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!