Monday, April 27, 2009


Review copy provided by LEE AND LOW BOOKS

On her website, Jan Reynolds describes herself as "a writer and photographer who just can’t get far enough away from it all." She says her favorite thing is "to escape to an extreme environment, and hang with the locals to learn about their culture and their point of view. And if she gets a chance to ski and climb, she’s really happy." Reynolds' adventures have taken her, among other places, across the Sahara on a camel, to the top of Mount Everest, and cross country skiing in the Atlas Mountains of North Africa.

Like many of us (ok, many of us old folks), Jan cut her reading teeth on Dick, Jane, and Sally. As a children's author, however, she wants to write books that present children with rich content about a variety of cultures. She wants her readers to understand that although we come from very different places, we are more alike than different, e.g. though people may eat and drink different things, we all eat and drink. "The sooner we can capture a young mind and show them the breadth of culture in the world," says Reynolds, "the more acceptance they will have and better they will work with other  people." In her VANISHING CULTURE series, Reynolds has used the genre of photo essays to take her young readers to places like Mongolia, the Sahara, and Nepal. 

In addition to being a world traveler and adventurer, Reynolds is also an environmentalist. About ten years ago, she decided she wanted to write a book about sustainability in a way that children would understand. Another children's author, Molly Bang, suggested that rice farming might be an example that children would understand.  Jan Reynolds discusses the issue of sustainability in an interview here.

Reynolds did some research and found that one of the best examples of sustainability had occurred on the small Indonesian island of Bali, where farmers have been growing rice for more than ONE THOUSAND years. Reynolds spent approximately three months on the island, and her photo essay captures the intricacy of this system which begins with a deep gratitude to Dewi Demu, the goddess of water. The Balinese have built a complex irrigation system, which provides freshwater to every single part of the island. Balinese farmers use ducks for fertilization and natural pest control.  Children will especially enjoy footage of the ducks on these three videos about rice farming in Bali. In the back of the book, they will find additional resources, including a map , a glossary, and a list of interesting websites. The author's website has many helpful links, including the duck videos, and also study guides for use with different books. I learned today, via email, that Reynolds is currently at work on a book about how the Masai are changing the herding patterns of their goats and cows to preserve their land.

There is much to love about this book. CYCLE OF RICE, CYCLE OF LIFE approaches sustainability in a way that is easy for children as young as first or second grade to understand. Second, I love the theme of reverence for the Earth and of being grateful for water. Finally, and maybe most importantly, I love the theme of cooperation and caring for one another.  The Balinese farmers get together at the beginning of the growing season, and decide exactly how they will let the water out into the fields. The farmers who live higher on the mountain are responsible for allowing the water to run down stream to their neighbors. If they don't use the water responsibly, it impacts the farmers below them. Somehow that seems an apt metaphor for what goes on in America every day…

April 22- Paper Tigers
April 23- A Wrung Sponge
April 27- Carol's Corner
April 30- Lori Calabrese Writes
May 5- Write for a Reader
May 8- Into the Wardrobe
May 14- Bees Knees Reads

Saturday, April 25, 2009


Teachers at my school have focused on writing this year, and our hard work is beginning to show. Students are demonstrating more focus, specificity, and voice. They are still struggling however, with conventions and spelling. I attended a district work session on writing earlier this week, and it appears that students all over our district are having difficulties in this area. 

I believe conventions are important. Kids need to understand that writing is about expressing ideas clearly and conventionally. They need to know that writers worry about getting their thoughts down on paper, but then about cleaning them up so that others can read their writing easily. They need to understand that people judge you based on your spelling, punctuation, and grammar. When I talk to kids about conventions, I generally refer to them in terms of how conventions impact the reader. We talk a lot about conventions as "using your writers' manners."

Yesterday, I came across a really fun series for helping kids understand/remember conventions and parts of speech. The WORD FUN series, published by PICTURE WINDOW BOOKS, has books on many grammar related topics:
  • DIFFERENT KINDS OF WORDS- contraction, compound word, homonym, synonym, antonym
  • PUNCTUATION MARK- period, question mark, exclamation mark, comma, quotation marks, apostrophe
  • PARTS OF SPEECH- noun, verb, adjective, adverb, conjunction, preposition, pronoun, interjection
  • MISCELLANEOUS- prefix, suffix, palindrome, onomatopeia, alliteration
All of the books are titled, IF YOU WERE A…. 

