Wednesday, December 31, 2014


Not that many people know I was a 4-H girl during middle and high school. Horses, cake decorating, knitting, yup, did 'em all. And still kind of have a teeny bit of that wanna ride horses again living somewhere deep inside. So over break, I was at the library and came across Rebecca Petruck's novel, STEERING TOWARD NORMAL. I picked it up and was hooked.

Diggy Lawson is an eighth grade boy, growing up on a farm in Minnesota. Diggy's life story is a little unconventional-- his mother and father were never married, and after he was born, his mother left him on his father's doorstep, then allegedly stole his tractor to leave town. Diggy and his father have created a happy, albeitprank-filled life, and he is about to start raising his fourth 4-H steer to show in the Minnesota State Fair. His friend, July, has won the past few years, but she's graduating from high school, and is working with Diggy so he can take her place as the champion. With her help and a lot of hard work, he's pretty sure he can earn the purple ribbon.

Diggy's life takes an unexpected turn when his classmate, Wayne Graf, shows up on their doorstep one night. Wayne's mother has just died, and his alcoholic father has discovered that he is not Wayne's biological father. It seems that Diggy's dad, Pop, is actually Wayne's dad. Wayne moves in with Pop and Diggy, and things turn upside down overnight. Wayne misses his mom desperately, and decides he will help Diggy find his mom. Diggy, however, has spent thirteen years with no mom, and really doesn't even want to look for her. Wayne's insistence on looking feels like banging a scab. Things come to a head at the state fair the next summer

STEERING TOWARD NORMAL is a terrific coming of age story And for those who are concerned about whether they could sell the farm aspect to city kids, there's a lot of great back matter explaining 4-H, steer competitions, etc.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014


I missed another chapter in the parenting book.

This one has to do with providing guidance for your not-quite-adult children.

Son #2 is very, very bright. Since I adopted him, when he was in second grade,  I have heard the same thing, "K is very, very smart, but he doesn't apply himself. He just doesn't work very hard."

I've heard the same thing when it came to sports. "K is very talented (enough so to be the starting quarterback of the varsity football team his freshman year) but he doesn't have a very good work ethic."

We've explored a lot of different interests- football, basketball, track, music, technology. And he starts off strong, but his interests often fade.

I've tried everything I know-- encouragement, rewards, punishment, mentors, therapy, tough love, natural consequences.  And pretty much the results have been the same. It works for a little while, but then, we are right back where we started.

In August, said son decided that he wanted to attend a small college in Alabama. The football coach had called him and wanted him to play quarterback. I had many reservations. First, there was the whole thing about attending school in the south. I was not sure my son really understood how different the attitudes and beliefs about race actually were. The town was small and the school was smaller. I didn't think my son would like that either. One thing I have learned with my boys, though, is that they rarely listen to my opinions. And so off he went.

Shortly before Thanksgiving, K announced that he hated school/life in this small town and was not going back. He didn't want to play football anymore. He wanted to attend a local college. He thought he might like to talk to a coach about playing basketball. I told him, as I have always told my boys, that he could go to school, or trade school, if he chose to do that. That he could play basketball, or football, or no sport, whatever made him happy.  If he didn't want to go to school, that was fine too, but he needed to get a job and support himself.

At this point, K has been home about six weeks and is still in limbo. As far as I know, he has not applied for any schools in this area. He says he has applied for jobs, but he doesn't have one yet.  He knows he wants to make a lot of money, and has identified several possible careers, e.g. anesthesiologist or lawyer. The problem is that all of these require lots of school, which he hates.

He has had several "interesting" ideas about what he might like to do (all with the help of his favorite personal financier):
  •  Several years ago, we were opening a bank account, the banker, a native of French Guinea, said that in his country, K, because of his name, would have been viewed as royalty and treated as a king. People would have bowed to him and awarded him special privileges. My son has never forgotten this meeting. He would like to move to Africa, where he could be treated like a king, (and not have to do his own dishes). 
  • If moving to Africa is not a possibility, my son thinks we should trade his car and his brother's car (both of which actually belong to me) and get motorcycles. He and his brother would have the time of his life on a fabulous cross country adventure. (It's currently -6 with horrible road conditions in Denver, but that is also not a consideration).
  • A third option is trade school. My son thinks that become a gunsmith would be a perfect occupation. Never mind that he knows very little about guns. Or that I absolutely hate guns (yes, I know that they do have some positive uses, but in Denver, I see guns used far more often in heartbreakingly negative ways).
And so I sit here, two days after Christmas, wondering how in the world I can best support this man child, who seems to have totally lost his way.

Parenting is definitely the hardest job I have ever done. And the manual is missing way too many chapters. 

Monday, December 29, 2014


PLASTIC AHOY: INVESTIGATING THE GREAT PACIFIC GARBAGE PATCH follows the journey of SEAPLEX (the Scripps Environmental Accumulation of Plastic Expedition) in Summer, 2009. The research team traveled by boat, to an area far out in the Pacific, where plastic seems to collect. They team wanted to know:

  • How much plastic was in the garbage patch?
  • Were fish eating the plastic, and if so, was it harming them?
  • Were the chemicals used to make the plasticpoisoning the water?
  • Did plastic impact the food chain

The book focuses on the work of three oceanographers- Miriam studies how plastic affects the tiny organisms that "raft" (hitch rides) on larger  organisms, Darcy Taniguchi studies phytoplankton, tiny one-celled plants, that are the first link in the ocean food chain,  and produce one half to two-thirds of the world's oxygen, and  Chelsea Rochman studies how chemicals from plastics affect the fish. None of the three totally answer their original questions, instead, the book truly demonstrates how imprecise science can be and how much perseverance it takes to be a scientist- the oceanographers' original questions require further study, their original questions raise new questions,  or the original questions prove unanswerable and they have to start over.

Readers will be totally captivated by the full-color photographs that capture everything from the day-to-day life on a research boat (what do you do when the pop machine doesn't work?) to the types of nets and other tools the researchers use, to their portable laboratories.

