Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Searching for Greatness but Finding Something Better

When I viewed the itinerary for our trip to Finland and saw a visit to the city of Turku, I immediately knew what I had to do. If I couldn't visit the site of the first sub 4 minute mile run in history (England), the second such run would be a good replacement. Why the obsession? I've been a distance runner for 35 years and have always been fascinated by the history of the sport. It was in Turku that John Landy ran a 3:58 mile which bettered the time of Roger Bannister who broke the 4 minute barrier one month earlier in 1954.

With a Google Map image on my wi-fi-less phone, I set out on a 14 minute walk from my drop-off point to find Paavo Nurmi Stadion, the place of Landy's run. The stadium is tucked inside a park of tall trees so you have to follow a winding path to find it. I managed to find the outskirts of the park but needed to assistance to go further. A blonde-haired man wearing a blue baseball cap was holding a basketball and talking to his son in Finnish. I asked him where I could find the park. He smiled and said it was to the left down the paved path. I thanked him and traveled on. At the bottom of the path, I looked around and saw an apartment building to my right and bushes to my left. I wasn't sure where to go next. A young lady was stretching to get ready for a run and wearing headphones. I moved into her line of sight and yelled "Hei" which is like "Hello" in English. Unsurprisingly, she jumped back about a foot after having a pale six foot-four man yell at her. Catching her breath, she politely smiled and said it was up the steps. What she didn't say was "How did you miss the sign that was right there?" I thanked her and moved up the steps while chastising myself in my head about how I once again failed to see something right in front of me.

At the top of the steps, I spied the object of my hunt for track history. Eight lanes of rubber track surrounded on all sides by seating that was combination of concrete, and wooden bleachers. This is where it all happened. The great Paavo Nurmi, holder of 9 gold medals, had practiced his craft many times here as well as other running greats who were seeking a fast track with which they could race to record times. Walking around in the stands, I saw hurdlers practicing for a future competition. An elderly man was lining the field for the soccer match to be held later in the evening. There was no apparent entrance to the track itself, so I was beginning to think that I would have to be satisfied with just viewing the field. 

As I ambled through the bleachers in the main grandstand, a man was running the steps to improve his endurance. Desperate to step out onto the field, I imposed myself into his workout and asked if the general public could go walk on the track. He, like others before him, interrupted his workout kindly and told me about the gate that was located on the corner. I thanked him and moved to the track. Standing on the field, I could see to my right a silhouette of Nurmi on the right side of the scoreboard.

It occurred to me that I had come here looking for track history, but had found much a greater thing. Three different Finns, approached by a middle-aged foreigner babbling about a stadium, had taken time out of their day to thoughtfully guide me to my location. I came away from this visit appreciating history, but more so the kindness of a people.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Redefining Museums in Helsinki

What is a smashed side mirror from a car doing in a museum? A flying pink pig? A mannequin from the early 20th century that looks like Jack White and stares at you? These are all examples of exhibits that I saw yesterday as I traveled through three Helsinki museums. Each one was unique and stretched the boundaries of what you expect to see. The Museum of Broken Relationships is a series of items and stories that have been donated by people who have experienced a break from a spouse, lover, or family member. The smashed car mirror came from Zagreb, Croatia. A jilted lover found her boyfriend's car parked at the "wrong" house and decided to leave a calling card. He came back to her and claimed hooligans had attacked him. End of relationship. This museum is filled with other stories, some more poignant, others more amusing.

The Kiasma Art Museum is a contemporary art museum that is currently featuring an exhibit by South Korean Choi Jeong Hwa. He builds large scale installations where he "merges traditional art with the global consumer culture. The piece below is called Happy, Happy

Choi is very playful with his art and the kids I saw had a good time spinning the art around. I thought it was a Dollar Tree run amok but it was fun and if I thought long enough, it would remind me of all the plastic junk that is in this world. Plus I don't think I'll forget this piece for a while. 

We also visited the Amos Anderson art museum. Currently, they have an exhibit that is paintings incorporated into a murder mystery. You read a narrative and travel from room to room viewing art that is connected to the story. In the story a young Finnish girl naively answers a newspaper ad from a man seeking a date. The mystery is not answered until the last room. We thought it was a terrific idea to display art in this unique manner. 

Friday, July 15, 2016

It's 5 A.M. in Helsinki. What to Do?

This is what it looks like outside my room at 3:30 in the morning. I'm not the type who can go back to sleep, so when I wake up early I need to find something to do. When I was in Copenhagen in 2012, I took early morning walks to see the city in a different light. Here are some pictures from this morning's 5 a.m. walk.

In Esplanadi Park,  a Japanese artist has wrapped 20 trees in polka dot cloth. Yesterday, we saw a lady in a red polka dot dress posing next to one of the trees. Wish I could have snapped a picture of her attempts at camouflage. Without seeing it, I would probably dismiss this as a bunch of frou-frou. Up close and personal, it was fun. We've noticed that after work each day, the park is crowded with Finns unwinding from a day's work.

