Sunday, December 10, 2017


I first became familiar with Eszterhas' work when I was a CYBILS nonfiction judge a few years ago. ORANGUTAN was in my NF top 10 in 2013, it was also my CYBILS mighta-beens that year.  That year, I also loved SEA OTTERS.

MOTO AND ME made this year's CYBILS nonfiction nominees. Eszterhas has moved to the Masai Mara savanna (in Kenya) to photograph wildlife. According to Eszterhas,  huge wildfires are common during the hot dry summers. During one of these fires, Moto's mother was trying to carry her two-week-old serval kittens across a dirt road. She was startled by the noise of a vehicle and dropped him. Before she could return,  some tourists found him, and thinking they would help, picked him up, and took him to the ranger station. By the time they got there, it had been too long and his mom was gone. Park rangers knew Eszterhaus had extensive experience with cats, and asked her if she would be willing to raise him until he was old enough to be independent.

Eszterhas named the baby Moto (African for fire). At first, she bottle fed him a special mixture of cows' milk, eggs, fish oil, and vitamins; he loved this so much that he drank really fast, one time he choked, and she had to hang him upside down and pound on his back. Several times each day, she rubbed him down with a rough washcloth and brushed him with a toothbrush, because those actions were similar to those he might feel during life in the wild. He didn't like being away from her, so when he was young, she carried him around in a pouch as she took pictures and went about her daily life.

At the same time, Eszterhas was very clear that she was raising the young serval to return to the wild. She wanted him to be ready for that, so she worked hard to make sure he would have the skills he needed. Servals usually play with their littermates. Instead of a sibling, Moto played with a stuffed duck. As he got older, she blended chicken with his milk, then eventually introduced a mouse. Moto hissed at her and took her to his nest, which happened to be Esterzhas' bed.As Moto got older, she left the tent open, gradually he spent more time outside, would always come and cuddle with her before he went out at night. One night he didn't come to cuddle, and although she worried, she knew he was gone. A few days later, she saw him in the wild. He came to her jeep when she called, but also left very quickly.

This book is a little longer than other books I have read by Eszterhas, but it's just as engaging. It might take a couple of sittings, but I know younger kids would love it. I can't wait to share it with my seventh graders, because I think they will love it too!

Friday, December 8, 2017


My middle schoolers surprise me pretty much every day. Earlier this week, one of the eighth graders randomly asked if I like poetry. I read poetry pretty regularly to my seventh graders, but I have never had this student in a class, so she didn't know that I love poetry. She proceeded to tell me that her aunt had written a poetry book. She went back to her locker to get the book. I flipped through it, and knew it was one that our older kids would love. It's the kind of poetry they love- poetry about relationships, about, love, about caring too much, and about breaking up. I told her I wanted to buy a copy and the next day she brought me one as a gift.

FROM SCARS TO BEAUTY would be a great book to share with high school kids, or with a women's group, to talk about writing as a tool for thinking and feeling. It's really uniquely formatted, with the title, often followed by a zinger last line, at the bottom of the page. It's a book I know my seventh grade girls are going to fight over.

if i could,
i would point out
the exact:
aligned in the stars
of the
exact moment
i lost myself.



i was a mother
to my mother
so when she asked
to become one for me
i only knew
how to look down.
i never learned
how to look up
to the woman
that checked out.

--- you sucked the
     childhood out of me


she's silent.
she spoke with
the fire
she held within.
her fury as no match
for those
who burned her.


In the afterward, Nicki Naomi says
"i grew up writing in a back leather-bound notebook. 
i filled every page with poems about the grief that held 
concerning my father's addiction to drugs and my mother's addiction to 
money among the many other childhood traumas that I experienced. Even at 
an early age i knew that channeling my emotions into writing was a a
healthy healing factor.  i knew that without it, i would otherwise remain
silent and potentially numb to myself the way my mom did. 

my poetry is a constant. and it's constantly evolving. the same way that i
am. the more i grow, the more my work does. i am a huge believer in
turning scars into poems, putting them in a book and moving forward.
rereading them once or twice a lifetime, either to improve yourself or the
lives of others. then, putting it back on the shelf where it belongs. 
"you can visit the darkness, but never live in it."
we are meant to survive. 

This is exactly what I want my students to understand about poetry. If you feel the same way, you can buy FROM SCARS TO BEAUTY on Amazon.

You can read more poetry at Lisa's  STEPS AND STAIRCASES.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017


"Fed up with the same old animals? Had enough of hippos? Bored with bears? Tired of tigers? Do you want animals that are fresh, new and exciting? Try LESSER SPOTTED ANIMALS, a book about the wonderful wow wildlife that we never get to see."

So begins LESSER SPOTTED ANIMALS. And it definitely is a book that includes lots of unusual animals. In this book, you will learn about animals like the Cuban Solenodon, the Long-tailed dunnart, the Gaur, Speke's Pecinator, the Ili Pika, and about 25 other animals.

Each two-page spread features a different creature. There's a large, drawn picture of the animal, often with a cartoon bubble. There are two paragraphs of description, written in an engaging and slightly comical voice that could definitely elevate kids' informative writing. There are tiny (1" X 1") boxes that contain additional informative drawings.

