"I have always imagined that Paradise will be some kind of library." ~ Jorge Luis Borges

Friday, July 26, 2013

Little Red Writing

Joan Holub and Melissa Sweet have created an engaging way to introduce and/or remind young (and old) writers about the perils of storytelling.  Little Red Writing is a typical Melissa Sweet production - a beautifully created and rendered book.

I'd like to tell you how much I like this book. How much the verbs and adjectives and conjunctions and adverbs are so totally, amazingly, stupendous. How the funny, exciting, scary, suspenseful story is accompanied by beautiful, rich, engaging, detailed, energetic, illustrations. I'd like to tell you that I learned a lot about grammar and sentence structure and it was all very exciting and very fun!

Thankfully, I did read this book.

Thankfully, I did pick up some storytelling tips.

I equipped myself with the implements for writing...

Once upon a time...

There was a Little Red Pencil.  She was no pushover like some of her other red riding hood story mates.  She was a go-getter, willing and happy to take on the challenges of storytelling.  She attended school with other, themed pencils, such as basketball and birthday. She had a wonderful teacher named Ms. 2.

Little Red Pencil had trouble.  She needed to write a story and writing stories can be perilous.  Things like boring verbs, overly descriptive passages with out-of-control adjectives, carnivorous conjunctions, sloppy sentence structure and inadequate punctuation can destroy a good story.

There was even bigger trouble: The Wolf.   

Luckily, Little Red fixes the problem.  Courageous and quick thinking, this Little Red is a role model for all.  

The End.
This book is sure to be a hit with teachers and students alike.   Just opening the cover pulls the reader in. The end papers kick off the action...
of this incredibly punny and exciting story.

Why, thank you, I will!

Danger, humor, excitement, adventure, mystery, suspense and writing advice all in one?  This one's a keeper!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Real Boy

Anne Ursu knows how to take a dollop of this, a dash of that and a pinch of the other to concoct an engaging, clever fantasy adventure.

Below the shining city of Asteri, in a forest called The Barrow, Oscar prepares herbs and plants in a small room beneath the shop of his master.  The shining city of Asteri is protected by magic, magic that is fed by the Barrow's rich soil.  The Barrow's rich soil feeds the plants and herbs that Oscar's master, Caleb, sells. Caleb is a magician, a magician more powerful than any in a generation. Oscar is not his apprentice, but a mere hand whose job it is to collect, dry, extract and grind the tools of his master's trade.  

Caleb and the magic smiths of the Barrow serve the people of Asteri.  Life in Asteri and the Barrow have been like this for a hundred years.  Then the children of Asteri begin to fall ill.  The children of a city that should see no harm, that should be protected by magic.  Then, some form of evil in the forest begins to attack the people of the barrow.  These events might be connected to a plague that nearly destroyed everything and everyone and left lasting reminders and consequences.  Oscar is thrust into action. 

And that's all I'll tell you. 

Wait, I'll tell you this, I love this book.

I love Oscar. Oscar might not think he understands and relates to people, but he sees what they don't and he understands what they don't.  Oscar has a secret weapon: his knowledge.  Oscar is a reader.

I love how Anne Ursu celebrates the power of plants, plants that grow in many gardens, plants like cockscomb, burdock, foxglove, and agrimony.  This book doesn't just celebrate plants, it is a tribute to the power of the natural world - plants, trees, soil, and water all play important roles.

I love the cats whose unique names and personalities make them characters in their own right.  The reader knows that Oscar is not alone (and is also protected) if the cats are about.

I love Callie, the brave and strong apprentice, whose broken heart tries to heal others.  

I love that the novel explores societal ideals around justice and equality as well as perfection and acceptance.  

I love how Anne Ursu challenges the reader to consider, "What would you do to secure a perfect world?" and, "What would you do to ensure your child's health and happiness?"  