 I've been searching for Helsinki Cathedral and found it this morning. It was completed in 1852 as a tribute to Tsar Nicholas I of Russia. Finland was governed by Russia for most of the 19th century and Sweden before that, so you get a mix of architecture styles in Helsinki.
 I can personally attest that there are 47 steps that lead up to the cathedral. You get a great view from the top.
Finally, if you are hungry, you find an S-Market that is open at 5:30 a.m. Grocery shopping in Helsinki is not too difficult after a couple of visits. I like that you have to weigh your own produce and place a sticker on the bag so you know exactly how much to pay. Some produce is actually cheaper here than in North Carolina. The big disappointment? No pastries are available this early. You need to wait until around 7:00 to get the fresh stuff.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Hello from Helsinki

This week I am in Helsinki, Finland with a group of North Carolina teachers. We are studying Finnish culture and history. Right now I am adjusting to a seven hour time shift and sunlight at 3:30 in the morning. Finland is a beautiful place to visit. Today I visited the Suomenlinna fortress which is on an island a small ferry ride from Helsinki. The fortress was started in 1768 as a response to the increasing power of Russia. 

It's a gorgeous site with a lot of history. It was nicknamed the Gibraltar of the North. Before the 19th century, it was controlled by Sweden while during the 19th century it was under Russian rule. Finland became independent in 1918. On this island is a school of about 70 students. Unfortunately, staff and students are on holiday. I would have liked to visit inside, but there were renovations being completed. Funny how you can never quite leave school!

Monday, July 11, 2016

Blogging From Another Continent

Stay tuned to this space as I will be blogging from another space for the next two weeks. I hope to include some thoughts on literacy as well as travel items. Do you know where I'm going?

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Animal Bites: Farm Animals

Animal Bites: Farm Animals
written by Laaren Brown
2016 (Liberty Street)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Chris the sheep was lost in the Australian outback for six years. When he was finally rescued, his emergency haircut produced 89 pounds of wool-enough to make 30 sweaters. 

If you surveyed preK-1 students and asked them about their favorite nonfiction topics, farm animals would be a strong contender for the top five. Who among us doesn't ooh and aah over a photograph of a fuzzy duckling or a pink piggie? The opening spread in Farm Animals features a duckling and a kitten greeting each other. Ding, ding, ding, I think we have a winner. Cuteness aside, there is plenty of information to supplement the sweetness. Facts are presented with themes such as Where They Live and Big Data. In these sections, readers are given bite-sized (two sentences) paragraphs of knowledge. Learning how humans and animals interact on the farm, we read about a horse having a dental exam and a vet checking a cow's heartbeat. Also given their own two page spreads are ten individual animals. Included are the Plymouth Rock chicken, Texas Longhorn, and Yorkshire Pig. There is a large photograph of the animal with paragraphs pointing out interesting body parts. Did you know there were two types of alpaca based on their hair and that they spit? What kind of sweater can you make from curly hair? Included in these spreads is an area labeled Info Bites. Data about where the animal lives and its size are highlighted with a globe to give a visual and a comparison to a common object. For example, you can find alpacas almost anywhere on the planet and the average one is about the height of a guitar. If only the alpaca could play the guitar, but I digress.

Primary age students will want to visit this farm. With just-right sized pieces of text and appealing photographs, readers will plop this book on their laps and invite their friends to share. They'll put their index fingers under the coolest facts and race to tell any adult or kid within range. And unlike a petting zoo, you won't need any hand sanitizer after reading Farm Animals.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

On Bird Hill

On Bird Hill
written by Jane Yolen; illustrated by Bob Marstall
2016 (Cornell Lab Publishing Group)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

As I was walking on Bird Hill,
Though it was day, the moon shone still.

A young narrator is walking his dog in the early morning. He spies a tree on top of Bird Hill. As he meanders closer, his observations narrow. The trunk has both dark and light colors. Moving nearer, a long limb catches his eye. On that limb is a twig where a bird is resting in a nest. Underneath the bird is an egg where a chick is just emerging. As the chick fluffs itself and stretches, it notices all of the items that were mentioned before.

At this point, you're probably wondering why this book is special. Little birds hatch all the time in books. True, but those little birdies didn't hatch with the wonderful words of Jane Yolen. There's a lovely rhythm she builds that will be an engaging shared reading experience as you read this book during the time that your class watches hatching baby chicks. It opens your eyes to the extraordinary in the ordinary of nature. Young children are especially good at giving nature its due. Most adults would glance, say "That's nice.", and go back to their phones. Yolen's words encourage us to pay attention to the world around us and take in the audio and visual beauty. Speaking of visual beauty, Bob Marstall's artwork is delightful with points of view coming from all directions. I particularly enjoyed the bright greens and yellows on the pages. Especially intriguing to young readers will be the illustration of the chick in the egg. I didn't catch it at first, so see if your audience is more astute than me (They will be.).

On Bird Hill is a great start for the Cornell Lab's new publishing group. I look forward to more books in this series.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Awesome America: Time for Kids

Awesome America
written by Katy Steinmetz
2016 (Time Inc. Books)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

Discover how America has changed through the centuries, learn about the documents that are the basis for American democracy, and revisit the great moments that changed America with introductions to great Americans. 

