disappeared for two years and her tongue was cut out while she was gone. When she returns her Mother lets her into the house, but doesn’t really accept her back. Judith cannot talk and is marginalized, if not outright ostracized. But, circumstances change. Having received little schooling when young,  Judith was unable to read or write. She finds the courage within her to go to school. A renewed friendship gives her the chance to learn to talk again, even if she does so imperfectly. And Judith finally has a chance to speak truth to power.

I had checked this book out from the library earlier this year and returned it unread. The jacket description is good, but it doesn’t really convey the power of the story. I’m glad I gave it a second chance.

A 2014 Edgar Award nominee for YA.

A Kids’ Indie Next List Top Ten Pick — #5, Best Books of Winter ’13-’14.

A School Library Journal Best Book of 2013 and 2014 “Battle of the Books” contender.

A Kirkus Reviews Best Teen Book for 2013.

A Horn Book Fanfare 2013 title.

Nominated for the Carnegie Medal and a YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults award. 


Strange boys on journeys and the Oliver Jeffers connection

21 Jan

Yesterday, I lazed on the couch and read The Boy Who Swam With Piranhas  by David Almond.


You should read it too.

It is the story of Stanley Potts,  a boy who leaves home and joins the circus after his uncle commits an act of treachery. He meets eccentric carnival characters , including Pancho Pirelli, the man who swims in a tank full of perilous piranhas. Stanley has an affinity for fish. When Pirelli learns this, he offers to teach Stanley to swim with the piranhas and become a professional performer. Stanley  must decide whether to pursue this option or return to his aunt and uncle. The book is marvelously illustrated by Oliver Jeffers.

As I read the book a niggle was niggling my brain. This all  felt a bit familiar. And then I realized why.


Jeffers also illustrated The Terrible Thing That Happened to Barnaby Brocket by John Boyne. This is also a tale of a boy who leaves home on a journey. I wrote about this book on May 18th.Barnaby is a boy who floats and decides he needs to leave home to become the person he was meant to be. I had considered this for my teacher book club last year.

One thing I particularly liked about The Boy Who Swam With Piranhas  was that the US publisher didn’t Americanize the story. This might be a turn off for a small number of readers, but I think most will love the British humor. The book will appeal to readers who like humor,  satire and books in which the bad guys get theirs in the end and each character receives their own kind of redemption. This would be a fun read aloud in a 3-5th classroom.

Standing up for what’s right

20 Jan

It’s MLK Day. I’m not out there, participating in the Day of Service. As a teacher, everyday might be considered a day of service, except I get paid to be there. I went around to our Sunday School classes at church and talked to them about the Souper Bowl of Caring.


We handed our grocery bags for them to bring back on February 2nd to support the Oregon Food Bank, and gave each class a canister so the kids can help less fortunate people overseas, too, by bringing in a dollar.

But let me also talk here about 2 books I love. The first isn’t a new book.


When Marian Sang written by Pam Muñoz Ryan and illustrated by Brian Selznick tells the story of  Anderson’s  historic concert at the Lincoln Memorial in 1939, which drew an integrated crowd of 75,000 people in pre-Civil Rights America. Famous around the world, Anderson was prevented from performing in Constitution Hall because she was black. Eleanor Roosevelt came up with an idea to have her perform free, for everyone at the Lincoln Memorial.

It just brings tears to my eyes.

A newer book is The Price of Freedom: How One Town Stood Up to Slavery written by Dennis Brindell Fradin, Judith Bloom Fradin and illustrated by Eric Velasquez.


Here is the Goodreads summary:

“When John Price took a chance at freedom by crossing the frozen Ohio river from Kentucky into Ohio one January night in 1856, the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 was fully enforced in every state of the union. But the townspeople of Oberlin, Ohio, believed there that all people deserved to be free, so Price started a new life in town-until a crew of slave-catchers arrived and apprehended him. When the residents of Oberlin heard of his capture, many of them banded together to demand his release in a dramatic showdown that risked their own freedom.”

I suspect this book will be on one or more of the lists of winners that will be announced next week at the ALA meeting in Philadelphia.

Whether you get out today and participating in a day of service or not, I hope you have a wonderful MLK Day. And I hope you think of standing up for others everyday.

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