And there's also a fact box, which includes size (the silvery gibbons is described as roughly as big as the six month old baby from next door), what the animal eats, a small map of where it lives, its endangered status, and then, my favorite a category called AND, full of those random and interesting facts kids love to learn and share (e.g. gibbons are the most accomplished of swingers-- hurtling around in the treetops, some can reach 35 mph and clear gaps of 49 feet- the accompanying diagrams says that 49 feet is as long as three Range Rovers). End matter includes a glossary.

Fun and definitely unusual!

Sunday, December 3, 2017

I'VE GOT FEET: FANTASTIC FEET OF THE ANIMAL WORLD by Julie Murphy, illustrated by Hannah Tolson

Christmas is coming. I need to get sweet Esveidy's box in the mail this week. Of course, the first thing that I put in the box will be books. Is there anything else? Yesterday, I spent a good part of the day at the Denver Public Library reading CYBILS nominations. I'VE GOT FEET is a book I will be purchasing for Esveidy. It's a terrific nonfiction book for the primary set- engaging pictures, not too long, interesting information…

The book starts out:
Animal feet can walk, run, and kick.They can climb, jump, and dig. 
Some feet swim, some catch food.What a lot of things animal feet can do!
After that, each two page spread features a different animal, some more typical and some unusual-- a cheetah, zebra, duck, gecko, koala, penguin, red kangaroo, great horned own, spade foot toads, chimpanzees. The left side of each spread is the animal "talking." The right side is an interesting fact. Here are a few examples:
Left page: I've got KICKING feet
My back feet sure pack a punch. They help me to avoid becoming  a lion's next meal. 
Right page:  Zebra feet kick so hard they can break a lion's jaw.  

Left page: I've got BLUE feet.
I show them off by stepping high. 
Right  page: Male blue footed boobies show off to attract females.
Those with the bluest feet are chosen first.

Left page: I've got DEADLY feet!
My fierce feet have awesome claws that can catch all kinds of creatures for food. 
Right page: Great horned owl feet are so powerful they can even snatch up skunks, which are almost three times heavier than the owl.

I know Miss E's going to love this one! And so will a lot of other kids and teachers!

Tuesday, November 28, 2017


I have been substitute teaching a seventh grade reading block the last hour of every day.
I absolutely love it.
When I started, in early October,
they could read for eight minutes.
I timed them.
A lot of them,
maybe most of them,
kind of fake read.
Some of them looked at me.
They rustled.
There really wasn't all that much reading going on.

But we persevered.
Book talked.
Read aloud.
Set firm guidelines.
(Right now, they have assigned seats.
no one goes to the bathroom or gets drinks during our reading time).
I dded five minutes to the timer every week.

Yesterday they read for almost 35 minutes.
Dead silence.
Everyone had a book.
Everyone's eyes were glued to their pages.
Only one student asked me how much longer.
And that was with seven minutes left.

E is not a kid who I would describe as a reader
He does not willingly engage with a book.
He looks for ways to get out of reading.
Our school is part of a project where kids get to order a book every single month.
He never voluntarily turns in his order.
I always have to hunt him down.

But yesterday, we had a break through.

He wasn't exactly reading.
But he was quiet.
he had a book.
About halfway through, I could see that he was getting a little antsy.
I had a couple of picture books that I was reading for CYBILS.
One of them was a picture book called STORMY SEAS.
I slid that onto his desk.
Told him he could look at if he wanted.
He flipped through the pages.
Was silent for another 14 minutes.
Not a total victory.
But a little engaged
with a book.

Usually we end our time together with a little sharing.
So far, it's usually me talking about what I am reading.
Or reading aloud a little.
(I'm hoping that they will take it over soon, but it's all about baby steps).
Over the Thanksgiving break I read REFUGEE by Alan Gratz.
I brought the book to class yesterday.
I told them how it's three seemingly unrelated stories.
The first about a Jewish family fleeing Germany at the beginning of WW2.
The second about a family fleeing Cuba on a life raft in the 1990's.
The third about a Syrian boy in 2015
I explained how at the beginning I wondered why the author had put the three stories in one book.
About how I kept watching for connections.
About how few there were and about how it sometimes even kind of irritated me, because I couldn't figure out how the stories were ever going to connect..
And then, at the end, the three stories wove together, the lives crossed. Paths connected.

His voice startled me.
He almost never talks.
At least not to me.
And definitely not to the whole group

"Hey," he said.
"That's just like what Ms. P said.
The stories seem like they are not connected.
And then at the end they do."

He was talking about A LONG WALK TO WATER, which his language arts class just finished.
And he was right.
The stories seem disconnected.
And they do come together
right at the end.
Just like REFUGEE.
The book I was talking about

I was absolutely stunned.
The contribution was huge.
I wanted to celebrate him.
But not so much that his friends would make fun of him.
Or that he wouldn't want to participate again. 
And so I acknowledged him.
It was just like th book they had just finished.
It was what his Language Arts teacher had said.
But I tried not to make a big deal of it.

Yesterday E became a member of the Literacy Club.

And it was a huge deal to me.

Thursday, November 23, 2017


Sunset over Colorado Springs last night, taken by a friend from high school
The sun seems to be setting on Poetry Friday. Lots of great offerings today! Thanks so much to everyone who participated on this holiday weekend!

Michelle Kogan experimented with the Golden Shovel form this week. Besides her original poem and panting, she is giving thanks for poetry and music this week, with a glimpse into Katherine Paterson's Thanksgiving book GIVING THANKS, as well as Aaron Copeland's rendition of "Simple Gifts."

