Wednesday, December 31, 2008



are supposed to be posted 
January 1, 2009.
I was on the panel for the Intermediate Grade/YA Nonfiction.
The books we chose are EXCEPTIONAL!
I can't wait to see what everyone else chose!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008


I am a hip and with-it gal! And in case anyone ever doubted that, I've joined TWITTER. I don't quite totally understand it yet, and given that I am one of the only people in America that does not quite have the hang of text messaging, I have my doubts about whether I can actually do it, but some of my online  friends have assured me that we will figure it out together. 

All joking aside, I have long believed that teachers (and probably everyone else) need to learn one new thing each year. I also believe that we as teachers, especially as veteran (not to be confused with old) teachers, need to understand that our students don't learn in the same ways that we did when we were in school, or when we started teaching. I will ALWAYS love books, but I also need to be open to learning how to use technology as a part of my teaching. 

Getting my blog up and running was my challenge for this year. I've posted 90 times, learned how to add graphics and links, served as a CYBILS panelist for intermediate and YA nonfiction, and maybe most importantly, made some great new online friends. I plan to continue my blog in 2009. I also want to develop a website, do more with digital photography (maybe even get my own camera, instead of borrowing my son's all the time!), and now, my latest, learn to twitter. 

If you want to read about some teachers who are several months into TWITTER, check out Franki and Mary Lee's blog.

If you want to follow my tremendously exciting life, my twitter name is carwilc (it's the same as my AOL name, because I can't remember too many things at one time, and K's basketball team is participating in three leagues in January and February, which has just about maxed out my memory card!)

If you are one of the three people that read my blog, I would love to follow you, so email me with your twitter name.

If you want to be hip and with it and start your own twitter account, go here.

Monday, December 29, 2008


When I was in high school, and then again in college, I took chemistry. Now, many years later, I remember only a few things. My high school chemistry teacher was very young and very handsome. My friends and I spent much of our class time admiring his muscles. My college chemistry professor, a world renowned chemist, spoke heavily accented English. I had a hard time understanding what he was saying, let alone grasping the concepts of chemistry. 

If AMAZING KITCHEN CHEMISTRY PROJECTS had been around when I was in school, I would have found chemistry a whole lot more interesting, and I would have understood it a whole lot better.  The book is divided into ten chapters, each focusing on a different aspect of chemistry, e.g. atoms and molecules, acids and bases, and the states of matter. Each chapter begins with an introduction and a glossary of 5-10 words kids need to know. There are also several interesting stories from the world of science. In the chapter on SOLIDS, for example, kids learn about the world's longest running science experiment (it's about whether a solid can actually become a liquid, and has been going on at the University of Queensland since 1927). They also learn about a hotel built entirely out of salt (it's in Bolivia) and about the salt marches of India.

Maybe most importantly, each chapter contains 3-5 really cool experiments that kids can actually do with stuff that most people have, and with a minimum of adult supervision. In the SOLIDS chapter, kids can make two different kinds of crystals, rock candy, and build candy-glass houses. Each experiment is followed by a section called "What's Happening?" where the author explains the scientific concepts related to the experiment. 

As I write this post, we are about halfway through Christmas vacation. We've baked, played cards, and watched movies. The boys have experimented with their phones and played video games. No one has said anything, but I think they are starting to get a little bored. I can't wait until they get up this morning. We are going to do some chemistry!

Sunday, December 28, 2008


Two or three years ago, one of my sons (who shall remain nameless on the grounds that this story might incriminate him)  had to do a science fair project. Evidently, the teacher presented a list of possible topics. Said son selected "Black Holes," which the teacher later described as one of the most difficult projects. His assignment (his mother's assignment???) was to find a minimum of five objects successively smaller in size but weighing more than the previous object. I don't remember exactly what objects we ended up using, but I do remember numerous trips to a variety of stores. I also remember trying to fill black balloons with flour, although I can't quite remember why we did that (perhaps some things are better forgotten).

Boy, do I wish I had had SCIENCE ON THE LOOSE when we were trying to do that project. This book includes approximately 50 science experiments on any number of topics, including animals, atmosphere, atoms, black holes, chemistry, cloning, density, electricity, energy, friction, genetics, the human body, lights, mass, planetary orbits, plants, robotics, stars, states of matter, time, viscosity, and weather. The materials necessary for these experiments, are, for the most part, things most of us have in our kitchen or bathroom cupboards. The directions are clear and concise. They are things kids could actually do by themselves or with friends. Most experiments are accompanied by a a detailed, but kid-friendly explanation.

In addition to all of the experiments,  SCIENCE ON THE LOOSE also contains lots and lots of interesting, science-related information. Readers learn about topics like dominant and recessive genes, Pavlovian reflexes,  methane gas emissions, and whether pickles actually contain electricity. Information is presented in a voice that's friendly, and interesting, and understandable. 

SCIENCE ON THE LOOSE in two words or less- fun and fascinating!

Saturday, December 27, 2008


Do you remember high school? How you worried that no one else had those weird zits on their back? When you were desperate for the perfect tan? Or when you were sure that everyone else's parts were absolutely symmetrical, but yours were not? BODY DRAMA is a book that I wish I had had back then. Author Nancy Amanda Redd is a Harvard graduate. She is also the winner of the Miss America Swimsuit Contest. 

BODY DRAMA is divided into five separate sections- Shape, Skin, Boobs, Hair and Nails, and 'Down There.' Each section is further divided into about ten "dramas." In the "Skin" section, for example, the dramas include "My Face is a Zit Factory," as well as "I'm Addicted to Tanning," and "My Thighs Look Like Cottage Cheese." There are "How To's" e.g. "How to Give Yourself a Facial" and "How to Find the Perfect Piercer." There are tons and tons of other features, e.g. short articles about  detecting skin cancer and recognizing the differences between cold sores and herpes. And that's only the "Skin" section…other sections address things like perspiration, gastrointestinal issues, and STD's. BODY DRAMA also contains many, many pictures of "real" teenage girls, with normal shaped bodies. 

