Saturday, February 28, 2009


Hayes, S. (2008). Dog Day. New York: Brubaker & Ford Ltd.


Dog Day is the surrealist tale of a class of humans being taught by a dog. The dog is in no way humanized, but stays true to his doggie self. Ben and Ellie, the featured children, learn to sniff, wag their tails, bark, growl, etc. It very carefully sneaks around requiring the human characters to eat dog food or go to, ah-hem, relieve themselves as dogs would.

The illustrations are vibrant and support the text well, while incorporating some elements that are photographed. The illustrations also include fun details like having the word ‘cat’ crossed out on the chalkboard.

It is worth noting, the principal character, who is present for part of the story is a woman and is not portrayed negatively.

This is a good book to use to encourage students to participate actively with a text. This book could also be used as a lesson in both perspective taking and acting.

Dog Day will be appreciated by many young readers. It is also the type of book that will entertain adults as well for its sense of humor.

Activities to do with the book:

Students could write their own stories of classes being taught by other animals. Such an activity could even provide some research activities for finding out about various animals’ habits.

This is a great book to chare with children who wander around pretending to be a dog, have an invisible doggy friend or want to adopt a pet puppy. (I won’t admit to doing or having any of the above at any point in my life)

Favorite Quotes:

“Ben’s new teacher is a dog!”

Riff and Ellie lift their legs. But when Ben tries, he falls over.”

“What a good dog day!”

REVIEW: I Love Chocolate

Cali, D. (2009). I Love Chocolate. Plattsburgh, NY: Tundra Books of Northern New York.


Originally written in Italian and published in Italy, it is clear that the narrator of this gentle story loves chocolate. I mean, LOVES chocolate. There is some serious lust for chocolate here. (And who could blame him? I mean. really.)

The writing is poetic and well composed. The art is pleasant and neutral with a lot of browns to reinforce the main subject. The one flaw is that I Love Chocolate does not really address the dangers of eating too much chocolate and even presents it as an option for dealing with an upsetting experience.  A teacher or parent may have to remind some young readers of the advantages of moderation or exercise.

Activities to do with the book:

This book could trigger a discussion of favorite foods and a lesson on how to express love for that food in the form of a poetic essay.

Students could also tell stories about events in which they ate a lot of chocolate.

Favorite Quotes:

“I love chocolate when it’s full of surprises. You have to take a bite to find out what’s inside.”

“Are you a dainty chocolate dabbler? Or a monster muncher?”

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

REVIEW: The Rain Catchers

Thesman, J. (1991). The Rain Catchers. New York: Avon Books.


The Rain Catchers is about stories, storytelling and the condition of having an unfinished story. Gray, a fourteen-year-old girl, lives with her grandmother and five other women. She is dealing with the approaching death of one of the women, her best friend’s abuse at the hands of her father and having a crush on the boy who is repainting her house over the summer. She also struggles with her difficult relationship with her mother, who despite leaving Grayling with her grandmother for unknown reasons as a baby, now wants Gray to move to San Francisco to live with her.

This gentle and beautifully written book examines women’s roles, community and difficulties. Gray, herself, is a very emotionally intelligent character.

When first beginning this book, students should be prepared for the overwhelming number of names to be thrown at them. Within the opening chapter, the six house residents, Gray’s best friend Colleen and Colleen’s stepmother and father are introduced. Plus, Aaron, the crush-worthy house painter and three dogs are also presented. To help this, the teacher should encourage students to make a chart or glossary of the characters and their relationships.

Activities to do with the book:

A teacher could use this book to guide students in the craft of writing and storytelling. A class could also discuss ways the characters deal with trauma or how they gain empowerment.

Favorite Quotes:

“If I died,” Colleen says, her voice dreamy, “if a buffalo ran over me or I fell off a mountain, would you tell my father how much I hated him?” (p. 1).

“It’s my grandmother’s house, where we are safe, where the honeysuckle rain falls in the summer, where most stories have beginnings, middles, and ends” (p. 12).

“I don’t want to argue. I want to find something we can agree on and discuss, a reason for us to go somewhere else to talk” (p. 33).

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

REVIEW: The Invention of Hugo Cabret

Selznick, B. (2007). The Invention of Hugo Cabret. New York: Scholastic Press.


This Caldecott winner redefined what a picturebook is. Over five hundred pages long, The Invention of Hugo Cabret interweaves illustrations and text to create deeper meaning, many deeper meanings. Set in Paris in the 1930s, Hugo Cabret is an orphan living in the walls of the city’s train station, winding the clocks after his alcoholic uncle has disappeared. Involving magicians, silent films, dreams, trains, imagination and family, this books seeks to show the interconnections among various objects and people to create meaning and a fabulous invention.

