Sunday, March 25, 2012

A Ball for Daisy

The last couple of weeks the students at my school have been working on March Madness projects.  In conjunction with two exciting weeks of basketball games, we have poured over statistics for winning teams, probabilities of upsets, and more.  Each student filled out a bracket and had to explain how and why they chose their teams.  Of course, as a math teacher I would love for this all to work out and show them how math is is the best predictor of wins. However, Lehigh and Norfolk led to a discussion on why the tournament is referred to as "madness" and, as my co-worker John says, "You can't measure heart." As we count down to the Final Four and last few days of games, here is a book that won big this year in the tournament of chilren's books.  A Ball for Daisy by Chris Raschka won the Caldecott Medal for the most distinguished picture book.

Raschka is no stranger to the Caldecott.  In 1994 he received a Caldecott Honor for his book Yo! Yes? and in 2006 was awarded the Caldecott Medal for his illustrations in Hello, Goodbye Window.  A slight departure from his other books, A Ball for Daisy is Raschka's first wordless book.  The story tells of Daisy, a happy go-lucky white dog, and her beloved red ball.  As Daisy plays with her ball it is caught by another dog who mistakenly deflates the ball.  Daisy, despondent over her lost ball, goes home.  However, all is not lost.  The end of the book promises a happy ending for Daisy.

Daisy loves that red ball!
Raschka's illustrations demonstrate one of my favorite things about children's books: the ability to tell a good story in only 32 pages.  Daisy is a pretty simple looking dog yet through Raschka's paintings we see every emotion, from the joy she finds with her ball to the pain she feels when she realizes it has been broken.  Readers can easily connect with the feeling of loss without the aid of words.  My favorite page is the one of Daisy with the little girl who owns her. Daisy is miserable and the girl is right there with her.  Just like the little girl, we all want Daisy to feel better and make it through this.

Raschka captures every moment of Daisy's despair

My favorite illustration

In the end, this simple wordless book is a pleasure to "read" over and over again.  Whether as a companion to March Madness, a lesson about overcoming loss, a reminder of your favorite dog, or just a new book to add to your "favorites", everyone can enjoy A Ball for Daisy.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

It Matters That You Love Each Other

Every week or so, one student in my class gets to bring in six books that he or she loves.  The Monday of that week, the student sits in front of the class and tell us why they brought in each book.  It has become a popular tradition in class and kids can't wait to bring in their favorite books.  The "Student Picks," as we call them, are placed in a basket in the front of the room and they are always snagged soon after they are introduced.  A few weeks back one of my students brought in the book, A Smile For Everyone by Mark C. Reis and illustrated by Yolanda Chavez.

This book is about two men who adopt a little boy named Bodhi.  It is based on the real life story of Mark Reis and his husband who adopted their own son, also named Bodhi, a few years ago.  In the story, the parents-to-be get ready for Bodhi to arrive.  They paint and decorate his room and stay up late the night before they are supposed to pick him up.  Bodhi moves in and their lives change.  As Bodhi grows older, the author and illustrator show how he makes everyone's lives happier.  Each page shows how Bodhi brought a smile to everyone in town.  In his own home he brought singing and dancing, at the post office he brightens the postman's day. 

The little girl who brought the book in is the adopted daughter of two men.  As I sat listening to her explain each book I was ready for how the class might react to a book that was clearly very special to her.  "I love this book," she explained, "because I'm adopted and I have two dads too.  And it doesn't matter what kind of family you have because we all have different families.  Some have two moms or two dads or one mom and one dad or one mom or whatever. And some families are divorced or their grandma takes care of them.  It just matters that you love each other."

Yep, couldn't have done a better job myself.  In fact, it was even better because she said it.  The book went in the basket and it got snatched up quickly, just like Student Picks always do. 

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Star Light, Star Bright

This month, and in particular this week, there is a big show in the sky for all those who happen to look up.  Five planets: Mars, Mercury, Venus, Saturn, and Jupiter are putting on a dazzling display just after sunset.  All this is possible to see without the use of a special telescope, although you will get to see much more detail if you happen to have one at hand.

"When I was shown the charts and
the diagrams..."

Why is this you ask?  Well, it is because each planet has an elliptical orbit.  Right now our orbits are lined up perfectly!  (Don't you just love it when that happens?)  My favorite detail to all of this is Jupiter and Venus.  Venus is currently below Jupiter in the sky.  However, as we get closer to the middle of March they will have a "conjunction" and do-si-do to swap places.  How's that for a moonlit dance?  So get out, look up, and even though they aren't stars, squeeze your eyes tight and make a wish!  To find out where they are and the best times for viewing this week, check out this site.

"How soon, unaccountable, I became
tired and sick;"
I have the perfect book to accompany this month's celestial show. A mentor of mine mentioned last year that her favorite poem was "When I heard the learn'd astronomer" by Walt Whitman.  I discovered not too long ago that this beautiful poem was turned into a children's book and illustrated by Loren Long (who recently received praise for his book Otis and the Tornado.)  This book set my heart to beating.  Whitman's simple, yet eloquent words are brought to life when we follow a young boy as he accompanies his parents to see a "learn'd astronomer" speak.  The boy, however, becomes bored with the blah, blah, blahs of the astronomer and wanders outside.  He keeps walking and finds himself below a beautiful, sparkling night sky.  We are reminded, through Whitman's words and Long's illustrations, that sometimes we need to take things into our own hands.