This is a book I wish I had had when I was in high school and college. It's a book I want to give to all of the high school and college girls I know. Redd addresses a myriad of really personal issues, but she does it in a way that's natural and friendly and helpful. She helps teenage girls realize that all of their health concerns are perfectly normal, and that they are not alone. She helps young women know "what to do when…" and when to consult their doctors. She provides lists of websites and organizations that young women might need. 

Interestingly, BODY DRAMA is a book I also enjoyed sharing with my teenage boys. I especially liked showing  them the sections that compared normal photographs of teenage girls with the same "Photo-shopped" or computer enhanced photos. 

Now if only there was a BODY DRAMA  for boys…

DISCLAIMER: This is a tremendous resource for teenage girls. I plan to order a copy for the young women in my life. It contains lots of graphic (and really helpful) photographs, however, and is not a book that I would have in an elementary school library. 

Friday, December 26, 2008


Today I'm celebrating Pat Mora, one of my favorite Hispanic authors and poets. Pat is probably best known for TOMAS AND THE LIBRARY LADY (Sorry- I'm leaving out the accent on Tomas only because I'm on my mom's PC instead of my Apple computer and I don't know how to do accent marks- I will fix it when I get back to Denver and my own computer tomorrow). About a year ago, Pat released YUM! MMMM! QUE RICO!, a collection of haiku about foods indigenious to the Americas. Here's a sample:

Smear nutty butter,
then jelly. Gooey party,
my sandwich and me.

Hoping you get to spend this Friday after Christmas with yummy leftovers, time with family and friends, and good books!

Saturday, December 20, 2008


In 2006, astronomers surprised the world with the announcement that Pluto had been reclassified. The ninth planet was no longer a planet, instead it was a dwarf planet. As a person who has spent her entire life living on one of NINE planets, this was more than a little troubling to me. No more!

David Aguilar's 11 PLANETS: A NEW VIEW OF THE SOLAR SYSTEM  presents a whole new framework for understanding our universe. The planets are broken into three groups- terrestrial (Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars), gas giants (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune), and then the dwarf planets (Ceres, Pluto, and Eris). Aguilar devotes a two-page spread to each of the eleven planets. The left page is a full color painting. The right page contains the text, another picture or labeled diagram, and a small captioned picture about the origin of the planet's name. Additional two-page spreads explain other extraterrestrial bodies such as moons, meteorites, and comets. 

David Aguilar is the Director of Science Information at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.  His voice in his book is knowledgeable, but it's also very kid- friendly, e.g. "Unlike any other planet in our solar system, Uranus has a 98-degree tilt to its axis. Scientists think that really early in its history, it was hit by something really big that knocked it completely over on its side."

Aguilar's space artwork has been exhibited in galleries nationwide, and I can see why. The artwork in this book is breathtaking; careful captions also make it a terrific teaching tool, e.g. "An ice sheet on Jupiter's moon Europa is a perfect viewing place. From here, we can see the Giant Red spot- a hurricane that has raged for hundreds of years. Astronomers believe a vast ocean is hidden beneath Europa's ice."

One of my favorite parts of this book was an appendix entitled "The Solar System in a Bag." This section lists common household objects, e.g. a large yellow grapefruit- the sun, a box of salt- one small  grain is Mercury, a box of raw brown sugar- one grain is Earth, a cherry tomato (Jupiter) and three rolls of gauze (tied end to end these are the length of the tail of the Great Comet of 1843. You'd need a really big space (Eris is 10 football fields away from the Sun) but this would be so much fun to try with kids!

A great new "space read!" I could see myself sharing this with kids from ages 5 to 105!

Friday, December 19, 2008


I've spent the last three weeks writing poetry with fifth graders. Today I honor a few of the terrific ten-year-old poets (I'd love to honor all 50, but I think the post would get too long!) in my life…

"Christmas Wish"
I'd like 
and my mom
to stay home
if it doesn't snow.
If it snows
she goes to work.
I pray
every day
until Christmas
for no snow.
That's my Christmas wish.
K. B.*

* KB's mom works at the airport. If it snows, even on  Christmas Day, and even though she is a single mom, she gets called into work. 

Ice sits
on the 
cold hard
as children
run and slip
on its hard
shell, and 
it giggles
as they
hit the
cold cement.
"Baby Brother"
My brother
A dripping sink
Always dripping
I can't wait
for the day to come
When my brother
stops drooling.
Bounce, bounce,
Bounce the ball,
Next run down,
first with right,
then with left.
Kinda hard,
but I know,
I can make it.
What's next?
Bounce passing.
First bounce pass.
Then chest pass,
then just wait,
aim at the chest
to my partner.
Another test,
all right, from
to middle
to side.
Over, phew!
Next day
check the paper
to see who made the basketball tryouts,
look for my name,
there it is.
All right
made the basketball team
with my good friend

Thursday, December 18, 2008


Publisher: Mathew Price Limited
Copyright: 2008
Review copy provided by publisher

I know some people are done with their Christmas shopping. A few of us, however, are still working on it. Here's a really fun story for the youngest readers on your list. 

"One lucky day," a family goes on an outing. At the sweet shop (Mathew Price is a British publisher, who recently relocated to Denton,  Texas), the family sees a little green frog. They don't want him to get stepped on, so Daddy puts the frog in a jar. At the park, they see a lost kitten, and Daddy puts him in a shopping basket. At the pet shop, the family discovers a lonely canary, and Daddy puts him in a cage. When the family finds an elephant, Daddy finally puts his foot down…

This is a fun cumulative tale with  a repeating refrain. Perhaps the most fun, however, is the fact that ROOM FOR ONE MORE is a lift-the-flap book. Each time the family adds a new animal, there's a new flap. By the end of the book, the child gets to open five separate flaps. 

