Archive | April, 2016

Plague!

17 Apr

In October 2015, a teenage Oregonian was diagnosed with bubonic plague. Seriously.

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That week, we did some reading about it and the history of the plague in the every-other-day Reading Enrichment class I taught. The kids were fascinated and horrified, just as I’d hoped they’d be.

A few months later, when I was at the ALA Midwinter Meeting in Boston, I picked up an arc of Gail Jarrow’s  Bubonic Panic: When Plague Invaded America.

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I shared my arc with my students and added it to my classroom collection. It has been out a lot! The final book was published earlier this month and has already received starred reviews from School Library Journal and  Kirkus Reviews, and is a Junior Library Guild selection.

Chapter one opens with a personification of the disease.

The killer was a master of stealth. It moved undetected, sneaking from victim to victim and always catching its targets by surprise.

Their end usually came after three or four horrific days of suffering. For a few – the ones spared that agony – life drained away in hours.

Jarrow is a superb storyteller and the rest of the book reads like a medical thriller. The book includes disturbingly fascinating photos and  drawings that will have readers of all ages turning pages quickly, then rubbernecking to learn more.

Writer’s workshop these last few months have been about informational writing and we’ve spent a lot of time discussing text features and the layout of modern informational texts. Bubonic Panic incorporates the best of these, without becoming distracting.

There is ample back matter, including  a glossary, timeline, further resources, author’s note, bibliography, source notes, picture credits,and index, all of which will lead to further investigation.

Publisher’s Summary: In March 1900, San Francisco’s health department investigated a strange and horrible death in Chinatown. A man had died of bubonic plague, one of the world’s deadliest diseases. But how could that be possible? Bubonic Panic tells the true story of America’s first plague epidemic—the public health doctors who desperately fought to end it, the political leaders who tried to keep it hidden, and the brave scientists who uncovered the plague’s secrets. Once again, acclaimed author and scientific expert Gail Jarrow brings the history of a medical mystery to life in vivid and exciting detail for young readers.

 

Amigos Para Siempre

15 Apr

Love. Destiny, Friendship. Lightning.

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All these combine in Laura Resau’s The Lightning Queenan excellent middle grade novel. Told in two voices, it opens with Mateo, who has just arrived at his mother’s Mixteca village in Oaxaca, from their home in Maryland. He has barely arrived when his grandfather pulls him aside to ask for his help. Instead of stating the help he needs, grandfather, Teo, begins telling the story of his life on The Hill of Dust and the year he met Esma, Queen of Lightning, a girl his age who belongs to a traveling Romany family.

Esma’s grandmother tells fortunes and she declares that Esma and two are destined to be friends for life and that each will save the other’s life. The two begin scheming to ensure that Esma’s family returns the following year. In the rest of the story, we see their friendship unfold, through good times and bad. As we approach the end of the book, we return to the present, to Mateo and the story comes full circle.

Resau, a cultural anthropologist, effectively weaves details about Mixteca and Romany culture into the story and explains how she adapted real-life stories to write The Lightning Queen. 

This is an excellent book and I think, had I stayed at my old school, it would have been a read aloud for my class. I highly recommend this excellent story about families and friendship.

She’s done it again!

14 Apr

Marilyn Singer wowed us in 2010 when she published Mirror Mirror her first book of reverso poems, that can be read forwards and backwards. That book and her follow-up Follow Follow,  retold fairy tales.

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Her newest book, Echo Echo,  takes on Greek Mythology.

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Publisher’s Summary: What happens when you hold up a mirror to poems about Greek myths? You get a brand-new perspective on the classics! And that is just what happens in Echo Echo, the newest collection of reverso poems from Marilyn Singer. Read one way, each poem tells the story of a familiar myth; but when read in reverse, the poems reveal a new point of view! Readers will delight in uncovering the dual points of view in well-known legends, including the stories of Pandora’s box, King Midas and his golden touch, Perseus and Medusa, Pygmalion, Icarus and Daedalus, Demeter and Persephone, and Echo and Narcissus.

Reliving the Summer of 77

13 Apr

I was in grade 7 in 1977 and the summer between grade 7 & 8 was very exciting. Star Wars  had come out and we took the Greyhound from New Hamburg into Kitchener to see it.  Saturday Night Fever was released that year, but it was rated R,, so we had to content ourself with the record album. The PG version wasn’t released until a year later. It was also the summer of the Son of Sam murders in New York, which was news even in my tiny town in Canada.

All of this forms a backdrop to Meg Medina’s latest book,  Burn Baby Burn.

