Thursday, March 5, 2015

Poetry Friday: The Snow Man

Check out Poetry Friday at Robyn Campbell

The Snow Man by Wallace Stevens
One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

I Work Hard. Do I Work Smart?

Hooray! I took two years of loose papers and put them into notebooks according to month. This was a daunting task that I have been putting off. Thanks to our recent run of snow days, I was able to devote several hours and get this done. Completing this made me think about my work habits. I work hard. I'm usually doing something at school or home without a lot of down time. That's okay because I'm happiest accomplishing tasks. Others like to veg out, but that's not always for me. What I may not be doing is working smart. Reinventing the wheel every year has been my habit. I'm hoping the notebooks will stop that routine. Now I can see where I need more materials to plug in the holes during the year. I can also weed out activities that I no longer use. You know that new show on Fox, "Last Man on Earth"? I think I am "Last Man on Earth to Use Notebooks."

Monday, March 2, 2015

Last Stop on Market Street

Last Stop on Market Street
written by Matt De La Pena; illustrated by Christian Robinson
2014 (G.P. Putnam's Sons)
Source: Orange County Public Library

CJ bounced down the church steps and felt the rain beginning to fall. He and his Nana walked to the bus stop. CJ asks why they don't have a car and Nana explained that they had a bus that breathed fire and a friend, the bus driver, who always had a trick. Sure enough, the bus driver pulled a coin from behind CJ's ear. As the bus motored on, CJ wondered why they always had to travel to the same destination after church. He looked longingly at a group of boys playing on their bikes. Nana told him that she felt sorry for people who didn't get to meet the friends who were waiting for them. During the bus ride, a blind man and a guitar player opened another sensory world for CJ as he listened to the music and closed his eyes per the blind man's instructions. The last stop on Market Street brought CJ and Nana to their Sunday destination. He marveled how Nana could find the beauty among the sights of decay. When they arrived, familiar faces waved from inside. A line of people stood outside. CJ and Nana were there to provide what Nana called a "better witness for what's beautiful."

Last Stop on Market Street is a wonderful story about two people who are making the world a better place. It's also about noticing the beauty in your life and circumstance. Nana is a terrific role model for all of us.

This would be a good book to use with a unit on community helpers. It would also be good to use if you have a celebration for Grandparents Day or working on the definitions for urban, suburban and rural.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla

Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla
written by Katherine Applegate; illustrated by G. Brian Karas
2014 (Clarion Books)
Source: Orange County Public Library

Ivan was born in central Africa. He was a western lowland gorilla. One day poachers stole him and another baby gorilla. Purchased like an everyday item, they were delivered to a shopping mall owner in Tacoma, Washington. Ivan's fellow gorilla died soon after. He lived in a human home until he became too big at age five. Ivan was relegated to a cage in a shopping mall. It was a lonely life for the silverback gorilla. Eventually, people realized that this was not a proper life for a gorilla. They wrote letters and signed petitions to protest his living conditions. After twenty-seven years of living in a cage, he was transported to Zoo Atlanta where he was able to live in a place with grass, trees and other gorillas. He spent the last 18 years of his life at Zoo Atlanta.

The One and Only Ivan is a rightfully beloved novel also written by Katherine Applegate. Having read the novel, I appreciated learning new facts about Ivan. The picture book will serve as a good introduction for students in second or third grade who may be interested in reading the novel. I think it can also be a springboard for a discussion of how animals are treated by humans. I was bothered by a recent television commercial where a mom promises to take her daughter to a pet store. I see a lot of pets in shelters that need adopting. I wasn't alone in being annoyed. The commercial has since been altered.