I know this is a book my youngest reading friends will absolutely love and will want to hear/read again and again.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


This week, my CYBILS reading has taken me from swords to pilots. While SWORDS and AMELIA EARHART: THE LEGEND OF THE LOST AVIATOR might not, at first, seem very similar, both books have a common thread. They're both really engaging because they are both about people brave enough to throw themselves wholeheartedly into their passions. In my mind, that always makes for interesting reading.

Amelia Earhart saw her first airplane in 1908 at the Iowa State Fair.  THE LOST LEGEND traces Earhart's life from childhood until she and her airplane vanished on a round-the-world flight in 1937. An epilogue explores possible outcomes of the Earhart mystery. Several themes, e.g. girls can do anything, follow your dreams, and don't be afraid to take risks, resonate throughout the book.

AMELIA EARHART is a really readable biography- simple enough for an average fourth or fifth grader, but also interesting enough to hold a middle schooler's attention. The body of the text is supplemented with occasional sidebar information on related topics, e.g. the history of flying, other women pilots, Earhart's fan mail. Visuals in AMELIA EARHART are also worth noting. The book contains a number of captioned photographs from Earhart's life. It includes an equal number of beautiful paintings by David Craig. 

A great book for a biography unit, or a unit on women pioneers (or actually any pioneers), or a kid who is interested in flying, or just because…

Sunday, December 14, 2008


I am not, in any way, an advocate of  violence. If I'm being honest, I have to tell you I cringed a little bit when I saw SWORDS: AN ARTIST'S DEVOTION on the CYBILS list. This book, though, is not in any way, shape, or form violent. or bloody, or gory, nor would it present any problems in a school library or classroom. It even got a review in PARENTS' magazine.

Ben Boos is a lifelong sword afficionado. In this book, he traces the history of swords through swordsmen  all over the world- raiders, knights, kings, ninjas, samurai, and others. Each chapter is about a different sword-bearing group. The chapter begins with a brief introduction (generally no more than two or three paragraphs) and is followed by three or four pages of some of the most incredibly detailed artwork I have ever seen in a children's book. The intro pages for each chapter are usually in color, then later pages in the chapter are a series of captioned diagrams which give tons and tons more information about this particular group's swords.

I could see using this book in a unit on medieval times.  I could see using this book in a lesson on how different nonfiction texts are structured. I could see using Boos' diagrams to teach students about creating diagrams.  I could see using the incredibly detailed drawing in art classes. Maybe most importantly, I could see using this book to engage kids in books- it sure caught my boys' attention last night!

Friday, December 12, 2008



Based on the United Nations Declaration for Kids
Foreword by Mary Robinson, Former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

National Geographic Society, (c) 2009
Review copy provided by the publisher

In 1948, just after World War II, members of the United Nations gathered to write the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Declaration identifies approximately 30 basic human rights, including dignity, safety, food, shelter, privacy, and freedom of expression, that should be the birthright of every human being. The declaration "isn't a law, and it isn't a treaty…it's a document, translated into over 330 languages, that calls on all of us to work as hard as we can to guarantee a world of freedom and peace."

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In honor of that anniversary, the Elders, a group of senior statesman from around the world, collaborated with National Geographic to create a beautiful new book. The starting point of the book was a writing contest, sponsored by the ePals community. Each participating teacher shared the Universal Declaration, written in kid friendly language, with his/her students. Students were then invited to write their responses. National Geographic, along with the Elders, selected sixteen of those responses to include in this beautiful new book. Here is a sample:

"Mother Earth to Her Children"

Listen, my children, listen to me
Each of you was born, crafted from earth
Bound to the land, sea, and sky
And from the moment you drew your first breath
You were free
Never to kneel before your brother
And call him master
For you were both crafted of the same earth.

Lauren Auer, age 18

Student responses were paired with one or two beautiful full-color photographs from around the world. Each two-page spread includes at least one of the basic human rights rights, e.g. "You have the right to a free and safe life," a corresponding student poem or response, and one or two photos. Each photograph is accompanied by a caption that provides information about human rights in that country. 

Several added bonuses: a foreword written by Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland and former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the full text of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and a list of websites and other resources for additional information. The first website readers will want to visit is, where they can sign the Declaration. 

This is a powerful and remarkable book. It is a book every child, and every adult who cares about kids, should own…


Thursday, December 11, 2008


An anthology created by 108 authors and illustrators 
and the National Children's Book Alliance, 
with an introduction by David McCullough

Imagine a list of some of the premier authors and illustrators from the world of children's literature- people like Eric Carle,Kate DiCamillo, Jean Craighead George, Steven Kellogg,Linda Sue Park,  Katherine Paterson, Jerry Pinkney, Jon Scieszka, David Small, Jerry Spinelli, Sara Stewart, Mark Teague, Jane Yolen, and Ed Young, to mention a few.  Now imagine that all of those people are invited to contribute a piece to an anthology. Then imagine that all of these contributions are centered around a building that has fascinated Americans for a little more than two hundred years. 

That description pretty much sums up OUR WHITE HOUSE: LOOKING IN, LOOKING OUT. It's a collection of short stories, articles, presidential letters and speeches, plays, poems, timelines, illustrations, and just about anything else you can conjure up. There's fact, there's fiction, there's silly, there's serious, there's beautiful art, and bawdy humor. And it's all centered around the White House. 