The book ends with a practical list of ways kids can help, e.g. carry your own take home box to restaurants, and wash and reuse plastic cutlery, and also ways they can be ocean educators for their peers. End matter includes a glossary and list of other resources

Sunday, December 28, 2014


FIGHTING FIRE is a book for any wanna-be-fireman. The book, about ten chapters long, traces the history of firefighting in the United States by telling the stories of ten or so very large and famous fires. Chapters include Boston (1760), New York (December, 1835)- where subzero temperatures bitterly cold, water sources frozen eventually led to the construction of the Croton Water System, considered one of the greatest engineering feats of its day. Then there was Chicago (October, 1871)- did you know we celebrate Fire Prevention Week the same week as this famous fire and  Baltimore, where firefigthers discovered the need to standardize firefighting equipment when one department couldn't connect to another city's hydrants and sadly, the mayor of the city, under the tremendous, strain of rebuilding killed himself. There are also chapters about the San Francisco Fire and the San Diego wild fires in 2007.

Cooper also addresses other famous fires.  The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, which led to the modern fire drill, the Coconut Grove Fire brought new rules about the flammability of decorations in public places, and also new ways of treating burn victims, and then a very sad and detailed chapter about the World Trade Center. Cooper integrates a ton of information and interviews, and cites jillions of sources in a way that that is interesting and engaging. For those of us who are working with kids on citing sources, this would be a terrific mentor text! Each chapter is accompanied by a myriad of black and white photographs.

Back matter includes photographs of fire engines through the ages, a list of related websites, fire museums to visit, a glossary, a bibliography, and an index.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

ELIZABETH QUEEN OF THE SEAS- Lynne Cox, illustrations by Brian Floca

There was once a lovely elephant seal who lived in the city. Most elephant seals live in the ocean, in salt water. They sleep on rocky coasts and lie along sandy beaches. But this seal was different. She swam in the sweet, shallow waters of the Avon River where it lowed through the heart of Christchurch, New Zealand
So begins the true story of  Elizabeth, an elephant seal that somehow ended up living on the banks of the Avon River in Christchurch, New Zealand, in the 1970's and 80's. Elizabeth loved hauling herself up the bank of the river and laying on the warm road. The people of Christchurch were worried that she would be hit by a car and hauled her away from the city. Three times they took her out to sea,to live in other colonies of elephant seals, but Elizabeth just kept returning to the park she knew as home. Finally the citizens of Christchurch decided to let Elizabeth stay where she was happiest.  Brian Floca's watercolor illustrations are a perfect accompaniment to this engaging story.  End matter includes information about elephant seals.

Mr. Schu Reads interviewed author Lynne Cox, who also happens to be a world champion open water swimmer, here.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014


This year,
for the first time ever,
I won't be spending Christmas
with my mother and sisters.

We will see my mom tomorrow,
for a Christmas Eve Lunch,
but then on Thursday,
it will be just the three of us.
And to be honest,
I'm still trying to wrap my head around
what the day should look like.

I'll go to church Christmas Eve
but my boys have made it very clear
that they want nothing to do with that part of Christmas.
That breaks my heart but they are adults
and they have the right to make that decision.

The boys have already had their "Santa" presents--
one's computer died in October,
then I replaced the other one's very old car in November.
They both got some new clothes, out of necessity,
when they came home at Thanksgiving
I'm planning to do stockings
but that will be all.

I'll probably cook Christmas dinner
but my boys have become vegans this year,
no meat, no eggs, no milk (no fun!)
I'm not a great cook
and definitely not a vegan cook
so our meal will be pretty simple.

I've suggested other possibilities
the Botanic Gardens,
a movie,
a walk at City Park
but so far
no takers.

to be honest,
I'm still trying to wrap my head around
what will be special
and memorable this year
the first year
without my mom and sisters.

Monday, December 22, 2014

PACK OF DORKS- Beth Vrabel

When PACK OF DORKS opens, Lucy and her best friend, Becky, are at the top of the social heap in fourth grade, kissing their "boyfriends, " Tom and Henry, behind a shed on the playground. Then Lucy misses a day of school because her mom has a baby and returns to find out, that somehow, overnight, she has sunk all the way to the bottom of the social heap and become an outcast.

Lucy's life is turned upside down.  Molly, Lucy's baby sister, has Down's syndrome, and her parents are coping with the realities of that very unexpected occurrence.  No longer welcome with the "popular crowd" in fourth grade, Lucy finds herself eating in a corner of the cafeteria, and playing alongside other "outcasts" on the playground. She comes to know Sam, an award-winning gymnast who has been ostracized since very early in his school career, April, who suffers from bad allergies and has, um, "nose/mucus" issues, and Amanda, who is viewed as the class bully.

Sam and Lucy are assigned as partners in a class project on wolves. Through the wolves' social structures, and through an unconventional but wise grandmother, Lucy learns some big truths about herself,  the social structure in fourth grade, and "reinvents" herself as a member in a much kinder, more compassionate pack.

PACK OF DORKS would make a good companion to COURAGE FOR BEGINNERS, the book I reviewed yesterday.

Sunday, December 21, 2014


Mysti Murphy is a not so typical middle school girl. She is a writer, who regularly narrates the scenes from her life.
Here is a girl riding a red bike through the streets of Paris, France. 
Mysti's mother is an agoraphobic who never leaves the house. Her father provides all the transportation, does the grocery shopping, etc.
Here is a girl winning the Nobel Prize for inventing a mobile orthodontist business that drives down neighborhood streets, and all the kids with crooked teeth chase after it and receive straight smiles. 
Her best friend, actually her only friend,  is Anibel Gomez, who is "size extra extra large" and who sleeps on stuffed animals on a broken waterbed.

Things change shortly before Mysti starts seventh grade. First, Anibel decides he wants to be one of the cool kids. Over the summer he loses weight, starts wearing a hat, becomes a "hipster" and tells Mysti that he is conducting a social experiment. H/e will still be her friend, but he just won't be nice to her at school.