"In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time..."
My students and I read this book today and we discussed the theme and the craft of Whitman and Long.  For example, each page has a realistic illustration of this boy as he heads to the lecture, listens, and finally leaves.  However, each page also has little sketches that we can assume are done by the boy.  My students picked up on this today saying that Long probably did this because he wanted us to know just how much the boy loves learning about the night sky.   We went on to discuss the theme and the students thought it was twofold: 1.  That we can learn things ourselves by doing and 2. Things don't always turn out the way you expect them to. (Brilliant little stars themselves, aren't they?)

"Look'd up in perfect silence at the stars."

I expect my teacher friends will find this book very useful to tie in with units on the solar system or as a bonus book for poetry month in April.  However, if you just want your soul to be moved to the second star to the right, it will work for that as well.

"When I heard the learn'd astronomer"
by Walt Whitman

When I heard the learn'd astronomer;
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me;
When I was shown the charts and the diagrams,
  to add, divide, and measure them;
When I, sitting, heard the astronomer,
  where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon, unaccountable, I became tired and sick;
Till rising and gliding out, I wander'd off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air;
  and from time to time,
Look'd up in perfect silence at the stars.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

March Madness!

Opens nationwide March 23rd!!
Happy March folks!  Here are this month's children's-bookish events!

* Wednesday, March 7 is World Read Aloud Day.  Read a book to someone!

* Friday, March 23 The Hunger Games opens in theaters everywhere!  You can buy tickets online NOW and there are Thursday midnight showings in some places as well.

Los Angeles
Saturday, March 10
* I will be at the Micheltorena St. Garden doing Children's Stories in the Garden!  Storytime will be from 12 to 1.  Stop on by!

Wednesday, March 7
* David Carter will present The Lorax pop-up book at Vroman's in Pasadena at 4 pm.

Thursday, March 8
* David Carter will do his presentation at Children's Book World.

Friday, March 9
 * Olivia de Haulleville presents and signs a book she illustrated The Crows of Pearblossoms, and her uncle Aldous Huxley wrote, at Vroman's at 6 pm.

Sunday, March 11
* Dark Days book tour (YA lit) at Vroman's featuring Claudia Grey, Lauren Oliver, Dan Wells, 6 pm

Tuesday, March 13
* Lisa Price discusses and reads from her young adult book Starters at 6 pm.

Monday, March 19
* Kristi Yamaguchi (yes, that one) will read and present her new book It's a Big World, Little Pig at Vroman's at 11 am.


Saturday, March 24
* Storytime with artist and author Jeff Mack at the Eric Carle Picture Book Museum. Free with museum admission, 2:00 pm

Sunday, April 1
* Ok, I know this is not in March but it is oh-so-close.  And it is a HUGE deal!  Mo Willems will be presenting his new book at Brookline Booksmith at 10:30 am.  It is free but you need tickets.  You can get up to 4 tickets in advance starting March 15th.  This will definitely be a sell-out folks to get your tickets early.  Sorta bummed I decided to stay in Cali for my spring break this year.  Anyone want to be my representative??

Sunday, April 1
* This is for the baseball fans!  Kadir Nelson (Caldecott Award-winning illustrator) and Sharon Robinson (Jackie Robinson's daughter) wrote a book called Testing the Ice, all about Jackie Robinson.  On Sunday, they will join Scott Simon (author of Jackie Robinson and the Integration of Baseball) and they will discuss the life of Jackie Robinson and then sign their books.  The event is free with museum admission and teachers will earn 1 PDP for attending.  Starts at 1 pm.

Know of any events in your area?  I would be happy to post them for April if you send them my way!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Downton Abbey Baby?

If you have read my other blog you will know that I recently jumped on the Downton Abbey bandwagon.  I rushed through the first two seasons, trying to finish season two before PBS took it down.  (Watch here! Free until March 6.)

I have now joined the sad ranks of billions of fans who aren't quite sure what to do with themselves until the next season.  Thankfully, Jennifer Adams has provided a quick fix.  My good book buddy Mas, who I think is now your good book buddy since you hear about her often (I swear if she starts a book blog I will be out of business) sent me an email with my solution.  For those of you who adore Downton Abbey, Jane Austen, the Brontes, and other classics, I offer you Little Miss Austen: Pride & Prejudice: A counting primer.  This board book (aka book for babies) boasts the fabulous illustrations of Alison Oliver.  Your little one will be prepped and ready for English drama and he or she will know how to count!
2 rich gentlemen

5 sisters
Not into Jane Austen?  Have no fear!  Oliver and Adams have also written four other board books.  Check out Romeo & Juliet: A counting primer, Jane Eyre: A counting primer, and (of course!) Alice in Wonderland: A color primer.  For those of you in the LA area, I know for sure that Skylight Books has all four in stock!