Like the herbs and plants young Oscar collects, prepares and combines to create herbal remedies for his master's clients, Anne Ursu collects, prepares and combines magic, wizards, and a plague, along with suspense, mystery and some hero's quest to create one powerful concoction.  Read the The Real Boy.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Tea Party Rules

I don't care how busy your social calendar is, 
do not miss this tea party!

In Tea Party Rules, Ame Dyckman and K.G. Campbell have created an engaging and funny story that imparts some serious wisdom. 

You can skip my review below and go straight to Goodreads'. If you'd like to partake in my rainy day fun, read away!
I'm going to a tea party and I need a fancy outfit!  (Tea party means fancy dress party where I come from.)  This might not be easy, I head for the hills, literally and figuratively, in the summer and move in with my parents, who live in the mountains on the side of a former volcano (if you walk out the front door, there are only two ways to go - up or down).  

So, here I am in my childhood home, looking for just the right dress...

Maybe this one!  

I wore this back in the 80's (can you guess?) as a Maid-of-Honor in my sister's wedding.  
Yes, she loved me, honest.  
It was just the style.
Maybe the one!
 I made her wear it three years later.  
Yes, I loved her, too. 
It was just the style.
One of my mother's dresses?  ...and a hat?
Now I need a friend!

I've invited my mother's teddy bear -- for which my daughter has made a nice brown suit because he is very old and his fur is just not what it should be any more.  His name is Teddy.  I have also invited Leppie, another of my mother's stuffed animals.  
These two animals were well loved by my mother and her three sisters.
I gathered two of our old chairs...and the china...and some cookies and tea. All set. READ.
Tea Party Rules 
by Ame Dyckman and K.G. Campbell  
is awesome fun!

A lovely and perfectly-set tea party awaits, in a garden of course. This well-staged tea party, set by a young girl, includes a doll and her bear. Unexpectedly, the tea party is crashed by an uninvited guest, an uninvited guest who smells some very yummy freshly-baked cookies when out wandering the forest.

This poor intruder does not know what he is in for - cookies and tea are yummy, BUT tea parties have rules and lots of them. What ensues is a funny, wonderful romp that culminates is the best fun of all.  Tea Party Rules has an ending sure to surprise and please.  Sometimes tea party rules become tea parties rule!  
I'll join in the fun!
Ame Dyckman once again reminds us that unexpected things, like guests and friendships, are often the best.  Ame's books also remind us to break out of our mold and be open to life around us. 

K.G. Campbell's light and whimsical illustrations and color palate capture a summer tea party perfectly.  He brings the reader right into this wonderful scene and helps ensure he or she stays on the inside of the joke -- all you need to do is look at the expression on the bear cub's face.  

This is going to be one fun read aloud.

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? 7/22/13

Jen Vincent, who blogs over at Teach Mentor Texts and created a meme called, It's Monday! What Are You Reading? 

I love to check in on her blog (as well as the other bloggers sharing their reading choices) each week.  If you are on Twitter, you can follow the hashtag, #IMWAYR.

It's Monday! I Am Reading:
The Real Boy by Anne Ursu
Anne's ability to create fantasy adventure stories rooted in folk literature was ably demonstrated in Breadcrumbs.  That book secured for her a devoted following.  The Real Boy once again mixes a little magic, mystery and suspense into a fantasy adventure. I am already hooked. Check it out on Goodreads.

Tea Party Rules written by Ame Dyckman and illustrated by K.G. Campbell
I loved Boy + Bot and expect this one will not disappoint. Ame's creative and joyful spirit shines the light on unexpected friendships - friendships that focus on finding out what brings us together, not what separates us as beings. This tea party should be fun! Check it out on Goodreads.

Nelson Mandela written and illustrated by Kadir Nelson
Kadir begins this biography with the first turning point in Mandela's life, the death of his father and his relocation to a school in Johannesburg.  It's Kadir Nelson. It's Nelson Mandela. I am really looking forward to spending time with this book. Check it out on Goodreads.