Carol Varsalona, who is celebrating Thanksgiving holiday with her gorgeous granddaughter today, has collected Thanksgiving poems and songs for us to enjoy.

Molly Hogan's offering, "Thanksgiving for Two," is a must read for all of the empty nesters in the crowd. I probably shouldn't admit that it made me cry.

Jone's original poem about  how she'll spend Black Friday definitely matches my idea of a good time! And at her other blog, Jone's sharing some  fall haiku written by her students.

Over at The Poem Farm, Amy is enjoying the quiet celebrations of the day after a holiday. Her poem reminds me of "Introductions" by Susan Glassmeyer, that I saw on Parker J. Palmer's Facebook page earlier this week.

Dori has been busy opening a new yoga studio (and writing a little poetry besides), but now she's back with ALL CREATION WAITS, a new picture book for Advent.

Robin Hood Black has been really busy! She's not only found some poems, she's turned them into Christmas ornaments! Check them out!

Irene Latham is celebrating the choir of voices she experienced last week at NCTE. (I'm not sure NCTE is an actual holiday, but it definitely should be!)

Anyone who has ever had to cut down a big tree (I did this almost two years ago and I'm still grieving) can sympathize with Buffy Silverman , who has written a tribute to her cherry tree that had to be cut down this week.

Brenda Harsham revels in foliage in an original poem, "Goodbye Green."

At Teacher Dance, Linda Baie celebrates the season with one last autumn poem, a Golden Shovel poem based on "Loss" by Carl Adamschick.

Jane's celebration of autumn, an original haiku about the ginko tree, comes all the way from Japan.

Little Willow laments that she didn't find Ted Kooser's "A Letter in October" last month, but I think it still fits the changing seasons pretty perfectly.

Colette Bennett captures a moonlit moment in her original poem, "Pole Dancers."

Over at A Year of Reading, the ever talented Mary Lee is gearing up to write haiku every day in December! She gives us a little appetizer today. Wow, wow, wow!

Tabatha Yeatts' poem, Trees by W.S. Merwin is not an original, but it is definitely a celebration of all things autumn. I love the opening lines, "I am looking at trees/they may be one of the things/I will miss most from the earth…"

Matt Forrest Esenwine  has great news. His new book, FLASHLIGHT NIGHT, was selected by the NY Public Library as one of the best books of 2017. It's also on Amazon's life of best selling books about books and reading! You will also want to stop over at Matt's blog to check out his Poetry Cubed contest!

Kay McGriff took on Matt's challenge and wrote an original poem, "The Ghosts of Art," about some famous sculptures in her hometown. Her poem and the accompanying links made me want to visit Wilson, North Carolina!

Holly Thompson made me laugh with her own new (or at least new-to-me) genre, the insinuation poem.  And wonder how many insinuations I miss when I converse in Spanish!

My boys are past their football playing years. Nevertheless, Alan Wright's poem, "Football Dreaming" evoked a whole lot of memories for this former sports mama. (And yes, I know the poem is not about American football. Even so…)

Over at Random Noodling, Diane gives all of us sugar addicts some harsh true to think about with her new original poem, "America=The Bottom Line."

At Today's Little Ditty, Michelle is wrapping up the November Challenge, find beauty in something that is not usually seen as beautiful, and giving away a book. Be sure to make some time to read the poems, which are compiled here.

Margaret Simon not only took on the challenge of finding something that is not usually seen as beautiful, but attempted a new poetry form, the Shadorma (a Spanish cousin to the haiku). The result is stunning.

Violet Nesdoly also took on the "find something beautiful" challenge. She had previously written a shadorma about an apartment fire in her neighborhood. She's back with another poem about this building, this time it's a senryu.

Sally Murphy has written an original poem in honor of the formerly "poetry poor" Linda Mitchell. I feel much better knowing that Linda is now "poetry rich," "poetry wealthy" and "poetry wise."

Speaking of Linda Mitchell, she's in this week with a review of Katherine Erskine's new picture book biography, MAMA AFRICA, about Miriam Makeba, a Grammy award winning South African singer who "uses her voice to spread awareness of apartheid, and although in exile herself, bring hope to her people in South Africa."

Ruth is in this week with her annual celebration of odes. I laughed when she said one of her eighth graders wanted to write an ode to bras!

The Younger Sun Bookshop Kids' Book Club read TOO MANY FRIENDS by Kat Appel. They had lots of great questions about this novel in verse, so Kat answers them here.

Our favorite foodie, Jama Rattigan, reviews DUMPLING DREAMS: HOW JOYCE CHEN BROUGHT THE DUMPLING FROM BEIJING TO CAMBRIDGE, a new picture book biography about Chinese cooking sensation, Joyce Chen. Jama is giving away one copy of this book. WARNING: Do not read this post unless you immediately want to run out and pick up Chinese food. Yummmm!

Tara's Poetry Friday contribution, "The Cats" by Ann Iverson, seems to have some big life truths, even for those of us who are NOT cat lovers.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend.


It seems kind of funny to be hosting Poetry Friday, when I haven't even been participating recently. I'm hoping that hosting will get me back into the groove or participating each Friday. Originally, I thought I would probably do something holiday-related; either a Thanksgiving poem or maybe poetry books that shoppers could buy for holiday gifts. Then, in my CYBILS reading this week, I came across Carole Boston Weatherford's SCHOMBURG: THE MAN WHO BUILT A LIBRARY. I'm sharing this book today because I think it's really important, and I want a lot of people to see it. 

