Tuesday, September 24, 2013


I'm considering a quick trip to Arizona this weekend.

I need to get a car to Son #2.

It's a 12 hour drive.

I could leave early Saturday morning and be in Arizona by Saturday night.

Then fly back on Sunday, in time to work on Monday.

There's this one teeny problem, however.

My son's car is a manual.

I haven't driven a manual for ummm, about twenty years.

I'm not sure I still remember how.

So I'm working up to this trip.

On Sunday, I went out and inspected the car.

Called my son.

"What pedals do you have to push to start the car?"

I could almost feel his eyes rolling from 900 miles away.

"The clutch. Just the clutch."

I went back out and started the car.

I moved it ten feet forward. Felt pretty accomplished. Decided to call it a night.

Last night I had to walk the dog and watch the Broncos. I didn't have time to practice driving. 

Tonight I went out again. I needed to move the car because tomorrow is street sweeping day and I don't need a ticket.

I pushed in the clutch and started the car. I waited until there were no cars coming. I played around with the gear shift. It doesn't have the positions for the different gears.

I called my son. He gave an impromptu lesson on gear positions. Cautioned me not to put the car into reverse accidentally.

He then suggested that I might want to call his friend, Nick, to see if he is available to drive with me this weekend.

That would be nice, but it would mean two plane tickets, instead of one. So it's not a possibility.

I hung up and drove around the block. In first gear.

I'm going to google gearshift positions tonight. 

I'm thinking it might take too long  to get to Arizona if I drive ten miles an hour all the way.

Monday, September 23, 2013


My "To Be Read" pile is a leaning tower of Pisa, ok, actually it's usually two or three or ten leaning towers. I'm always thinking several books ahead. I want kids to develop that same readerly habit, so in my teaching life,  I constantly ask kids, "What are you planning to read next?"  

After a while, my students, or at least most of them, get pretty good at answering me. The kids who generally have the hardest time are my "tentative readers," those kids who are just beginning to launch their  reading lives. And to be honest, sometimes I have a hard time thinking of books I know will be sure winners for them.

l  delighted then, to participate in the blog tour for SUPER SCHNOZ AND THE GATES OF SMELL,  the first book in a series I am pretty sure that readers of STINK, CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS and DIARY OF A WIMPY KID are going to love. Just listen to the first couple of paragraphs:

I'm Andy Whiffler and I was born with a humongous honker.
I'm talking a nose so big it should have come with a warning label, a schnoz so enormous little people could use it as a sledding hill, a pie sniffer so enormous that if someone was walking beside me and I turned my head suddenly, I'd knock them out cold…
There's a reason why I have a huge beak. When my mom was pregnant with me, the pharmacist mixed her pre-nasal vitamins with a steroid for nasal congestion. The effect was disastrous. The steroid overstimulated a gland in my brain that made my nose grow and keep growing. And I can never have a nose job because there's a major artery that connects from my nasal septum to my brain.
 If I snip off my snout, I'm a goner…"
When Andy moves to Denmark, New Hampshire, he is first subjected to the usual teasing, but then his classmates at James Durante Elementary School decide that Andy's remarkable nose, along with his incredible sense of smell, might have some benefits for them. Andy, along with several of his classmates (the Not-Right brothers), are faced with the charge of unraveling the mystery of a terrible smell that is permeating their school.

Sounds like fun, right? Well, keep reading, because there's more.  Today, as part of the blog tour, author Gary Urey is interviewing illustrator Ethan Long (I'd really like their pictures to be right next to each other, but the blogspot gods have different plans).

Gary Urey
Ethan Long
I see from your bio that you grew up in Pennsylvania. I’m a PA native too. When did you first get an inkling that you wanted to be a professional artist?

When I was a kid I used to get up early in the morning before everyone else, much like I do now, and get to work drawing. My parents kept telling me I was going to be a famous artist one day. Now look at me! I get up when I feel like it and I am only semi-famous. So much for big dreams!

How did you gravitate toward children’s book illustration?

I enjoyed children’s books as a child. But lost interest in them as a grew older. When I got to college, I stumbled into a children’s book illustrating class and I caught the children’s book bug. Then when I got married and had children, it resurfaced even more into sort of a children’s book rash. Now I can’t get rid of it.

