Saturday, December 31, 2011

Make Way for 2012

Happy (almost) New Year!  I have just arrived back in the city of eternal warm weather after a whirlwind tour of the east coast.  I loved every single second of my trip.  It was great to relax, visit friends, and laugh.

For the past 8 years I have made, and achieved, fantastic New Year's resolutions.  Sometimes they are open-ended.  One year my goal was to say yes to more things.  (That was the year I ran the Boston Half-Marathon with my friend Caitlin.) Last year it was to be confident in my decisions. Sometimes they are specific.  One year my goal was to travel more in the United States.

Well, this year I have thought long and hard about my New Year's resolution.  The last three years have been a constant back-and-forth, come-and-go, pack-and-unpack.  All the while I have been trying to decide what I really want out of this one shot at life.  All the plans, the ideas, the questions, and almost-answers have been in a jumble. 

Getting my ducks in a row by
organizing my knick-knacks on
my new type drawer!
So this year I have decided my resolution is to put my ducks in a row.  My grandmother mentioned this to me when I visited her in Seattle about a month ago.  She said she was going to the doctor so they could "put her ducks in a row."  She suggested I do the same.  Wise words Grandma! In 2012 I will start to sort through all those snippets of ideas, take a hard look at what needs to change, stay confident in decisions, and start to make some sense out of everything.  Maybe I need to (gasp) travel less.  Maybe I need to stop moving.  Maybe I need to take more steps forward to get Alice, Ever After really going.  I haven't figured out all the details.  But, at the end of 2012, I will hope to have some ducks in a row.

And to this end, I have a book for you!  Of course!  This blog isn't actually about me, it is about amazing children's books.  And I have just the perfect book to match my resolution. 

Make Way For Ducklings by Robert McCloskey was published in 1941.  In 1942 it received the Caldecott Medal for illustrations.  The story tells of two ducks who are looking for a place to raise their ducklings.  They settle in the Boston Public Garden but are concerned about the kids running around, the dogs, etc. This might not be the right place to hatch some eggs.  So they fly over the Charles River.  Soon after Jack, Kack, Lack, Mack, Nack, Ouack, Pack, and Quack are born, Mrs. Mallard leads them on the way back to the Public Garden.  Along they way, the friendly policemen of Boston help stop traffic and clear a path. 

Mrs. Mallard leads the way through Boston
Make Way for Ducklings also has some fun trivia.  In 1987, a bronze statue was created to represent Mrs. Mallard and her eight ducklings.  It was placed in one corner of the Public Garden and is visited every year by thousands of passers-by.  In addition, Boston hosts the Duckling Day Parade every year for Mother's Day.  Folks can dress up like their favorite duck and waddle through the streets of Boston.  In 2000, a bunch of students from Canton, MA decided that Make Way for Ducklings should be the official book for Massachusetts.  They wrote up a bill, sent it to the legislation, and it was passed! Isn't it amazing how much impact one children's book can have?

Happy New Year!
I wish you all a happy and healthy new year.  Whatever your resolutions, or even if you are passing on that tradition this year, I hope you live it up in 2012.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Check Him Out!

I am the proud joint owner of another blog.  Howe Girls Do Stuff.  And I am so proud of a little creature I created I think you should all check him out.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

On the Twelfth Day?

My math seems to be funny but I am calling today the twelfth day.  For the twelfth day, I bring to you the books that got away...but not for long.  These are books I am dying to read and have been on the top of everybody's must read lists.  I can't tell you if they are just as good as they claim to be but I can't wait to get my hands on them.  Think of these as the wrapped-up gifts, yet to be opened.  Happy holidays!

Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans by Kadir Nelson

In this work of nonfiction, a narrator tells the story of his family and how African Americans shaped our country.  I have recommended this to several people and it is being praised by everyone who has read it.

Along a Long Road by Frank Viva
This picture book keeps popping up and I saw it at my local bookstore, Skylight Books, last week but didn't pick it up.  Darn it!  It is said to be "a single, continuous thirty-five-foot-long piece of art using Adobe Illustrator."  Very cool.  Must check it out.

Red Sled by Lita Judge

I wish I would have read this nearly-wordless book earlier because it seems like a perfect winter book to be wrapped up and placed under the tree for a little one.  Alas, my time was limited.  In this book, a child places her sled against her house and goes inside.  Some sneaky wildlife then snatch the sled and take their own joy ride while she sleeps.  Apparently the only words are the onomatopoeia.  Grab this one for the new year!