SCHOMBURG is poetry-- it's a story in verse-- about Arturo (Arthur) Schomburg, a Puerto Rican who immigrated to New York in 1891. According to the book jacket, "Schomburg's life passion was to collect books, letters, music, and art from Africa and from people of African descent." His collection became so large that he turned it over to the New York Public Library. Today it is known as the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. 

This is an important book. I want my students (and my own sons) to read it, but I am not sure it's one they will fully appreciate on their own. I wonder, for instance, if they will notice the dates embedded into the pictures. I wonder if they will notice Schomburg's words in italics, "True scholarship requires time and calm effort; Tell our stories, proclaim our glories." I wonder if they will take time to read the end page, that says that each of Schomburg's books had a bookplate pasted into the front, and that's why this book also has a book plate in the front. That's why I'm looking forward to sharing it with them, a little at a time. 

UPDATE: Michelle H. Barnes actually interviewed Carole Boston Weatherford about SCHOMBURG in September. You can read that interview and more poems from the book at Today's Little Ditty. 

Arturo Schomberg was more than a book lover,
more than a mailroom clerk at Bankers Trust,
where he supervised eleven white men,
unheard-of authority for a black man at that time.
He recognized early on that history was not history
unless it was complete from all angles.
Like a detective, he hunted for clues and found facts
affirming the role of African descendants
 in building nations and shaping cultures.
Fellow book collector Arthur Spingara noted
     that Arturo would approach 
an immense pile of apparently worthless material
and unerringly find…one or two treasures
which would have been lost to a less inspired collector. 
Arturo believed that those facts, once unearted,
would speak loud and clear in halls of knowledge,
daring another teacher to tell a black child
that the Negro has no history. Time and again,
through print, music, and art, Schomberg proved otherwise.
(Page 1)

…So when his fifth grade teacher
told him that Africa's sons and daughters
had no history, no heroes worth noting,
did the twinkle leave Arturo's eyes?
Did he slouch his shoulders, hang his head low,
and look to the ground rather than the horizon?

No. His people must have contributed something
over the centuries, a history that teachers did not teach,
Until they did, schoolchildren like Arturo
would not learn of their own heritage,
ignorance shackling them like chains. (2)

I wanted to find out, said Arturo Schomberg,
what my own racial group had contributed.
He could not get his hands on enough books.
His curiosity about Africana- insatiable
Arturo had what he called the book hunting disease.
No one volume told the whole story,
and no library specialized in the subject.

So he hunted rare book stores,
poring over fragile pamphlets with torn covers
and leather books with paper mites between pages.
Most of what he bought early on came cheap
because white collectors considered it junk.
Still what he hunted was not easy to find.

…Arturo found African roots in the family tree
of artist, ornithologist, and naturalist John James Audubon.
His masterpiece was the book Birds of America.
With watercolors, pastel crayons, charcoal, and pencils,
he depicted North American birds in stunning lifelike poses.
Yet for all Audobon's fame, there was rarely mention
that he was born to a French plantation owner
and a Creole chambermaid

…Even German composer Ludvig von Beethoven
had ties to AFrica. He was often described
as dark, a mulatto, or a Moor. His mother
was said to be a Moor-- North African.
Gifted beyond belief, Beethoven
still composed after he'd lost his hearing.
How could this maestro's African heritage
     have been muted?(18-20)

Rumor has it that Schomberg's wife put her foot down:
Either his books or their family must go. Only a threat like that
could make him part with his prizes.
There were bookshelves filled with books all over the house,
a family member said, even in the bathroom.
The books were carefully catalogued,
inventoried in Arturo's head,
and arranged by color and size of bindingl
But Arturo's library had outgrown private hands.
He had turned down a very handsome author
because the collection deserved a wider audienc.
Arturo had already lent items to libraries
and staged exhibitions for community groups.
He approached the New York Public Library,
but it lacked the funds
to purchase his vast holdings.
So the Carnegie Corporation
for $10,000 and in 1926 donated it to the library.

Happy Poetry Friday! Leave your comments and I'll approve them and share them!

Wednesday, November 22, 2017


Last week, GRAND CANYON won NCTE's Orbis Pictus, for best nonfiction children's book of the year. This morning, I read GRAND CANYON, and I can definitely see why. I don't think I can do this beautiful, multi-layered picture book justice, I think it's one you will have to read for yourself but I'm going to try to describe it, just a little.

GRAND CANYON follows a little girl and her father as they hike the South Trail from the bottom of the Grand Canyon to the rim. Most pages have "snapshots" of the discoveries the little girl makes as she hikes. Some pages devoted to specific animals- the California condor, the mountain goat, and dragonflies. There are also pages that show what the Grand Canyon looked like during times when it was covered by water, with the little girl swimming, surrounded by creatures. And many of the pages have a cut out that leads to a fossil on the next page.

Swimming in the sea, millions of years ago
The gorgeous watercolor (I think) illustrations and the rich factual text would probably be enough. However, they are only the beginning. Each illustration is placed directly is placed directly on top of another illustration- usually some kind of a diagram associated with a particular layer of of the canyon, or of the wildlife that lives in that area.
California condor page, along with diagram of sedimentation, most of the pages contain both kinds of information

The book has lots of special features, including cut outs to the fossils, and one spread that opens out to a double wide. End matter includes pages of factual information about the geology, ecology, history, and human life in the Grand Canyon, as well as an author's note. The front end page is a map of the Grand Canyon, the back is a generalized cross section of the area.