Ivan would also be good to share during our unit on opinion writing. It was the opinion of thousands of adults and children that led to his relocation to Atlanta. We can use this book to show that opinions can make positive changes.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Vanilla Ice Cream

Vanilla Ice Cream
written and illustrated by Bob Graham
2014 (Candlewick Press)
Source: Orange County Public Library

So how can I teach children that their actions have a ripple effect either negative or positive? I can talk to them and give examples from my life. If they're not busy picking apart the carpet or tying their shoelaces together, they might listen. I've found a better way. Bob Graham's Vanilla Ice Cream features a curious sparrow from India that finds an open bag of rice on a truck bed. The sparrow stays with the load of rice unintentionally as it makes its way through a city and onto a ship. This ship is heading toward Sydney with one truck-stop sparrow in tow. The sparrow flies through Sydney and finds toddler Edie Irvine sitting in a stroller. Edie is out and about with her grandparents. They stop at the Cafe Botanica where the sparrow, a dog and ice cream combine to rock Edie's world with a new sensory experience. Graham does not use a lot of text but instead engages in storytelling with brilliant watercolor art that gives a panoramic view. It's the picture book equivalent of a wide screen movie and it's fantastic for working on how to infer.

Vanilla Ice Cream demonstrates how the smallest of actions and beings can change the lives of others. It's enormously important that children understand how their actions affect other people. Reading this book can help bring about a discussion of this. Plus, you will get to say to students throughout the year, "Be the bird." They will understand that you are asking for positive actions.

If you are not familiar with Bob Graham, go to your library and find his books. He's able to convey great truths about life without knocking you over the head with a message.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

A Fine Dessert: Four Centuries, Four Families, One Delicious Treat

A Fine Dessert
written by Emily Jenkins; illustrated by Sophie Blackall
2015 (Schwartz & Wade Books)
Source: Orange County Public Library

A bit more than three hundred years ago, in an English town called Lyme, a girl and her mother picked wild blackberries.

Next year, I think I'm going to have a social studies unit based on desserts. I'll have to exercise a little bit more at recess to work off the extra calories, but we can do this! Why the enthusiasm for this new unit? A Fine Dessert, which features four families in four different centuries making the same dessert: blackberry fool. This dessert timeline began in 1710 in the English town of Lyme where a girl and her mother collected blackberries to make dessert. Using a bundle of twigs, the girl whisked the cream from that evening's milk for 15 minutes to make whipped cream. After mixing in the pressed blackberries, they took the dessert to an ice pit in the hillside, where it chilled near sheets of winter ice. When the main course of dinner was complete, the girl and her mother served the blackberry fool to Father and the girl's older brothers. The illustrations of the family and their home give you an idea of the clothing and norms of that time period.

One hundred years later, outside of Charleston, South Carolina, a girl and her mother picked blackberries from the plantation garden. The girl used cream from a nearby dairy and a metal whisk made by the blacksmith to make whipped cream in ten minutes. A wooden box, stacked with blocks of ice, lined with lead, and insulated with cork, held the blackberry mixture until it was served to the master's family at supper. The girl and her mother hid in a closet and licked the bowl. This part of the book is an excellent lesson on how to "show, don't tell" in your writing. The reader is never told that slaves are making this dessert, but you can practice using context clues to infer this piece of information.

A mother and daughter in 1910 Boston and a father and son in 2010 San Diego complete the four families in the book. A Fine Dessert is a rich history lesson. You can compare society over the centuries. I would have students look at the family illustrations from 1810 and 2010 and compare. Technology can also be compared, in the form of the methods to whisk the cream, and how to make and store the dessert. Notes in the back matter from the author and illustrator provide more information and insights into the making of the book. These notes would be great to share with students learning how to do research. With the inclusion of the recipe, it would be fun to let a few students try their hand at whisking the cream and making the dessert.

I really admire how this book is smartly written and illustrated. It is certainly one of the tastiest history lessons you will encounter.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Raindrops Roll

Raindrops Roll
written and photographed by April Pulley Sayre
*Kudos to Jeff Sayre for the tree frog photograph!
2015 (Beach Lane Books)
Source: Orange County Public Library

Rain is coming. You can feel it in the air.