While working in a museum, Hugo’s father, also a watchmaker, had discovered a mechanical man that a magician would have used to impress audiences in a show. The watchmaker becomes obsessed with trying to repair the machine. After his father dies in a fire, Hugo is taken in by his uncle and decides to take up his father’s work on the mechanical man, guided only by his father’s old notebook. That is, until the notebook is taken by an angry old shop owner in the train station. Having caught Hugo stealing mechanical parts, the old man takes the notebook from Hugo. To regain it, Hugo must partner with the goddaughter of the old man.

The book is split into two parts, in similar fashion to how some older movies contained two acts.

I have read this book three times. Each rereading has revealed more connections among the various elements of the text. Despite this, it is the presence of the illustrations that make this story extraordinary.

Activities to do with the book:

This is a wonderful book to share with students to encourage them to seek connections and make meaning of the text.

Since the book is so huge, but also consists of so many illustrations and pages only half-filled by text, it can bolster young or struggling readers’ confidence in their ability to read.

This book could be used to trigger lessons about Western culture in the 1930s. Students could research the history of movies, trains, magic shows, and even the rise of the Nazi party.

Favorite Quotes:

“I want you to picture yourself sitting in the darkness, like the beginning of a movie. On screen, the sun will soon rise, and you will find yourself zooming toward a train station in the middle of the city” (Introduction).

“But another story begins, because stories lead to other stories, and this one leads all the way to the moon“ (p. 255).

“If you’ve ever wondered where your dreams come from when you go to sleep at night, just look around. This is where they are made” (387).

REVIEW: Duck and Cover

Urbanovic, J. (2009). Duck and Cover. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.


Peoples of the Earths, I present to you my first review of a book published in 2009. Yay! Just as I had suspected, it is the future!

Duck and Cover is a part of a larger series featuring Max the duck, who, among other anthropomorphized animals, was adopted by a human adult named Irene. This story features a new animal seeking shelter with Max and Irene. An alligator named Harold has escaped from the zoo after being accused of eating a pet dog and is desperate for help.

As the zoo inspector visits Irene in search of the missing alligator, Max and the other animals must balance finding the perfect place to hide Harold the alligator while overcoming their fear of him.

The illustrations show more of the animals’ dialogue than what is presented in the main text. Some of their comments are typical of young children’s questions or comments, others are cute and still others are subtle jokes. (My personal favorite is the dog that asks “under-wear??” while searching for a place to hide Harold)

Activities to do with the book:

This book is best used with preschoolers or kindergartners. It can help with discussions of adoption, fostering children, having a new baby join a family or accepting a new student into a class.
If a teacher or babysitter does not want to use this book as a part of a larger discussion, the narrative can be used for fun to encourage a game of hide-and-seek. Students could also create their own illustrations of disguises or hiding spots for Harold.
Also, if props are available, the students could pretend to be Harold and disguise themselves with objects around the classroom or house.

Favorite Quotes:

“Max was afraid too, but he remembered what it was like to be in trouble and alone. Now it was his turn to help someone else.”

“My mouth is big and my appetite is bigger, but I’m not dangerous.”

“I love you all so much, I could eat you up.”

REVIEW: Smelly Locker: Silly Dilly School Songs

Katz, A. (2008). Smelly Locker: Silly dilly school songs. New York: Margaret K.
McElderry Books.


Smelly Locker is a part of a series of song collections. This book features 14 songs set to classic songs familiar to many kids. This collection explores aspects of school, including heavy backpacks, class picture day, the lunchroom, recess, oral reports, etc. Each song is paired with a colorful and humorous illustration.

A problem that presents itself is the fact that not all children will be familiar with all of the songs used to create the general tunes for the song. I have to admit, I was naïve of one or two of them.

Another issue I have with this text is the fact that I feel like kids should be the ones to make up their own songs based off of the tunes to “I’m a Little Teapot” and “London Bridge is Falling Down.” Of course, such a fun exercise is still possible as long as a teacher reinforces the fact Katz’s versions are just a jumping off point for creativity.

Activities to do with the book:

Since students may not know all of the tunes presented in this picture book, a teacher could instead challenge students to think of these songs as poems as well.

A teacher could prepare a competition in which the students describe quirky aspects of their school building. The students could then sing and create a dance for the winning lyrics while the teacher records it.

Having this book present in a classroom or home could also encourage children to create their own silly songs or poems about the activities in their lives to help them create meaning, see the funny aspects of daily routines or relax.

Favorite Quotes:

“Heavy backpack!
So many pounds, I fear
if I look up, I’m gonna
topple over on my rear!”

“Time for ,mul-ti-pli-ca-tion!
Like two times three times three.
The teacher knows the answer,
So why’s she asking me?”

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Certified Resolution Writing Endeavor Review Report: Week Eight

Okay, I managed to make it again.  But not because I've been a good student and have been completing my final papers.  No, it would seem that in my desperation to procrastinate from working on those three final papers, I have found myself inspired to do some creative writing.  This week I have had numerous story ideas, have started writing a creative nonfiction essay and have written some awful poetry.