I especially enjoyed the illustrated timeline by Bob Kolar (do you know what president brought indoor plumbing, or the internet to the White House? Or which one got locked out while walking his dog one evening?) The "Four Freedoms" illustrations by Calef Brown, Peter Sis, Ed Young, and Steven Alcorn are unforgettable (and would make a terrific art project for kids studying American History). I laughed through Polly Horvath's short story, "White House Souvenir" and cried as I read Kate Di Camillo's "In Early April." I thought the mock Secret Service interview was fascinating (why would anyone ever apply for THAT job!?) and I can't wait to try out the readers' theater on suffrage. And I could certainly identify with Dwight D. Eisenhower's "Prayer for Peace."

This book has an interesting website. I'm planning on using the article on the National Christmas Tree next week. 

Sunday, December 7, 2008


This has been a crazy couple of weeks in my little corner of the world. I'm trying to balance the demands of a crazy-busy time at work, being a single mom to two very busy teenage boys, and an aging mom, who is experiencing some pretty significant health issues right now. I apologize, then, to anyone who reads my blog, and has been disappointed over the last couple of weeks--  I'm still reading through the enormous stack of middle grade and YA nonfiction, and will try to post a little more regularly as soon as I can!


I want my sons and the kids I teach to understand that heroes aren't necessarily people who ride in limousines, or  make lots of money, or have been gifted with athletic ability. Instead, I want them to understand that heroes are ordinary people who show extraordinary courage and character in the face of difficult situations. I've definitely found a new favorite today!

Varian Fry was an American journalist who travelled to Germany in 1935. While he was there, he witnessed a horrific riot, where Germans dragged Jews out of their workplaces and cars and beat them mercilessly, simply because they were Jews. 

In 1940, Fry became a member of the newly formed Emergency Rescue Committee (ERC), a group formed to help rescue trapped artists and intellectuals, including artists (e.g. Marc Chagall), writers (novelist Heinrich Mann) and scientists, from the throes of the Nazi invasion in Europe. The organization asked for a volunteer to travel to Europe to do what they could to help rescue some of these people.  Fry left behind his career and his wife, and flew to Marseilles, France, with a list of names, and $3000 taped to his leg. He planned to stay approximately one month.

The mission proved much larger and more difficult (and dangerous) than people expected, and Varian Fry ended up staying a year, not leaving until he was forcibly removed. Fry and his committee, fed and cared for refuges, gathered needed paperwork, forged documents, hiked with people over the Pyrenees from France into Spain, arranged transportation to the United States or other countries. When it was over, Fry, and a small group he had assembled, had rescued approximately 2000 people from the hands of the Nazis. 

Varian Fry truly was an ordinary man who demonstrated extraordinary character and courage in the face of very difficult circumstances. I'd add this book to any middle or high school unit on the Holocaust or on heroes. It's an exceptional story!

Friday, November 28, 2008


May we be aware not of the things we lack, but of all that we have.
May we feel not the absence of those we love, 
but the presence of those who love us.
May we see not just the harshness of our world, 
but the gentleness of its mystery.
May we know not the cold of despair, but the warmth of hope rising.
May we speak not of our hurts and losses,
 but of our healings and blessings.
May we be with each other not in the shadows of the past, 
but in the light of the present.
May we bring to our table not judgment, resentment, or anger,
 but acceptance, compassion, and forgiveness.
May we remember to feed our spirit by living out of thankfulness.

Poetry Friday is at Under the Covers.


 Over the last few years, I've experimented with multigenre research reports. I've also begun working on integrating more technology into my teaching. I haven't done much with photo essays, but after reading OUR FARM: FOUR SEASONS WITH FIVE KIDS ON ONE FAMILY'S FARM and WHAT THE WORLD EATS (reviewed yesterday), I'm ready to give it a try. In OUR FARM, author Michael J. Rosen follows Dave and Becky Bennet and their five children- Caleb (17), Chase (15), Cayne (10), Grey (8), and Ali (4) through a year on their farm in rural Ohio. The family raises cattle, alfalfa, a small flock of chickens, and also has a vegetable garden. 

Rosen has divided the book into an introduction, then has a chapter on each of the four seasons. Each chapter begins with a "By the Numbers" page, which I found fascinating (did you know the average cow eats 25-35 pound of hay a day, but produces 65 pounds of manure? That is really right, it's not a typo!). The remainder of the chapter is a series of 1-4 page spreads on various topics related to the farm. Some are about the animals- the dogs, rabbits, cattle, turkeys, etc. Some are about the work on the farm, topics like birthing calves, corralling cows, baling hay, etc. Others are about the fun of living on a farm- building a treehouse, playing in the hayloft, swimming in the pond, etc. One of my favorites was a four-page spread with a picture and description of different kinds of farm machinery. Rosen typically begins each section with a brief introductory paragraph, then the rest is told by different members of the Bennett family, usually 3-5 speakers per section. The heart of the book, though, is the million color photographs which truly do capture life on a farm.

If I had any doubts before, OUR FARM has truly convinced me that a picture is worth a thousand words. I'm ready to try the genre of photo essays. Does anyone have any suggestions?

Thursday, November 27, 2008


Happy Thanksgiving! Today, all over the United States, people will sit down at loaded tables and gorge on turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberries, and pumpkin pie. We'll celebrate our blessings with family and friends. We'll take walks and watch football games. And that is how it should be. Even though, this has been a hard year for so, so many, there is still much that is good and right with the world…

This week, my sons and I have spent time looking at WHAT THE WORLD EATS, a book of photo essay of food from around the world. Peter Menzel and Faith D'Aluisio travelled to over twenty countries all over the globe- places like Bosnia, Chad, Ecuador, Greenland, France, Mexico, Mongolia, the Philippines, and the United States. In each country, they selected one or two families and spent time learning about what they eat and how they live. 

