30 November 2011

A Good Ending

I have the perfect book to end this month on . . . Once Upon A Cool Motorcycle Dude by Kevin O'Malley.  It has a little something for everyone.

I write about books for boys, but I always like coming across a book that has a cool girl character.  This book has a cool girl, but lots of stuff for boys, too.  The premise -- two students are paired up to write a report about their favorite fairy tale.  When they cannot agree, they write their own.  And it is obvious which parts of the story each of them writes. There are ponies and princesses in the girl's version, but the boy adds in motorcycles and explosions to spice things up.  When the girl doesn't like how her princess is portrayed, she takes back over and kicks some butt.  They manage to agree on an ending that satisfactorily defeats the pony-kidnapping/eating giant.

What really makes this book unique is the collaboration of three illustrators on the pictures.  Each adds his/her own flavor to sections of the book, matching the pictures to the character narrating.  The effect is visually stimulating and really fun to read.

Isaac and I had fun reading this book.  We have had fun reading most of the books that I have written about over the last 30 days.  Thanks for hanging in there with me this month.  I hope you have been inspired to read something new.

29 November 2011

A Guy on Guys Read

Another from Matt on what he and Isaac are reading . . . 

I have a love/hate relationship with school library book fairs.  On the plus side they raise money for schools, give kids who would not normally spend time in a book store time to browse, and generally have some really cool books that I would never pick up otherwise.  The bad things about book fairs include the metric ton of poorly written books based on licensed characters (Clone Wars, Disney, and Marvel), over priced toys and posters, and Nancy is usually frazzled the week before and the week of her library’s book fair. 

At Isaac’s school’s most recent one, he picked a few of the beginning reader character paperbacks heavy on the illustrations and plot summaries of movies that we have seen a dozen times.  Nancy picked up a few more substantial books, and on the way out a book caught my eye -- Guys Read…Funny Business It was a collection of 10 funny short stories written by and for guys. 

The idea intrigued me.  I knew that some of the humor would be over Isaac’s head, but he would have fun grappling with the ideas.  The introduction of the book says, “Guys Read believes that humor is seriously one of the best kinds of reading.  Humor is important.  To get why something is funny, you have to first understand the thing itself, then understand why changing it in an unexpected way is funny.  Your brain is doing some great work when it is laughing.”  How could I say no to that?  The book also offered the challenge of reading without pictures, something that I am anxious to get into.

So far, we have read about half of the stories with mixed results.  “Best of Friends” is a remembrance of a childhood friendship based on greed and a lie.  “Will” is the story of a school where all of the children discover that they have different magic powers and are attacked by a villain in a robotic exo-skeleton. “Artemis Begins” by Eoin Colfer tells a real life story from his childhood and how his brother inspired the character Artemis Fowl.  “Kid Appeal” is a slap stick story of two boys trying to win a contest celebrating the history of their town in a way that would only make sense to someone who had been a young boy at one time or another.  “Your Question For Author Here” is a series of letters between a bored young school boy and a no nonsense author that form a very unusual friendship over a classroom assignment. 

There are five more that we have not read yet, but I am looking forward to them.  Isaac understands the stories and even laughs at some of them. The “Guys Read” website has volumes of cool guy books in “guy friendly” genres like Dragons, War, Apes/ Monkeys, at least one explosion, outer space but without aliens, and people being transformed into animals. 

I realize now that I opened a whole world of cool things to read with the boy by picking up a strange looking book at the book fair.


28 November 2011

Chicken Soup for the Reader's Soul

The library book that Isaac brought home from school the week before last was Souperchicken by Mary Jane and Herm Auch.  It is a book that celebrates reading. Most books do, I suppose, but this book's plot is centered around a chicken who learns to read and uses her ability to save her coop-mates from becoming chicken soup.

The message that "reading is important" can come across rather flat, but this book escapes that pitfall through humorous, computer generated pictures and lots of wordplay, most of which went over Isaac's head but got chuckles from me.  The Auchs have teamed up on more than one book starring poultry and their trademark illustrations make their books immediately recognizable.

Computer generated pictures can be tricky.  In some books, I feel like they lack depth and detract from the story rather than enhance it.  But, in others, the artist manages to add layers of interest and soften the effect.  The Auchs' books are some that I like the computer generated illustrations in.

Isaac enjoyed Souperchicken so I think I will bring a couple more of the Auchs' books home to read.  After this one, though, I doubt I will look at a can of chicken soup the same.

27 November 2011

The Magic of Movies, I Mean Books

Isaac and I are reading The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick.  There was a lot of buzz about this book when it came out.  It is hard to define what genre it is -- it is a picture book in the sense that the story is told with pictures as much as it is with text, but it is also a novel.  It even won the Caldecott, which was rather controversial, since it doesn't fit the category as neatly as some would like.