So, it would seem the best way to inspire me creatively is to assign me papers that involve as little creativity as possible.

Oh, the important things I've learned about myself while avoiding actual work.

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Picky Submitter

A while ago, I bought Jeff Herman's Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, & Literary Agents 2009 to help me find appropriate places to send my manuscripts.  While I am still not certain of who this Jeff Herman is exactly, I have found the book mildly helpful.  It's kind of the stalker version of the Writer's Market guides.  It actually includes activities that the agents and editors enjoy in their free time, they're favorite books, movies, etc.  

While this is supposed to give anyone willing to pay $20 an edge in the publishing world, it has great potential to backfire in multiple explodingly, explosive ways.

First off, it could lead a writer to send the following cover letter:

Dear Mr. Editor,

I hear you like watching The Office on Thursday nights.  I too like relaxing at home, in bed, watching The Office and thinking of you and my submission....

That wouldn't be creepy at all.  

The book also backfires in the fact that I glance at these agents and editors personal interests and discover that I have nothing in common with some of them.  Glancing at a certain editor's favorite books, I see that they actually managed to read all of Anna Karenina and liked it.  Who is this person, I wonder.  How can they manage such an arduous task and come out happy about it?  How would they treat people whose work they are editing?  Would he or she lead me to the point where I want to throw myself under a train?  I don't want to throw myself under a train.  I don't like reading books in which characters throw themselves under trains.  Surely this is not the agent for me.  So instead of submitting to what are ten perfectly fine agents, I instead find myself only sending work off to two people, because they actually like The Office and don't enjoy books in which people throw themselves off of trains.

Now having said all of this, Herman's book has the most personality out of any of the writing guides I've paged through.  And these beastly books need personality.  

I'd also like to note that the editors and agents answer a questionnaire.  To the best of my knowledge, there is no stalking going on with anyone, not even me.  Honest.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

REVIEW: Artemis Fowl

Colfer, E. (2001). Artemis Fowl. New York: Hyperion Paperbacks for Children.

Artemis Fowl is not only to tale of the ingenious and villainous Artemis Fowl, but also the Story of Captain Holly Short, the first female to protect the magical people by joining LEPrechaun force.

Artemis, whose mother is unwell since his father was lost in the Arctic, searches with his friend and protector, Butler, to restore the Fowl fortune. This leads Artemis into trouble with the magical world when he takes Holly hostage. From there Artemis must match wits with LEP’s best agents and one of the magical community’s sneakiest criminals.

The book allows students to question their own cultural norms, as humans are called Mud People and their (our) practices are called into question.

The story includes subtle environmental messages. It also blurs the lines between genres, as it includes both sci-fi and fantasy elements. But most of all, this is a fun series for the young action-adventure lover to become addicted to.

Plus, Artemis is a Mac user, the clever boy.

Activities to do with the book:

This is a book is a great adventure story to help to get students immersed in a story. It lends itself to role-play since students can have fun being a villainous and powerful child genius.

Since some complain that the Artemis Fowl books are hard to visualize, students could create their own illustrations to help with this or create their own adventures for some of the supporting characters.

Favorite Quotes:

“How does one describe Artemis Fowl? Various psychiatrists have tried and failed. The main problem is Artemis’s own intelligence. He babboozles every test thrown at him. He has puzzled the greatest medical minds, and sent many of them gibbering to their own hospitals” (p. 1).

“The Mud People destroyed everything they came into contact with. Of course they didn’t live in the mud anymore. Not in this country, at least. Oh no. Big fancy dwellings with room for everything—rooms for sleeping, rooms for eating, even a room to go to the toilet! Indoors! Holly shuddered. Imagine going to the toilet inside your own house. Disgusting!” (p. 50).

“Mummlp,” said her treacherous lips. No good. Incomprehensible even by a drunken gnome’s standards” (p. 97).

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

REVIEW: Oh.My.Gods

Childs, T.L. (2008). Oh. My. Gods. New York: Penguin Group.


Phoebe, a high school senior and runner, is uprooted from her home, friends, and college plans, when her mother decides to marry a headmaster of a prestigious school on a remote Greek island and move them there. On the journey, Phoebe learns that her new stepfather, stepsister and all of her soon-to-be fellow students are descended from Greek gods. Phoebe will have to battle hoaxes, secrets, discrimination, cliques, insults about her ‘bad’ blood (Harry Potter, anyone?), pop quizzes, Secrets, too much homework, uncertainty if she’ll be able to continue running and get a scholarship to her dream college, SECRETS and liking a popular boy who seems to hate her.

It was a decent feminist narrative as far as teen romance novels go. Phoebe is strong, motivated and hardworking. While she seems to be attracted to a complete jerk for most of the story, engages in catty fights with other girls and is happiest when involved with a boy, she still manages to fight her own battles. That alone goes beyond many other romantic narratives teen girls enjoy.

