Archive | April, 2014

Here be dragons

18 Apr

I have often thought about writing a YA novel about growing up in Southwestern Ontario, where i grew up.


It is predominantly farmland, tucked in between Lake Huron, Lake Ontario and Lake Erie. there a re a few large cities, but it is mostly small towns, like the one I grew up in. New hamburg, Ontario, population 3500 in 1975, when I moved there.

It is not the most exciting of places, though, so how could an author make it interesting enough to write about it. I suppose you could focus on a small but significant moment.

Or, you could transform the whole world and add dragons!

That’s what E. K.  Johnston does in  The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim.


The book is one part humour (let me be Canadian here) one part epic saga and an accurate depiction of what it is like to grow up where I did. The story is story set in present-day Canada, but in an alternate reality where dragons prey on humans and dragon-slayers are employed by the government and large companies. Lester B. Pearson established The Oil Watch, not the UN Peacekeepers. Queen Victoria cleared Scotland of its dragon egg hatcheries. There is some light-handed social commentary on the corporatization of the world. but it is all set in places with names I know.

The story is narrated by Siobhan McQuade, who is more interested in music than hanging out with her fellow teens until she meets Owen Thorskard on their first day of 11th grade. The story is told from Siobhan’s perspective and at times she tells the truth to the reader after she tells you how she told it to the media. 

There are lots of strong female characters and no romance to speak of.

This is one of may favorite books of 2014.

How I discovered Marilyn Nelson

16 Apr

Until today, I didn’t know Marilyn Nelson existed. I’ve read her books, Carver: A Life in Poems and  The Sweethearts of Rhythm. Oh, and Miss Crandall’s School for Young Ladies and Little Misses of Color that she wrote with Elizabeth Alexander.

But I didn’t really think about her.

Until today, when I read How I Discovered Poetry.


This is a semi-autobiographical account of her life, growing up in the 50’s, moving around the country with her family, as her father, one of few black Air Force officers, was transferred. Things struck me about her life, particularly how often they moved, and how she was treated in different places because of the color of her skin.

But the words moved me. Each poem is an unrhymed sonnet that sheds some light on the narrator and a new discovery she makes about the world. This is a lovely collection of poems. It has me thinking about ways I can capture aspects of my life in unrhymed sonnets.


Street View: A Slice of Life Story

15 Apr

Last week, I was driving home from school, when this appeared behind me on the highway.


It’s a  Google Maps Street View Car! I didn’t take this picture, but I really wish I could have taken one. I didn’t because I didn’t have a camera and because it would have been dangerous. I’ve always wondered how it happened and now I have an idea. You can find out if they are near you right now at this link. Wouldn’t that be a great summer job?

Last summer, I ran the ESL summer school at my school. We had 5 teachers and about 150 kids, though we averaged about 125 daily. It was my first time working in an administrative position.. Our program was only half day and I spent most of that half day in the office making attendance calls, dealing with sick kids, making sure teachers had what they needed. I had no secretary; I was the entire office staff. Although I like teaching, working collaboratively with teachers, I am not destined to become a school administrator. It felt too disconnected from the classroom.

This summer, I’m not working. I plan on refreshing and renewing myself. I will travel to Canada to visit my family and my twin sister and I are already starting to make plans. I will read a lot and knit . I will have no driving days when I can only go places on foot.  I will also take my dogs for short walks on hot days and see the world in my own street view.

What will your summer look like?

Up on the Roof

14 Apr


 “On the morning of its first birthday, a baby was found floating in a cello case in the middle of the English Channel.”

What an enticing opening line to Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell.

This is how we meet Sophie, the heroine , whom everyone believes to be an orphan. She alone believes her mother is out there somewhere. Raised in England by her quirky male guardian, Charles Maxim,  Sophie is something of a free spirit. Alas, bureaucracy has no room for free-spiritedness, or with single male guardians. When she turns twelve, bureaucrats decide  that Charles is no longer suitable guardian and Sophie would be best served by an orphanage. Of course, they flee. Fortunately, they flee to Paris where that can investigate the mysterious circumstances surrounding the sinking of the boat that left Sophie floating int he English Channel. Along the way, Sophie meets real orphans who live in trees and on the rooftops of Paris.

