Friday, June 29, 2007

Poetry Friday

I have been doing a lot of reflecting and poetry writing. This week I had the privilege to meet up with some old friends--ones whom I've know for my entire 30 years of living. It conjured up some memories--very fond ones, I might add--of my childhood in Ashland, Kentucky. I wrote this poem about my first house, and what it was like to go back.

I stare at the familiar window—
it was once mine.
From there I could see the large oak,
the wide garden dotted with seedlings
waiting for summer.

From that windowsill I peered into the darkness
looking for forest monsters lurking
waiting for me to turn the
light out.
It was the first room I called my own.

From that window, I stared off into the unknown
and dreamed my dreams.

I stare at the window—
no longer familiar,
no longer mine.
It belongs to someone else,
a boy.
The old oak seems small,

the garden is a field of tall weeds
choking out the
history of vegetables.

From that windowsill,
he probably watches bugs crawl
on the tree,
and imagines slaying dragons
in the woods.

But I don’t know what dreams
waft from that window.

It doesn’t belong to me anymore.

The round up is at Shaken & Stirred this week.

Monday, June 25, 2007

D. Anne Love--YA Writer

I went to Hollins Saturday night for one of their author talks. D. Anne Love was the speaker. She is the author of many historical fiction and YA fiction books.

A little bit about her:
D. Anne Love wanted to be a writer when she was a child much like her cousin wanted to be Miss America. She thought she had a better chance at being a writer than her cousin did at being Miss America. She was a teacher, principal, and college professor for 15 years before writing full time.

She tried to write picture books for a long time until an editor finally told her that she really wasn't a picture book writer--she was a novelist. The editor told her she was going into too much detail with characters, plots, etc.

Her advice to writers:
1) Write what you WANT to know. If you are passionate about it, then your readers will enjoy reading about it.
2) Don't worry about current trends. Write what's in your heart.
3) Try to find the heart of the story--What does your character want? What is preventing them from getting it?
4) There are NO failed stories. Not every piece will be published, but you will learn from all of them.
5) Nothing is wasted except for the paper. (This is my favorite one)
6) Read 100 books for every one you write. Read like a writer.
7) Take a lot of showers. Something about showers is conducive to the creative process. When you are stuck and trying to work out a problem in your novel, take a shower.
8) Persistance pays.
9) Be patient with yourself.
10) Write the kinds of books you like to read.

Some of her historical fiction books include:
Bess's Log Cabin Quilt
I Remember the Alamo
The Puppeteer's Apprentice

Her YA books include:
Semiprecious--About a girl whose Mom leaves the family to make her way as a country music star. She thinks her mom is coming back for her shortly, but she doesn't.
Picture Perfect--A girl whose mother has invented beauty hair care products and gets offered a wonderful job away from home.
Defying the Diva--Forthcoming. This is about bullying that goes on with teens.
Be Mine--Forthcoming in 2009. About abusive relationships and about a girl who gets in a relationshiop with a girl that is controlling.

One of the things you can't get out the printed text is how wonderfully D. Anne Love reads her stories. She has an entrancing southern accent that gives life to her characters that she reads about. I am on my way to the bookstore today to pick up some of her books. I can't wait for Defying the Diva to come out. She talked a lot about her concern for youth in America and how they are "plugged in" constantly. The lack of interaction with people allows kids to withdraw and lack in empathy for others. She read a lot of studies about bullying and talked to kids. Both pointed to the fact that it's not always the troubled kids that bully. It's the kids who come from privileged homes that have a sense of entitlement and bully others often. Her story Defying the Diva addresses some of these issues.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Jamestown book

1607: A New Look at Jamestown
by Karen E. Lange
Photographs by Ira Block
National Geographic, 2007
ISBN: 1-4263-0012-3

I recently began a bibliography of books about Jamestown in honor of the 400th anniversary of the Jamestown colony. Virginia celebrated in a big way, and many books came out in 2006 and 2007 in step with the anniversary.

This book, published by National Geographic, was one of the books I wanted to get my hands on as soon as I heard about it, but I just found it last week at my local library. I have read a lot of nonfiction books about Jamestown. Many of them have good information but were old and unappealing. What I love about this book is that it is packed full of fantastic historical information, but it is very appealing to read.