I found myself strangely engaged with this book. Granted, I love fantasy and I love myth. While containing many of the contrived plot constructions of romantic narratives (such as bets on characters trying to get others to like them, a male best friend who’s secretly in love with the girl, etc.) I still managed to be surprised by one or two of the directions Oh.My.Gods went. Plus, I totally love the idea of wandering around, threatening to smote people. But that’s me.

On a side note, I usually have no shame when it comes to wandering around my city, getting caught reading trashy (or even beautifully written) teen and children's books.  But something about the cover image of this book made me take off the dust jacket before venturing out with the book.  In theory, it's cute.  It's related to the topic of the book.  I don't think my problem is just the naked statue.  I think it was the naked statue in full light, combined with the pink, combined with the title that made me feel slightly ridiculous to be reading this book.  And I am secure in my geekdom.  So, please, Ms. Childs and Penguin Group publishers, don't be insulted when readers take off the dust jacket.  And maybe consider lecturing your marketing department.  I'm telling I'd lost all sense of shame until I looked at this book cover.  What do you think?  Would you be caught reading a book with this cover?

Slight spoiler (if you can make sense of it)-- This book deals well with the outsider experience. That is, until the end, when the outsider turns out to be an insider. Yeah. While I saw it coming, it still annoyed me.

Your pal in smoting!

Activities to do with the book:

This, along with some of the other young adult romance novels, could be used in a genre or theme study in the context of book club.

This book could be used to discuss genres. While combining myth and fantasy, it also has fairy tale elements.

This is also a lighter book to recommend to a student who is dealing with a new step-family, since several of Phoebe’s key problems involve the memory of her dead father, and dealing with her new step-father and step-sister. This is also a good book for a young adult student preparing for college who is concerned about being separated from her best friends. It helps to show friendships can survive distance and changes in plans.

Oh.My.Gods also provides some information on lesser known Greek gods and philosophy that could trigger a teen to pursue some further reading and *gasp* maybe even some research.

Favorite Quotes

“When I’m running I can almost feel my dad at my side” (p. 3).

“All the students at the Academy…are, ah-hem, descends of the gods” (p. 31).

“Just like him: Brief, cryptic and full of crap” (p. 194).

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

REVIEW: Avalon High

Cabot, M. (2006). Avalon High. New York: Harper Teen.


Ellie Harrison, along with her two parents who are university professors, moves to Annapolis for the duration of their sabbaticals. Ellie must deal with attending a new school, making friends, making the track team, having a strange desire to spend hours floating on a raft in her new pool, doing a class project with her inattentive partner, Lance and having a strange connection with the most popular guy in school, Will, who is dating the most popular girl in school, a cheerleader named Jennifer.

With snowballing hints, it becomes apparent that Ellie has entered into a modern situation that closely mirrors the events on Arthurian legend. What starts off as a tentative romance turns into a fantastic battle between good and evil, that Ellie never commits to believing in, but finds she must follow to save the boy she loves.

The writing is okay. Cabot certainly is a few notches above Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight when it comes to skill. She also includes more humor than Meyer. And less angsty. SO MUCH LESS ANGSTY!

This is a good fantasy escape novel for teen girls. It answers the important questions of ‘What if I have to move and start a new school? What if the most popular guy in school seems strangely attracted to me? Hmm? What if I find that popular guy’s perfect girlfriend is cheating on him with said popular guy’s best friend? How do I resolve this without being evil and with maintaining the popular guy’s possible like/love for me?’

I still manage to find myself wavering in my appreciation of this book as a feminist though. While Ellie is active and strong, it is not because she is overcoming her own character’s mistakes from her previous life in Arthurian legend. Rather she has been miscast, making for a surprise at the end, but concluding with a sense of determinism when it comes to character actions.

Activities to do with the book:

This book would probably be best as a fun read (although if a class had projects on Arthurian legend, a savvy teacher could try to sneak it in somehow).

It would be good as a book club or individual read, if the group of students had already shown in interest in the Twilight series. There are a number of thematic and plot constructions that are similar and would lend these books to comparison. Or this could be a book recommendation for a struggling reader who has, for the first time ever, expressed an interest in books, specifically Twilight and doesn’t know if there’s anything else out there for her to read.

Also if the Twilight angle doesn’t work, Avalon High has led to a Manga series that would spark the interest of some readers.

Favorite Quotes

“You get to start over. In a whole new school. Where no one knows you. You can be whoever you want to be” (p. 1).

“Only the dark-haired boy smiled at me…I smiled back…It was weird. It was like he smiled at me, and my lips automatically smiled back—my brain had nothing to do with it. There was no conscious decision on my part to smile back.
I just did. Like it was a habit, or something. Like this was a smile I always smiled back to” (p. 19).