Thursday, December 22, 2011


I missed a couple of days.  I was busy.  But I was just catching up on email and Ballard C. Boyd, who I met a few years ago in a random act of music video creation, just sent his annual Christmas album my way.  I have only been receiving this for the last 3 out of 6 years, but I anxiously await its arrival.  If you like the ukulele, an occasional kazoo, and a personalized holiday mix, well, this is for you.  Thanks Ballard, for bringing such holiday cheer to my life! 

It's Christmas Time Again by Ballard C. Boyd

P.S.  Yes, I know it's not about a children's book.  But it is amazing and you should all know about this.

On the Eleventh Day of Christmas... true love gave to me, Wonderstruck.

I picked up this book from my library last week and finished in about 2 hours.  Brian Selznick did it again.  The author, now famous because his book The Invention of Hugo Cabret, was turned into a movie, charms us with his deeply satisfying combination of story and pictures.  Running about 600 pages long, Wonderstruck tells two stories.  The pictures tell the story of Rose, a girl who obsesses over New York City and a famous actress.  The words tell the story of Ben, whose mother has passed away and he wonders about the father he never knew.  As the two stories fold in and out, we are taken on a journey to follow what they wish for most.  I don't want to give anything away.  I was gasping by the 10th page.  I recently put this book in front of a reluctant reader who was put off by the massive size.  However, when he started to flip through the pages I watched his eyes grow big and in an almost-whisper, "Woooaah."  Brian Selznick has the ability to make all of us wonderstruck!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

On the Tenth Day of Christmas...

picture added after landing true love gave to me, airports and a home! the end of the year wrap up was busier than expected. school parties, staff vs kids kickball game, getting everything packed, well you get the picture.  i am currently sitting in newark airport, blogging from my ohsosmart phone. hence the lack of proper capitalization, paragraphing, and a slew of punctuation not available on my mobile blogging site. oh well!  i left la right from school and i am getting ready to hop on flight number three. there is yet to be a smooth ride. first flight i moved to a middle seat so a kid could sit by his dad. nope, not that nice. they offered me free drinks. second flight a woman literally freaked out. she ran out of her seat and threw herself on the floor beside me screaming "i need to get off of this plane!" that set us back a bit which made me miss my connecting flight from newark to buffalo. i am not happy about missing nephew nates christmas show, or being able to shake the tamborine like a fairy hippy chick with my dad this morning, but i have my im going home to relax shield on. all these issues bounce off. sadly, i seem to be in the minority. i have heard multiple people yell, name call, and belittle the employees at the airport. tis the season to be...jolly? im not a huge fan of many christmas traditions but i have to say the tradition of taking out stress on strangers doing the best they can to get the job done is one of my least favorite. breathe easy will get the overly priced jewelry or big shiny piece of electronics you have been waiting for.  i cant post a picture but i do have a book for just this very occassion. on this tenth day of christmas, i suggest fly away home by eve bunting. this book tells the story of a boy and his father. they are homeless and live in the airport. yes, this was written before nine eleven.  the story tells how they try to remain unnoticed, how they bathe in the bathroom, sleep sitting up, etc. the story also highlights the boys emotions as he tries to process his life. better than the streets...anger at those people who get to live in houses. what makes them better than he and his dad? i think if you are getting a gift for someone this holiday season maybe fly away home should be the one. lets all remember to be truly thankful for what we have. and then take a deep breath and keep on going. 

Sunday, December 18, 2011

On the Seventh Day of Christmas... true love gave to me, Mo Willems!

He is the author of many delightful books for kids, from the Knuffle Bunny books to Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus and even the Elephant and Piggie books.  So, here is a bit about each!

Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale

This book tells what happens when Trixie accidentally leaves her bunny, Knuffle Bunny, behind on a trip out with her dad.  Trixie is young enough that she doesn't talk so her dad is confused when she tries to explain that the bunny has been left behind.  When they get home, Mom realizes what has happened and the rescue mission begins.  Mo's use of mixed media and dialogue bring a unique quality to this book that make it stand out.  And, for those of you who become quite attached to characters, Mo has written other books about Trixie and her beloved toy.

Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus

This book is best read out loud to a child who loves to play along.  A bus driver needs a break and instructs the reader to watch the bus and to NOT let the pigeon drive the bus.  Enter the pigeon.  He tries to convince the reader in every way he knows how to let him drive the bus.  Begging, bribery, and tricks, are just a few ways.  Mo leaves just enough space for the reader to respond "NO!" before he moves on to the next attempt of getting the pigeon on the bus.  Again, he has extended this book beyond just one and you get to revisit the pigeon in many other stories.

My Friend is Sad

Elephant and Piggie are great friends.  They have many adventures.  I first happened upon this series by Mo Willems last year when a darling kindergarten girl by the name of Opal read to me We Are in a Book!.  In that book Elephant and Piggie unlock the magic of reading, which Opal and I both found hilarious.  In My Friend is Sad, Piggie realizes Elephant is sad and dresses up in costumes to try and cheer him up.  But with each new costume, we see that Elephant is more despondent than before.  When Piggie finally arrives as himself, Elephant reveals that he has had a sad day but it is even worse because he saw all these cool things, a robot, clown, etc. and his best friend Piggie wasn't there to share it with him!  These two are quite a pair.  Read all their books!

I have loved everything Mo Willems has put out so far, and I am looking forward to more!  I hope you can bring some of his humor into your life, or in the life of a small person you know!

On the Sixth Day of Christmas...

Woah! Wait!  What happened to the Fifth Day of Christmas, you ask??  Well, on the Fifth Day of Christmas, I fell asleep after a long week of work and a cold.  So I slept.  At 8 pm.

Soooo, now we are on the Sixth Day of Christmas!  Don't worry, I am going to make up for it because today I bring you BAD-ASS Baby Books!  Yes, that's right.  These are books intended for the youngest of children and I think they are awesome.

One of the best, and most controversial, books of 2011
I love kids.  I don't have any kids.  But many of my friends are starting to get some and I have been spending more time perusing the baby book aisle, looking for that just right book that says, "I hope you love that baby cuz shit is about to go down!"  I surround myself with kids and kids books and more kids and more kids books and many times I wonder why it is that people let me be near them.  While I understand the basics of child development, I also believe some folks take it just a bit too far.  I don't believe in talking to kids differently than adults.  I believe that if we take a step back and take a big picture look at what is going on with kids we will get a pretty good idea of what they need.  Many of my friends, all of whom I love dearly, know lots of stuff about babies.  I must have missed the memo because I don't know half the stuff they know!  Did you know that babies can't see far?  I just found out!  Mom...did you know that?

While I appreciate the fact that some people do care about things like that, I think that others are starting to take things just a little too seriously.  I know someone who recently submitted a children's book to many publishers.  In his book, the kid is kinda most kids.  But the publisher responded saying that the moms and grandmothers tend not to buy books with kids as bad role models.  WHAT??!!!  I don't know, call me crazy, but I loved Alexander and his Terrible, Horrible, No Good Very Bad Day.  And Max and his "Wild Things."  And I seem to remember those books doing fairly well... But then again, I am not a stickler for rules.  Last week one of my kids, repeating a tongue twister she heard, said, "Meg!  Listen!  Peter Pepper picked a peck of pickled peckers!"  And I laughed because that shit was funny!

So today I bring you not just baby books...but these BAD-ASS baby books.  They are breaking the rules.  And I love them.  Watch out Tiger Moms!

The game of Mix-Up Art by Hervé Tullet

This is probably the most mild of the baby books but I love that this book lets kids mix-up art.  Each page has a piece of artwork cut into three parts.  The reader gets to choose to flip the whole page or just one part to create a new piece of art.  Rebel, young children, make your own art!
Crazy pages in The game of Mix-Up Art

Star Trek: Book of Opposites by David Borgenicht

Most concept books for kids have pictures of lovely things, like apples, monkeys, fuzzy dogs, etc.  They get to see that "Red" means apple and some things are big or small, square or round, and so on.  However Borgenicht has taken this seemingly simple idea and he gave it a kick in the pants.  Who better to teach us the concept of opposites than the cast of Star Trek?  Take a look!  And laugh your ass off when your kids start to use Tribbles to understand the concept of one versus many.


Go the Fuck to Sleep by Adam Mansbach

This book was ALL over the place when it first came out.  Who puts the "f-word" in a kid's book!?  Well, as I said before, I am not a parent.  But after reading this book I guarantee that the sentiment expressed is identical to what most, if not all, parents feel.  I know that my siblings and I were hellions so I am quite sure my parents would have enjoyed this book when we were little.