I could see giving it to someone planning a trip to the Grand Canyon. A person, child or adult, could spend hours and hours and hours with this book and notice something new every time they read it. Wow, wow, wow, wow, wow!

Monday, November 20, 2017

SEA OTTER HEROES- Patricia Newman

Yesterday, when I shared THE SEARCH FOR OLINGUITO by Sandra Markle,  I talked about how much I love reading books that take me in to the stories of people's work. Last night, SEA OTTER HEROES: THE PREDATORS THAT SAVED AN ECOSYSTEM by Patricia Newman was at the top of my ginormous CYBILS nonfiction pile. It's a similar book.

SEA OTTER HEROES follows the work of marine biologist, Brett Hughes. As a graduate student, Hughes studied the area called Elkhorn Slough in Northern California. Elkhorn Slough is located in the Salinas Valley, an area also known as America's Salad Bowl, because crops of strawberries, artichokes, brussels sprouts, lettuce, celery, tomatoes, spinach, and broccoli feed much of the United States. Farmers spray their crops with chemical fertilizers, then the run off drains into the waterways, which typically disrupts marine ecosystems. In areas such as Elkhorn Slough, one of the primary organisms affected is seagrass. The excessive nutrients from the fertilizers cause excessive algae growth on the seagrass, which means the seagrass can't get enough nutrients from photosynthesis. It dies, and then other living creatures in the food chain are also impacted.

Brent Hughes was surprised to discover that this was not true in Elkhorn Slough. The population of seagrass was alive and healthy. Hughes was determined to find out why. One of his first hypothesis had to do with El Niño. Examination of data from the past twenty years proved that to be unfounded. He began seeking data from other sources and discovered a tour boat Captain, Yohn Gideon, who had collected research on animal sighting on each of his journeys for almost twenty years. In looking at his data, Hughes discovered a strong correlation between the sea grass and sea otter populations. Because Captain Gideon's research was not considered to be scientific enough, Hughes had to go still further.

He talked to other scientists who had studied sea otters. He built mesocosms, a common lab technique, where a scientist actually builds an ecosystem in a bucket, barrel, or tank. And then he ventured into the slough, logging about one hundred hours over thirty days in a wet suit in the slough. Hughes hard work paid off.  He discovered that sea otters eat sea crabs, who in turn eat sea hares, that eat sea algae that kills the sea grass. Without the sea otters, the sea crabs overeat the sea hares, which then allows the algae population to go out of control.

I loved reading about this scientific mystery. I loved the full color photographs. I loved the pages of information about "Otterisms" and other related topics. I loved seeing the amount of perseverance it took for Hughes to solve his problem. I loved the end matter with suggestions of ways kids can help! Another terrific read!

Sunday, November 19, 2017


Maybe I'm a teeny bit nosy, but I love learning about how other people do their work. When I go to a play, I wonder what the actors do all day, and what they eat, and where they stay while their play is in Denver. I love (or used to love before they got so stinky) seeing pictures of the Broncos getting on their plane, or pictures of their post game food choices.

And I loved Sandra Markle's new book, THE SEARCH FOR OLINGUITO.  In 2013, Markle read an article about the discovery of a new mammal, the olinguito, a raccoon-like species that lives in the cloud forests of Ecuador and Colombia. Markle tracked down Kristofer Helgen, a scientist at the Smithsonian,  and Roland Kayes, head of the Biodiversity Research Lab at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, and pieced together the steps in their discovery.

The journey started when Helgen was studying pelts of the olingo, a similar species,  at the Smithsonian and noticed significant differences in color, fur texture, shape of ears, and tail length, on some of the species. He then examined pelts at other museums around the world and found those same features. After DNA research, he concluded that he had found a new species, which he named the olinguito. Helgen also learned about Ringerl, an olingo, who had been at zoos in  Louisville and several other places in the late 1960's. Ringerl refused to mate or interact with the other olingos, and Helgen hypothesized that she had also been an olinguito. DNA tests confirmed his hypothesis.

Helgen then needed to prove that olinguitos still exist. A Smithsonian intern from Ecuador scouted possible cloud forests, then Helgen and Roland Kayes, traveled to the Otonga Cloud Forest, close to Quito. They spent three weeks studying and photographing the olinguito. Even after that, their work was rejected by scholarly journals, because they didn't have enough information about the animal's physical features and habits. Helgen and Kayes had to spend an additional six years, from 2005-2011, studying the species before their work was accepted. 

Markle follows the scientists' journey with an an engaging story and full color photographs. It also shows readers how much patience and perseverance scientists have to have. A great book for a study of perseverance.  And the book reads like fiction, so it would be terrific in a study of narrative nonfiction.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Bugs, bugs, and more bugs

Bugs! Ewww! I don't kill 'em, but I don't love them either! Even if you are not a big fan, Sneed Collard's INSECTS: THE MOST FUN BUG BOOK EVER, is more than a little interesting. Did you know, for instance, that there are more than 950,000 species of insects identified so far (that compare to 5,400 mammals or 10,600 birds or 33,200 amphibians? I also learned that insects have been around for 480 million years (again compare this to mammals, who have only been around for 180 million years). And that ironclad beetles have such strong shells that scientists have to drill holes  to mount them. Dragon flies fly over 35 miles per hour. The dung beetle specializes in eating particular kinds of poop (according to page 26, if you try to feed cattle dung to a dung beetle that prefers elephant poop, he will unfriend you faster than you can say "Poop"). And that a diet of insects is healthier than what Americans eat now-- did you know that a hamburger is 18% protein, but a cooked grasshopper is 60%?