Then Mysti's father falls out of a tree and suffers a traumatic brain injury.
Here is a sad, sad girl watcher her father drive away in an ambulance in the bright August sun. 
Mysti's father is hospitalized for several months, and she must cope with the reality of a mother with no means of meeting even the family's most basic needs,  a best friend who has become a bully, and the demands of middle school, including Texas history.

A terrific read, would make a great companion novel for kids who loved WONDER.

Friday, December 12, 2014


Last week, I read an advent devotional about the Celts' concept of "thin places," those times in life when the heavens thin and the God seems especially close. I totally love teaching, and know, at the absolute depth of my being, that I am doing what I am called to do. It's not surprising to me, then, that many of my thin places occur in that arena. This morning, I'm sharing a few of those with you. (The past couple of weeks, I have been writing haiku with Mary Lee, so that's what the first two are, or at least pretty close).

Kindergarten Reader

I’m getting smarter
she proclaims, finger meeting print
a one girl marching band
(c) Carol Wilcox, 2014

Middle School Lunch Duty
Yes, I will guard your
lunch boxes, glasses, romances
family secrets, dreams
(c) Carol Wilcox, 2014

 And one I couldn't quite get into a haiku---

"In the Cafeteria"

hey you, 
long tongue outstretched, 
how you can lick 
chocolate pudding 
off the end of your nose, 
I see that chrysalis cracking

(c) Carol Wilcox, 2014

Mr. Paul Hankins, a teacher from Indiana, 
is hosting Poetry Friday for the first time. 
Head over there to read lots more great poetry.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014


Saturday morning. I am two hours into a mad dash to Phoenix to pick up Son #2's car. Son #1 has agreed to pick me up at the airport. We stop for a bagel before I hit the road.

I am struck, as we walk in the door, by the whiteness around me. We are in a middle class neighborhood in north Phoenix, and yet I am surprised to notice that my son is the only African American in the bagel shop. I feel a few people glance at us- but I am used to these looks. A short chubby fifty something white woman with a six-foot, African American male is not, I guess, an altogether familiar sight anywhere, let alone in this oh-so-white neighborhood.

We place our orders, two plain bagels toasted with cream cheese and a vitamin water(his), a whole wheat with light cream cheese and a coffee (mine). The sales clerk seems confused that I am paying for both orders. Again, I am used to this.

She types in his name. Or kind of his name. Not Isaiah. Not the proud Biblical name given to him by his birth mother, but rather Isaeh. His name is often misspelled, Isaih or Isiah, but usually not this badly. I am mildly amused.

He is not.

When we get back to the car, he is seething. "Did you see that?" he hisses, heaving the bag of bagels into the back seat. "Did you see that?"

I am momentarily confused. "What, sweetie?"

"Did you see how spelled my name? It's because I'm black. It wouldn't happen if I was white."

I tell him I did notice, but that I didn't take it as a racial thing. I just thought that person was ignorant. Didn't know much about the Bible. Was a bad speller. That it probably would have happened if he was an Asian or Hispanic or Anglo Isaiah. I didn't think it was directed at this color.

He is not appeased.  "That happens all the time! Did you see how people looked at me when we walked in there? I'm sick of it. It happens all the time."

I do not know what to say. 

I have lived with this man child for more than ten years. Can picture him as a first grader, sitting cross-legged on the multi-colored rug, long before he was my son. Remember the day we bought his first shoes, the crooked gap-toothed grin, amazed at the riches of owning not one, but two pair. I have watched him literally take the shirt off his back because his brother wanted to wear it. I know the dimple in his cheek and the sweaty after practice man smell.  I know his love of barbeque potato chips and all things sweet. I know that he is an artist who loves to draw and create with his hands.

And I remember the call in middle school. He was being suspended for fighting because he had defended a child with Downs' Syndrome when someone made fun of him. I remember the first week of high school when he asked if he could have double lunch money. There was a kid in his class that was new to our country. From Ethiopia. He didn't have lunch money. Isaiah was sharing his lunch, but he had football practice after school and he was starving. And the deep joy when he was selected captain of the football team his junior year. "He doesn't say much," said the coach. "He just leads with his actions. Every. single day."

And yet I also know that other people do not perceive him this way. They look at my muscular six-foot-two, generally clad in baggy sweats guy, and they are afraid. They do not know his sweet spirit. His kindness. The goodness of his soul.

I look at my son.

It is not enough to say I am sorry. It is not enough to talk about activism. About Martin Luther King or Malcolm X or a dear friend who is a city councilman in Denver right now. It is not enough to talk about being someone who makes a difference. Change is way too slow. The wrongs are way too big.

And I do not know what to say to this man child, who brings so much light to my world.

And so much fear to the world of others.

I do not know what to say.

Monday, December 8, 2014


Another fantastic offering from the SCIENTISTS IN THE FIELD, this book follows author Sy Montgomery and photographer extraordinaitreNic Bishop as they visit Laurie Marker, founder of the Cheetah Conservation Fund in Namibia. Each chapter focuses on a different aspect of this organization's work, e.g. one chapter describes the cheetah's unique physical features, another explains how CCF trains cheetahs to reintroduce them into the wild, and still another about how Laurie works with the farmers, even giving them enormous Kangal dogs to protect their herds so they won't need to kill cheetahs. Yet another chapter describes how veterinarians provide physical examinations and health care to the cheetahs, and still another describes how scientists use DNA to trace cheetahs. Finally, there's a chapter about the organization works with school children, educating the next generation of cheetah conservationists. And as with most (all?) books in this series there are lots of related inset articles through the book- Fast Facts (did you know the cheetah can go 70 miles per hour, but can only sustain this speed for 400 to 600 yards), Cheetahs in Numbers (the species has dropped from more than 100,000 in 1900 to the current 10,000), how readers can help, etc. 

Thursday, December 4, 2014


I've been writing haiku with Mary Lee all week. 

"Thin Place"

For ancient Celts, certain geography was seen as sacred because the distance between the human and the divine felt particularly thin. God was near in that place."
From the URBAN SKYE advent devotional

I read poetry
Sky thins, holy tiptoes in
soul eyes see clearly.