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Although it seems odd that my youth is historical fiction, this was an excellent read. It isn’t about any of the things I mentioned above, but they all play a part of Nora’s life, where she is trying to figure out her life and her family as she finishes high school and moves on to the next phase of her life.

Publisher’s Summary:Nora Lopez is seventeen during the infamous New York summer of 1977, when the city is besieged by arson, a massive blackout, and a serial killer named Son of Sam who shoots young women on the streets. Nora’s family life isn’t going so well either: her bullying brother, Hector, is growing more threatening by the day, her mother is helpless and falling behind on the rent, and her father calls only on holidays. All Nora wants is to turn eighteen and be on her own. And while there is a cute new guy who started working with her at the deli, is dating even worth the risk when the killer likes picking off couples who stay out too late? Award-winning author Meg Medina transports us to a time when New York seemed balanced on a knife-edge, with tempers and temperatures running high, to share the story of a young woman who discovers that the greatest dangers are often closer than we like to admit — and the hardest to accept.

This is a serious novel, but the whole time I was reading it, and even now, a few days later, I can;t help but sing this song:

 

 

Why don’t you turn on the dawnzer?

12 Apr

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Beverly Cleary turns 100 today.

It is hard to believe that this woman wrote books that I liked as a kid, and my students still enjoy.  I am not embarrassed to admit that I like to quote Ramona. So, for this Slice of Life post, I will share my favorite Ramona quotes, in no particular order

  1. “Why don’t you turn on the dawnzer?” – Ramona, thinking she was quite smart, thigh that dawnzer was a synonym for lamp. She learned it in the national anthem: “Oh say, can you see, by the dawnzer lee light.” Brilliant!
  2. “Sit here for the present.” Ramona’s teacher says this to her on the first day of school. Ramona follows her directions perfectly, expecting a present for doing so. I like to say this to kids and I snicker when I do. I think they think I am crazy.
  3. “Pieface!” Mrs Swink, an elderly neighbor, and Ramona call each other this in a good-natured way.
  4. “I am too  a Merry Sunshine.” Ramon says this when she is accused of not being one. You can imagine the tone f voice she used when saying this.

I am lucky to live in Portland, where the Ramona series is set. My local public library is right in Ramona’s neighborhood, and has a huge map on the wall of all the places Cleary mentions in her book. You can get a walking tour map from the librarians and take yourself on a tour of the neighborhood.

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There really is a Klickitat street.

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Grant Park, has a statue garden with Clearly characters.

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So, on this auspicious day, I hope you turn on a dawnzer, do something for the present, and shout “Pieface!” at someone you love.

Pangur Bán

11 Apr

Sometime in or around the 9th century, a monk wrote a poem, in Irish, in the margins of a manuscript in the Monastery of St Paul in Lananttal, Austria. The poem, entitled “Pangur Bán”, compares the life of the monk to the life of his white (bán) cat, Pangur. There have been many translations and Jo Ellen Bogart explains in the author’s note at the end of The White Cat and the Monk, that she has drawn on several of these for the text she uses in the book.

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The simple text is elegant, distilling the poem’s ideas to language young readers can appreciate and enjoy. The book opens wordlessly as we follow the white cat into the monastery and the cell of the monk, to whom we are then introduced

“I, monk and scholar,

share my room

with my white cat, Pangur.

 By candle’s light, late into the night

we work, each at a special trade.

The monk goes on to compare and contrast his life and scholarly pursuits to the cat’s life and feline pursuits. And yet, in the end they are not so different. The final pages show the monk and cat, together at a window.

In our tiny home,

Pangur finds his mouse…

and I find light

in the darkness.

The illustrations are beautiful, modern, yet evoking a time and place long ago.

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This is a quiet book, contemplative even, but I think  many young readers would enjoy it. I think it would make an excellent bedtime read aloud for people of all ages. You can hear the poem, read it is original Irish in the clip below, from Seamus Heaney’s Memorial Service.

 

 

Bookmarks 2016!

10 Apr

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Saturday was the Oregon Battle of the Books State Tournament. My team didn’t make it, but my former school’s team did.

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Three of these five started OBOB with me 2 years ago as 3rd graders and leaving them behind was one of the hardest parts of changing jobs. They had worked hard since the regional tournament, almost a month ago and were ready for today’s challenge, along with 23 other elementary teams.

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The first round was the pool play round, just like at the regional meet. Three teams in a room and the 16 teams with the highest point totals would go on to the next round. The William Walker Bookmarks sat out the first round, then played each of the two teams in back to back matches.  A perfect game is 80 points, but extra points can be earned by “stealing” questions the other team misses. However, 80 points probably isn’t enough to get you into the next round at this level of play. The Bookmarks won both battles, ending with 90 points altogether, which was good, but was it good enough?