I bought two- IF YOU WERE A QUESTION MARK and IF YOU WERE A SUFFIX. Each of these books appears to have kind of a "dual text" format. The pictures, done in collage, tell a story. IF YOU WERE A QUESTION MARK, for instance, is about a skunk, dog, duck, koala, and an owl who are having a birthday party. The dog, Sophie, discovers that her strawberry cupcake is missing and they have to call a detective. The animals ask lots of questions, e.g.:
  • Who could help us solve this mystery?
  • Are you worried the thief will steal your cupcake too?
  • Sam only likes chocolate?
  • Is that strawberry frosting on Jasper's nose?
The animals' questions are kind of embedded in the illustrations.

There is a whole other text, however, done in a different font, that teaches kids some of the rules about the function and uses of question marks, e.g. here are the ones that match the questions listed above:
  • If you were a question mark, you would replace a period at the end of a sentence that asks a question.
  • If you were a question mark, you could ask how people are feeling.
  • If you were a question mark, you could make it clear that a statement is really asking for information. 
  • If you were a question mark, you could ask the really important questions. 
IF YOU WERE A SUFFIX addresses the meaning of different suffixes, e.g. -ing, -ed, -er, -est, -ed, -ful, -less. The story line in this book is not quite as clever; each picture stands alone, instead of telling a connected story. Even so, I think kids will love the collage illustrations, and might even want to make some of their own. 

I believe that kids need information presented in lots of different ways. Sometimes, they need explicit information about the rules of using a particular convention. Other times, they need to see a teacher or student modeling how the convention is used in his/her own writing. Sometimes, it's helpful to look at the convention in the context of a much loved mentor text. And still other times, books like, IF YOU WERE A… velcro the information into children's heads. This series gives me one more tool I can use to help my students become better writers…

Friday, April 24, 2009


From the mom of two frog princes…

I am a single mom to two teenage boys. They are really good guys and I adore being their mom. At the same time, growing up is hard, hard work, and being a mom is hard, hard work, and lots of weeks are just plain hard for all three of us. I need to post this poem in about a hundred places in my house, so I remember it…

How to Change a Frog Into a Prince
by Anna Denise

Start with the underwear. Sit him down. 
Hopping one one leg may stir unpleasant memories.
If he gets his tights on, even backwards, praise him.
Fingers, formerly webbed, struggle over buttons.
Arms and legs, lengthened out of proportion, wait, 
as you do, for the rest of him to catch up. 

The rest of the poem is here.

POETRY FRIDAY is at Lisa Chellman's Under the Covers

Monday, April 20, 2009


AUTHOR: Ellie Bethel
ILLUSTRATOR:  Alexandra Colombo
Review copy provided by publisher

Earth Day is Wednesday. The teachers and kids at my school are making big plans to pick up trash, plant flowers, and beautify our school grounds. And me? Well, I'm sure I will be out helping with the cleanup, but I've got other plans too. I've got a fun new read aloud and I'm looking forward to sharing it. Just listen to the first page…

In a beautiful valley,
in the shade of a hill
was a clean little town,
that was full of goodwill.

But the quaint little town
had a problem to face
for on top of the hill
stood a mountain of waste!

And who was
the culprit?
Who was the thug?
It was lonely and lazy boned…


Doug is a complete and total slob. He and his two tabby cats, along with one hundred rats, live at the top of an enormous and stinky pile of trash. Doug is  perfectly content with his life until the day he meets the famous green-caped crusader, Michael Recycle…

I know kids are going to love the sing-songy HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS rhyme style of this book. I also think they will love the detailed, cartoonish illustrations, which are kind of a cross between MEAN JEAN, THE RECESS QUEEN and a sophisticated version of the  RUGRATS. The book also has a couple of really interesting appendixes- one full of fascinating statistics about trash (did you know that in 2007 the average American threw away five pounds of trash per day, or 1600 pounds over the course of the year?) There is another appendix about how kids can recycle. 

Happy Earth Day!

Friday, April 17, 2009


I decided to try Tricia's poetry writing challenge this week…


I am a 
first year teacher.
We get one 
field trip
a year.

Principal and colleagues
give me advice.

If you do it right
they say,
you can
do the museum
in the morning
have lunch 
at City Park
then take in an
IMAX show
in the afternoon. 

I am all about 
doing it right.