Since National Geographic is the publisher, one would expect nothing short of stunning photography. And this book delivers. The photography is the best I have ever seen of Jamestown. In fact, even if I didn’t love the information presented, I would buy this book just for the pictures. Some of the pictures are from the NPS historic site, but most of the pictures are from the living history museum with people in costume. You can actually visit the living history museum at Jamestown and see the same things on any given day. The pictures of the archeological digs have great details and bring the findings up close for students.

The text in this book is some of the best I have read about Jamestown. It is full of interesting and unusual details, but at the same time, it gives all of the important information that students must know. The captions for each picture give extra information too. This is a must have for classrooms and libraries. So far, my favorite nonfiction book about Jamestown.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Rick Riordan Interview

I am catching up on all of my print reading. I just finished reading the SCBWI Bulletin for May/June. The SCBWI website has a great interview with Rick Riordan. Check it out here.

Poetry Friday--Naomi Shihab Nye

I have been working on a collection of poems about growing up between cultures. Having grown up in Thailand, but being fully American, I have always felt like a part of me belonged in more than one country. Much of what I have written about my experiences have been vignettes of things that have happened. I began writing them one of the vignettes down as a poem one day, and it occured to me--this is the form that these stories should take. So, I've been working on that everyday.

I've written some poetry, but mostly prose, so I knew I needed to spend some more time really reading and studying other poets if I was going to do a decent job at writing poetry. I am working my way through a number of poets that my friends at Hollins recommended. Right now I'm reading Naomi Shihab Nye's 19 Varieties of Gazelle. These are poems about the Middle East.

I have never been to the Middle East, but Nye's poems really give details and pictures so that you feel like you are experiencing the same things she has experienced. She is a poet with an artist's eye for details.

Here is an excerpt from her poem "Lunch in Nablus City Park"
When you lunch in a town
which has recently known war
under a calm slate sky mirroring none of it,
certain words feel impossible in the mouth.
Casualty: too casual, it must be changed.
A short man stacks mounds of pita bread
on each end of the table, muttering about more to come.

Many of her poems are several pages long and each tells a story on its own. She tells of her life and her family here, but also paints pictures of life in the Middle East. I can't wait to read more of her poems. I have always known that poets point out the details that often others might miss, but after reading Naomi Shihab Nye's poems, I realized that she really brings out so many of those details. It's time for me to mine some more details out of my heart and get writing.

Poetry Friday roundup is over at A Wrung Sponge

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Henry's Freedom Box

Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story of the Underground Railroad
by Ellen Levine
Illustrated by Kadir Nelson
Scholastic Press 2007
ISBN: 978-0-439-77733-9

One of my colleagues found this book at the Scholastic Book Fair. In our Virginia history textbook it mentions a person who mailed himself to freedom. Henry “Box” Brown became a famous runaway slave during the time of the Underground Railroad. My friend was thrilled when she found this book—a more in depth look at the life of this person who only garnered one line in the history book. He now gets his story read to fourth graders, courtesy of Ellen Levine’s book.

This is a fictionalized biography, but Levine creates such an emotion in this book. I read it to my fourth graders and they were taken aback, stricken with grief, and amazed at the story of this man.

Henry Brown was a slave. He was separated from his family at a young age when his master became ill. Then he married another slave who had a different owner. He was concerned that their children would be sold—and they were. His wife and his children were sold. Ellen Levine’s striking prose told it like this, “Henry couldn’t move. He couldn’t think. He could work. ‘Twist that tobacco!’ The boss poked Henry. Henry twisted the tobacco leaves. His heart twisted in his chest.”

Henry Brown found some men who disagreed with slavery who helped him devise a plan to mail him to freedom.

Levine tells the journey in the box in great detail. Kadir Nelson’s artwork really shows how squished Henry would have been. The only thing I wondered was—how did he go to the bathroom? He was only in the box for twenty-seven hours, but I still wondered.

All of my students were amazed at all that Henry went through—especially losing his family. They realized how cruel it all truly was. The book says when Henry’s family is sold, he knew he’d never see them again. And in the book he doesn’t. My students were expecting a happy ending where he meets up with his family again. The author’s note didn’t give that hope either. I think it was a horrifying awakening for them to see that many of the slaves who’s families were separated never reunited.
I would highly recommend this book to anyone who is studying the Underground Railroad and wants children to be drawn in to the emotions and reality of this time in history.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Artist's Block Book

The Last Resort
written by J. Patrick Lewis
illustrated by Roberto Innocenti
Creative Editions, 2002
ISBN: 1-56846-172-0

I read this book twice. I know that if I read it 3 or 4 more times I’d find things I didn’t see the first few times. This is a picture book. What I found interesting is that the illustrator’s name was listed first. In fact, the illustrator’s name was almost as large as the title, so I wondered if it was part of the title. I had to look at the Library of Congress information (I’m sure there’s another scientific name for this, but I don’t know what it is ) to figure out who was the author and who was the illustrator.