Buy these books and let the over-protective moms and grandmothers know some people think these books are brilliant!

Friday, December 16, 2011

On the Fourth Day of Christmas... true love gave to me...Math Books!

I just got home.  Fifteen hours of school today.  And yet, I am still blogging.  Why?  Because I am on a kick to promote math!  We had a Family Math Night at school tonight.  I am one of two math teachers at my school and we presented to our amazing community about our math program, how to help, what to say to kids when they get stuck with homework or find the homework too easy, etc..  One conversation that came out of my session was how our society thinks about math.  We would be hard pressed to find someone stand up in a crowd and say, "I can't read!"  It just isn't done.  However, it is acceptable to share that we, "...can't do math!"  And of course it isn't true that we can't do math.  We do math all the time.  But think about the message it sends to our little ones when they hear the adults in their life admit that they can't do math.

So to help stop this anti-math culture, we talked about how to create a love for math.  How most of the time it is not about getting the right answer, but working hard through a process.  Now, as I said, it has been a long day so I will stop all the chatter.  I am going to bed.  But here are some books to help spread the word to your little ones.  No ages for these books, just read 'em!

Math Curse by Jon Scieszka

A little boy starts thinking about math and just can't stop.  He has the math curse!  Everything in his life turns into a math problem.  So funny and appropriate for those who know a little or a lot about math.  I got about half the jokes and I still enjoyed it.

Math-terpiece by Greg Tang

Greg Tang makes lots of books about math.  Math in art, math poetry, math riddles, and lots more!  Pick up any of them for a lot of fun ways to think about math.

The Dot and the Line by Norton Juster

He wrote The Phantom Tollbooth and I just love the way his brain works.  The Dot and the Line tells the story of a line who fell in love with a dot but she was head-over-heels for a squiggle.  The line tries everything to be what she is looking for but learns in the end that it is better to just be yourself.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

On the Third Day of Christmas... true love gave to me, books for kids who love words!

Yes, this is a category.  And I have discovered in the last year two amazing books that fall under this category.  Do you have a budding Daniel Webster in your home?  Do you want to instill a passion for precision?  Here are two for you!

13 Words by Lemony Snicket
Age 7 - 12

13 Words takes, well, thirteen random words, and creates a story using them.  Bird, hat, baby, panache, convertible, and despondent are just some of the words thrown together.  How is this possible?  Well, it just is!  The colorful, simplistic illustrations are a the perfect pairing to this cheeky story.  Check out the book trailer for a glimpse into some wonderful words and a sublime story!  (By the way, I am loving book trailers!)

The Boy Who Loved Words by Roni Schotter
Age 8 - 12

Selig loves words.  He loves them so much he collects them and stuffs the words, written on slips of paper, in his pockets, his socks...everywhere!  But nobody appreciates his love of words.  That is, until his words slip away from him and a poet finds just the right words he is looking for when Selig's words float down upon him.   Selig discovers his purpose in life, to be a wordsmith.  He gives bakers words to describe their treats, he gives neighbors words to help create a peaceful neighborhood.  Read The Boy Who Loved Words to discover just how powerful words can be!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

On the Second Day of Christmas... true love gave to me, poetry!  Last year I also featured some poetry books but I really feel like you can never get enough poetry.  This year I bring you two that have made multiple lists as the best of the year.

Everything on It by Shel Silverstein
Age 6 - 12

I mentioned this book earlier when it first came out.  The book was published this year, long after Shel Silverstein passed away.  It contains "never-before-published" poems from the famous poet.  I love how the book begins.

Years From Now

Although I cannot see your face
As you flip these poems awhile,
Somewhere from some far-off place
I hear you laughing - and I smile.

What a perfect poem to start a new collection, where Shel will hear us only from "some far-off place."  And boy did I ever laugh.  Poems like "Everything On It" which describe ALL the ingredients on a hot dog, or "Milking Time," which tells what happened to Nearsighted Norman who learns his lesson when he pulls up a stool and a bucket to milk the bull, will get your giggling loud enough for Shel to hear. There are also the poems that make you think, like "Masks" which goes like this...

She had blue skin, 
And so did he. 
He kept it hid 
And so did she. 
They searched for blue
Their whole life through,
Then passed right by - 
And never knew.

Shel delivers...again!  A great tribute to a great artist!

Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai
Age 10 - 13

This chapter book written in verse tells the story of Há, a ten-year old girl living in South Vietnam during the Vietnam War.  Inside Out & Back Again won the National Book Award for Young Adult Lit this year and it is easy to see why.  The reader is taken back to a place and time not often written about in young adult literature.  I can't imagine such a powerful experience to be shared in any way other than poetry.  We feel the calm, the fear, the anxiety, the strength, and the growth through each poem's words and format.  As young Há chronicles her journey from Saigon to Alabama, we learn about her struggles. First, the war comes closer to her home, and her father still does not return from fighting, her family makes the decision to flee.  Then, we travel with her on the boat ride where,

Everyone knows the ship
could sink,
unable to hold
the piles of bodies
that keep crawling on
like raging ants
from a disrupted nest.

But no one
is heartless enough
to say
because what if
they had been
before their turn?

After Há's family arrives in America, they wait to get a sponsor, a family to host them and help them adjust to American life.  Meanwhile, she starts to learn the rules of learning a new language.  We hear her progress, her confusion, and her frustration.  After finding a sponsor, Há and her family now meets the challenges of being a stranger in a new place not used to strangers.  The children are not friendly to her and it is painful to read how they tease her about her name, the way she looks, and the way she talks.  The neighbors are just as unfriendly.  In the poem "Neighbors" we hear how after a frustrating experience, her mother decides to meet the neighbors only to face slammed doors and shouts until they meet "MiSSSisss WaSShington." Miss Washington is different from her neighbors and welcomes the family with open arms.

The book offers many lessons relevant to hot topics with kids.  Bullying, war, accepting others, and taking pride in yourself are all big themes that wind through the lines of these poems.  Definitely worth the win, and worth your time!

Monday, December 12, 2011

On the First Day of Christmas...

Last year I led up to the Chistmas holiday with 12 days of book suggestions.  I have been failing in my blogging lately so I thought I would do it again...not really to show support for one Winter holiday over another, or to promote the buying of unnecessary things, but more as a way to promote good reading in general.  In fact, you should probably just check these out from a library and read them with someone you love and that will be a memory worth more than any object you could give someone.  But...I will step off my soap box to talk about the most important thing...books!

Today I bring you two mystery books.  I have never been a huge fan of mysteries but kids LOVE them!  I have always found that by about 3rd grade kids start to really get into mysteries.  Here are a couple of suggestions.

Summer Island: A Prince in Peril by Robbin Russell.
Age 9 - 12

I finished reading this over the Thanksgiving break.  I'll be honest, I was a little unsure at first, partly because I generally don't pick up mysteries and partly because I thought it was going to be about summer camp, which I missed out on as a kid.  However, I was immensely surprised at how quickly I got into this book and the characters.  Russell tells of a little girl who always has to go to "Poor Camp" over the summer.  This camp is set up in her city for kids who can't afford the fancier camps and she loathes it.  However, this summer she is sent on a mystery trip to an island in Maine.  But instead of going to campy, she moves into a great big house owned by a lovely woman, Tia, with many past lives. The girl is joined by 4 other children who all know each other from previous summers.  As she gets to know them and the island, a mystery starts to unfold.  In the middle of the night another child joins their group, however he isolates himself. He won't play, he won't hang out, and he dresses very formally. Soon, the friends start to discover that there is danger all around.  I couldn't put the book down because I was so intrigued by what might happen.  What I loved most about this book was how Russell brought each character to life and how their stories intertwined.  And the good news is, this is one in a series!  I can't wait to read the next one!

Chet Gecko Series by Bruce Hale
Age 8 - 12

Last year, the Reading Specialist at my school introduced me to this series.  I wasn't quite sure, again, as I am usually a little cautious of mystery books.  However, this series wowed me!  Chet Gecko is a young, lizard detective at Emerson Hickey Elementary School.  His trusty sidekick, a mockingbird by the name of Natalie Attired, joins him in a series of mysteries ripe with clues, bad guys, and amazing puns.  My kids loved hearing these read aloud and laughed when they heard character names such as Erik Nidd (the tarantula), Luke Busy (the custodian), and Lauren Order (a hamster.)  These books offer just as much humor for adults as they do kids.  In fact, I think a lot of the best jokes were lost on my class.  However, they did get a kick out of me laughing out loud by myself while they all shared puzzled looks.  Check out these fabulous titles in the series: The Malted Falcon, Key Lardo, the Big Nap, The Hamster of the Baskervilles, and more!