Each section in WHAT THE WORLD EATS is about one of these families. The section opens with a full page, color picture of the family, surrounded by a week's groceries (it's more than a little startling to learn that a family in a refuge camp in Chad spends $1.22 per week on food, while one of the American families spends $342). On the opposite page, there is a grocery list, broken down into the food groups. The chapter contains interview with the family- information about how/where they get food, how they prepare it, how they eat. There are also tons of full color photographs of families at grocery stores and street markets, preparing and cooking food, and eating.  Fact boxes contain snippets of information about the country- population, amount spent on health care, amount of pop consumed. Most chapters also have a recipe. 

After every few chapters, the authors include a section called "Photo Gallery." These two page spreads, about topics such as kitchens, fast food, and street food, are  fascinating visual comparisons (the spit roasted guinea pig did gross me out a little!). These are followed by sections called "The Numbers," graphic displays of everything from life expectancy, to literacy rates, to amount of meat consumed, to number of McDonald's. I could teach an entire unit on graphs- line graphs, bar graphs, pictographs, etc., using the material in this book. They're outstanding!

I know it's cliche, but sometimes, a picture truly is worth a thousand words. That's definitely true of WHAT THE WORLD EATS. It's a book every library in the United States should own. I think it's become a new Thanksgiving tradition for our family…

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


Tony O'Brien is the head of the Documentary Studies program at the College of Santa Fe. Mike Sullivan is a bush pilot and photographer who spent years working with Jacques Costeau, and has done humanitarian and environmental work all over the world. These two men travelled to Afghanistan to interview children about their families, their histories, and their hopes for the future. Each two page spread contains a beautiful full color photograph of a child, taken either at school, home, or at the rug factory, or market, or bakery, or marketplace where they work. The opposing page tells the child's story. Here is the story of Nadira, an eleven-year-old carpetmaker:
I have been working on the carpets for six years. Because of the work, I don't go to school. I would like to go; my family would like me to be in school.
There are eight in our family, and four make the rugs. I don't know how much I make in a day; the money goes to the family. I start at five in the morning and finish at seven at night.

And here is Shaheen, a ten-year-old pick pocket who was interviewed at the Kabul police station:
There are six people in my family. My father died six years ago.
I was selling plastic boxes in the bazaar. A boy named Jamadeen came and said, "Work with me and you will make 1,000 or 1,500 afghani a day." He said, "Come and watch me. I will pick a pocket and you will see how much I earn in a second." He went and robbed someone and got 700 afghani…I started being a pick pocket with my friend twenty days ago. I've done it five times." He is then asked what he thinks will happen now that he has gotten caught, and he says he will go to jail.

These children appear to have had hard, hard lives. They speak of hunger, of having to leave their homes during times of fierce fighting, of family members killed by the Taliban. At the same time, most of these children also tell stories of hope. They talk about going to school, of the importance of education, of their hopes for peace in Aghanistan.

I cannot get these children's faces and stories out of my mind. If I had money, I would buy this book for every politician in Washington…

Sunday, November 23, 2008


In summer, 1979, Cylin Busby was nine years old, living with her parents and two older brothers on Cape Cod, Massachusetts when her life changed  in a matter of minutes. Cylin's father, John Busby, a policeman, was on his way to work when a car pulled up next to him and shot off the bottom half of his jaw. Busby managed to steer his car onto someone's lawn and stumble into their kitchen, where he came very close to bleeding to death.

THE YEAR WE DISAPPEARED is a memoir, told by Cylin Busby and her father John, in alternating chapters, of the terrible year following Busby's shooting. Busby is taken to Massachusetts General, where he spends the next few months unable to talk or to eat, recuperating. Perhaps even sadder, though, than what happens to Busby, is what happens to his family. The man who shoots Busby is a man with very close ties to the community and the police department. Because of these connections, the investigation is haphazard at best. No one is arrested, and the family spends the next year basically under house arrest, with round the clock police guards, a sniper on their roof, and a police dog chained up in their backyard. Ultimately, the family decide they must leave the area, and move to Tennessee.

This is not a book for the younger set, in fact, I don't think I'd use it much below seventh or eighth grade. It is, however, a great read for those inclined toward CSI type books and shows- I devoured it in one afternoon! 

Saturday, November 22, 2008


Maybe the best way to begin to talk about this book is to lift a quote from the back flap:

"During his many years spent writing American history textbooks, Steve Sheinkin filled fat files with all the amazing stories and surprising quotes that textbook editors would never let him use. Now he is finally using all that material to write history books that kids will actually want to read."

And that's exact what this book is- a history book that kids will actually want to read! Steve Sheinkin has taken all of these stories and quotes and turned them into a factual, fun chronicle of the American Revolution. I'm not sure quite how to describe Sheinkin's approach to talking about the war, other than to say that it's just fun to read. 

The book begins, for instance, with a chapter, "How to Start a Revolution." This chapter is broken into 13 steps, e.g. Step One: Kick Out the French; Step Two: Tax the Colonists; Step Three: Kill the Taxman.  

Sheinkin continues the STORY of the American Revolution using hundred and hundreds of stories- stories of the characters, the battles, the events. I loved learning, for instance, that the British marched toward Lexington and Concord for two purposes: 1) to destroy ammunition that the Patriots had stored there, and 2) to capture Patriot troublemakers Sam Adams and John Hancock, who were holed up with Hancock's fiance Dorothy, were holed up at the house of Reverend Jonas Clark in Lexington. When Paul Revere arrived, Hancock and Adams spent the night arguing about whether they should join the battle (Hancock's choice) or flee (Adams' desire). They finally decided to leave, but not before Hancock had instructed Dorothy to meet him in Woburn later that day, and to bring the salmon that they had planned for lunch. 