“Guys like Will do not hang around girls like me. It just doesn’t happen. Clearly, Will had thought I was some other girl—maybe someone he’d met at camp and had a crush on when he was eight, or whatever—and now that he’d realized his error, he’d be leaving.
Because that is how things are supposed to go in an ordered universe.
But I guess the universe had tilted on its axis without anyone mentioning it to me, or something” (p. 36).

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Certified Resolution Writing Endeavor Review Report: Week Seven

Checking in.  Made it.  Mostly I've been reworking this short story I started two weeks ago that has turned out to be much more complicated than I first envisioned.  

For the next few weeks, with the permission of my few and quiet observers, I would like to switch my writing assignments from creative projects to working on my final papers.  Cause I have yet to start those.  Heh.

Sound good?

REVIEW: Maniac Magee

Spinelli, J. (1990). Maniac Magee. New York: Little, Brown and Company.


As an orphan, Jeffrey Magee is sent to live with his aunt and uncle who live separately within their house and refuse to share anything. At the age of eleven, Jeffrey, unable to deal with his aunt and uncle’s refusal to interact or communicate, runs away. A year later, he appears in a strictly racially segregated town, doing amazing feats and running like a mad man, earning him the nickname, Maniac. Quick to make both friends and enemies, Maniac searches for a home.

This Newbery Winning story, without a clear setting in time, deals extensively with issues of race and segregation. Maniac, who is initially completely naïve of issues of race, seems almost too naïve. What is more, the fact that no character ever reports Magee’s homelessness to the authorities may make this classic story difficult to accept for some adults.  To combat this, it may be best to teach this book as a tall tale, since Maniac is a mythic figure.

Also present in the book are issues of literacy. Despite his refusal to go to school, Maniac loves to read. He also takes on the role of teacher, helping an older man he befriends learn to read. In the past, the presence of this book in schools and libraries has been challenged in some communities for the fact that it could encourage children to run away or quite school.

The beginning of the story, intrigued me most. Spinelli’s narrator takes on the voice similar to that of a folklorist, examining the legend, the myth, the boy that is Maniac Magee.

Activities to do with the book:

This is a good book to discuss topics of race, segregation, school truancy, homelessness and loss. This is also a good way to introduce the idea of ‘whiteness.’
To help students visualize the text, they could create maps of Two Mills, reinforcing the division between the sides of the town. Students could then create a second map, trying to unify the town.

Other techniques used with the text include making Venn diagrams, comparing and contrasting characters that have parallel positions.

Also, students could examine the characterization of Maniac as a transgressor.

Favorite Quotes

“The history of a kid is one part fact, two parts legend, and three parts snowball. And if you want to know what it was like back when Maniac Magee roamed these parts, well, just run your hand under your movie seat and be very, very careful not to let the facts get mixed up with the truth” (p. 2).

“If you listen to everybody who claims to have seen Jeffrey-Maniac Magee that first day, there must have been ten thousand people and a parade of fire trucks waiting for him at the town limits. Don’t believe it. A couple of people truly remember, and here’s what they saw: a scraggly little kid jogging toward them, the soles of both sneakers hanging by their hinges and flopping open like dog tongues each time the came up from the pavement” (p. 9).

“For the life of him, he couldn’t figure why these East Enders called themselves black. He kept looking and looking, and the colors he found were gingersnap and light fudge and dark fudge and acorn and butter rum and cinnamon and burnt orange. But never licorice, which, to him, was real black” (p. 51).

REVIEW: Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key

Gantos, J. (1998). Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key. New York: HarperTrophy.


The first in a series, Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key follows Joey at school and at home as he struggles with his energy and impulse highs and lows. Underneath Joey’s multiple accidents in which he injures himself and even another is a well-intentioned boy who wants to get better.

The possible reasons for why Joey is the way he is are multiple and emerge as the reader continues through the text. Some of the hinted possible reasons include genetics, abuse at the hands of his grandmother, absentee parents, diet, etc.

The narrative includes some gross details (including Joey swallowing his house key multiple times) that will probably entertain younger readers more than they did me.

Activities to do with the book:

Joey’s strong voice makes this is a wonderful book to use to encourage students to take on the perspective of another. This book encourages discussions over emotional and physical abuse, lack of control, special education, compassion, forgiveness and getting help.

This would also be a book to use for reflective journal writing or for ‘child in role’ exercises in which the student pretends to be a character from the book and answer questions.

Favorite Quotes

“At school they say I’m wired bad, or wired man, or wired sad, or wired glad, depending on my mood and what teacher has ended up with me. But there is no doubt about it, I’m wired” (p. 3).

“You gotta face the hand you’re dealt and deal with it, and make your problems be the smallest part of who you are” (p. 148).

“You know, Joey, the medication has helped you settle down, but you have been a good kid all along. You are naturally good. I hope you know that about yourself. You have a good heart” (p. 153).