That day
my six-year-olds,
marvel over
enormous dinosaur skeletons
google glowing crystals
wander through the digestive system
at the museum

They gobble pbj's 
run relays
blow bubbles
and splash
in  City Park Fountain.

They romp with dolphins
face off against sharks
try deep sea fishing
and nap a little
in the dark IMAX theater. 

Back at school
my world travelers
write or draw 
about their favorite part
of our special day. 

They loved
peering through
the museum's
ancient heat grates
at their friends
on the floor 

Carol Wilcox


Tuesday, April 14, 2009


I am dashing into school after a meeting this morning when one of my first grade friends stops me in the hall. "Ms. Carol," he says, "you know how we have been talking about cumulative stories?" I do know, but I am surprised at his question, because we actually talked about cumulative stories several months ago. 

While I get my bearings in the conversation my first grade friend continues, "Well you know how in cumulative stories, things get more and more and more? Yesterday, we read the Eric Carle study about the rooster off to see the world. And things get less and less and less. So what is that called?"

It's a great question. I can think of stories like TEN IN THE BED and FIVE LITTLE MONKEYS where that happens, but I truly don't know what it's called. I promise T that I will try to find out and go on my merry way through a very hectic day, promptly forgetting my promise. After school, T approaches me on the playground. "So did you find out?" he asks. I tell him that I haven't yet, but I will work on it tonight. 

T looks a little dubious, "Well if you don't know," he says, squinting up at me, "Do you think you could ask a fifth grade teacher?"  I assure him that I will, and after school I go and ask Rob, who teaches fifth grade, and is probably much smarter than I am. Unfortunately,  he doesn't know either. I also put it out on Twitter. And now I'm posting it here. Does anyone know the answer? What do you call a story where things get less and less and less?

Sunday, April 12, 2009

He is Risen!
Happy Easter!

Dash  over to gottabook and read Nikki Grimes' beautiful Easter poem!

Friday, April 10, 2009


So you are really still looking for a poem?
Seriously? Well let me tell you, 
I really was going to write a poem today,
but then son #1 needed my computer
 because he really wanted me to see that 
his grades have moved from "Yikes" to "Somewhat Acceptable."

So you are really still looking for a poem?
Listen, I really was going to write a poem,
And then Son #2's coach called
And needed me to drive the carpool 
because he was stuck across town in traffic.

So you are really still looking for a poem?
Listen, I really was going to write one, 
but then the dogs got out,
two black streaks, flying joyously across the park. 
And I had to chase them.

I promise. Really. I will write a poem tomorrow. 
If life doesn't get in the way.

OK, so not quite thirty hours ago, I opened the door to host Poetry Friday. First in the door, and a first time Poetry Friday-er was Susan, from Book Chook. Susan came all the way from Australia to share some poetry pleasures. Susan introduced me to the term phoetry, which I can't wait to share with kids on Monday. Susan was followed by a whole herd of poets and poetry lovers…

Leading the herd in honor of National Poetry Month…
  • If you have not visited Gregory K. at gottabook, gallop there directly. Every day this month, he is featuring a brand new poem from a much-loved children's poet. This week's poets have included X.J. Kennedy, Ann Whitford Paul, Jaime Adoff, Marilyn Singer, Adam Rex, and Joyce Sidman. Today's poem,  is "Rules for Spot" by Bruce Lansky
  • From there, drop by Kelly Finerman's neighborhood. Kelly is taking us through the classics. Every day she chooses a new poem, today is "The Tide Rises, the Tide Falls" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. In a dazzling display of wordish acrobatics, Kelly  uses subject, theme, or style to link that classic to the poem from the day before.
  • Then mosey on over to Year of Reading. Mary Lee and Franki have been sharing a different poetry book every day. I've learned about some great new books, that I have to have, after I pay taxes, which is what Mary Lee is thinking about today as she shares the poem "Money."
  • Sylvia, of Poetry for Children fame, is also reviewing a wonderful poetry book every single day. Today's book, Charles R. Smith's picture book interpretation of MY PEOPLE sounds absolutely wonderful. 
  • From there, tie your horse to the hitching post at readwritebelieve. Sara is featuring a quote about poetry every day this month. Today she throws in a bonus poem, "Hands,"
  • Take a walk in a very lovely garden of haiku- Susan Taylor Brown has been writing about California wildflowers every day this month. Today she also shares the audio version of "The Rock" from her verse novel, HUGGING THE ROCK.
  • Found out this morning that Liz Scanlon is also writing haiku every day. And the stories that go with the haiku are great writing in and of themselves. Check them out here.