Kids (and adults) who read this book will truly understand the American Revolution, because the will understand the hearts of major and minor players. They will know, for instance, why Benedict Arnold turned traitor. They'll feel new sympathy for the British soldiers (many of whom were seventeen and eighteen-year-olds who became soldiers simply because they had no other means of supporting themselves). They'll be present at the Fraunces Tavern in New York City, where George Washington had the final meeting with his generals at the end of the war. Washington gives a toast, then invites each of the generals to shake his hand. General Henry Knox, the closest, steps forward and takes Washington by the hand, then bursts into tears and grabs Washington in an enormous bear hug. "Then all of the other officers, tears streaming down their cheeks, line up to hug their commander."

At the end of the book, Sheinkin includes a section, "Whatever Happened To…," a series of short biographies of major characters after the war, as well as extensive notes about his research process and sources. The artwork, black line drawings done by  Tim Robinson, perfectly match the voice of the text. There are pictures of events and characters on almost every page. My favorites, though, are the labelled maps, that really help the reader understand the geography of a number of events throughout the war. 

This should be a must read for every American history teacher! 


My niece is a senior in high school. It's a high stress time, filled with AP classes, ACT's, and college applications, not to mention all of the typical high school friend drama, relationship drama, etc. The next time I see her, then, I'm going to pass along CHILL: STRESS-REDUCING TECHNIQUES FOR A MORE PEACEFUL, BALANCED YOU, my latest CYBILS read. CHILL is a self-help book for teenage girls. The book begins with an introduction to stress, and is then divided into four sections, each addressing different aspects of stress. TAKING ACTION, about some of the sources of stress, has chapters on time management, organization, and saying no. LOOKING OUT addresses support systems and how to gain perspective. LOOKING IN is about things teens can do to help themselves. There's a chapter on journalling :). I also learned about DIY (Describe the event, identify the thoughts, identify the emotions), which I think would be great to teach to my elementary students. Finally, there is a section on GETTING PHYSICAL, with ideas for exercise and nutrition. 

Deborah Reber seems like she knows teenage girls really well. She writes in voice that is friendly and matter of fact. She has interviewed lots and lots of teenagers, and includes their strategies for dealing with various issues. Each chapter contains space for writing and thinking, quizzes, bulleted lists, advice column type letters, and affirmations (I wrote down the ones on organization for myself!) Each chapter is followed by a "time-out" a mini-chapter on a specific topic like the college admission process, friendship, or eating disorders.

This book would definitely make the rounds in a middle or high school classroom.

Friday, November 21, 2008


Books for Christmas campaign? I love it! Actually, though, I have had my own personal Books for Christmas campaign for many years. I also have Books for Birthdays, Books for Baby Showers, Books for Anniversaries, and Books Just for the Sake of Books.

Anyway, I know what book I'm giving people for Christmas this year. I'm giving AMAZING PEACE by Dr. Maya Angelou. When I came across it last week at Tattered Cover, I thought it was a new book. In researching a little more, however, I've discovered it was actually published three years ago, in 2005. Guess it's not a new book, then, instead it's just a "new to me" book.

AMAZING PEACE is a poem that Maya Angelou read at the White House Christmas Tree Lighting in 2005. It's not, however, a poem only for people who celebrate Christmas in the Christian sense.

We clap hands and welcome the Peace of Christmas.
We beckon this good season to wait a while with us.
We, Baptist and Buddhist, Methodist and Muslim, say come.
Come and fill our world with your majesty.
We, the Jew and the Jainist, the Catholic and the Confucian,
Implore you to stay awhile with us.
So we may learn by your shimmering light
How to look beyond complexion and see community…

Read the rest of the poem here.

The book comes with a CD of Maya Angelou reading the poem. That alone was enough to make me snatch it up immediately, but if I had any doubts, the illustrations, done by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher, would have further convinced me. 

Right now, in my world, in my country, in the lives of some people I love dearly, even in my own heart, peace seems very far away. This is the book I'm giving for Christmas…

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


Some books are so, so, so  beautiful that you could just look at them forever. That's how I feel about HORSE SONG: THE NAADAM OF MONGOLIA.  The illustrations are breathtaking.

In 2004,  Ted and Betsy Lewin journeyed to Mongolia to see the horse races of Naadam, a summer holiday. They landed at Ulaanbataar, then rode 800 miles in a minivan to a remote camp on the steppes in Southern Mongolia. The Lewins spent about a week living in a ger (a collapsible tent with a wooden frame and felt covering), eating curds and drinking airag (a fermented drink made from mare's milk). Most importantly, they chronicled the preparations and running of the horse races of the Nadaam, as seen through the eyes of Tamir, a nine-year-old jockey (who is actually a composite of several boys the Lewins met during their trip).

I love when a book takes me to a place I have never been and teaches me about a culture I might never have known. That is definitely true of HORSE SONG. And in this case, it's done, so, so, so beautifully…

Monday, November 17, 2008


About two weeks ago, I read an article about THE LEANIN' DOG, by K.A. Nuzum, a Colorado author. I'm buried in piles of CYBILS Intermediate/YA Nonfiction, but since it was a dog story, and since it was by a Colorado author, I made a mental note, and resolved that as soon as I had made it to December 31st, and had read all 59 of the CYBILS books, I absolutely had to get hold of this book. Then  last week I was at the TATTERED COVER, and there it was, THE LEANIN' DOG, just sitting there, calling my name. And of course I had to have it. And once I had it, of course I couldn't wait to read it. And boy, am I glad I did! This is one heckuva great read!!!!!!   SOOOOOOOOOO GOOD!!!! Definitely one of the best books I have read this year. 