I am a big fan of your animation. Dead Stunt Man is hilarious!

Thank you.

What are the differences between book illustration and animation?

Many things. But overall, animation is much more complex and needs a team of people on a daily basis to do it well. Children’s books is mainly a solitary existence with phone calls to editors and art directors now and again.

Also, what was a bigger thrill, winning the Theodor Geisel Award for Up, Tall and High or your Daytime Emmy nomination for Tasty Time With ZeFronk?

Honestly, the bigger adrenaline rush was the Emmy nomination, but looking back, winning the Geisel Award was more of a long-term slow-cooked satisfaction for 4 reasons  1. because I won  2. Because I work so hard at children’s books 3.  because my wife Heather and my Mother were there in Chicago to share in the festivities of it all.

The illustrations for Super Schnoz and the Gates of Smell are hysterical. Every character is so funny and distinct. When illustrating a book written by someone else, how do you balance the author’s description and your own vision of what the characters should look like?

I just trust my creative process. I close my eyes and wait for a vision of what I think that character would look like, then I draw it. If it’s not quite right, I close my eyes again and wait.

From your list of books, you are an incredibly busy illustrator. What is your schedule like?

I don’t talk about my schedule. It is fast and efficient, with tears, blood and spit playing a big part in it. That’s all I can say.

How do you juggle multiple projects?

I cut out all hesitation and just get things done. But now I am talking about my schedule . . .

In your imagination, what smells does the Gates of Smell give off?

Scents of rancor and burnt back hair.

As a kid, did you ever keep a scent dictionary?

No never. But it would be fun to have one now so I could smell the wonderful memories of my brother’s booger breath and my Dad’s burnt chicken recipe.

What are favorite and least favorite smells?

Favorite Smells: Lemons, freshly cut wood, Spaghetti Sauce   Least Favorite: Wet Dog, Cheerio breath, tub drains

For more information about Gary and Ethan, check out their websites.   

If you'd like to win a signed copy of SUPER SCHNOZ AND THE GATES OF SMELL, leave a comment below. Please be sure to leave your email address also. If you don't win today, the book will be on tour all week.

Super Schnoz Blog TourSeptember 21-27, 2013

Saturday, September 21, 2013
Review Only

Sunday, September 22, 2013
Q&A with Gary Urey and Signed Book Giveaway

Monday, September 23, 2013
Gary Urey Interviews Ethan Long and Signed Book Giveaway

Tuesday, September 24, 2013
Review and Signed Book Giveaway

Wednesday, September 25, 2013
Gary Urey Guest Post and Signed Book Giveaway

Thursday, September 26, 2013
Gary Urey Guest Post and Signed Book Giveaway

Friday, September 27, 2013
Q&A with Gary Urey and Signed Book Giveaway

Thanks to publisher Albert Whitman for providing the review copy and a signed book for the giveaway. Ebooks are available from Open Road Media (

Friday, September 20, 2013

Poetry Friday

Photo by Jean-Pol Grandmont. Found on Wikimedia Commons.

Parker J. Palmer posted this on Facebook earlier this week. It's one I don't think I quite fully understand, not yet anyway, but it's been kind of rolling around in my brain all week; the questions seem very important and I want to understand them.  It's anonymous, so I think that it's ok for me to post the whole thing here.

"Love Wants to Know How"

Autumn comes with its riot of death,
It's clarion bell of color,
drives the living green to ground
even as it thins the veil between worlds.
The visible and invisible walk now together
with arms outstretched over fields
where workers hasten to the harvest
none may divide against itself.

So; where are you in this?
How long do you loiter
between the said and unsaid,
the done and undone,
between the half and true rhyme
of a life answering a life?

Geese mark the sky with dark wedges
call with harsh tongues,
to what thrives at the margins
of all we so reluctantly receive.
Go now,
quickly and with great force,
toward what burns in your dreams
at the dying of the year.

Who can say?
Perhaps you reap the whirlwind,
perhaps the harvest--
but is it ever enough to not know
the bonds and bounds of what will one day
forsake you for the grave?

- Anonymous

Tabatha is hosting Poetry Friday and three giveaways at THE OPPOSITE OF INDIFFERENCE.