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

REVIEW: Chicken Cheeks

Black, M.I., & Hawkes, K. (2008). Chicken Cheeks (the beginning of the ends). New
York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.


Books like Chicken Cheeks are why I devoted my life to children’s literature. The story, initially appears to be a simple listing of different synonyms for various animals’ backsides. Through the illustrations, however, the reader eventually gets an understanding of a story at work. (Perhaps story is too grand a word for this book, it’s more a plan being executed and the fall-out after)

'Back'-sides expanding students’ choices in synonyms for ‘bum’ (which any parent is bound to love his or her child knowing), Chicken Cheeks could also help with phonics.

I suppose part of my love for this book derives from my own childhood fascination with the word butt (two ts). Whenever my father would use ‘but’ in a sentence he would have to spell it out “B-U-T! ONE T!” to prevent my giggling.
It’s worth noting that one of the authors of the book is an actor and comedian. I personally love Michael Ian Black most from his work on the TV show Ed, the TV show Ed that still hasn’t come out on DVD, making a certain fan bitter.

Activities to do with the book:

Have students create their own unlikely scenarios in which all of the animals included in Chicken Cheeks would have to come together once more. Perhaps this book could be a jumping off point to learn other animal anatomy (claw, beak, hoof etc.). This could then lead into the differences between mammals, amphibians, reptiles, birds, fish, insects and spiders.

More than anything though, this book is fun. Reading it should illicit giggles. This is a good book to have a child read with one adult or alone while sounding out the words. Then after saying ‘caboose’ out loud, a child should feel free to laugh.

Favorite Animal Bottoms Include:

Moose caboose, Penguin patootie, Polar bear derriere, Turkey tushy, Hound dog heinie, Toucan can and Deer rear.

REVIEW: Locomotion

Woodson, J. (2003). Locomotion. New York: SPEAK.

Locomotion consists of the poems written by eleven-year-old Lonnie, who is living in a foster home, separated from his sister. Through his poems, Lonnie works to rediscover his voice, his home and his family.

Also central to Lonnie’s story is his relationship with his teacher, Ms. Marcus. Since she is a white teacher working in a predominantly black urban school, a teacher could introduce a discussion of race, stereotypes, whiteness and issues of power.

Other issues present include subtle discussions of the Iraq War as well as initial exploration of faith in God.

Activities to do with the book:

Since Lonnie’s poems reference the work of Langston Hughes and Richard Wright, this National Book Award finalist lends itself to discussions of poets and writing. Lonnie often makes comments about the structures of his poems and would be a great entry point for a teacher to discuss poetic forms.

One of Lonnie’s classmates has Sickle Cell Anemia, so the book could be used to trigger a discussion of genetics. Also, while announcing that Sickle Cell Anemia affects African American, Woodson points out that a white teacher is saying this to a predominantly black class, so this could also lead to an early discussion of race and power relations within the classroom environment and beyond.

Favorite Quotes

“…the ideas in my
head go out like a candle and all you see left is this little
string of smoke that disappears real quick
before I even have a change to find out
what it’s trying to say” (p. 1).

“Outside it’s starting to rain and the way the rain comes
down—tap, tapping against the window—gets me to
thinking. Ms. Marcus don’t understand some things
even though she’s my favorite teacher in the world.
Things like my brown, brown arm” (p. 12-13).

“Up here the sky goes on and on like something
you could fall right up into.

And keep falling.
Fall so fast
and so far
and for so long you don’t
have to worry about where you’re gonna live next,

where you gonna be

if somebody all of a sudden
changes their mind about living with you” (p. 25).

Monday, February 9, 2009

Certified Resolution Writing Endeavor Review Report: Week Six

Kay, I submitted two short stories to magazines, have been working my way through several children's books and am currently taking a break from my required writing to make this post.

So, check.  Made it again.

While I'm not certain that I have been writing at my best these past six weeks, I can say that I am enjoying doing all of the reading.  So far I think I've managed to read more books than I had managed to complete within eighteen months before beginning this great endeavor o' mine.  

I've also been submitting more than I ever have.  Of course this means I also get rejected much more often...haven't found a way around all the rejection yet.

See you next week.

Bring it on week seven!  

REVIEW: Nightjohn

Paulsen, G. (1993). Nightjohn. New York: Bantam Doubleday Dell Books for Young


Told from the perspective of twelve-year-old Sarny, the historical Nightjohn shares the trials of the slaves on the Waller plantation. Sarny, a quiet outsider who can’t even remember her mother who was sold while Sarny was still young, is the first to notice Clel Waller’s newest slave, a heavily scarred tall man named John. Sarny learns that John had escaped to freedom previously, but willingly returned to The South to teach slaves, to teach Sarny how to read and write.