Eleven-year-old Dessa Dean lives with her dad in a cabin high in the Colorado mountains. It is December, about a week before Christmas, and Dessa is grieving the loss of her mother, who froze to death about six weeks earlier, as Dessa sat next to her in the snow, begging her to get up. The trauma of the accident has caused Dessa to become an agoraphobic, and she has not left the house/front porch in over six weeks. 

One day, as Dessa studies, she hears a noise on the porch. She opens the door and finds a big brown dog with a gimpy leg. Dessa and the dog become friends, and the relationship becomes a place for the healing of Dessa's deep sadness.  

This is a story of grieving, friendship, and healing. A must read for any dog lover…

Friday, November 14, 2008

MODEL- Cheryl Diamond

 MODEL is the memoir of twenty-year-old super model Cheryl Diamond. At age fourteen, Cheryl Diamond moves to New York City to pursue a modeling career. By sixteen, she has "made it." She lives with her cat Tigger in a rundown apartment, going on casting calls, and doing photo shoots and runway shows every day. In her book, Diamond explores the inside workings of the modeling industry- politics/unscrupulous agents, makeup pencils in the eye, and the eating disorders that abound. She seems amazingly savvy for one so young, and somehow manages to stay away from the drinking, drugging, and sex stuff that surrounds her every day. Then her entire career is almost taken by one disastrous mistake. 

This very readable memoir is definitely a book for high school, or possibly mature middle school readers. Although it's far removed from any world I've ever experienced, I found it a really interesting read.


My dad was born in 1929. His entire life, he said very little, at least in words. When it came to actions though, he spoke so, so loudly. I've been missing him all day.

Robert Hayden

Sundays too my father got up early
and put on his clothes in the blueback cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

You can read the rest of the poem here.

Monday, November 10, 2008


Everywhere I go, experts are telling me that I need to teach kids to think like mathematicians, or think like scientists, or think like historians. In theory, I agree with them. In reality, however, I find this more than a little difficult. You see, I am not a mathematician, or a scientist, or a historian, and I don't know how they think. And it's a teeny bit hard to teach kids to do something I don't know how to do myself.  In AIN'T NOTHING BUT A MAN: MY QUEST TO FIND THE REAL JOHN HENRY, I think I have found an answer, at least to the history dilemma.

Author Scott Reynolds Nelson is a history professor at the University of William and Mary who specializes in railroads, and more specifically, railroads and railroad workers in the South. A previous book, STEEL DRIVING MAN: JOHN HENRY: THE UNTOLD STORY OF AN AMERICAN LEGEND, written for adults, won several awards, including an award for the best history book of 2006. I can see why.

AIN'T NOTHING BUT A MAN  is like a field trip into the mind of a historian. Nelson allows us to follow him as he puts together an enormous history puzzle-- who was John Henry? Listen to him at work:
"I didn't start out looking for John Henry. In fact, that search was part of a larger mystery I was trying to solve. But that is the way I work. I am a historian, and my work is an endless scavenger hunt. No matter what the assignment I am working on, I keep picking up clues and filing them away. I don't know when I will use those bits of information, but I keep them, and sometimes they come in handy…"

"The more you know about the past, the more questions you ask. Once you have a handle on what others have found, you can see the gaps, the spaces, the places that have not been covered. That is exactly what happened to me. Even before I thought about John Henry, I discovered that some 40,000 men, the largest railroad workforce in the South, were hardly mentioned. Why? I set out to learn more about those men. That was the mystery I was trying to solve."

"Once upon a time, historians were trained to spend all of their time poring over official documents and other writing left from the past. But more recently, they have realized that the past comes down to us in many ways. Some scholars study fashions, others food. Some sit in graveyards looking at the decorations on tombstones, and more and more historians pay attention to songs" (p. 16).

Nelson is one of those historians who is interested in songs. He uses songs about John Henry, a man who drills into rock (and who I always thought was a part of American folklore, kind of like Paul Bunyan) to learn more about the 40,000 African Americans who built and maintained railroads in the deep South in the 1800's. The reader hikes with Nelson into the hills of the back country of West Virginia, and sits in dusty university libraries, and examines old photographs and prison records, as Nelson painstakingly puts the pieces of the John Henry mystery together. It's a fascinating journey and one that I think kids would absolutely love. 

AINT NOTHING BUT A MAN is illustrated with old photographs, artwork, prison records, and other artifacts from Nelson's search. Each document is thoroughly labelled with a caption that is chock full of additional information. Text boxes give kids  background that enables them to more fully understand the text.

I loved this book! I can't wait to share it with kids!

Sunday, November 9, 2008


Did you know there is a COMMENT CHALLENGE going on this month? The goal is to read and comment on five kidlitosphere blogs for 21 days, starting November 6th. I only started today, so I'm a couple of days late, but at least I started. Read more about this at Mother Reader.


Some people might describe me as a little headstrong, but basically, I have always been a "good girl," one of those kids whose pretty much did what was expected. My worst sin, I think, was getting thrown out of second grade during a phonics lesson on short e (someone should have told me that short/long e were in no way connected to height, and that I was not supposed to tell the teacher I really didn't care to learn about short e because I already knew how to read). Nevertheless, throughout my school career, I was secretly fascinated by girls like Bernice R. who wore frosted lipstick and blue nail polish, and spent lunch recess making out with boys on the railroad tracks behind Washington Irving Junior High.

SEA QUEENS: WOMEN PIRATES AROUND THE WORLD tells the story of some "bad girls," a dozen or so pirate queens that sailed the high seas, beginning with the Greeks, and ending in the 1800's. The book begins with a short chapter on pirates (did you know that some pirates, called privateers, were actually paid by their countries to protect their ships, or raid the ships of other countries?), which is followed by a series of short-ish biographies of each of these "wild women?" The biographies are accompanied by text boxes which give additional information about the character , area, or time period. I found the text boxes as interesting as the biographies. 