Graze in some sweet clover with these original poems…
  • Ms. Mac brings us some wonderful, and I mean wonderful adaptions of William Carlos Williams, "This is Just to Say," written by her oh-so-talented fifth grade students.
  • Eleven-year-old Maya sent a late contribution on Saturday. Check out her blog- think she will show up on the Thirty Days/Thirty Poets in the not-too-distant future!
  • Laurie Purdie Salas has a link to an interview with Tracie Vaughn Zimmer about Laura's brand new book, STAMPEDE. Laura also invites you to participate in a new online poetry workshop or try your hand at a 15-word-or-less poem
  • Julie Larios at The Drift Record  shares "Like Bees Over Clover," and several other interviews and tidbits. Scroll down a bit and read her April 6 entry, which is a link to a great article about memorizing poetry.
  • Kelly Polark celebrates "Tell a Lie Day" (which was actually April 4 in case you were planning on participating)! and Tabatha's poem, "Two Small Pieces of Glass," celebrates the creation of the telescope four hundred years ago.  Try pairing Tabatha's poem with "A Worker Reads History," posted on the Stenhouse blog. Then check out "Formal Application: a poet's attempt to become a modern man."
  • For all of you 21st Century literacy folks, David Elzey has rounded up all of his original twitku (twitter haiku for those of us who are still making our way into the 21st century) from the past week or two. A clever new-to-me genre!
  • Two beautiful "found poems," one by Gautami Tripathy, all the way from Delhi, India, taken from a short story,  and the other a pantoum (these amaze me- and someday, when I have 5.2 free minutes, I really am going to try to write one) at Deo Writer.
  • Lisa Chellman wrote "Downturn" in response  Miss Rumphius' bite-sized sonnet poetry challenge. 
  • Lorie Ann Grover gives us a wonderful example of phoetry with "Converse."
  • Feel the sand between your toes in Tiel Aisha Ansari's, "Beach Reverie." After that pad on over and read Ms. Erin's free verse.
  • Angela's poem, "Morning Ritual," made me cry because my boys are big and grumpy and eat poptarts and get mad when their "morning glory mother" tries to converse in the morning. 
And a few long-in-the- teeth oldies but oh so goodies…
  • John Mutford came from Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, with some extended versions of favorite nursery rhymes like "Old Mother Hubbard" and "Baa Baa Black Sheep" and "Jack and Jill."
  • For a little Shakespeare-ish fix, head over to Political Verses, where Elaine has a parody of the Double, Double, Toil and Trouble scene from Macbeth.
  • Laurie Ann Grover takes me back to my poet-tree roots with "A Little Nut Tree." I remember my grandmother reading this poem to me when I was four or five years ol

Book Reviews
  • Andrea at Just One More Book invites us to leave the plains and travel back in time to enjoy  a visit to a castle in thirteenth century England. All that brawling and burping sounds a little like a night at the chuckwagon!
  • Amanda at Patchwork of Books reviews Tracie Vaughn Zimmer's STEADY HANDS: POEMS ABOUT WORK. You will also see a review in this weekend's New York Times!
  • Andromeda Jazmon brings us the THE CUCKOO'S HAIKU, by Michael J. Rosen. Just looking at the beautiful cover makes me feel like I neeeeed to own it. 
  • Anastasia Suen sent a review of  BASEBALL HOUR by Carol Nevius and the Rockies won their home opener and are now 3-1!
  • At Wild Rose Reader, Elaine posted a quick review of Georgia Heard's FALLING DOWN THE PAGE, a new book of list poems, and  then shared some second grader poets lists. This would be a fun piece for a multi-genre research project. 
  • I didn't know that Nikki Giovanni had a new book coming out, but now, having read about BICYCLES: LOVE POEMS at Kurious Kitty, I'm definitely going to have to look for it.
  • April 13 is Lee Bennett Hopkins' birthday. Check out Linda's review of BEEN TO YESTERDAYS.