(c) Carol Wilcox, 2014

"morning drive"

grey white cloud blanket
sleeps atop mountains waiting
for sun’s wake up call

(c) Carol Wilcox, 2014

Dawn’s dark lifts mornings
curtain to pink yellow orange
hallelujah sky

(c) Carol Wilcox, 2014

Sun’s sure chariot
pulls new possibilities
over horizon

(c) Carol Wilcox, 2014

OR "mother to son (with apologies to Langston Hughes)

we heave brick after
brick ‘til wall between us is

(c) Carol Wilcox, 2014

 “Colorado Winter”
(a double haiku)

Saturday I peel
off sweatshirt stride joyfully
four miles behind dog

Sunday dog drags me
shivering in coat hat gloves
mile of misery

(c) Carol Wilcox, 2014

Anastasia Suen is hosting Poetry Friday today. 

Tuesday, December 2, 2014


“Monday Morning”

nothing sweeter than
kindergarten arms
wrapped round waist
jostling my coffee 
hugging me hello
Dr. Carol 
I practiced my reading
and my mom and I, 
we practiced the words
and I can read them
well you kind of have to help with like
cuz I get confused
at the end

well nothing sweeter
except maybe
third grade stream of consciousness hello
Miss Carol  I finished Junie B. Jones Mean Warren
and I have new boots
we went to Payless yesterday
and now I’m a big sister
because my baby brother
was born on Saturday
and I helped my mom 
even changing diapers

well nothing sweeter
except maybe
the flip eighth grader
who slows
when she sees me walking out 
a meeting in the first grade classroom
Ms. Wilcox
I moved this weekend
 We’re living at 72nd and Federal
and now I can be on time
I won’t be late to school anymore
she hesitates
then wraps her arms round me
I am surprised at this
show of affection
from this oh-so-cool little gal

Nothing sweeter
than the best job in the world. 

Monday, December 1, 2014


Every once in a while, I read a book where I think, "Where in the world did the author get the idea for this book?" That definitely happened when I read Cheryl Bardoe's latest, BEHOLD THE BEAUTIFUL DUNG BEETLE.

Somewhere in the world, an animal is lightening its load…

Animals take nutrients from the food they eat. Then, after their food is digested,  they push waste out in the form of dung, also called feces or poop. 

Nearby, antennae detect the scent of dung in the breeze. One animal's waste is the dung beetle's treasure…
It turns out,, that there are three different types of dung beetles. Dwellers "dig right in." Rollers "push perfect spheres of dung away from the throng." And tunnelers "hoard their treasures directly below the dung pat."  The book goes on to describe how the beetles eat, compete with each other, reproduce and grow.

End matter includes a section on finding Dung Beetles," fascinating facts, a diagram of the dung beetle's body, and a glossary. And this would be a great book for teaching the Compare/Contrast text structure. 

One of those books where you read with a combination of 'Ewwww!' and amazement.

Saturday, November 29, 2014


Pretty much every school-aged child I know can tell you about Ruby Bridges. Far fewer, however, maybe almost none, can tell you about Sylvia Mendez. And yet it was Mendez and her family, in Mendez v. Westminster, who actually paved the way for desegration in 1947, seven years before Brown vs. the Board of Education and over a decade before Ruby Bridges.

In 1944, Sylvia Mendez and her family moved to Westminster, California. That first day, her aunt took Sylvia, her two younger brothers, and two cousins to register them in school. The aunt was told that her own daughters, who looked Anglo, could attend the school, but that Sylvia and her siblings could not. They needed to go to a "Mexican school" in another part of town. The Mexican school was far inferior.
"The building was a clapboard shack and the halls were not spacious or clean. A cow pasture surrounded the school. The students had to eat their lunch outside and flies would land on their food. Their was an electric wire that surrounded the school to keep the cows in. If you touched the wire, you received a shock!"
 Sylvia's father, a businessman, was sure there had been a mistake. The next day he talked to the principal, then the superintendent, then the county superintendent. He consulted other families to find out whether they had received similar treatment. Finally a truck driver overheard him talking to other families, and suggested that the family should file a lawsuit. The suit went through several trials and finally ended up in the  Court of Appeals, where it was decided in favor of Mendez and her family. Mendez attended Westminster schools until her family moved back to Santa Ana a few years later. She graduated from an integrated high school, then studied nursing at California State University. She was a nurse for more than 30 years, until she retired to take care of her mother, who was in ill health.

Duncan Tonatiuh's illustrations appear a little strange and caricature-ish. In a July SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL review, Elizabeth (Betsy) Byrd explains Tonatiuh's style:
"When we talk about Tonatiuh’s art it’s important to understand why he’s chosen the style that he has. In interviews the artist has discussed how his art is heavily influenced by ancient Mexican styles. As he said in an interview on the blog Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, “My artwork is very much inspired by Pre-Columbian art, especially by Mixtec codices from the 14th century. That is why my art is very geometric, my characters are always in profile, and their ears look a bit like the number three. My intention is to celebrate that ancient art and keep it alive.” Heads of participants are always shown from the side… There are mild problems with it, since the neutral expression of the faces can resemble dislike or distaste. This comes up when Sylvia’s cousins are accepted into the nearest public school and she is not. Their faces are neutral but read the wrong way you might think they were coolly unimpressed with their darker skinned cousin. Still, once you’ve grown used to the style it’s hardly an impediment to enjoying the story."
 End matter includes a note from the author, photographs of Sylvia, her parents, and the schools she attended, a glossary, a bibliography, and an index.

This is a really important book-- one that should be in every classroom in the United States. Sylvia Mendez's name should be as well-known as Ruby Bridges!

Friday, November 28, 2014


On Friday night, I was attempting some final cleanup of the Poetry Friday Roundup.
And then I got an error message from Blogspot. 
And then, just like that, my entire Poetry Friday post was gone. 
And none of the tricks I know restored it.  
So now I'm attempting to recreate the post, but if I forgot anyone, I apologize. 
Please let me know and I will add you back in.