Raindrops Roll is a series of spectacular photographs accompanied by simple (In size only.) sentences that explore the effects of rain. (Reading the first sentence above makes me want to also accompany it with a Phil Collins drum roll from In the Air Tonight. It's hard to type when you are playing air drums.) The first set of photographs show different insects finding a place to hide from the rainstorm. Following these are sentences with vivid verbs (plop, patter, spatter) rhyming and vivid pictures to illustrate the power of these drops. The photographs could easily be the star of the show here, but don't be fooled. It is incredibly difficult to write sentences that have a rhythm and throw in other techniques like alliteration. As a wanna-be author, I stink at this. This would be a great text to use to show alliteration doesn't have to occur with the first word of a phrase or sentence:

They magnify and mingle and moisten.

The bow on this present of hermosa agua is the back matter. Detailed text explains why water falls to the land and how it can change forms. This would be an excellent resource for a unit on the water cycle. Grab a water bottle, slip on some Ramona Quimby red rain boots and enjoy reading and seeing Raindrops Roll.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Poetry Friday - Safety Splash

Check out Poetry Friday at Teacher Dance!

We bought an old house recently and with the cold weather, I have been slightly obsessed with the pipes freezing. As a result, you have today's poem. So far, so good with the pipes!

Safety Splash 
(Not to be confused with the Safety Dance which was a really bad '80s song. This is just a really bad poem for a small audience.)

Drip, drip, drip, 
A drop over the lip.
Lever pushed but not too much, 
Pinch the handle with a delicate touch.

Drip, drip, drip,
The body in bed will flip.
Many thoughts crowd the mind,
Lying in bed, hard to unwind.

Drip, drip, drip,
No room to stumble or trip.
The night air hovers close to zero,
Can't have a plumber being the hero.

Drip, drip, drip,
Early sun through the curtains can slip.
Jump out of bed to check the tap,
Not south enough to miss the cold snap.

©Jeff Barger 2015

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Little Bird Takes a Bath

Little Bird Takes a Bath
written and illustrated by Marisabina Russo
2015 (Schwartz and Wade Books)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

"Rain, rain, gone away," sang Little Bird,
who always started his day with a song. 
"What a perfect day for a bath."

Little Bird was not a happy fowl. He saw the rainy night before him and made a face not unlike a Little League baseball player having his game rained out. When he woke up, Little Bird saw a sunny day from his ledge. Time to find a place to take a bath! Flying through the pleasant cityscape, he couldn't find the perfect puddle. Finally, a landing spot presented itself inside a park. Little Bird started splashing when he heard "bounce, bounce, bouncing" coming toward him. A blue rubber ball chased him from his bath. When quiet returned, he landed back in the shrinking puddle. "Flip, flop, flapping" was the sound that chased him a second time from his chosen water spot. A little girl in a sun dress was playfully splashing through the puddle. Soon the girl passed by and Little Bird was again in the puddle and was this time singing. "Arf, arf, arfing" raced toward him. The third time was not the charm for Little Bird. Instead, it was time to be despondent because there was not enough water left for a bath on this day. Heading home with disappointed wings, a surprised awaited Little Bird.

Young readers can relate to a character who runs into problems when they're trying to accomplish something. Who hasn't had a pencil lead break, a paper tear, or lost an eraser when it was time to write? Sometimes the most comfortable seat in the reading area is taken two seconds before you get there. Life comes with its hurdles. I like that Little Bird keeps trying. This is a great lesson for primary students.

When teaching about retell and summarizing, I often use a strategy called "Somebody Wanted But So Then." This helps a reader succinctly tell what a story was about. Little Bird Takes a Bath would be a terrific mentor text for teaching this strategy. If you teach in a rural area like I do, Little Bird is also a good book to show students an urban setting. The colorful city scenes are my favorite illustrations in the book. They happily remind me of Dan Yaccarino's Oswald television series.

Talk about a perfect bedtime story! You combine a bath with a main character settling in for the night at the end of the book. That my friends is the assist and the slam dunk rolled into one. You'll be punching the play button on your DVR before you know it.

Little Bird Takes a Bath will be available on March 10.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Blue on Blue

Blue on Blue
written by Dianne White; illustrated by Beth Krommes
2014 (Beach Lane Books)
Source: Orange County Public Library

Gray on gray. 
Dark and glooming.
Black on black.
Storm is looming. 