Aside from a brilliant story, the writing is wonderful. Katherine Rundell manages to be quirky without being pretentious. In doing so she captures Sophie’s innocence and naiveté.


2014 Hub Reading Challenge Week # 10

12 Apr

Every language seems to have a word for it:

So so

comme ci comme ça

έτσι κι έτσι
(étsi ki étsi)
así así
så som så
mar sin-sin
I’m sharing this because many times I read a book and think it’s pretty good, so so, worth the time to read. And every once in a while something knocks my socks off. This week, I read two books for the HUB Reading Challenge
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and one really knocked my socks off and I highly recommend that you read it.
The Universe Versus Alex Woods by Gavin Extence was an Alex Award winner. Here is the Goodreads summary:
A rare meteorite struck Alex Woods when he was ten years old, leaving scars and marking him for an extraordinary future. The son of a fortune teller, bookish, and an easy target for bullies, Alex hasn’t had the easiest childhood.
But when he meets curmudgeonly widower Mr. Peterson, he finds an unlikely friend. Someone who teaches him that you only get one shot at life. That you have to make it count.
So when, aged seventeen, Alex is stopped at customs with 113 grams of marijuana, an urn full of ashes on the front seat, and an entire nation in uproar, he’s fairly sure he’s done the right thing …
Introducing a bright young voice destined to charm the world, The Universe Versus Alex Woods is a celebration of curious incidents, astronomy and astrology, the works of Kurt Vonnegut and the unexpected connections that form our world. 
That doesn’t really do it justice. It’s about Kurt Vonnegut, friendship, ethical and existential questions.I highly encourage you to read it. I will admit that I’ve never read any Kurt Vonnegut, but I’m thinking now that maybe I should. 

We love them yeah, yeah yeah

11 Apr

Of course, I mean The Beatles.


Mick Manning and Brita Granstrom tell the fascinating story of one of the world’s greatest rock bands, the ‘Fab Four’; John, Paul, George and Ringo (as well as Pete and Stu). The book is laid out in two-page spreads, illustrated cartoon-style, with a welter of boxed items per page that give crisp factual info—usually no more than a couple dozen words at a time—while the text buzzes along. 


This  story covers John Lennon’s Liverpool childhood with Auntie Mimi and his school band the Quarrymen, the friendship between Paul McCartney and George Harrison and their entry into the band, renaming the band the Beatles, the arrival of Brian Epstein as manager, the tour to Hamburg, record label boss George Martin’s influence, Ringo Starr joining the group, fame and screaming fans, the famous tour to the USA, the making of the albums, key hit songs, and films, their visit to India and the influence of Indian spirituality, and finally the breakup of the band and the beginning of solo careers for each. It includes a timeline and bibliography. 

Here are a few more images to enjoy.



All in all this is a fun book to read. I didn’t learn much more than I already knew about The Beatles, and it’s not really meant for young people already listening to the White Album. But for kids just starting to learn about them this is an excellent resource.

Outside the Box

10 Apr

What do you get when you take a best-selling picture book author’s poems and combine them with a Caldecott winner’s illustrations?


This is a collection of edgy, affirming, silly, and poignant verse. The book looks like  Shel Silverstein book. I suspect that’s intentional because it is dedicated to him. “The Shel S. , who encouraged every child to play with words, and in doing so, encouraged them to learn how to love, fight, and reach others with words as well”

The poems play with typography, talk about awkward situations, and allow readers to use their imagination. Here are a few samples. Enjoy.

poem depot interiors6




Things are looking up: A Slice of Life Story

8 Apr

I had a great idea. Celebrate poetry at the April 25th conference Kiva & I were planning for the Oregon Association of School Libraries. We could celebrate the William Stafford centennial. We could invite Oregon;s poet laureate. It would be fantastic.

But everyone I asked to present said no, or didn’t get back to me. I promise to be better about getting back to people. Slowly things started to come together. Then we had some technology glitches with the registration. Is the universe out to doom this conference?

Fortunately, we have a full slate.