It was (thankfully, I guess now, given that I'm having to relink everything) a very quiet Poetry Friday. 

A couple of early birds checked in on Thursday night…
  • Robyn Hood Black shared an idea for a micro found poetry project. This would be fun to make for necklaces (teachers, think parent presents- Christmas, Valentine's Day, Mother's Day), or ornaments, or as a slumber party project. She's even tried it with middle school boys!
  • Laura Purdie Salas  has a "Kidlit Combo," an original cinquain, "The Perfect Gift," in response to Sara Pennypacker's PIERRE IN LOVE. I think this type of response would be way fun to try with kids (probably Laura has already suggested that and I just missed it).  Laura's husband was having kidney stone surgery today and she requested that we send lots of healing thoughts their way. We hope everything went well today, Laura!
Naturally, there were several Thanksgiving/Black Friday posts…
  • Penny Klosterman (a great aunt) and Landon (her great nephew) have teamed up to bring us Episode #7- "Leftover Turkey." The surprise ending reminds me of one of my favorite oldie but goodie Thanksgiving picture books, Lorna Balian's SOMETIMES IT'S TURKEY, SOMETIMES IT'S FEATHERS.
  • In another poem with a clever ending,  Bridget Magee Wee Words for Wee Ones brings whole new meaning to the phrase, "Black Friday."
  • Sylvia Vardell presented with Eileen Spinelli last week at NCTE. Eileen's poem, "Get a Life!" captures exactly how I feel about Black Friday (and shopping in general). 
  • Amy Ludwig Vanderwater captures her time with family and friends in "Grace" and promises that she will share the audio version of this poem as soon as her phone returns from Toronto (thinking there must be a story behind that one)! At Amy's other blog, Sharing our Notebooks, she announces the winners of the QUICK WRITES giveaway. 
  • Cathy Mere stopped by last night, while I was experiencing technical difficulties. Her original poem, "Yesterday and Today," reminded me of my mom and grandmother. It made me cry.
  • Given the low turnout at Poetry Friday today, I suspect many of us are experiencing Meredith Holmes' sentiments, "In Praise of My Bed," shared by Ruth on her blog, There is No Such Thing as a God-Forsaken Town.
And several nature or weather-related (OK, mostly snow) poems…
  •  Have you ever heard of a murmuration? I hadn't, at least until I read Diane Mayr's post today. A murmuration, it seems, is a flock of starlings, who fly in beautiful, almost choreographed patterns. Read Diane's original tanka, then watch the video of this glorious bird ballet. Wow!
  • Donna, at Mainely Write, had quite the Thanksgiving this year. A storm knocked out the power at her house, so she had to transport Thanksgiving dinner an hour south. "A Question of Snow" is actually a poem Donna had written (probably on another snowy day in Maine) but it definitely fits the weather in the Northeast right now.
  • Carol Varsalona wrote "Fall's Transition" in response to the snowy weather she is currently experiencing in Syracuse. She wants readers to remember that she will be collecting original poems and photographs for her Fall Festival until this Friday.
  • At Year of Reading, Mary Lee Hahn has a light-hearted original poem in response to this year's first snow. Earlier this week, Mary Lee reviewed Bob Raczka's new December poetry book, SANTA CLAUSES, and has decided to try writing an original haiku every day in December. She'd like us to join her in this endeavor at her new poetry blog, POETREPOSITORY
  • In the Pacific Northwest, Ramona is singing the praises of rain with an original haiku. She also mentions a book, ONE BIG RAIN: POEMS FOR RAINY DAYS, that sounds like a terrific addition to any poetry collection. 
A couple of folks were inspired to write by last week's NCTE festivities
  • I see Betsy Hubbard's name every week at Two Writing Teachers and her Chalk-a-brations show up throughout Kidlitosphere, but she says it's been a few months since she last posted at Poetry Friday. She's in today with two original poems she worked on at NCTE.
  • Lots of Poetry Friday Regular's will find themselves in Kim Doele's poem, "A Poetry Teacher's Dream." And I totally agree with you Kim, there is nothing like meeting up with your poetry hero/heroines at NCTE

A few fantasy-ish posts
  • Michelle H. Barnes is wrapping up a month of collecting monstrously good haiku from lots of Poetry Friday friends. This challenge ends Tuesday and participants will be eligible to win a copy of SANTA CLAUSES. And even if you aren't inclined to write a monster haiku, you can still enter the drawing, by commenting on Michelle's post before Tuesday. 
  • At Gathering Books, Iphigene invites us to visit the world of Tolkien, through one of his ballads, "Far Over the Misty Mountain." I'm not a big fantasy fan, but when I listened to the Youtube version of this ballad, it made me think I might add THE LORD OF THE RINGS TRILOGY to my TBR list for 2015.

And then there were poems as life truths posts…
  •  Irene Latham, who describes herself as a thrift store shopper, has a recently re-illustrated and re-relased book, "I Like Old Clothes," by poet laureate, Mary Ann Hoberman. Be sure to listen to Mary Ann's reading of this delightful poem!
  • Tabatha Yeatts offered two "Upon" poems today. "Upon Being Asked What I Believe In" by Carol Rhein has jumped to the top of my new favorites list (especially after a week with my two college aged sons who informed me this week that they "overstand" ideas that I can't even begin to 'understand!)

Thanks, too, to Linda Baie and Cathy Mere for stopping by to comment today, even though they weren't posting their own poems.

Enjoy the weekend!

Thursday, November 27, 2014


 Got any young doctors or scientists hanging around at your house? If so, Nicola Davies, TINY CREATURES: THE WORLD OF MICROBES is sure to delight!
You know about big animals
and you know about small animals…
(picture of a blue whale with men in a rowboat to show scale

but do you know that there are creatures so tiny
that millions could fit onto this ant's antenna?

So tiny that we'd have to make the ant's antenna
as big as a whale to show them to you?

The use of scale in this book is so clever-for example, the picture of a giant ant's antenna on the first page, then on another two page spread- a single drop of water can hold twenty million microbes, that's about the same as a the number of people in New York State  has a picture of apartment buildings with people's heads, or yet another, "a teaspoon of soil can have as many as billion microbes, that's the same as the number of people in the whole of India. I'd love to have the illustration from the India page hanging in my living room!

