Monday, October 27, 2014

DARE THE WIND- Tracey Fern, illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully

Here's a picture book biography to add to your brave girls basket! Ellen Prentiss, born in Marblehead Massachusetts in 1814, was the daughter of a schooner captain who taught her how to navigate his boat, warning her that a true navigator must always have the "caution to read the sea as well the courage to dare the wind." When Ellen grew up, she married Josiah Perkins Creesy (Percy) and became his navigator, helping him sail the trade routes to China.

In the late 1840's, the California Gold Rush started, and people were anxious to get from the east coast to the west coast quickly. The land route took six to eight months, as did the route in large sailing ships. A new kind of ship, called a clipper, could navigate the route more quickly. Percy became captain of The Flying Cloud, and with Ellen navigating, sailed down around Cape Horn and back up the coast of South America to San Francisco in 89 days. This book captures their journey.

Emily Arnold McCully's illustrations make the reader feel like she is right there on wind-tossed schooner! End pages show the map of the ship's route, while an author's note and glossary add a little extra detail. Interested readers are given other books and websites for further research.

Sunday, October 26, 2014


MAMA BUILT A LITTLE NEST captures the intricacies of "avian architecture." The book contains 15 two-page-spreads, each describing a different kind of bird next. The lefthand page is a four rhyming verse, e.g.
Daddy built a little next--
Now don't gross out-- with spit 
Who would have thought that spit would make
the perfect place to sit?
The right hand page includes one or two sentences about the bird:
The swiftlet makes an edible nest using tube-shaped saliva, which hardens in the air. Swiftlet nests are used in bird's nest soup, a Chinese delicacy
In the author's note, Jennifer Ward explains:
Birds are skilled, inventive, and adaptable builders. Nest design may be minimal (as with a scrape) or mind-boggling intricate (as with a woven). Sizes may be tiny (hummingbird) or huge (eagle). Birds design burrow, cavity, and mound  nests. They sew and craft woven, dome, and hanging nests. They produce nests that float, defy gravity, expand, are camouflaged, and that heat and cool.
Primary grade students are going to fall in love with this book. At the same time, I'm thinking it will be perfect for the animal adaptations unit our fifth graders are starting in early November. And an added bonus- collage illustrations are by one of my all-time favorite picture book artists, Steve Jenkins. 

Melissa Stewart's FEATHERS: NOT JUST FOR FLYING is another terrific new book about animal adaptations. In this picture book, Stewart describes the many different ways that birds use feathers. Two purposes are paired, then compared with common objects in a large font at the top of the page,  then a more detailed paragraph, in a smaller font, gives additional information.
"Feathers can shade out sun like an umbrella… As a hungry tri-colored heron wades through the water in search of food, it raises its wings high over its head. The feathers block out reflections from the sky and shade the water. This makes it easier to spot tasty fish and frogs. 
 Or protect like sunscreen"
On sunny summer afternoons red-tailed hawks spend hours soaring through the sky in search of prey Their thick feathers protect their delicate skin from the sun's harmful rays.
Sarah Brannen's watercolor illustrations are intricate and perfect, and yet feel simple enough that they could provide a great mentor text for any child interested in creating a nature journal.

Great for a lesson on birds, animal adaptations, metaphor, or capturing information on illustrations! Or just plain reading and enjoying!

Friday, October 24, 2014


Photo  by Leersum, from Wikimedia Commons


If I can let you go as trees let go
Their leaves, so casually, one by one;
If I can come to know what they do know,
That fall is the release, the consummation,
Then fear of time and the uncertain fruit
Would not distemper the great lucid skies
This strangest autumn, mellow and acute.
If I can take the dark with open eyes
And call it seasonal, not harsh or strange
(For love itself may need a time of sleep),
And, treelike, stand unmoved before the change,
Lose what I lose to keep what I can keep,
The strong root still alive under the snow,
Love will endure - if I can let you go.
May Sarton

by William Stafford

It could happen any time, tornado,
earthquake, Armageddon…

But some bonuses, like morning,
like right now, like noon,
like evening.

Read the entire poem here

Cathy Mere is hosting POETRY FRIDAY today. Head over there for lots more great poetry. 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

THE RIGHT WORD- Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet

 Did you know the word thesaurus actually means rich treasure?

I've been thinking a lot that treasure chest this fall.

Academic vocabulary. The power of words. And how to expose kids to words. Maybe most importantly, how to help kids fall in love with words.

In their newest collaboration, THE RIGHT WORD: ROGET AND HIS THESAURUS, Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet explore the life of one of the world's greatest word lovers, Dr. Peter Mark Roget, creator of Roget's thesaurus. Roget started making lists of words when he was eight years old and just never stopped. His original thesaurus was published in 1852 and now 170 years later, people are still drawing on that original work.

Roget's lists provided the inspiration for Melissa Sweet's collage illustrations; in fact,  in her end note, she explains that she decided how she would format the illustrations when she held a copy of the original 1805 thesaurus and saw how he had organized his notes. Each illustration contains similar lists of words. I could see these lists providing some young lovers of words with inspiration to create their own "treasure chest" lists or notebooks.