I also loved looking at Yolen's notes and bibliography in the back of the book. The copyrights on the texts she used for research range from 1831-1995. In her notes, she talks about how she wrote another book about pirates thirty years ago, but many of the sources she used for this book were not available then. 

The illustrations in this book match the text perfectly. A beautiful navy blue cover (no book jacket) with a colored woodcut right in the center. Illustrations inside the book are simple, black and white woodcuttings, that perfectly augment the text. 

A fun read for the naughty and secretly naughty!


Saturday, November 8, 2008


I always wonder about writing books aimed at a child/teen audience because honestly, I just don't know that many kids that would read them. I know there ARE lots of kids who love to write, write of their own volition, dream of being writers one day…but I simply don't meet that many of those kids. Maybe one or two a year…

Even so, I keep  reading books in this genre. I like owning books about writing. I learn things that help ME as a writer. I hope that maybe I will meet a kid who would enjoy the book. SEIZE THE STORY, one of the CYBILS nominees, is my newest acquisition. 

SEIZE THE STORY is written by Colorado author, Victoria Hanley. The book is basically divided into two chunks- the first eleven chapters talk about various aspects of writing: developing character and setting, writing dialogue, conflict, showing and telling. Each chapter opens with several really nice quotes from famous authors, (e.g. "Better to write for your self and have no public, than to write for your public and have no self.,  Cyril Connolly). The chapters are broken into short, readable sections. Most sections end with an actual writing "exercise" to try. I have been using the chapter on "Showing, Not Telling," as mini-lessons in a fourth grade classroom this week, and have gotten some really nice stuff from kids. The chapter on conflict taught me some things I can use in my own writing.

I absolutely loved the extensive collection of author interviews. Hanley talked to a list of fifteen fabulous YA authors- people like T.A. Barron, Carolyn Bauer, Chris Crutcher, David Lubar, Laura Resau, and Todd Mitchell (many of these are from Colorado!). She asked them questions like:
  • What is the easiest part of writing?
  • What is the hardest part of writing?
  • What advice do you have for teens who want to be writers?
These 2-3 page interviews would be fun to share with a class as part of an author study, or to include in a author notebook, or to share as writing mini-lessons! Hanley also includes a chapter of questions people have asked her-- How long does it take to write a book? What about symbolism? What kinds of things did people do to encourage/discourage you as a writer when you were growing up? This chapter also gave me lots of things to think about.

Thank you, Victoria Hanley, for sharing your expertise! The next time I meet a teen who loves to write, I will definitely share this book with them, In the meantime, old lady teachers and elementary kids can learn a lot from you! 

Friday, November 7, 2008


This victory 

is not 
the change
we seek.

It is only
the chance

for us 

to make 
that change.

And that
cannot happen

if we
go back
to the way
things were.

It cannot happen
without you

 a new spirit
of service
a new spirit
of sacrifice

So let us summon
a new spirit
of patriotism

of responsibility

where each of us

to pitch in
and work harder

and look after
not only ourselves

but each other.

Barack Obama
Chicago, November 4, 2008


Tuesday, November 4, 2008


I woke up really early this morning, hours before the polls opened anywhere. I laid there thinking that today truly is a historic day. After work today, I will go and stand in line to vote, probably for hours. And when it's over, either an African American man will be elected President, or a woman will be elected vice president. Either way, it will be a first for our nation.

I feel strongly about my candidate. At the same time, I keep thinking that tonight, one candidate who truly loves his country, and has worked very, very hard, and has poured his heart and soul into this election, will be very, very disappointed. I know that it isn't the thing I'm supposed to be saying, but whether or not I agree with him politically,  I ache for that person… 

Saturday, November 1, 2008



GREAT PEACEMAKERS is a collection of twenty 6-8 page biographies of great peacemakers from around the world. The book is divided into five sections: Choosing Nonviolence, Living Peace, Honoring Diversity, Valuing All Life, and Caring for the Planet. It contains biographies of some people you would expect to see, e.g. Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Teresa, Desmond Tutu, Albert Schweitzer, and Rachel Carson. It also contains biographies, however, of people I had never heard of, or at least had never heard of in this context:
  • Astrid Lindgren- author of the much-loved PIPPI LONGSTOCKING, but also a children's and animal rights activist
  • Anderson Sá- founder of a band and musical movement that has gotten Brazilian kids out of street gangs and into music and the arts
  • Colman McCarthy- a former Washington Post journalist who has taught courses in peace making to more than 6,000 prison inmates, and high school and university students
  • Bruno Hussar- a Catholic priest who created a village on a hilltop between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, where Jews and Arabs live, learn, and work together
Each biography starts with a large black and white photo, and a brief summary of the peacemaker's accomplishments. Each chapter ends with a page of four or five quotes from the peacemaker. There is also a website (

There is much to love about this book. I love that readers are exposed to such a wide range of peacemakers-- male and female, old and young, rich and poor, from all over the world. I love that this book might provoke kids into considering their own lives in light of the greater good. I love that the biographies are short enough that you could pick the book up and expose kids to an amazing individual in fifteen minutes (or less). 

If I had one wish for this book, it would have to do with formatting. The book is just not as visually appealing as it could be. Everything inside the book is black and white, there is absolutely no color. There are no subtitles, or pull quotes, or anything else to break up the pages and make them more visually appealing. The margins are narrow, and the print goes to within a half an inch of the edge of each page. If there are sequels, and I definitely think there should be, I'd love to see the authors and publishers work a little on the formatting of the book. 

Friday, October 31, 2008



Black and gold,
Black and gold,
Nothing in between
When the world turns
Black and gold,
You know it's Halloween! 



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 elment,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half submerged balls.

The rest of the poem is here.