Davies goes on to explain some of the different jobs microbes play in the universe- how they decompost soil, wear down mountains and build up cliffs turn milk into yogurt, and make people sick and well. Emily Sutton's illustrations are detailed and perfect.

Read the NY Times review here.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

SEA TURTLE SCIENTIST- Stephen R. Swinburne

I'm not surprised to discover that the SCIENTISTS IN THE FIELD series has several (at least four, I think) books on the CYBILS nonfiction list. Today's offering, SEA TURTLE SCIENTIST, follows Dr. Kimberly Stewart, the "turtle lady," in her efforts to save the sea turtles of Saint Kitts and Nevis. The reader follows Stewart in her midnight watches of enormous mama turtles crawling up onto the beach to lay eggs, and her digging of nests that have hatched. The book includes chapters on how the turtles hatch and begin their journey, how the community is working to save the turtles and interestingly, a chapter on a native from Saint Kitts, that used to hunt sea turtles, but now works with Stewart on her conservation effort. Swinburne presents the complexities of conservation- the local people depend on sea turtles for food and use the shells to make jewelery, which is a source of income.

The story of Stewart's work is interspersed with numerous (I counted at least ten) related articles, e.g. WIDECAST (a Caribbean organization that works to save sea turtles), sea turtle facts, a history of Saint Kitts, how sea turtles are killed, etc. Back matter includes a glossary, a selection on how to help sea turtles, another on how to adopt sea turtles, and a bibliography of books and websites for further reading. By the time I was finished reading, I had resolved to stop using plastic grocery bags and also to go on an eco-vacation to a turtle preserve.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014


I love books that talk about how people work. 
And the grit that it takes to make something happen.
And how many "mistakes" have to happen before an invention is successful.

It makes sense, then, that I would love Elizabeth Rusch's newest book, THE NEXT WAVE: THE QUEST TO HARNESS THE POWER OF THE OCEANS, explores the work of three different teams, all working to harness the power of waves to generate energy for homes and businesses.
 First, Rusch takes into the lives of Mike Morrow and Mike Delos-Reyes, two kids who liked to take things apart. The two attended Oregon State University, where they invented a wave device for their senior project. Twenty years later, they dragged out their design and founded M3Wave, a company committed to harnessing the power of the ocean.

Annette von Jouanne is a professor at Oregon State University (she wasn't there when Morrow and Delos-Reyes attended). As an electrical engineer, she is concerned "about our heavy use of nonrenewable resources, how much we burned fossil fuels for energy, and all the pollution that they made). Rusch details Von Jouanne's team as they try, and fail, and adjust, and try again, over, and over and over. Finally, Rusch invites her readers to visit the work of a third company, Ocean Power Technology, which "might be the first in the water to provide real energy to real people."

THE NEXT WAVE is part of the SCIENTISTS IN THE FIELD series. Like other books in the series, the book not only includes terrific information, but it's also beautifully designed. Color photographs enhance the text on pretty much every page. There are numerous side bars and pull out articles, maps and diagrams, to build the readers' understanding of the topic.  End matter includes a glossary, carefully detailed sources and places where the reader can go for more information. 


My boys have been away at school
I have not seen them for eleven long months.
I have so looked forward to having them home.
To dishes in the kitchen sink.
Dirty socks on the floor in family room.
Endless noise. 

And yet this is a very hard week to parent.

For eleven years
I have loved my chocolate-skinned sons as best as I can.
Cooked and cleaned and driven.
Showed up at practices and games
Attended parent teacher conferences
and court room hearings
Claimed scriptures.
Cried and prayed.
Done without so they could have.
Over and over and over again.

And yet tonight.
I am not their mother.
We are not family. 

I am one of them.
The other.
The enemy.

I search for explanations.

I cannot imagine what it might have been like
to be that young police officer
in an urban neighborhood
on a hot summer night.
I do not know what really happened.
Why he would choose to point a gun
at a not-yet-man-child. 

And I cannot hope
to understand
the grand jury-
hours spent
listening to testimony
poring over documents
and photographs
to arrive at
a decision
that pleases no one
and can never bring back
a mother's fallen child.

I am left
sitting at the kitchen table
trying to find words
to explain injustice
to apologize 

to my chocolate-skinned sons.

Monday, November 24, 2014


Owen and Mzee? Balto? Keiko, the whale who starred in FREE WILLY? Smokey the Bear? Sea Biscuit?

You probably know all of these animals, but what about Binta Jua, the gorilla mom who picked up a little boy who somehow fell into the cage at Brookfield Zoo and carried him to her door, so none of the other gorillas could hurt him?

Or how about Pale Male, a red-tailed hawk that makes his home on Fifth Avenue, in New York City, and has fathered a hundred or more other urban dwellers?

Or what about the Tamworth Two, two hogs that fled the slaughterhouse and escaped into the woods of England in 1998?

These are only a few of the animals that are included in ANIMAL STORIES: NINETEEN TRUE TALES FROM THE ANIMAL KINGDOM by Jane Yolen and her three children, Heidi, Jason, and Adam Stemple. Each of the 19 narrative nonfiction stories included in the book is about a different animals, and is accompanied by a short nonfiction piece about the animal or a related topic. End pages include a brief synopsis of each story, a world map, a timeline, an authors' note, and resources for further reading. Each story also contains several full color illustrations, making the book more accessible to younger readers.

A great gift for an animal lover!

Monday, November 17, 2014


Our second graders do a unit on advocacy each year. I'm always on the lookout, then, for books about people who are advocates, especially in a way that children will understand. ALICE WATERS AND THE TRIP TO DELICIOUS, by Jacqueline Briggs Martin, author of SNOWFLAKE BENTLEY and more recently FARMER WILL ALLEN AND THE GROWING TABLE, definitely fits into that category.