On Saturday, April 26, 2014, the place to be is Parkrose High School for a day-long workshop centering around National Poetry Month! Our fabulous conference runs from 8:00-3:00 and the cost of $30 (with the early bird special–otherwise, it’s $35) covers breakfast, lunch, and a variety of poetry-themed sessions. Check these out:
  • Learn how to start a poetry slam at your school! Nancy Sullivan, librarian at Madison High School, will present her journey in bringing slam poetry to Madison, and how it has evolved into an all PPS high schools slam! 
  • Poetry Out Loud is in the house! Come hear from these pros about their state-wide poetry performance competition and how to teach kids of all ages to take the stage!
  • Adrienne Gillespie will present some quick and easy ideas for NaPoWriMo (National Poetry Writing Month). Get your students fired up about this nation-wide celebration!
  • Idea Share Swap Meet! Bring your favorite, most successful poetry lesson, large or small, and leave with tons of ideas that have worked in other libraries.
  • Come browse the best of new poetry books for students of all ages. Leave with lists of your new favorite Must Haves!
  • Poetry Webliography: check out a glittering array of the best of poetry web sites! We’ve curated sites sure to fire up your poetry muscles!
  • Ready to get crafty? Come and create a bedazzling pocket to celebrate Poem In Your Pocket Day! We will have you covered with denim, hot glue guns, and decorations galore. Come make a denim masterpiece which you can then stuff with poems for your students to choose from. Craft it up!
  • Vendors! Visit with our fabulous vendors, there to assist you with every library need you can imagine.


And today, finally, we have a registration link that works.

Things are looking up.


Seasonal Poetry for Poetry Season

7 Apr

It is April, and it is poetry season. What better time to look at poems about seasons.


Koo the panda, along with Jon Muth, present this delightful collection of haiku.Twenty-six haiku celebrate the unique natural wonders of each of the four seasons in this charming picture book. Some of the verses will prompt smiles while others will bring readers up short and gently nudge them to look at things from a different perspective. The watercolor illustrations are as expressive as the poems.


Firefly July and Other Very Short Poems selected by Paul B. Janeczko and illustrated by Melissa Sweet, looks out over a year in very short poems.


The poets in this collection range from Emily Dickinson and William Carlos Williams  to the unfortunately named Adelaide Crapsey (creator of the cinquain) and former poet laureate Ted Kooser.

There is much to love here. The selection of poems is a place to start. Each of the 30+ little gems can be enjoyed for its own sake. Couple with Melissa Sweet’s illustrations, they are astounding. As a reader, I want to linger with each poem, think of what I would illustrate, want to memorize that poem so I can share it at just the right time.


If you are nervous about poetry, start with one of these two books. They will ease you in. If you are already a fan, just simply enjoy.

Brainy Bird Books

6 Apr

A family of ducks comes every year to nest in the courtyard of my school. There are usually two females, one or two males, and, eventually, many ducklings. So far this year, I’ve only seen two males, but I am hopeful that we will have ducklings before too long. Then, we will see teachers and students standing against the windows overlooking the courtyard, happily eating them. It is our Rite of Spring.

Thinking about the ducklings, my mind wanders to several new books about birds.

Unknown Unknown-1 Unknown-2

Aviary Wonders Inc. Spring Catalog and Instruction Manual by Kate Samworth is a wonder. In the guise of a catalog from a future in which builds are extinct, it presents bird part  you can use to build your own bird. It is apart parody of sales catalogs, part cautionary tale about environmental issues, part natural history of birds. There is so much here and so many ways you can use this in the classroom: persuasive writing, descriptive writing, how to writing….. you get the idea. Here are some pages to show you what to expect.

images images-1

Feathers Not Just for Flying  written by Melissa Stewart and illustrated by Sarah S. Brannen, is a more traditional take on natural history. Stewart focuses on just birds’ feathers and the many different purposes of feathers. Each page or two-page spread has a statement with a simile in large print like “Feathers can shade out sun like an umbrella.” Then there is a text box with smaller print describing how one particular bird (like the Tricolored heron, Florida Everglades) uses its feathers in this way. The text is simple, but the ideas are big.


Finally, we have Mama Built a Little Nest written by Jennifer Ward and illustrated by Steve Jenkins, which focuses, as you might guess, on nests. More suitable to younger audiences, the rhyming text explains the different ways birds make nests for their young, allowing children to learn amazing facts about different birds.

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