Sarny tells of the horrible abuses some of the other slaves have had to endure on the plantation. This book would undoubtedly provoke emotional reactions. A teacher will have to be prepared to help students manage the experience of reading this book. The only white person shown to any extent in the story is Clel Waller and his maltreatment of the slaves as well as the fact that Sarny’s descriptions of him usually include the word ‘maggot’ may mean that a teacher will have to remind students that while Waller is the most evil piece of snot to learn to speak and hold a whip, other white people worked tirelessly for the slaves’ education and liberation. And others did nothing.

There is a sequel called Sarny. I'll admit I haven't read it yet. Have any of you read it, my dear but few readers? What were your thoughts?

On a much lighter note, did you know that Paulsen has written over 130 books? For reals. The majority of stories involve nature, animals, nature, eating uncooked things, nature, being attacked by wild animals, dogs, the artistic drive, nature, kids surviving in nature, more dogs, his own experiences in nature, etc. So seeing him go historical on his readers was a fresh slant.
While I have great respect for him and his work, do you think, just maybe, Paulsen could leave a few ideas and pieces of paper for the rest of us to publish with? Pretty please.

Activities to do with the book:

Since this story shows characters desperate to learn to read and write, this book would be wonderful for struggling readers to show them the historical significance of literacy as empowerment.

Teachers could urge students to do reflective journal writing in response to the book. The book could be paired with lessons on history or could trigger discussions on morality.

Since the end of the book does leave the reader with some hope, but lacks an actual conclusion, students could write their own endings to the novel.

Favorite Quotes

“This is a story about Nightjohn. I guess in some ways it is a story about me just as much because I am in it and I know what happened and some of it happened to me but it still seems to be about him” (p. 13).

“You ran and got away?” mammy asked.
“I did.”
“You ran until you were clean away?”
“I did.”
“And you came back?”
“I did.”
He sighed and it sounded like his voice, like his laugh. Low and way off thunder. It made me think he was going to promise something, the way thunder promises rain. “For this.”
“What you mean—this?”
“To teach reading” (p. 55).

Sunday, February 8, 2009

REVIEW: Simms Taback's Great Big Book of Spacey Snakey Buggy Riddles

Hall, K., & Eisenberg, L. (2008). Simms Taback’s Great Big Book of Spacey Snakey Buggy
New York: Viking.


A combination of previously published riddles, Simms Taback’s Great Big Book of Spacey Snakey Buggy Riddles features bright and fun illustrations that may hint at the riddle’s answer, but never give it away (I know, I wound up staring at the pictures, hoping the answer would be there). Each riddle features a play with language involving an animal, insect or objects and creatures from space. And I couldn’t answer a single one of them.

Not a one.

Apparently I is stupid.

While some of the riddles will cause most students to chuckle, I would not recommend sharing the whole book as a read aloud in one sitting. Or else a student (or even a usually linguistically INGENIOUS individual, such as myself) will be left feeling inadequate and dumb. Really dumb.

Rather, these riddles (which knowing my luck with the world) will probably be easy for kids to play with in a pressure free environment. That or the young readers could use these riddles to reduce adults to tears. Whichever.

Activities to do with the book:

The riddles could be used as a fun exercise to show students the fun they can have with language. A teacher could present a riddle and have the students create their own illustrations for it.

Favorite Quotes

“What will you get if you put a snake in your bathtub?”

(Ring around the tub!)

“What kind of songs do planets like to sing?”


“What did the mosquito say when she got a stomachache?”

(It must have been someone I ate!)

“What poem can you find in outer space?”

(A uni-verse!)

So, did anyone out there have better luck than me at figuring out some of the answers?

Thursday, February 5, 2009

REVIEW: America

Frank, E.R. (2002). America. New York: Simon Pulse.


The story of sexually abused and institutionalized fifteen-year-old America is a challenge to get through. Written by a clinical social worker who has “known many Americas,” the book switches back and forth between ‘then’ and ‘now’ showing the experiences that brought America to the office of Dr. B, the psychiatrist who just may be able to help him decide against committing suicide.

America struggles with being ‘lost’ and feeling abandoned and unloved. He must deal with issues involving his distant relationships with violent half-brothers, his mixed racial background which not even he can specify since he does not know his father and with his questions over his sexual orientation. While I don’t like to give spoilers in general, I do feel, with this book, it is important to know there is hope and comfort at the end of this novel.

Activities to do with the book:

America would be good for encouraging empathy and reflective journal writing. It can also be used with struggling teenage readers because the book includes American’s own struggle to become literate.

Other discussion topics include the use of America as a name, issues of love, forgiveness, trust, suicide, abandonment and recovery.

The book could also be paired with Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak (1999) because both books deal with trauma, secrets, metaphors connecting plants with growth, and physical labor assisting in recovery.

Favorite Quotes

“You have to watch what you say here because everything you say means something and somebody’s always telling you what you mean” (p. 1).