On a small island farm, a young girl jumps rope in the backyard while her mother hangs laundry on the clothesline. In the distance, the weather is beginning to grow stormy. As the storm rolls over the house, the girl dives under her blanket momentarily. Water races out of the gutter and into a rain barrel. The noise of the storm drives the baby to cry, the dog to howling, and the girl to cover her ears at the kitchen table. Let's face it: Thunderstorms are a bummer to everyone except Jim Cantore. Rain on rain on rain. Finally, the winds shift and the rain ceases. Smiles return to the faces as the family goes outside to see a wet but sunny world. The pigs wander out to their mud and roll happily. This inspires the young girl to jump in a mud puddle and do a mud angel. Fortunately this is not followed by a laundry detergent commercial but instead a nighttime bath to top off the day.

Blue on Blue is a pleasing rhyming book that is paired with the wonderful scratchboard illustrations of Beth Krommes. This will be a fun shared reading experience with a preschool or kindergarten class. Students will want to share their own experiences with thunderstorms. You could also use this book to work on timelines with older readers who are struggling readers. They can place the events of the story in order and then create their own timeline of a day in their life. Blue on Blue would also be a good addition to your weather unit.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Winter Poems and Other Poems of the Cold

Winter Bees and Other Poems of the Cold
written by Joyce Sidman; illustrated by Rick Allen
2014 (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Source: Orange County Public Library

I'm a big brown moose,
I'm a rascally moose, 
I'm a moose with a tough, shaggy hide

There are restaurants that try to sell you a three course meal for $10 or $15. It's usually a restaurant that is at best average and is trying to build more business for unexceptional food. You walk out after spending $40 on you and your beloved and feel unsatisfied. I've got a better deal. How about combining exceptional poetry, interesting nonfiction text, and gorgeous illustrations? May I present for your literacy palate a wonderful meal titled Winter Bees and Other Poems of the Cold. Check out a stanza from the title poem:

We are an ancient tribe, 
a hardy scrum. 
Born with eyelash legs
and tinsel wings,
we are nothing on our own.
Together we are One.

Joyce Sidman's poetry creates wonderful visuals and makes it a pleasure to read lines aloud. I'm especially drawn to the adjectives that she uses. The poems are impressive on their own, but then you get fascinating nonfiction with great wow! facts. Reading about the relationship between ravens and wolves, you learn that ravens may pester wolves to keep them on the move and finding food that the ravens can share. Wait until you learn about the skunk cabbage and it's stinky cleverness. Thanks to Rick Allen's vivid illustrations, you can easily visualize the information that is presented.

Skip the restaurant. Save your money and get a copy of Winter Bees. You will find yourself happier and with less calories to boot!

Thursday, February 12, 2015


illustrated by Raul Colon
2014 (Simon and Schuster)
Source: Orange County Public Library

A young boy sat on his bed with a large book about Africa (It reminds me of the large books that I would pull from the reference section in the library and sit in a big chair to read. Back in the Mesozoic era, you couldn't check those books out.) It prompted him to reach for his sketch book and start drawing. He started with an elephant that enjoyed his drawing enough to transport the artist through the land as he drew the animals that he saw. The boy's eyes lit up when he saw a rhinoceros charging toward him. He got his sketch but also a free trip up a tree. For the price of a sandwich, he was able to have a baboon sketch him standing next to the elephant. With the journey complete, the elephant gave the boy a tusk hug and he walked away and back to his room through the sketch book.

I'm jealous of my two talented daughters. They sit for hours and draw in their sketch books. I got a C in middle school art so you can easily assess my talent. Draw! serves to celebrate and inspire kids to draw their dreams in their sketch books. It's a wonderful wordless book that entertained my kindergarten friends who gave it a big thumbs-up. The illustrations are gorgeous. I enjoyed the different glances of the protective elephant telling their own story. This book would encourage young artists to create their own wordless story. It's harder than you might think to create one of these, but a worthwhile effort nonetheless. Find Draw! and add it to your wordless collection.