The illustrations are very pivotal to this book. It has heavier text than many picture books, but the illustrators—often several to a page—tell much of the story. In fact the format reminded me somewhat of a graphic novel where you have several pictures and text to read per page and both are very important to your understanding of the story.

It’s the story of an artist who has lost his imagination and he goes on a trip to try to get out of his “artist’s block”. His car (a red Renault to be exact) leads him to a seaside hotel where other guests are also trying to find themselves again. A man with a pegleg, a young fisherboy, a sick young woman, a writer, a cowboy, a policeman, a pilot, and a Georgian gentleman all have parts in this magical hotel.

The pictures which give important details are matched with J. Patrick Lewis’ poetic prose. He describes the avenue he travels to the hotel as “a lane as long as loneliness, past a cliff beyond forgetting, through a spider-lightning night.” (p. 9)

There is an afterward in the book that explains the literary references to each of the characters in the book, many of which are characters that readers may not have heard of before. Nonetheless, it makes the tale of these characters even more enchanting as they go to the place of The Last Resort only to find their way out and inspired about what lies ahead.

If you have ever suffered from writer's block (or artist's block) and tried to find your way out, this book would appeal to you.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Ocean in Motion

by Loree Griffin Burns

Houghton Mifflin 2007

ISBN: 978-0-618-58131-3

I am moving to fifth grade next year, and in my preparing, I am reading up on things that I may or may not teach next year. Since I don't know exactly what subjects I'll be teaching, I'm reading a little bit of science, social studies, and preparing for the fifth grade novels I might be teaching.

When the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards were announced and Tracking Trash was on the nonfiction honor list, I knew I had to get ahold of this book. First of all, I love nonfiction, so I love to see children's writers make ho-hum subjects incredibly interesting. And better yet, fifth graders have to learn about the ocean and its currents in science.

One of the great things about this book is that it talks to real people who are scientists that study the ocean currents. What makes it appealing to kids is that these scientists track the oceans currents by keeping track of trash like sneakers, rubber duckies, and LEGOS. They use modern technology to study this trash and predict where it will float to.

The things I like about it as a teacher:

1) The information is current. This is research that is being done right now (not 30 or 40 years ago). So many of the science books in our libraries are very outdated.

2) The photographs are beautiful. It doesn't do any good to have fabulous information in a kids nonfiction book if it doesn't have good pictures. The photos really draw you into this book and bring the information to life.

3) It makes science real and important for kids. The trash being tracked in the ocean is harming polluting the oceans and harming sea life. Kids find out what they can do about this problem and how they might be contributing to the demise of our ocean wildlife.

4) The book has links to websites and other books on oceans for kids. The only thing I was disappointed in was that one of the links is dead. It tried to find it by googling also, but was unsuccessful. It's obviously not the author's fault, but it's still frustrating.

Other cool things:

You may remember the book 10 Little Rubber Ducks by Eric Carle. He was inspired by a story he read where plastic bath toys went overboard from a cargo ship at sea. Tracking Trash is about the real life situations were this has happened.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Summer Blog Blast Tour Begins

There is a great interview with Gene Yang, author of American Born Chinese (graphic novel) over at Finding Wonderland. This is the kick off of the Summer Blog Blast Tour. I can't wait for more.

I recently read American Born Chinese. I am not a big graphic novel fan. In fact, I'll admit, when I first learned about graphic novels 3 summers ago, I thought it was porn. I'm ashamed... However, this graphic novel was very good. It is several stories woven into one. I always thought of comic books as violent and not very "literary", I thought of them as "boy books". While I think American Born Chinese would really appeal to relunctant boy readers, I also really enjoyed it myself. There is a lot of story there! The fact that this book won the Printz Award really made me stand up and take notice. I was drawn to it also because it's about a kid who is between cultures. He's totally American, but he is also a part of his Chinese culture. It struck a cord with me since I'm American, but grew up overseas. After reading this, I'm becoming more open minded about graphic novels...