INSECTS includes sections on body parts, chemical communication, reproduction, defenses and social groupings. Every chapter includes sidebars with related topics- things like how insects breathe, locust plagues, and colony collapse disorder, and diseases. The book is illustrated with beautiful full color close up photographs, taken by the author. There's not a lot of end matter, in fact Collard goes so far as to say that he's not going to suggest alternate sources because kids can find their own. He does, however, includes an extensive glossary. A book kids (and their adults) will definitely enjoy.

Sunday, October 29, 2017


So I'm a CYBILS nonfiction judge this year. And I should be blogging about all of the terrific books I'm reading every day. Time to get started.

SHARK LADY: THE TRUE STORY OF HOW EUGENIE CLARK BECAME THE OCEAN'S MOST FEARLESS SCIENTIST is the biography of oceanographer Eugenie Clark. The book follows Eugenie's life long love affair with sharks, starting at an aquarium when she was a little girl. In 1986, when she was 64, she made the first of over 12,000 trips in a submersible. In 2014, she celebrated her 92nd birthday by diving in Jordan and Israel. In between those years, she earned a doctorate in zoology, was a professor and author, discovered many new species of sharks, was the first to train sharks to prove their intelligence, and advocated for protection of our oceans. The book reads like a story, and that, along with Maria Álvarez Miguéns illustrations are lively and colorful and sure to hold kids' interest.

Lots to love about this book. Of course you could use it as a biography. But you could also use it to help kids understand that the passions they pursue in childhood really could lead to life long work. You could use it to show how important it is to persevere when people tell you your dreams aren't realistic. Or to show kids about all of the different ways of learning about a topic- Eugenie studied sharks in museums, read books and articles, took classes, and finally learned to dive. She kept track of her learning in research notebooks. 

And there were lots of great extras. The end pages are various kinds of sharks (I wondered if these were the species that Eugenie loved most or  discovered or ????). Back matter includes a page of "Shark Bites," (facts about sharks), an illustrated timeline, and author's notes.

Definitely a great addition to your picture book biography library.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017


I am the literacy coach/interventionist at my school. In August and September, that means I do testing. Lots of testing. And specifically, lots of testing with kindergarteners.

I love kindergarteners.

I do not love testing kindergarteners.

Take last week, for instance.

I am administering a state-mandated, computer-based test to one of my five-year-old friends. The test measures students' understandings in things like phonemic awareness, listening comprehension, vocabulary, and fluency. And it's timed.

F was about five minutes into the test. I was standing about six feet behind him, and about five minutes into the test, he turned around to talk to me.

"Dr Carol, did you know it was my birthday this weekend?"

I tell him I didn't, but that I can't wait to hear about it. After he finishes taking his timed test.

He turns back to the test, but a few seconds later, he has more news.

"And did you know I had a Ninja Turtle party. And M and D and W came. But Joe didn't came."

I try to be polite and attentive as I redirect F again.

"And I had a bouncy castle. It was the one with the Ninja Turtles. The ones coming out of the sewers."

Once again, I try to be politely attentive as I redirect my friend's attention. He lasts about five seconds this time.

"And I had Ninja Turtle cake. And it was so good. I'm going to ask my mom if there is any more. And I can bring it to you.:

I assure him that I bet his cake was beautiful. And that it's ok if he didn't bring me any. I can wait until his next birthday, when he turns seven.

And all the while, the clock on the standardized test is ticking and ticking and ticking.

And I'm wondering how anyone could possibly think this could be a good measure of this little guy's literacy skills.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

PATINA- Jason Reynolds

Patina. The fastest girl on her track team. A "raisin in milk," an African America middle schooler at an affluent Anglo school. Father passed away. A mom who can't care for her daughters because diabetes has forced her to have her legs amputated, and then undergo weekly dialysis. Lives with her "kind-of" family- her dad's brother, his wife, Emily, who Patina calls Momly. Feels responsible for her younger sibling, Maddy.

Reynolds dedicates this book to "those who have been passed the baton way too soon." I know too many of those kids- caring for younger siblings, working on weekends to help pay the family bills, worrying about family members being deported or jailed. I'll be handing this book off to one of those kids today. I'm really glad Jason Reynolds has written it...

Monday, September 4, 2017


Not sure why, but I've had a really hard time blogging this year. It just isn't happening. I'm trying to get back into the habit of blogging three or four times a week, and have decided to try to do chapter books on Monday, Tuesday Slice of Life, Wednesday or Thursday picture books, and Poetry on  Friday, so here goes (nothing?)....

This weekend, I read (or maybe I should say cried through) an intermediate grade novel, MATYLDA BRIGHT AND TENDER by Holly McGhee. Susquehanna, better known as Sussy, and Gus have been best friends since kindergarten. Now in fourth grade, they decide they need a pet to take care of. Sussy's dad agrees and the two end up with a leopard spotted gecko, Matylda, spelled with a y. Although the lizard lives at Sussy's house, she's clearly partial to Gus.

