Sunday, December 10, 2017


I first became familiar with Eszterhas' work when I was a CYBILS nonfiction judge a few years ago. ORANGUTAN was in my NF top 10 in 2013, it was also my CYBILS mighta-beens that year.  That year, I also loved SEA OTTERS.

MOTO AND ME made this year's CYBILS nonfiction nominees. Eszterhas has moved to the Masai Mara savanna (in Kenya) to photograph wildlife. According to Eszterhas,  huge wildfires are common during the hot dry summers. During one of these fires, Moto's mother was trying to carry her two-week-old serval kittens across a dirt road. She was startled by the noise of a vehicle and dropped him. Before she could return,  some tourists found him, and thinking they would help, picked him up, and took him to the ranger station. By the time they got there, it had been too long and his mom was gone. Park rangers knew Eszterhaus had extensive experience with cats, and asked her if she would be willing to raise him until he was old enough to be independent.

Eszterhas named the baby Moto (African for fire). At first, she bottle fed him a special mixture of cows' milk, eggs, fish oil, and vitamins; he loved this so much that he drank really fast, one time he choked, and she had to hang him upside down and pound on his back. Several times each day, she rubbed him down with a rough washcloth and brushed him with a toothbrush, because those actions were similar to those he might feel during life in the wild. He didn't like being away from her, so when he was young, she carried him around in a pouch as she took pictures and went about her daily life.

At the same time, Eszterhas was very clear that she was raising the young serval to return to the wild. She wanted him to be ready for that, so she worked hard to make sure he would have the skills he needed. Servals usually play with their littermates. Instead of a sibling, Moto played with a stuffed duck. As he got older, she blended chicken with his milk, then eventually introduced a mouse. Moto hissed at her and took her to his nest, which happened to be Esterzhas' bed.As Moto got older, she left the tent open, gradually he spent more time outside, would always come and cuddle with her before he went out at night. One night he didn't come to cuddle, and although she worried, she knew he was gone. A few days later, she saw him in the wild. He came to her jeep when she called, but also left very quickly.

This book is a little longer than other books I have read by Eszterhas, but it's just as engaging. It might take a couple of sittings, but I know younger kids would love it. I can't wait to share it with my seventh graders, because I think they will love it too!

Friday, December 8, 2017


My middle schoolers surprise me pretty much every day. Earlier this week, one of the eighth graders randomly asked if I like poetry. I read poetry pretty regularly to my seventh graders, but I have never had this student in a class, so she didn't know that I love poetry. She proceeded to tell me that her aunt had written a poetry book. She went back to her locker to get the book. I flipped through it, and knew it was one that our older kids would love. It's the kind of poetry they love- poetry about relationships, about, love, about caring too much, and about breaking up. I told her I wanted to buy a copy and the next day she brought me one as a gift.

FROM SCARS TO BEAUTY would be a great book to share with high school kids, or with a women's group, to talk about writing as a tool for thinking and feeling. It's really uniquely formatted, with the title, often followed by a zinger last line, at the bottom of the page. It's a book I know my seventh grade girls are going to fight over.

if i could,
i would point out
the exact:
aligned in the stars
of the
exact moment
i lost myself.



i was a mother
to my mother
so when she asked
to become one for me
i only knew
how to look down.
i never learned
how to look up
to the woman
that checked out.

--- you sucked the
     childhood out of me


she's silent.
she spoke with
the fire
she held within.
her fury as no match
for those
who burned her.


In the afterward, Nicki Naomi says
"i grew up writing in a back leather-bound notebook. 
i filled every page with poems about the grief that held 
concerning my father's addiction to drugs and my mother's addiction to 
money among the many other childhood traumas that I experienced. Even at 
an early age i knew that channeling my emotions into writing was a a
healthy healing factor.  i knew that without it, i would otherwise remain
silent and potentially numb to myself the way my mom did. 

my poetry is a constant. and it's constantly evolving. the same way that i
am. the more i grow, the more my work does. i am a huge believer in
turning scars into poems, putting them in a book and moving forward.
rereading them once or twice a lifetime, either to improve yourself or the
lives of others. then, putting it back on the shelf where it belongs. 
"you can visit the darkness, but never live in it."
we are meant to survive. 

This is exactly what I want my students to understand about poetry. If you feel the same way, you can buy FROM SCARS TO BEAUTY on Amazon.

You can read more poetry at Lisa's  STEPS AND STAIRCASES.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017


"Fed up with the same old animals? Had enough of hippos? Bored with bears? Tired of tigers? Do you want animals that are fresh, new and exciting? Try LESSER SPOTTED ANIMALS, a book about the wonderful wow wildlife that we never get to see."

So begins LESSER SPOTTED ANIMALS. And it definitely is a book that includes lots of unusual animals. In this book, you will learn about animals like the Cuban Solenodon, the Long-tailed dunnart, the Gaur, Speke's Pecinator, the Ili Pika, and about 25 other animals.

Each two-page spread features a different creature. There's a large, drawn picture of the animal, often with a cartoon bubble. There are two paragraphs of description, written in an engaging and slightly comical voice that could definitely elevate kids' informative writing. There are tiny (1" X 1") boxes that contain additional informative drawings.

And there's also a fact box, which includes size (the silvery gibbons is described as roughly as big as the six month old baby from next door), what the animal eats, a small map of where it lives, its endangered status, and then, my favorite a category called AND, full of those random and interesting facts kids love to learn and share (e.g. gibbons are the most accomplished of swingers-- hurtling around in the treetops, some can reach 35 mph and clear gaps of 49 feet- the accompanying diagrams says that 49 feet is as long as three Range Rovers). End matter includes a glossary.

Fun and definitely unusual!

Sunday, December 3, 2017

I'VE GOT FEET: FANTASTIC FEET OF THE ANIMAL WORLD by Julie Murphy, illustrated by Hannah Tolson

Christmas is coming. I need to get sweet Esveidy's box in the mail this week. Of course, the first thing that I put in the box will be books. Is there anything else? Yesterday, I spent a good part of the day at the Denver Public Library reading CYBILS nominations. I'VE GOT FEET is a book I will be purchasing for Esveidy. It's a terrific nonfiction book for the primary set- engaging pictures, not too long, interesting information…

The book starts out:
Animal feet can walk, run, and kick.They can climb, jump, and dig. 
Some feet swim, some catch food.What a lot of things animal feet can do!
After that, each two page spread features a different animal, some more typical and some unusual-- a cheetah, zebra, duck, gecko, koala, penguin, red kangaroo, great horned own, spade foot toads, chimpanzees. The left side of each spread is the animal "talking." The right side is an interesting fact. Here are a few examples:
Left page: I've got KICKING feet
My back feet sure pack a punch. They help me to avoid becoming  a lion's next meal. 
Right page:  Zebra feet kick so hard they can break a lion's jaw.  

Left page: I've got BLUE feet.
I show them off by stepping high. 
Right  page: Male blue footed boobies show off to attract females.
Those with the bluest feet are chosen first.

Left page: I've got DEADLY feet!
My fierce feet have awesome claws that can catch all kinds of creatures for food. 
Right page: Great horned owl feet are so powerful they can even snatch up skunks, which are almost three times heavier than the owl.

I know Miss E's going to love this one! And so will a lot of other kids and teachers!