Fabulous on all levels!

Don't miss two interviews with Melissa Sweet.
Seven Impossible Things before Breakfast
Colby Sharp's 5-4-3-2-1 Interview here.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

VIVA FRIDA- Yuyi Morales

I have had a lot of shifts in my "teacher brain" the last few years.

Definitely one of the biggest ones has to do with the teaching of writing.

And more specifically with regard to the role of art in the teaching of writing.

Oh, I've regularly let kids draw or create to accompany their writing. With the little ones, the drawing came before they wrote. I watched and listened as they told their stories through their drawings, sometimes to nearby friends, other times to themselves, then put their pencil to paper to write words.  I knew that the oral rehearsal done during drawing was hugely important to the actual writing of words. I told other teachers to let kids draw before they wrote.

With older kids, however, I thought differently. Oh, they did art too, but the art was dessert. They need to write first, then they could draw or create.

In the last couple of years, though, I have rethought that practice. I've let kids create visually- make a drawing or painting, create a pamphlet or poster or powerpoint, and then write. And I've discovered that the writing has gotten much better.

I really think it's because, just like their younger peers, they need the oral rehearsal.

That's why I was delighted to find Yuyi Morales' picture book, VIVA FRIDA, about Mexican painter, Frida Kahlo. Aside from an extensive author's note at the end of the book, the text in this book tells very little about the artist's life. The gorgeous part computer, part photography, part painting, collage illustrations, however, tell a great deal. The reader who looks closely will learn about Kahlo's unibrow, her love for bright colors, her dog Xolot and her pet monkey Fulang-Chang, her relationship with husband Diego Rivera, and also much about her work as an artist.

I can see myself, then, using Kahlo's book as a mentor text for students writing biographies. They could do research, then choose a few of the most interesting or important facts about that person and embed them within collages or illustrations. The act of creating could serve as an oral rehearsal for the act of writing.

And unleash a whole other part of kids' brains. Which it doesn't seem like we do nearly enough of these days. 

Read a New York Times book review here.

Read a Kirkus review here. 

Friday, October 17, 2014


There are so many ways to tell a story. In FRIDA, Carmen T. Bernier-Grand weaves together a series of biographical poems to capture the life of Mexican-born artist, Frida Kahlo. Kahlo had a difficult life- a childhood bout of polio, a crippling bus accident at age 18, marriage, then divorce, then remarriage to Diego Rivera, four miscarriages, spinal surgery that left her wheelchair bound, and then the amputation of her leg-- and yet she lived with strength, pride, and even joy. ¡Viva la vida/ (Long live life!) was her personal battle cry.

The book includes 26 poems, illustrated with Kahlo's artwork. Back matter consists of a biography, a timeline, and a bibliography. A terrific mentor text for middle or high school students attempting to write biographies or autobiographies.

"Hummingbird Wings"

I am a wounded hummingbird
caged in my room for nine months
with polio, crippling polio

Warm towels soaked in walnut water
ease the pain in my leg,
a thin, drying twig.

I hide in the walnut wardrobe
put on a white sock,
another on top
and another
Is the right leg as fat as the other?
The cage opens. 
Now I have wings.


Wednesday, August 21, 1920

Coyoacán- Today the marriage
between an elephant and a dove
took place in a civil ceremony 
in the ancient hall.
The twenty-two-year-old bride
Frida Kahlo wor
a Tehuana peasant dress
and a rebozo created by the people
for the people.
The forty-three-year-old,
bulky groom Diego Rivera,
sported a peacock feather
in his Stetson hat,
a wide leather belt,
huge minuer's shoes,
and paint-stained pants,
that looked as if he had slept in them
for a week.

My barren landscapes show my barren self
I have lost three children. 

Four arrows in my heart
to remind Diego how his shots have made me bleed.

Shooting pains in my hip,
Shooting pains in my foot,
Shooting pains in my spine.

I am not sick.
I am broken.
But I am happy to be alive. 

Michelle Barnes is hosting Poetry Friday today. Head over there for a Halloween poetry challenge!

Saturday, October 11, 2014


If more teachers included the story part of history, I'm pretty sure a lot more kids would be interested in history. That's definitely true with tonight's CYBILS read, HE HAS SHOT THE PRESIDENT by Don Brown. Brown tells the story not only of the day President Lincoln was shot and the subsequent manhunt for John Wilkes Booth. It's the richness of the story that captures the reader's attention.

I know kids all the way through high school are going to love the story of how Lincoln's death was one of three planned assassinations for that evening. They are going to be fascinated by how four soldiers carried Lincoln's long and almost lifeless body across the street to Peterson's Rooming House, then laid it diagonally across a bed. They will love reading about how John Wilkes Booth was locked inside a tobacco barn, which was then set on fire after he refused to come out. And how people filed past Lincoln's coffin in New York City for 25 hours straight, and yet only a small portion of the half million people waiting actually got to see the body. Or of how city leaders tried to stop African Americans from participating in the funeral procession back to the train station, and the Secretary of State had to issue a decree.

So many rich stories. So much history. I love that this book is one in a series of five (so far). I hope there will be lots more!