After a terrible accident, Sussy finds herself in charge of Matylda. Despite the fact that she's walking through a place of deep sadness and grief, she's determined to do a good job taking care of Matylda. But then her caretaking takes an unexpected twist…

A beautiful novel about friendship, loss, and grief. Put this one on the shelf next to two other oldies but goodies, BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA and TASTE OF BLACKBERRIES

Friday, September 1, 2017


Winner, winner, chicken dinner! Yep, that's what I was about a month ago! OK, maybe I should back up a little. For the past few months, I think since November's election, Donalyn Miller has been giving away a book every day on her Facebook page. She posts the book early in the day, people comment, and then at the end of the day, she chooses a winner from the commenters. She posts some terrific books (yesterday was Jason Reynold's new book, PATINA) and pretty much every day, I comment. Three or four weeks ago, I won Nikki Grimes fabulous new poetry book, ONE LAST WORD.

ONE LAST WORD is first a celebration of Harlem Renaissance poets- Jean Toomer, Clara Ann Thompson, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Langston Hughes, Gwendolyn Bennett, Countee Cullen, and Georgia Douglas Thompson.

The book goes way beyond that, however. Grimes has taken these poets' work and written new poems, in a poetry format called "the Golden Shovel." Grimes describes "the Golden Shovel" like this:
The idea of the Golden Shovel poem is to take a short poem in its entirety, or a line from that poem (called a striking line) and create a new poem, using the words from the original, Say you decide to use a single line, you would arrange that line, word by word, in the right margin:

Then you would write a new poem, each line ending in one of these words…
I wake and shake off the morning as Mom tiptoes in
"Rise and shine," she whispers, always the
same old song, "Get up. Right
now!" I grown on cue, but she gives me no margin. 

Here's one of the poems from the book.

"The Negro Speaks of Rivers"
by Langston Hughes

I've known rivers
I've known rivers
ancient as the world and older than the
       flow of human blood in human veins
My soul has grown deep like the rivers.
I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young
I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.
I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.
I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln
       went down to New Orleans, and I've seen it's muddy
       bosom turn all golden in the sunset.

I've known rivers:
ancient, dusky rivers.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

"David's Old Soul"
by Nikki Grimes

As far back as I can remember, my
mother has called me "an old soul."
I never understood. But now that our family has 
dwindled to just Mom and us kids, I've grown
into a man. You do what you have to do.  "David, dig deep," 
is the whisper in my ear. So I stand strong like
a tree my baby brothers can lean on. I try to be the
 raft that helps carry them over this life's rough rivers. 

An added bonus, the poems are illustrated by some of my all time favorites- Jan Spivey Gilcrest, E.B. Lewis, Christopher Myers, Brian Pinkney and James Ransome, to name a few. Spectacular!

This is a book you don't want to miss! 

Poetry Friday today is hosted by Kathryn Apel. 

Thursday, August 10, 2017


Earlier this summer, I read "The Death of Reading is Threatening the Soul," by Phillip Yancey. I found the article really troubling and and have been thinking about it ever since. I decided to put together a list of books that captures some of the reasons that I read. 

Books bring me joy. 

Plastic dinosaurs wreak havoc throughout a classroom. 

How-to text, each page features a different scene throughout the school year. 
Considering using this one as a mentor text with third or fourth graders for our first writing/creating project the first day of school. 

Kate and Jim McMullan

Kate and Jim McMullan, the authors of I STINK, I'M DIRTY, I'M BRAVE 
(and lots more) are back with a story about a school bus.

Books help me understand myself. 

For anyone who has ever tried out the diving board or faced a fear.

Books teach me how to treat others.

A beautiful wordless picture book about two strangers that build a tree house and become friends. 

Emily Pearson

A girl's small kindness creates a chain reaction in the world around her. 
I thought this was brand new, evidently it's a re-release of a book originally published about 15 years ago. Pair this with EACH KINDNESS

Books help me understand other perspectives. 

Perfect to think about perspective or introduce a unit on persuasive writing. 

Lane Smith

Short and funny, but also a terrific message about the impact our actions have on those around us. 

Books are a window into other times and places.

An Italian child is forced to leave a much loved sculpture and immigrate to New York when his family's safety is threatened by World War II. Be sure to read the author's note. 

Francesca Sanna

I'll be using this book with our middle schoolers, who begin the year with a unit on immigration.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017



A horrible screeching sound against the driver's side door.

What could I have hit?

I quickly stop the car in the narrow downtown parking lot. I have to push against the driver's side door to open it. Once open, I see the pole. Short. Bright yellow. Designed to keep people like me, I guess, from turning the narrow corner too tightly.

And boy, did it ever work. The evidence is clear on my car door.

This happened in May. Three months ago. I was racing downtown to attend a meeting for my boss. The meeting was at 9:30, a hard time to find a spot to park in downtown Denver, so I was trying to pull into a small lot about four blocks of my meeting. There was a short post, right when I turned the corner into the lot, not quite tall enough to be visible over the car window, and somehow I didn't see it. And I scraped against it, and dented up the whole drivers door.

And so all summer, people have been asking me what I did to my car. And it's kind of embarrassing to have to keep telling them how stupid I am.

Around July 1st, I went and got an estimate. $2500. $2500 for a moment's stupidity. I made an appointment on the first available week, which was August 14th.

And now I'm trying to decide whether I should keep the appointment.

This has been an expensive summer. $2000 to get a big tree trimmed back. Another $2000 into one son's car. $476 into the other son's car. I really don't have $2500 more.

The car still works fine. After the first day, when the door was a little hard to open, I don't notice any difference in the way the car drives. I could probably live without the repairs.