In less than a week, the United States will turn 240 years old. That's a lot of candles on the cake. The story of America is an amazing one. It is full of powerful events, personalities, and stories. It is a unique tale that Awesome America tells in a little over 200 pages. This book does not take a chronological tack, but instead divides its chapters into different sections that cover cultural, geographic, and historical aspects of this country. Chapter 4 is all about the 50 states. Beautiful photographs of four iconic areas greet you in the beginning of the chapter. From there, each state is afforded a fun fact section that gives nicknames, some kind of official state entity (my state has an official carnivorous plant), and claims to fame. Chapter 5, The Land, gets my vote for photographic star of the book. Many different land forms are featured including purple mountain majesty (Denali) and flowing volcanoes (Kilauea). If you are a history buff, there are chapters featuring the presidents, the history of the Civil Rights movement, and influential Americans. The influence of American culture (movies, music, sports, etc.) is featured extensively in chapters 11 and 12. Like a great 4th of July fireworks event, Awesome America ends with a showy display. A twelve page timeline starts at BC with native people crossing a land bridge and ends with the election of President Obama in 2008. In between, there are events that chronicle the growth of America.

I love books like this because you can sit down in a cozy chair, look up from your book, and realize that two hours have passed by in the blink of an eye. History lovers will be engrossed by the combination of facts and photographs that highlighted familiar and new information to me. I didn't realize that Thomas Jefferson had invented a swivel chair because he didn't want to get up every time he needed to turn his chair. Awesome America is a comprehensive look at the red, white, and blue.

Click on this link for a curriculum guide to help in your instruction.

Monday, June 27, 2016

History Pin

What is historypin? It's a way to collect archival material and place it on a map. Here's a brief note from the creators: Anyone can pin photos, videos or sounds to the Historypin map. Compare images of then and now. Group them into collections. Share them with friends. Invite other people to participate.This past weekend, I contributed to a map of NC State University. My assignment was to write a brief history of D.H. Hill Library, find a photograph of it that I had permission to share, and pin it to our group's map.
Groups can contribute to the history of their community by posting historical photos and pinning them to their location. Families can post photographs of ancestors and family homesteads and add them to a map. I think for upper elementary school and higher students, this would be an engaging way to learn about the history of a community. It's a non-profit group that's interested in building social connections in places large and small. Check it out and see what has been pinned in your community.

Sunday, June 26, 2016


Bubbli is an app for your iPhone that creates a 360 picture with audio. After downloading the app, I practiced this evening in my town. It's like painting a picture inside the lines as you move the camera around and try to fill in space with your surroundings. Audio is available so you can add a narrative. In our class, we told a short story to go with the picture. If you have e-pals, this would be a great way to show off your school. You can click below on the arrow and see a better view.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Nibbles the Book Monster

Nibbles the Book Monster
written and illustrated by Emma Yarlett
2016 (Kane Miller)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

But Nibbles' favorite thing of all to nibble on is books.

Nibbles more than lives up to his name. Soap, socks, and rubber ducks are subject to his munching madness. Top of the charts for him are books. So much so that he manages to eat his way out of his own book. Who does that? Good luck trying to find Nibbles as he slips between books in a library. Having a bestseller for brunch is not the biggest problem. Nibbles is involving himself in familiar stories and creating huge amounts of havoc. Goldilocks has a hair raising experience when Nibbles beats her to the tiny bowl of porridge. The Three Bears are horrified, not at the sight of the blonde haired intruder, but at the mess made by this mini monster. He even left a hole in the wall on his way to Little Red Riding Hood's house. Young readers will love that they can put their finger through the hole created by Nibbles. Another hole is created as he saves Grandma from the clutches of the Big Bad Wolf. After frustrating both Jack and the Giant, Nibbles presses his luck a little too far and is taken back to his own crate by a surprising source. But when the chewing commences again, the reader of the book knows exactly what has happened.

Young readers will adore Nibbles because he connects them to familiar stories in a unique way. They love stories that have been turned on their head. Children spend many hours reading books whose outcome can be predicted from a mile away. Naughty Nibbles keeps them on their toes because of his unpredictability. That makes reading a fun experience and why you should check out this chewing charmer.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Goose Chase and Fotobabble: Jeff tries out new apps

Yesterday morning, I went on a wild goose chase on N.C. State's campus. For an hour and a half, our team of three followed clues on my smartphone and provided evidence of finding the answers to those clues. Some clues needed an uploaded photo, others simply required a GPS check-in, and another set of clues needed typed in answers. Point values were assigned to each clue. 

I had a blast racing around campus taking photos and locating places. I could see a class having a goose chase at their school with students writing clues for classmates. 

Fotobabble allows you to attach audio to a single photo and publish it. This app reminds me of Voicethread. You can share your photo and audio to Facebook and Twitter. I used the photo above and attached my reading of a bio poem. 

Fotobabble would be great for a poetry or biography unit. It was very easy to use so it should be student friendly.