Thursday, September 19, 2013


Yippee! Super excited to announce that I will be serving as a CYBILS first round judge for the Elementary and Middle Grade Nonfiction. I've done poetry for the last couple of years, but actually started my CYBILS "career" as a nonfiction judge, and am excited to be returning to that category!

Category Description
Nonfiction is the perfect way to introduce elementary and middle grade kids to the amazing world around them from history and biography to art and nature. Science? Math? Animals? Sports? It's all here and more besides! We have expanded from the previous nonfiction picture books category and are now accepting titles suitable for reading aloud or independently, including picture books, easy readers, and early chapters. We're looking for text, illustrations or photographs that will wow kids and adults alike and topics so fascinating that kids will want to go digging for more, more, more nonfiction!
Nonfiction Elementary/Middle Grade includes titles with factual content and informational titles. Roughly 50% or more of the book should be narrative nonfiction (as opposed to experiments or activities) and books should be directed generally at ages 3-12. We are currently accepting nominations only in print (no ebooks) for this category.
And here are the other judges- lots of new to me blogs, which is also fun!

Round 1

Franki Sibberson, Reading Year

Ellen Zschunke, On the Shelf 4 Kids

Amy Broadmoore, Delightful Children's Books

Alysa Stewart, Everead

Mike Lewis, Blog 142

Alice Mar, Supratentorial

Round 2

Laura Wadley, Provo Library Children's Book Reviews

Roberta Gibson, Wrapped in Foil

Jen Fukuyama, Perogies and Gyoza

Reshama Deshmukh, Stacking Books

Catherine Nichols, The Cath in the Hat

I'm looking forward to sharing lots of great nonfiction with you! 


Tuesday, September 17, 2013


Friday afternoon about two.
 I don't usually carry my cell phone, but today,
because it's an assessment day
and because I am in charge of  materials
I have my cell phone in my pocket.
It vibrates and I look down,
wondering who needs what test.
I am surprised, and a little concerned,
to see Son #1's number.
I answer.

"You know how you were going to come down this weekend?"
"It would be ok if you did. I want to go to the game."
I am surprised.
Son #1's team is playing son #2's.
Originally I had planned to go.
Even though both boys are red shirting,
I thought it would be fun
to spend time with my boys.
Two weeks ago, Son #1 told me he was riding the team bus.
I could go if I wanted to,
but he wouldn't be available to spend time with me.
I decided not to go.
Thursday night Son #1 told me he was not going to get to ride with the team.
I could hear the disappointment in his voice and offered again to go.
He said no, he wasn't going.
And now, less than 24 hours before I would need to leave,
he has changed his mind
I can't imagine that I will find a decently priced ticket.
Wonder what I can do with the dog. 
Consider telling him there is no way
I can come
on such short notice.

But then I think
that he so rarely asks for anything
so rarely wants to spend time with me
it would be really nice
to be able to honor his request.
At 5:00 I find a ticket
a kennel that is open all night.
I call and tell him
I will be arriving in Phoenix
at 6:50 on Saturday morning. 

Saturday morning.
My son has 63 cents in his bank account.
And no gas in his car.
I take a shuttle to his apartment. 
We head to the grocery store
I spend $300 stocking his cupboards
and then we head out
to drive
the three hours
to the game.

He drives.
And talks
And somehow in this confined space
my usually silent son
has much to say. 
The first hour is devoted to discussing
his human sexuality course.
The professor, a woman,
is partnered with a man
who used to be a woman.
My son, processing, the whole situation, says,
"It's like the professor knows what she wants us to think.
And she wouldn't be ok if we thought something different."
So you have to be really careful what you say in there."

The second hour we talk about his Evolution class.
That professor, my son thinks,
also has a definite point of view.
And Zay wonders
whether she would give him a bad grade
if he told her what he thinks
about Evolution.
And about Creation.

The third hour
we talk life.
His biological mom.
A friend from high school. 
What it felt like to grow up
in our very non-traditional family.

And I am so thankful
that I have spent money
I didn't really have
on this oh so priceless time
with my son.