We went back to the auditorium where the Sweet Sixteen Round was to be announced.My stomach was tight as they announce the teams. Our name wasn’t called sand wasn’t called and wasn’t called. Then, finally, the last pari announced was Ashbrook (11th seed) vs William Walker (6th Seed). We were in!

We went to the room where we discovered that our moderator was none other than the librarian who had preceded me at William Walker. Could it be a good omen?

The play was exciting, but, ultimately, William Walker prevailed, putting us into the Elite 8. We stayed in the same room with the same moderator for the next battle. At the halfway point, they were tied. The next half was tougher and they lost, marking the end of the road for the Bookmarks.

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Some tears ensued, understandable after so many months of hard work and hours of tension and excitement. Within a short time though, jokes were being made, plans for laser tag and ice-cream discussed and they were back to their funny selves.

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I feel like I’ve come full circle with the bookmarks. I’ve left William Walker. Next year the three oldest girls will be off to middle school. They already have a plan for their 6th grade team, but for now, they are loping forward to reading whatever they want.

Breaking through the glass ceiling

8 Apr

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Solving the Puzzle Under the Sea: Marie Tharp Maps the Ocean Floor by Robert Burleigh is a picture book biography of the eponymous Marie Tharp, a woman who, at  a time when the glass ceiling for women was very low, worked hard to find her place in the world of science and cartography.

Publisher’s Summary: Filled with gorgeous illustrations by acclaimed artist Raúl Colón, this illustrated biography shares the story of female scientist, Marie Tharp, a pioneering woman scientist and the first person to ever successfully map the ocean floor.

Marie Tharp was always fascinated by the ocean. Taught to think big by her father who was a mapmaker, Marie wanted to do something no one had ever done before: map the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. Was it even possible? Not sure if she would succeed, Marie decided to give it a try.

Throughout history, others had tried and failed to measure the depths of the oceans. Sailors lowered weighted ropes to take measurements. Even today, scientists are trying to measure the depth by using echo sounder machines to track how long it would take a sound wave sent from a ship to the sea floor to come back. But for Marie, it was like piecing together an immense jigsaw puzzle.

Despite past failures and challenges—sometimes Marie would be turned away from a ship because having a woman on board was “bad luck”—Marie was determined to succeed. And she did, becoming the first person to chart the ocean floor, helping us better understand the planet we call home.

Award-winning author Robert Burleigh tells her story of imagination and perseverance. Beautifully illustrated by Raúl Colón, Look Up! is a book that will inspire readers to follow their dreams.

It’s National Poetry Month!

7 Apr

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I’m, a little behind, finally getting around to talking about National Poetry Month here on the 6th. Better late than never, right?

I came across a gem this week. Wet Cement: A Mix of Concrete Poetry by Bob  Raczka.

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If you have ever tried to write concrete poetry, you know how hard it is to do really well. Bob Raczka is a master, and this book proves it. This book has 21 poems that play with the form and well as the title.

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With topics as diverse as mazes, dominoes, pencil erasers, and the subway, each of the poems makes the reader smile and think. No matter how old the reader, there is something here for everyone.

The end of the line

6 Apr

And so, I have come to the end of an era. I just finished listening to the last audiobook in Gail Carriger’s Finishing School  series. Melancholy sigh.

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Yes, the steampunk adventures of Miss Sophronia  Temminnick are over. I will admit that the dramatic finale is most satisfying. All four books were narrated by read by Moira Quirk and her performance was equally as engaging as Katherine Kellgren’s narration of the Jacky Farber series, which I adored. In both cases, I listened to all the books on audiobook because their narration was so spectacular I felt that my silent reading of the books would pale in comparison.

Publisher’s Summary: If one must flirt…flirt with danger.

Lessons in the art of espionage aboard Mademoiselle Geraldine’s floating dirigible have become tedious without Sophronia’s sweet sootie Soap nearby. She would much rather be using her skills to thwart the dastardly Picklemen, yet her concerns about their wicked intentions are ignored, and now she’s not sure whom to trust. What does the brusque werewolf dewan know? On whose side is the ever-stylish vampire Lord Akeldama? Only one thing is certain: a large-scale plot is under way, and when it comes to fruition, Sophronia must be ready to save her friends, her school, and all of London from disaster–in decidedly dramatic fashion, of course.

Fortunately, Ms Carriger has more books of a similar ilk and I have already placed Soulless

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the first book in the Parasol Protectorate  series on hold. I opted again for the audiobook. Although not narrated by Ms Quick, I have read that the narrator of this series, Emily Grey, is worthy of the task. We shall see.

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