At the same time, it's so ugly. And people keep asking me what I did to the car. And it's embarrassing to have to tell them what really happened. And every time I look at the car, I remember how stupid I was.

But even so, $2500 is a lot of money.

A whole lot of money for one moment of stupidity.

Friday, July 28, 2017


I had the incredible opportunity of working with Donald Graves during my graduate level courses. Don probably taught me more about teaching and living than anyone before or since, he's definitely one of my most important teachers and mentors. Don loved poetry, and wrote and shared it pretty much every time we were together. One of the first poems he ever shared is still one of my favorite poems of all times. At this time of year, when I am thinking about going back to school, and wanting to provide teachers and kids with authentic, joyful, life-changing literacy experiences, it seems especially relevant. 

Greek Amphora, Photo by Sharon Mollerus, found on Wikimedia Commons

To be of use
The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half-submerged balls.

I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.

I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.

The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.

Marge Piercy, "To be of use" from Circles on the Water. Copyright © 1982 by Marge Piercy. Used by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved

Linda Mitchell is hosting Poetry Friday today. She has a terrific first line swap writing activity, I'm dying to try it, but it will have to be after work today

Friday, July 21, 2017


Sunset in Denver, Wednesday Night

We start a new school year on Monday. My school is undergoing lots of changes- interim principal, new leadership structures, several new teachers, or teachers in new grade levels- and I'm feeling more than a little anxious about what my role will be. And the neighborhood around my school, which is not far from downtown, is gentrifying rapidly, which means the population I have always served is being pushed out, and people who can afford $800,000 homes (and don't have school-aged children) are moving in. I worry about our enrollment and whether I will even have a job. I'm trying hard to breathe and be still and trust that things will work out the way they are supposed to work out…
Inside this new love, die.
Your way begins on the other side.
Become the sky.
Take an axe to the prison wall.
Walk out like somebody suddenly born into color.
Do it now.
You’re covered with thick cloud.
Slide out the side.
and be quiet. Quietness is the surest sign
that you’ve died.
Your old life was a frantic running
from silence.
The speechless full moon
comes out now.
– Jelaluddin Rumi
Kari, a middle school language arts teacher from Wisconsin, is hosting the Poetry Friday Roundup  at The Logonauts this week. I went over to get the link and found a new poetry book I HAVE to own! BRAVO: POEMS ABOUT AMAZING HISPANICS by Margarita Engle sounds like it would be a perfect addition to my dual language school's library.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017


Sometimes a book just hits a little too close to home. That's what's happened to me this week. I've been reading THE HATE U GIVE by Angie Thomas. If you follow adolescent literature at all, you probably know that the book has gotten all kinds of accolades. Some people even think it will win the Newbery. I think it could. It's really well-written. And I had a really hard time reading it.

THE HATE U GIVE is the story of Starr, a 16-year-old African American girl, who lives with her family in her rough neighborhood. Her father owns a grocery store, her mother is a nurse, and somehow they have arranged for Starr to attend an exclusive, mostly white school in a much more affluent part of town. Starr is basically two different people living in one body. By day, she takes on the persona of her upper class Anglo friends, and at night she returns to her family and neighborhood.

The wall has built between her two worlds comes crashing down one night when Starr is at a party in her neighborhood. She runs into Khalil, who is one of her closest friends, but but who she hasn't seen in a long time. When shots are fired, Khalil and Starr escape to his car. The car is pulled over, and somehow, even though he has done absolutely nothing wrong, Khalil is shot and killed by the police. Starr is the only witness, and throughout the rest of the book, the reader follows her as she gives a statement to police detectives, appears on television and testifies before the grand jury.

The book is riveting, and I had a really hard time getting through it.

To some degree, that book is about my life, as the mother of two African American sons. No, I don't live in that rough a neighborhood. And no, I didn't send my boys to an affluent white prep school. But Starr's friend, Khalil, could easily be my boys, laying dead in the middle of the street. And because of that, I am terrified every single time those six-foot chocolate-skinned bodies walk out of the house.

I hate it most at night. Often the boys are doing something totally innocent, just running to the grocery store or to see a cousin that lives nearby.  Even so, I imagine the scenario- the police pulling them over, my sons being nervous and making a misstep, the police unnerved by my sons' size and physique, a gun fired, a bleeding body, the dreaded phone call.

Yep. I would really rather they just stayed at home. All the time. Where I know they are safe.

And yet I know I can't be like that. They are almost grown men. They need to be free. And so I try to act casual. Look up from my computer. Ask where they are going. When they will be home. Remind them to be careful. Drive safely. No pot or alcohol in the car. Tell them I love them.

Then I spend the next hour or two or five worrying about where they might be and whether they are safe. If it they are gone too long, or it gets too late, and they aren't home, we have a deal. I text, "Are you safe?" and they have to respond, even just by texting back "Yes," within five minutes. They don't have to tell me where they are, but they have to respond, so I know they are ok.

And I talk to them, over and over again, about how to behave if they are pulled over by the police. Hands on the wheel. No sudden moves. Tell the policeman what you are doing, "I need to get my registration, sir. It's in my glove compartment." Don't get out of the car unless the police tell you to do that. If they do, move slowly. Follow their directions. Don't give anyone any lip.  I hope my boys are prepared in the event that they do get themselves into a tough situation.

And still I am terrified every time they go out of the house. Sometimes a book just hits a little too close to home.