Friday, June 15, 2007

Children's Books in the News

Today I had the rare opportunity to watch TV in the morning. I was unpacking boxes in my new classroom for next year. In the middle of the mess, I watched the Today Show, which I haven't done since last summer. I am usually on my way to work when it begins.

There were lots of children's books in the news today:

1) The Nancy Drew movie is in theaters everywhere today.

2) Al Roker met with his book club to talk to them about Rick Riordan's The Lightning Thief. You can read a transcript of the questions the book club members asked Riordan in this interview here. You can view the video of the book club segment here.

3) Al Roker released his third choice for the book club. It's Swordbird by Nancy Yi Fan, teen author.

Wow! I never thought just having the Today show on as "background noise" would prove to be a fruitful education.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

School's Out!

School is finally out for the summer. I said goodbye-for-now to my students. I'm moving from 4th grade to 5th grade, so I'm excited I'll probably have many of them again.

So now that I have dug myself out from underneath a pile of paperwork, I am making my list of goals for the summer.

1) Spend a month in Thailand writing, relaxing, remembering. I grew up in Thailand, so I'm taking my husband and my daughter back this summer. My parents recently moved back there, so I can't wait to see familiar places. I'm working on a poetry collection of my experiences "between cultures", so I hope to get some inspiration for some poetry there.

2) Catch up on scrapbooking. I still have pictures from last summer that are waiting to be scrapbooked, so I look forward to cleaning it up so I can put this summer's pictures in a scrapbook. My problem is, I don't just throw pictures on a page. I have journal about every spread, so it takes me a lot longer to scrapbook than the average person.

3) Sit outside every evening. I plan to read outside every evening at dusk. I have been doing this a lot lately, and I want to make this a wonderful habit. I can't wait to curl up in my camping chair with a book every night and watch the fireflies flutter through the yard.

4) Work my way through a stack of books that has piled up in my office. I have so many books waiting to be read. I can't wait to have some extended summer reading time. I have many books waiting to be read and blogged about.

5) Write everyday. I have been in the habit of writing everyday, but I feel like I haven't gotten a whole lot accomplished. I am hoping that I will have some more time to really write in the mornings since I won't have to be out the door every morning by 7:15.

6) Learn fifth grade material. I have no idea what I'll be teaching next year--only that I'll be teaching in fifth grade. I have printed several hundred pages of curriculum guides to read. It's not reading that I've been dying to do, but it's necessary. And the fun adventure is that I get to find "good books" that tie in to what I'm teaching.

7) Get my house in order. We are in the middle of two bathroom remodels. We are in the last phase. I also just bought new bedroom furniture. I can't wait to actually have a sink in my bathroom (I've done without for 6 months) and a bed on a frame (we are sleeping on a horrible mattress on the floor).

Well, I've had a little more time to think this weekend. Being truly free of school gives a little more time to think about personal goals. So, here are a few more:

8) Do some day trips close to home. Places I want to go: Green Valley Book Fair (I haven't been in a year--time to go again), Crow's Nest Farm to pick berries, Swinging Bridge Restaurant for a pleasant drive and nice breakfast.

9) Learn how to make pasta. My aunt gave me a pasta maker a year ago and I haven't attempted it yet. This will be the summer to do it.

10) Learn how to make tortillas from scratch. I bought a tortilla press over spring break and haven't used it yet. Cooking is so relaxing for me, so I have two things I need to experiment with!

Monday, June 11, 2007

Wolves by Emily Gravett


Written and illustrated by Emily Gravett

Simon & Schuster, 2005

ISBN: 978-1-4169-1491-4

Age Group: 5 and under

I first heard about this book when it came up on the 2007 Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards for Excellence in Children's Literature. Wolves is a honor book for the picture book category.

What I loved:

1) The story within a story--I really love books that are a story within a story. The rabbit in this story goes to the library to check out a book at the library. He checks out a book about wolves. The text of the wolf book is in this story as the main text--until he finds out what wolves eat (rabbits, of course). Like David Wiesner's The Three Pigs, the reader sees the book within a book, but you also see the characters outside of the book. In this case, you see the rabbit and the wolf. The book leads up to the a scary confrontation--the wolf and the rabbit. The rabbit is terrified he will be eaten.