Little Red Writing by Joan Holub and illustrated by Melissa Sweet
This version of Little Red Riding Hood brings Little Red (the pencil) along the perilous path of writing - no wolves here, but plenty of other dangers!  I love stories that wrap inspiration and helpful knowledge in whimsy and humor. I hope to sharpen my own writing skills! Check it out on Goodreads

I'm off to read!

Monday, July 22, 2013

Snowflakes Fall

Books heal.  
Readers know this.

BUT I have not often stopped to consider books healing the people who create them. 
As I mentioned in my #IMWAYR post, I was honored to meet both Patricia MacLachlan and Steven Kellogg at ALA in June.   Both of them spoke eloquently about their work on Snowflakes Fall, a book Steven Kellogg felt called to create in response to the tragic events at Sandy Hook.  
According to his dedication, Steven Kellogg moved to Newtown and the Sandy Hook village soon after publishing his first book and proceeded to illustrate another hundred books while there.   He raised his family in Sandy Hook. His need to process the events led him to working with his friend, Patricia MacLachlan. This book's healing and beautiful message is carried out in both text and illustrations.  

MacLachlan has written a story that celebrates children and childhood while also allowing space for reflection and hope and renewal.  Her writing is poetic, allowing the words to fall into a rhythm, thereby giving time to absorb them.

"After the flowers are gone
Snowflakes fall.

After Flake
After Flake

Each one a pattern
All its own--
No two the same --
All beautiful."

Kellogg's illustrations are capture the natural surroundings of Sandy Hook, where fields and hills, trees and streams are the playground for the children.  The natural world provides a backdrop for words that remind the reader that there is renewal and that while life continues, memories stay forever. The children frolic is this setting - sledding, building snow forts, making snowmen, capturing snowflakes on their tongues. Snowflakes, like children, are each unique.  Setting this story in winter was a gracious way to bring forth the messages of renewal and celebrate each child as an individual. 
Together Steven Kellogg and Patricia MacLachlan have created a beautiful tribute to the children of Sandy Hook.  A book that will help heal readers. A book that helped heal them.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

A Splash of Red

"Make a picture for us, Horace!"
I love Jen Bryant's books. Jen Bryant has safely delivered many an important human cargo to the reader and I love Melissa Sweet's illustrations.  Melissa Sweet has captured time and place and the people who inhabit those realms again and again. Together they are amazing.

What's not to love? Nothing.  
I took my book out into the world and what did I notice? 
A splash of red!

There are many great elements to this book about Horace Pippin, an artist who overcame great odds and became an American master painter.

It is beautifully crafted and rendered.  Text and illustrations play off one another and flow one into the next.
Bryant's writing is crisp and clean yet rhythmic and flowing. Events in Pippin's life are presented with the appropriate amount of detail.  Bryant provides context for the reader, I will remember Pippin's birthday for many Februarys to come.  Readers will understand and empathize with Pippin's journey.  His life in West Chester and then Gosham.  His life before and after the war.  The importance of his mother, grandmother and wife, Jennie. There is plenty for a reader to learn here, but those readers wanting more can explore the historical note, author's note, illustrator's note and page of resources for further reading.

Bryant's "Make a picture for us, Horace!" refrain creates a thread to the story and provides a connection to the reader. We all want Horace to make a picture - for them and for us.

Sweet's illustrations sing of the hard yet beautiful life of a person who saw life around him. Her illustrations call the reader to slow down - to look and look again at:

The endpapers that get the story started and finish it off just right.

The rich textures and patterns that tell Pippin's own story.

The perspective that provides a window into his world.

The varied artistic styles that capture the stages in his life.

The color that captures what he saw around him.

This book is a full course of writing and art.  A beautiful tribute to a talented artist.
Both Bryant and Sweet handle with dignity Pippin's life after the war and his struggle to create art once again.  They create compassion and respect for him.  Readers will be calling out, 
"Make a picture for us, Horace!"

Daisy Gets Lost

Daisy is back!  And just as exuberant as ever.

I've been trying to take the books I am reading to an ideal spot. Daisy and I headed into the woods, which is where Daisy finds herself because...
While out playing with her new blue ball, Daisy comes across something that is far more fun to chase after...
The chase ends as all dog and squirrel chases end - at a tree far from where it started, with the squirrel safely up the tree and Daisy at the bottom of it.