“Can’t believe it’s s--- made this garden grow,” I tell her.
“Believe it,” she tells me. “The more s--- things get, the better they come out” (p. 237).

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

REVIEW: The Tale of Despereaux

DiCamillo, K. (2003). The Tale of Despereaux. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press.


The Tale of Despereaux plays with both story structure and time to tell the tale of how an outsider and small mouse can save a human princess from a rat and misguided servant girl.

The book, a Newbery Medal winner, has also been recently made into a mediocre movie. The story includes a lot of religious symbolism that few readers will notice. They will, however, notice the narrator’s direct addresses to the reader and how the narrator guides the reader to a deeper understanding of the greatness of small Despereaux’s feats and to an expanded vocabulary.

This book is a challenging read, expecting the reader to follow the narrator back and forth through time and to make connections among several stories that all come together. It is, however, a good step for a reader to learn how to read a book to themselves silently, since the narrator makes sure that no important aspect of the text goes unnoticed.

Activities to do with the book:

In the right circumstance, a teacher could draw out the religious symbolism to show The Tale of Despereaux to be an allegory for Jesus’s death and resurrection. The book could also lead to discussions about heroism, rules and bravery.

The story could also be used to open up a discussion on abuse, since Miggery Sow’s condition as a victim is only examined at a shallow level.

Favorite Quotes

“The world is dark, and light is precious. Come closer, dear reader. You must trust me. I am telling you a story” (p. 7).

“Once upon a time,” he said aloud, relishing the sound. And then, tracing each world with his paw, he read the story of a beautiful princess and the brave knight who serves and honors her” (p. 24).

“Reader, you may ask this question; in fact, you must ask this question: Is it ridiculous for a very small, sickly, big-eared mouse to fall in love with a beautiful human princess named Pea?
The answer is…yes. Of course, it’s ridiculous.
Love is ridiculous.
But love is also wonderful. And powerful. And Despereaux’s love for the Princess Pea would prove, in time, to be all of these things: powerful, wonderful, and ridiculous” (p. 32).

Monday, February 2, 2009

Certified Resolution Writing Endeavor Review Report: Week Five

Okay so you remember two weeks ago, when I said I almost didn't make it.  Then last week I reported that I made it but it made the week before look easy while last week I for REAL almost didn't make it?


So, made it, but almost didn't.  And for reals, when making a comparison, this week makes the last two weeks look easy.

School stuff is getting more intense, so I'm going to need all-you-all's help.  No, not with the school stuff.  

I figure the threat of punishment will get me writing.  So I'd be ever so appreciative if you submitted some possible punishments on the off chance I don't make it next week.  Feel free to leave punishments in the comments section or text them to me.

REVIEW: Voss How I Come to America and am Hero, Mostly

Ives, D. (2008). Voss: How I Come to America and am Hero, Mostly. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons.


Voss, as the title may hint at, is the story of fifteen-year-old Vospop Vsklzwczdztwczky, how he emigrates from Slobovia, a made up country that feels vaguely Eastern European, to the U.S.A. and becomes a hero to many illegal immigrants in New York City…mostly.

Written as a series of letters to his friend, Meero in Slobovia, Voss writes using invented spellings to capture his accent. The invented spelling may serve to make reading this book impossible for some struggling readers while it may also be a source of great amusement for readers who can decipher the words. (Amusing popular culture references and even the occasional swear word are hidden in among the alternate spellings)

Voss’s letters include critiques of American culture, the medical system and the treatment of illegal immigrants. This book could be used to challenge a lot of the assumptions many suburban, middleclass students have about the world.

Although intended for a teen audience, I feel like a lot of the humor will appeal to eleven to thirteen-year-old boys who have advanced literacy skills.

Activities to do with the book:

Voss could trigger a discussion of illegal immigration in America and the stereotypes, discrimination and lowered status often attributed to the immigrant population. Other possible discussions include contemplation over the class system in the country, the power of the media, and the process of legal and illegal organ donation.

The book could be used to trigger a class pen pal exchange with students in another country or even with students from another classroom.

Favorite Quotes

“I am no brave boy, Meero, as you know. I am what is called in Eenglish a “worry wart.” This is what we call in Slobovian a furri fart. America has no place for furri farts!” (p. 2).

“Soon I found a sign for Subway and walked in. Two peemply boys in silly white hats and rubber gloves stood behind a counter among strange phosphorescent foods…I was surprised that this Subway was a shop for sandwiches and not a train station. Here were sandwiches. Where were all the trains?” (p. 31).

“I was peevish, Meero. And peevishness is a great evil! As you know, peevishness is one of the Twelve Pretty Big Sins. The others are whining, carping, barking, moping, nose-picking, nose-picking-and-flicking-your-snot-into-the-air-instead-of-a-handkerchief, buttox-pinching, telling a joke badly, popping your chewing gum, whistling without a tune, and urinating outside the bowl without wiping it up” (pp. 9-10).



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