2) The illustrations and quirky humor throughout. The book's illustrations are in mixed media. The text of the Wolf book being read by the rabbit is in pencil drawings. The rabbit is also done in pencil drawings, but he has a little color in him which helps him stand out against the black and white drawings from the book. The book about Wolves is red canvas looking material. There is a textural effect with the book when it becomes the most prominent thing on the page. The cover is torn to shreds when the rabbit finds out the wolf eats rabbits. At the front and the back of the book on the end papers, there are postcards, envelopes, and and silly labels. On the front where the title page normally is, there is a reproduction of the front cover as if we are looking down on a smaller copy of the book. It says the book is by Emily Grrrabbit. Ha! Genius!

This is a fun but simple books that will thrill preschoolers!

Read an interview with Emily Gravett here.

Emily Gravett's website is also top-notch and very interactive.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Poetry Friday--Cynthia Rylant

Ludie’s Life by Cynthia Rylant

Cynthia Rylant’s novel in verse is about Ludie, who is a mother of six, and a grandmother, and whose life has never been her own. Ludie is an adult for the whole of this book, and Rylant tells her story in a lyrical third person narrative.

Ludie got married because she wanted to get away from her stepmother. Before she could barely blink, Ludie had six children to look after. Even after her children grew up, she ended up raising grandchildren as well, and she resented it. Her husband, a hard-working coal miner in West Virginia, barely made enough to keep them fed. She lived in poverty but still managed to send her children to college.

Her life was living practically. Animals were not pets, they were food. She had to live so that she could continue to eat and live.

“Ludie could not afford
to turn animals into people.
She’d known hunger.
She’d learned the hard way what it is
not to have a choice about food.
It is a privilege
a certain pass
given those of a certain class,
to dote on animals.
Ludie had counted out
too many grains of rice
to care whether
the dog had enough company
or the cat
liked its food.
Maybe next life
she’d be an animal lover.” p. 37-38

One of my favorite scenes is when she describes going to the ocean.

“They put everything they thought they’d need
in one of the cars,
then climbed in and went to Virginia Beach
for the day.
There is no use trying to describe
what they felt
when they got there.
Such feelings they never found words for.
No mountain child ever finds words for an ocean.” p. 53

This story could have been my grandmother’s story—she raising nine children. I know she and my Papa didn’t have two pennies to rub together. But she made it, sent some of those kids off to college, was surrounded by grandchildren in her old age, and grew lonely when she was the only one left alone in her small house that used to be busting at the seams with children.

Interestingly enough, when I finished this book, I instantly thought, this is a YA book—even an adult book. The protagonist is an old lady. This book is an adult reflection of her life. It’s not really appealing to kids, but it is so beautifully written. My library had it shelved with the juvenile fiction, not YA. Harcourt has it listed for ages 14 and up on their website. Much more fitting audience, I think. I hope teens will pick it up. I hope adults will find their way to the juvenile books to read this novel in verse about a strong woman.

The Poetry Friday roundup is at HipWriterMama today.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Boston Globe-Horn Book Winners Announced

2007 Boston Globe-Horn Book Winners were announced. Thanks to Fuse #8 for the link.

Winners are:
Fiction and Poetry: The Ostonishing Life of Octavian Nothing by M.T. Anderson
Picture Book: Dog and Bear: Two Friends, Three Stories by Laura Vaccaro Seeger
Nonfiction: The Strongest Man in the World: Louis Cyr by Nicolas Debon

Honor awards go to:
Fiction and Poetry:
Clementine by Sara Pennypacker
Rex Zero and the End of the World by Tim Wynne-Jones

Picture book:
365 Penguins by Jean-Luc Fromental
Wolves by Emily Gravett

Tracking Trash: Flotsam, Jetsam, and the Science of Ocean Motion by Loree Griffin Burns
Escape! by Sid Fleischman

Complaining and Finishing

Well, I'm swimming in paperwork and stress. That's how the last 2 weeks of school always is--no matter how hard you try to get ahead, the last minute details of teaching are horrendous. So, I haven't been reading much (other than papers), and I obviously haven't been blogging much. I was composing haiku in my sleep last night. Here's what I wrote:

toes burrow in sand
blanketed in summer's duds
worries drift with tides

Can you tell this teacher is ready for summer?

What did I finish? Margaret Peterson Haddix's Shadow Children series. I started it last summer, then got mad when the public library didn't have the last two books. Finally, they got them, and I finished the last one. I really think this would be a cool series to see in film. Her Double Identity is on my to read pile.