Young readers will identify with Daisy's plight, but not be too scared for her for Raschka has given the reader a bird's-eye view of the scene and we see that Daisy and her owner are not too far away from each other. The story is not without elements that help the reader feel Daisy and her owner's situation - the bright and open woods become denser and darker and Daisy and her owner wear their worry on their faces.  

Readers will celebrate when Daisy and her owner, along with the new blue ball, are safely reunited (with the squirrel observing the scene). Whimsy and reassurance abound.

Raschka gives us the right perspective - we are like Daisy. We see what Daisy sees and we feel what Daisy feels.  She is anthropomorphic but with her dogginess intact.

Raschka's deftness with brush strokes creates mood and setting quickly. The pages team with energy and emotion. The color palate is rich. Daisy Gets Lost is a gem.
I attended the ALSC Preconference workshop A Wild Ride: 75 Years of the Caldecott Medal.  During one presentation, Chris Raschka and his editor, Lee Wade of Schwartz and Wade Books, brought us through the process - from dummy to book - of creating A Ball for Daisy.
I have a new appreciation for the book. It is a deft hand and a practiced eye that can create this kind of lightness and simplicity to illustrations.  What appears so free and energetic required far more thought and work than I had realized.
It was incredible to see: how the use of color, shape and line as well as the layout changed during the process; how the spreads changed the pacing of the story; and how Daisy, a white dog, could be given shape.  To say nothing about how we readers are taken on a journey that we understand and feel every step of the way.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Counting by 7s

If you read my #IMWAYR post, you will know that I was reading  Counting By 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan.

I read it. I loved it. Here's my take.

One thing leads to another.
Often in unexpected ways."

Sloan has woven a beautiful and intricate, yet patchwork, quilt of connectedness and belonging. Willow Chance -- health-conscious, natural world enthusiast, middle-school student (and genius) -- begins to rebuild her life after both parents die in a car accident.  

Sloan has placed each reader firmly inside the head and heart of Willow Chance.  

We feel what she feels:

"Air is sticking at the top and the bottom of my lungs."

"I'm not waiting."
"I'm just being."
"Time exists only in my mind."

We see what she sees:

"I don't see anything anymore, but I can't help but notice."

This novel is open and raw like a fresh wound, but just as wounds heal, so does Willow and so do we readers.  We heal because of Willow. We heal because of the people who rise up to support her.  The quotes at chapter headings should not be glossed over - as each character is introduced they give the reader insight into qualities. Sloan allows each character to grow and reveal unexpected traits or gifts demonstrating that we all matter or have worth. 

Sloan has created a character for which every reader will root.

Willow Chance is a numbers girl.
She's natural and prime like her favorite number 7.

Willow is a scientist 
She learned about life in the garden she created.

"If plants made sounds, it would all be different. But they communicate with color and shape and size and texture."

Willow Chance is health conscious  
She knows about germs, medical conditions and healthy eating and she'll share this knowledge with those who need it. (These health concerns and this knowledge add a light-hearted but grounded feel to the story.)

Willow is wise
When inquiring for a sample form and met with resistance from a government worker she thinks to herself, "I want to add that I am getting a lesson in bureaucracy every time she opens her mouth." (She is also witty).

"I don't need more theory, but rather more experience with reality."

Willow knows people
These are imperfect people leading imperfect lives, but she recognizes the gifts each has to give and helps them see that for themselves.

Sloan, through Willow, has pieced together a patchwork quilt of connectedness through language, ideas, experience and hope. 

One thing leads to another.
Often in unexpected ways."

And thanks to Sloan, we are connected - to Willow, Mai, Patti, Jairo, Dell, and Quang-Ha.

And, thanks to Willow, I will count to 7.

Monday, July 15, 2013

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? 7/15/13

At ALA, I met one of my favorite bloggers, Jen Vincent. She blogs over at Teach Mentor Texts and created a meme called, It's Monday! What Are You Reading? 