All Things Spring and Easter
  • First, April simply could not be April without a posting of Sara Teasdale's "April" and T.S. Eliot's "April is the Cruelest Month."
  • Besides hosting this month's fabulous "Poetry Maker" series, and besides having fabulous giveways, Tricia, at Miss Rumphius Effect, shares another classic,  "Spring Carol" by Robert Louis Stevenson. 
  • But typically, Springtime in the Rockies, looks more like this photo from Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. 
  • Tanita Davis shares a beautiful Passover poem. Just listen to the last line, "Let all who are hungry join us." Wow, just wow…
  • Ruth brings us the words to one of her favorite hymns, "Abide With Me."
  • In one of the last poems of the day, (which has slipped into Poetry Saturday), Lisa sent "Good Friday in My Heart."
And a few more…
And now it's very late. 
And I am going to bed. 
Because tomorrow I might write a poem…

Tuesday, April 7, 2009


"The poem I really was going to write in honor of my visitors"

A poem? You want a poem?
Hey, I was going to write one
but then my son and his geography teacher
 wanted to know what I was thinking  
about globalization. 
And to tell the truth,
I hadn't thought much about globalization, 
at least not in the last couple of hours.
Not since I left my purse at the post office
when I went to mail my taxes,
to the accountant, three weeks after
they were supposed to be there. 
I did not want to write a paragraph about globalization.
I'm writing a poem, remember?

A poem? You want a poem?
 Hey, I was going to write one,
but first I had to rescue the  basketball sock 
from the dog because I do not think
those thick, fleecy socks travel
through the intestine any more easily 
than the $1.29 dishtowel that did not 
make the journey last month. 
And I did not have time  to write a check to the vet.
I'm writing a poem.

A poem? You want a poem? 
 Hey, I was going to write one
but then the basketball coach emailed to remind me
that the application to sell snow cones
at the arts festival in July had to be turned in 
by tomorrow at noon. He knew I had already done it,
but he just wanted to make sure. 
And so I had to stop mid-stanza
to fill out the application
for the 14% profit we could make 
selling  pale-purple frozen water. 
But hey, I really am writing a poem,

A poem? You want a poem? 
I am gonna write one. Really I am.
But  I remembered that 
JaShay's grandmother, 
really the mom who is raising her,
had surgery today. 
And I wanted Jashay to  know
She is not alone. And so I wrote a card.
Which is kinda like a poem. 
But hey, I am gonna write a poem. 

When I'm not so busy writing a life. 
I'm gonna write a poem.

Joking aside, I'm so glad you're here. 
Leave your poem in the comments, 
and I'll compile them throughout the day. 
EDITED AT 5:45: Holy cow, you poets know how to party!!!! More than 20 contributions and the sun isn't even over the horizon yet in Colorado. I'm have to go to a workshop all day today and probably won't have internet access, so I won't  I round em up, but there is already a ton of terrific stuff in the comment section.

Saturday, April 4, 2009


I have always thought that I would love to teach high school history. If I did, picture books and historical fiction would be an important part of the curriculum. This year, I've read lots of books I'd have to include in my curriculum. I'd have to read Laurie Halse Anderson's amazing new novel, CHAINS, when we studied the Revolutionary War. I'd use LINCOLN THROUGH THE LENS when we studied the Civil War. For the Civil Rights movement, I'd bring in NEW BOY and WE ARE THE SHIP. This weekend, I read a picture book I'd have to use when we talked about the Holocaust.

THE ANNE FRANK CASE: THE STORY OF SAM WIESENTHAL is the story of a Jewish Holocaust survivor. At the opening of the book, a group of Austrian neo-nazi teenagers disrupt a theater performance of Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl, claiming that the Holocaust never occurred. Wiesenthal decides he must find the Gestapo officer who arrested Anne Frank. The book then flashes back to trace Wiesenthal's experiences during the war, which included time in the Concentration camps, loss of multiple family members, separation from his wife, and two very near-death experiences. His own experiences make him a patient but tenacious detective in solving this mystery.

This book would be great in a text set with ANNE FRANK (of course), NUMBER THE STARS, THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PAJAMAS, and for struggling readers, SNOW TREASURE.

Friday, April 3, 2009


Denver is supposed to get a foot of snow tonight and tomorrow (the biggest storm we have had in an unusally snowless winter!). In honor of that, a spring poem, from one of my all-time favorite poets, Kristine O'Connell George. This poem comes from OLD ELM SPEAKS: TREE POEMS, but she has tons of other terrific poetry books.

A tiny velveteen satchel
the color of pale cream
is perched on the tip
of this bare branch.

Snap open the clasp--
and you will find,
inside this tiny valise,
one rolled and folded
neatly packed

Kristine O'Connell George

Next Friday, it will be right here!