Alice Waters spent part of her young adulthood in Europe, tasting yummy foods, then opened a restaurant, Chez Panisse. At the time most chefs were men. And most restaurants worried about finding good recipes, not good ingredients. Alice Waters changed all of that. She cooked with only the freshest ingredients and her restaurant became hugely popular.   Alice was the first woman to win the James Beard Chef of the year. She cooked for presidents and for the Dalai Lama.

But that wasn't enough for Alice. Every day as she packed her daughter's lunch, and as she drove by schools, she wondered whether children were having opportunities to taste fresh and delicious food. When the principal of a middle school contacted her, she paired with that school and the The Edible Schoolyard Project was born. Now there are Edible Schoolyards across the United States, because

Alice Waters is sure:
Kids who know good food,
who grow, gather, and share good food,
will care about the soil, care about farmers,
care about everyone having enough to eat.

Kids who get to Delicious can change the world. 

This is illustrator Haelin Choi's first picture book, and her playful illustrations capture the essence of the book. Back matter includes an afterword by Alice Waters (advice for kids about growing and eating food), an author's note, a list of resources for further research, and a bibliography.

Saturday, November 15, 2014


 "Every September, the great white sharks return to San Francisco. Their hunting grounds, the Farallon Islands, are just thirty miles from the city. 

While their 800,000 human neighbors dine on steak, salad, and sandwiches, the white sharks hunt for their favorite meal."

So begins NEIGHBORHOOD SHARKS, Katherine Roy's debut picture book, which is probably one of the most unique books I've read recently. The first few pages appear to be typical picture book format, with two or three lines of text on a page. About the fifth page, however, that format changes, to more an upper grade nonfiction type book. The first text-heavy spread describes the pinnipeds (seals and sea lions) that live on the Farfallon Islands, and the scientists that study them. The next five two-page spreads are devoted to five unique adaptations that enable sharks to effectively hunt seals. Did you know that sharks pectoral fins provide lift in the water, similar to the wings on a jet plane? Or that they have a complex web of arteries and veins that acts as a heat exchange system, which through swimming, increases their body temperature, and allows them to digest food and move more quickly? Or that their jaws aren't fused to their skulls, but instead can be projected forward, so that they have maximum bite force?

After describing these adaptations, Roy switches back to typical picture book format for a few more pages, before going back to a few more text-heavy spreads that describe the scientists' process for tracking sharks, the great whites' place in the food chain, and their migration process.

Katherine Roy studied under David Macauley at the Rhode Island School of Design, and the water color illustrations in this book are incredible- the way she captures the sharks' movement and attack feels as real as, well, as real as watching the shark attacks in JAWS. Kids are going to love the illustrations. The book also includes lots of beautiful labelled diagrams, which they are going to enjoy just as much.

A terrific book for classrooms and Christmas presents!

Katherine Roy wrote a post for the Nerdy Book Club about a month ago.

And was interviewed by Mr. Schu here

And here's a really interesting blog post about the process Katherine Roy used to create SHARKS.

And another link to her sketchbooks.


Carl Sagan seems a pretty complex guy for a picture book, but Stephanie Roth Sisson manages to make his life accessible to kids in her biography, STAR STUFF: CARL SAGAN AND THE MYSTERIES OF THE COSMOS. Sisson traces Sagan's life from his boyhood, growing up in the Bronx and attending the 1939 World's Fair, (I especially loved a page where Sagan goes to the library to get a book about stars and is first given a book of Hollywood stars) to his adulthood fascination with planets and stars, including his work on the Voyager. Throughout the book, Sisson manages to convey Sagan's continual curiosity and wondering. Several vertical and foldout pages emphasize the immensity of the universe and add to the visual appeal. End pages include a note from the author, information on sources, and a bibliography.

Friday, November 14, 2014


All last week, weather forecasters predicted a cold front. Temperatures were going to be in the twenties, they said. The weather at that point, however, was glorious-- temperatures in the mid-sixties, red/yellow/orange remnants of fall coloring the landscape, and it was hard to believe that winter was coming.

On Monday, winter hit with a vengeance. It was almost sixty degrees when I took the dogs outside at 8 a.m., then at ten, a wind came up, and by six o'clock the temperature had plummeted into the twenties. Which was warm, compared to -11, which was what it was when I went to work yesterday morning. I'm having a hard time making the adjustment, but, well,  Amy Gerstler describes the advent of winter much better than I ever could …


I dread the white concussion
of winter. Each snowfall demands
panic, like a kidnapper's hand
clapped over my chapped mouth.
Ice forms everywhere, a plague of glass.
Christmas ornaments'
sickly tinkle makes my molars ache……

the mercury just plummets,
like a migrating duck blasted
out of the sky by some hunter
in a cap with fur earflaps. 

Amy Gerstler

Read the rest of the poem here.

Check out other Poetry Friday offerings at Keri Recommends.

Thursday, November 13, 2014


 In January, 2013, Katherine Applegate won the Newbery for THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN. Now Applegate's back with another Ivan story, only this one is a beautifully written, poetic, take your breath away, picture book. Listen…
In leafy calm,
in gentle arms,
a gorilla's life began…
 Somehow, within the space confines of only a few pages, Applegate manages to capture the injustice of Ivan's life- how he was taken from his family in the jungle, confined in a dark crate, dumped off in Washington, confined at the shopping mall for years, and then finally, released to the Atlanta Zoo, where
In leafy calm,
in gentle arms,
a gorilla's life began
G. Brian Karas illustrations are pretty close to perfect. He describes his illustration process here.

Back matter includes two pages, "About Ivan," as well as some words from Jodi Carriage, Ivan's main keeper at Zoo Atlanta, who says, "Ivan loved to paint, which was evident by how quickly he came right over and made delighted sounds when I got the painting supplies out. I would hold out the colors and he would paint to the one he wanted to use-- his favorite color was red."