Sunday morning.
A tiny town in rural Arizona.
Son #1 and I make a grocery run.
A young woman, probably about my son's age, is the cashier.
I watch her, bent over her register,
long hair covering her face
as we wait for our turn
to check out
of that ugly nasty super center.
I am struck by the cashier's gentle spirit
as she deals with the customer in front of me
who has a thousand coupons,
a million directions about how her order should be packed
and a not very pleasant attitude. 

When the cashier turns her head to greet us,
I see that the left side of her face is badly scarred.
her smile is crooked and off center.
Like she has been in some kind of accident
or perhaps had a tumor removed.
I immediately think of WONDER. 
Remember Augie.
The stares.
People's cruelty.
I imagine that this gentle spirit,
like Augie,
has endured much.

As I type in my zip code, she asks where I am from.
I tell her I live in Denver,
and that Son #1 goes to school in Phoenix.
"I'm from Phoenix," she says,
"I moved out here to go to school
because it's so much cheaper.
Where I was going in Phoenix they charged $78 a credit hour.
Here it's only $880, even if you take 18 hours.
Everything after 12 hours is $880."
She asks my son what he is studying.
"Football," he says, in all honesty,
but then, perhaps for my benefit,
he  corrects himself.
"Football and sociology."

"I like your earrings,"
the cashier says to my son.
"Thanks," he says.
And then, in a move that totally surprises me
mostly because he is pretty quiet
and rarely, as far as I know,
initiates conversations with women
"I like yours too."
I have not noticed her earrings
round ceramic dangles with painted designs

I can't imagine that my son
who is generally completely oblivious
 to anything I wear
would have noticed them. 
She reaches up
and touches her earrings.   
"Thanks," she says
smiling that sweet crooked smile.

We grab our bags, wish the girl a good day,
 and walk away.
I know it's probably silly.
But at that moment
I am so very proud to be the mom
of the man
my son
is becoming. 

Monday, September 2, 2013

A Different Kind of Books

OK, so I am just going to come right out and admit it. I am a snob. A book snob. As a book snob, there are certain books that I deem as "literature." And those are the books that I choose to feature in my classroom. And read aloud to kids. And share on my blog.

But there is a whole other category of books.  You know these books. They are the books with characters that you see on television or in the movies. And  the ones you buy in the grocery store check out line. The ones that have pretty blatant morals, sometimes even featured in the title. They are not the books I use in mini-lessons. But, they are books kids love. And read. And reread. And beg me to read aloud.

And they are books I think we ought to talk about.  At least once in a while. Because these books, whether or not I deem them as literature, are books that invite kids into the world of literacy. They provide kids with a link between the world of pop culture and the world of school. They feature character kids know and love. They address problems kids face. And they provide print, words for kids to read.

In my mind, all of those are worthy reasons for reading. And so, starting today, once in a while, I'm going to feature a few of those books. Some might be singles, and some will be series. Today's featured series is Mia by Robin Farley, illustrated by Olga and Aleksey Ivanov.

Mia is a cat, or really actually a cat with little girl loves and problems. In Mia Dances Back to School, for example, Mia and her friends Anna and Ruby are starting school. Mia is very excited until she arrives at school and discovers that Anna and Ruby are in Mr. Bear's class, and she is all by herself, with Miss Bunny. How many times have I needed that book the first day of school?

Mia is a ballet dancer and many of the books in the series. e.g. Mia and the Tiny Toe Shoes, Mia and the Too Big Tutu, Mia and the Big Sister Ballet  feature a ballet-related problem or issue. Lots of the Mia books are I CAN READ books, which makes them perfect for those emergent readers in our first and second grade classrooms.

Several of the Mia books, e.g. Mia: Time to Trick or Treat, Mia: The Sweetest Valentine, and Mia: The Easter Egg Chase are holiday related. Generally, the holiday books also have problems kids face. In Time to Trick or Treat, Mia and her friends are planning to be matching pink ballerinas for Halloween, but then one friend wants to be a blue ballerina, and another wants to be green, and a little compromising has to occur. In Easter Egg Chase, Mia is faced with the hard choice of filling her own Easter basket with goodies,  or helping a much younger cousin.

It seems like it's time for this book snob to reconsider. Mia is a series primary grade girls are going to love. As such, it definitely has a place in my classroom!