I love to check in on her blog (as well as the other bloggers sharing their reading choices) each week.  If you are on Twitter, you can follow the hashtag, #IMWAYR.

It's Monday! I Am Reading:
There is a lot of love flowing around this book right now.  I get anxious reading books that are garnering so much praise, mainly for fear that it won't live up to the hype.  I can reassure other readers like myself that you should have no fear.  I am only a few chapters in, but I am hooked. You can learn more about Holly Goldberg Sloan on her website. You can read about it on Goodreads.
 I love picture book biographies and I love Jen Bryant's other books. and I love Melissa Sweet's illustrations.  What's not to love?  I will be finding a special place to read this one. Here's the Goodreads page.
This one. I cannot wait to read this one.  I attended the ALSC Preconference at ALA.  Chris Raschka and his editor Lee Wade shared their process for working on the Daisy books.  We were able to see how both the story and illustrations changed.  Knowing this back story, I am excited to see the (almost) final version! Here it is on Goodreads.

And finally, this one, written in response to Sandy Hook. I was honored to meet both Patricia MacLachan and Steven Kellogg and inspired by their kindness and compassion.  To hear them talk about and read from this book was special. Here's the page on Goodreads.

I'm off to read!

Who Says Women Can't Be Doctors? The Story of Elizabeth Blackwell

One of the great things about ALA is wandering around the exhibit area and meeting and talking with authors and illustrators. I must have been destined to meet Tanya Lee Stone because I kept crossing paths with her, it got to the point where I instinctively waved at her, as if waving at a friend!  It all started when I walked by a booth where she was signing her new book, Who Says Women Can't Be Doctors? The Story of Elizabeth Blackwell.  

I had promised myself that I would buy and/or take fewer books home this year, that I would focus on ones that I would use in my teaching.  I love Tanya Lee Stone's work, so thought I would just share that information and move along.  Well, after speaking with her for a while and hearing about the new book, I knew I had to have this one.  Purchased it was, and into my bag it went.
Tanya Lee Stone has written another engaging and accessible biography for young readers.  I use Sandy's Circus, her biography about Alexander Calder with my fourth graders.  The art teacher has also purchased this book and uses it in her lesson with that grade.  It is also great to pair with The Calder Game by Blue Balliett.  
I have used Elizabeth Leads the Way: Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the Right to Vote with my third graders as a way to introduce the biography unit.  They love this book.  Both the writing and illustrations appeal to and charm the students.  It is a fun book to read aloud with students and begins many interesting conversations.  
Who Says Women Can't be Doctors? offers the same opportunities and experiences. The writing will appeal to students and get them appropriately outraged at the obstacles Elizabeth Blackwell had to overcome. Stone has invited the reader to "take a walk" in her shoes, from the first line, Tanya Lee Stone has engaged the reader and challenged him or her to imagine life for Elizabeth.

I brought the book to the museum of a local country doctor/gentleman farmer.  I figured this was the perfect place to read it. 
Like Stone's other biographies, Elizabeth Blackwell's characteristics are just as important as her accomplishments. Students will walk away knowing that courage and determination, a sense of self, and a strong will will help you achieve your dreams. This is not a litany of her accomplishments  but a window into her world and who she was.  The author's note at the end fills in the gaps in Elizabeth's life and is sure to inspire students to want to learn more.

I love Marjorie Priceman's illustrations.  They are whimsical, yet carry the serious message of the text. Their engaging and lively line will keeps students attuned during read alouds and provide insight into the text.  The variations in spreads give proper import to specific moments in the story.  The illustrations capture the time period perfectly and the wonderful expressions will help readers understand the story.  
My question is, "Which Elizabeth will Tanya Lee Stone write about next?" Queen Elizabeth I or II? Elizabeth Gurley Flynn?  Turns out she's switched to Jane and will be writing about Jane Addams! Keep your eyes out for The House That Jane Built, to be published in 2014.