I'm tucking this one into my bag to take to school today. I can't wait to share it with kids!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014


A new Steve Jenkins' book?? Yes sirree, when my all-time favorite nonfiction picture book author releases a new book, I am on it! OK, actually this book was released in April, but who's counting? In EYE TO EYE, Steve Jenkins takes on the topic of animal eyesight. The book begins with several pages of narration about how animals use their eyes to find food, to protect themselves, to attract mates, etc. Jenkins then goes into an explanation of the four different types of eyes- eyespot, pinholes, compound, and camera eyes. From there, each page features information about  a different animal's eyesight, with an enlarged head shot, and then a thumbnail of the entire body. Lots of interesting and bizarre facts, sure to delight even the most reluctant reader:
  •  A young halibut has an eye on each side of its body. As it gets older, however, one eye migrates over the top of the fish's head. Eventually, both eyes end up on the same side. The halibut spends most of its adult life lying on its side on the bottom of the ocean, and the arrangement means that both eyes will be directed upward, away from the sea floor. 
  • The bullfrog doesn't appear to see things that aren't moving. It eats insects, but face-to face with a motionless fly, it will starve to death.
  • The Eurasian buzzard has the sharpest eyesight of any animal. Its vision is eight times more accurate than ours-- keen enough to home in on a rabbit two miles away.
End pages include the evolution of the eye, a page with a few more facts about each featured animal, a bibliography and a glossary.

Monday, November 10, 2014


I'm a huge Laurie Halse Anderson fan. When I saw the the impossible knife of memory in the audiobooks area at the library, I grabbed it right away and have been listening to it in the car for about two weeks.

Hayley Kincain and her father, Andy, have settled in her father's hometown, after five years of over-the-road truck driving. Andy is a decorated veteran struggling with horrible PTSD, which he tries to numb with alcohol and marijuana. Hayley must deal with her dad's serious mental health issues, and also adjust to high school, after five years on the road.  Her relationship with the quirky swimmer, Finn Ramos, helps a little. But there are all of those memories from childhood that she just wants to suppress…

I loved impossible knife and am thinking I'm going to have to buy the book to share with the eighth graders at my school.

THE STORY OF LAND AND SEA was my adult book club novel for this month. It's historical fiction, set in coastal North Carolina, during Revolutionary War times. I love historical fiction and expected to love this one, but quite honestly, despite the carefully crafted literary writing, I really didn't.

THE STORY OF LAND AND SEA is about a ten-year-old girl named Tabitha, her father John, and her grandfather Asa. Other major characters include Tabitha's slave, Moll, and her son, Davy. The book is divided into three parts- the first about Tabitha, the second mostly about John, and the third mostly about Asa and Moll. When the book opens, Tabitha, a lover of the sea, is about to turn ten. On her birthday, she contracts yellow fever and becomes very ill. Her father, hoping the salt air will cure her, decides to takes her on a ship, bound for Bermuda. The second part of the story is devoted mostly to John. He was a poor orphan, who eloped with his much more well-to-do wife, Helen, after her father refused to allow them to marry. The third part of the book is devoted to Asa, Helen's father, a "god-fearing" politician who keeps slaves, and worries about his granddaughter's salvation.

The book is beautifully written but very bleak. There's not one character whose life has a happy or even hopeful ending. At this point in my life, that was really hard for me. Maybe there are just some times in life when you need a little more hope…

Sunday, November 9, 2014

GRANDFATHER GANDHI- Arun Gandhi and Bethany Hegedus

Author Bethany Turk was a receptionist at One World Financial Center, on 9-11. About a month later, attempting to make sense of that event, she attended a lecture by Arun Gandhi, grandson of Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi's lecture included a number of stories during that lecture and Hegedus wondered how these stories might be made into picture books. Shortly after that, she contacted Arun Gandhi, and out of their interactions came the picture book memoir,  GRANDFATHER GANDHI. 

Arun Gandhi was twelve when his family traveled from their home in South Africa to spend two years in India with his famous grandfather. Arun's feelings about his grandfather were mixed-- he was awed by all that he had done and a little jealous of the time his grandfather spent with other people.  Arun despaired of ever being a "Gandhi," or learning to manage the anger that sometimes boiled up inside of him. 

One day, after an eruption on the soccer field, Arun ran to find his very wise grandfather, who told him, 
"…Anger is like electricity. It can strike, like lightning and split a living tree in two…or it can be channeled, transformed, and it can shed light, like a lamp…then anger can illuminate. It can turn the darkness into light.
Grandfather hadn't told me I was wrong and he was right. he had even forced me to choose: lightning or lamp. But I did choose, and I would choose, over and over, from that moment on, like Grandfather… 
I did my best to live my life as light."
Evan Turk's multimedia collage illustrations are fabulous, maybe even good enough to be considered for the Caldecott. When I learned he was from Colorado (although he currently lives in New York City), I had to check out his website. He has his own picture book coming out soon! 

Thursday, November 6, 2014

MR. FERRIS AND HIS WHEEL- Kathryn Gibbs Davis

Make no little plans, they have no magic to stir men's minds. 
Daniel H. Burnham, 
Architect and Construction Chief of the 1893 World's Fair

"It was ten months until the next World's Fair. But everyone was still talking about the star attraction of the last World's Fair. At eighty one stories, France's Eiffel Tower was the world's tallest building. It's pointy iron and air tower soared so high that visitors to the top could see Paris in one breathtaking sweep. 

Now it was America's turn to impress the world at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair. But what could outshine the French tower? And who would build it? A nationwide contest was announced… "

A mechanical engineer, George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr. and his partner, William Gronau, won the contest with their invention- a tall steel structure that moved. But then they had to build it. In the dead of winter. In Chicago. On a site that had 35 feet of quicksand. And no one wanted to finance it.

MR. FERRIS AND HIS WHEEL is a book about creativity. And perseverance. And collaboration. The book includes a kind of "double text." One text tells the story of Ferris and his invention, the other adds interesting facts about the World's Fair, the construction process, related cultural icons, etc.

From a teacher point of view, I think you could put MR. FERRIS in a study of narrative nonfiction. Or a perseverance theme study. Or do great compare/contrast thinking by pairing it with Megan McCarthy's,  POP: THE INVENTION OF BUBBLE GUM.

A book I know kids are going to love!