I read the book the first time soon after it was published.  I remember being fascinated by the format.  Last summer, when we went to see the final Harry Potter movie, there was a preview for a movie called "Hugo."  As soon as I saw the title, I knew what was coming.  And, of course, I was conflicted.  I knew that the movie could never live up to the book, no matter how much I would like it to.

When it was originally reviewed, people likened the experience of reading the book to seeing a movie -- Selznick used cinematic-like methods in his illustrations to make it almost feel like the reader zoomed in to the pages and much of the story is told without words.  You watch the characters as much as you read what they are doing.

I had been planning to read Hugo to Isaac at some point, but the movie opens this week, so I decided now was a good time.  Even though I expect to be disappointed, I would like to take him to see it.  It is a fast read and we are moving through it quickly.  Isaac seems to be really enjoying it.  We are only a quarter of the way through, though, so we will see if it holds his attention.

Many librarians, and others who love the book, would argue that making a movie of a book like Hugo defeats the purpose of the book itself.  It is as much experience as it is literature.  I have not checked, but I was wondering if the book is available in an electronic format and how that would change the experience.  These are the kinds of questions and debates I am sure that we will be engaging in more frequently.  For now, though, Isaac and I will finish the book and then decide if we will see the movie.  It will be his call.

26 November 2011

A New Hero in Town

I read my first comic book/graphic novel after reading Michael Chabon's book The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.  Well, maybe not my first, but my first in a long time.  The plot centers around a comic creating duo and I loved the book.  I was curious enough after reading it to seek out some comics.  I didn't become a devotee of the format, but I can appreciate a good graphic novel.

I also read Chabon's YA book, Summerland.  This book's plot revolved around baseball.  I was not as much of a fan.

Now Chabon has written a picture book, The Astonishing Secret of Awesome Man.  I was excited when I saw a colleague with it a couple of months ago.  Chabon and superheroes -- it felt like he was going back to what I first loved him doing.

We bought our nephew the book for Christmas, so, of course, I read it to Isaac to make sure it would be a hit.  He liked it.  I will not give away the end, there is a bit of a twist.  After finishing it, Isaac and I looked back through the illustrations to see if there were clues to Awesome Man's true identity that we missed.  There were, and it was fun to see the clues now that we knew what they meant.

For a boy who likes superheroes, this is a great book.  It's a nice change from the Marvel and DC heroes that I have been learning so much about these past few years.

25 November 2011

Continuing the Feast

This book seems appropriate for the day after Thanksgiving, when many of us are still eating turkey sandwiches and leftover sweet potatoes, green bean casserole and apple pie.

Ogres, Ogres, Ogres: A Feasting Frenzy From A to Z by Jos A. Smith is an alphabet book.  But don't think that it is meant for non-readers.  The vocabulary is advanced and the ogres are not limited to eating apples and bananas.  Instead they feast on hummus, kumquats, oysters and vichyssoise.  The illustrations are fun and each letter is accompanied by an ogre with a name and action matching the letter. (Abednego adores anchovy butter and Queenie quaffs quantities of root beer.)

Don't assume that alphabet books are just for the littlest of kids.  Authors and publishers know that adults buy and read the books, too.  This one is especially tempting.  I probably won't get Isaac to eat anything mentioned in the book, but I may have to hunt down some parsnip quiche once the Thanksgiving leftovers are gone.

24 November 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

I used to love watching the Macy's Parade Thanksgiving morning.  I look forward to watching it with Isaac again this year.

The Thanksgiving Day Parade
by Jack Prelutsky

Thanksgiving Day is here today,
the great parade is under way,
and though it's drizzling quite a bit,
I'm sure that I'll see all of it.

Great balloons are floating by,
cartoon creatures stories high,
Mickey Mouse and Mother Goose,
Snoopy and a mammoth moose.

Humpty Dumpty, Smokey Bear
hover in the autumn air,
through the windy skies they sway,
I hope that they don't blow away.

Here comes Santa, shaking hands
as he waddles by the stands.
It's so much fun, I don't complain
when now it really starts to rain.

The bands are marching, here they come,
pipers pipe and drummers drum,
hear the tubas and the flutes,
see the clowns in silly suits.

It's pouring now, but not on me,
I'm just as dry as I can be,
I watch and watch, but don't get wet,
I'm watching on our TV set

23 November 2011

Happy 100th

I shared this last year during Women's History Month.  I originally wrote it for The Girl Museum two years ago.  Aunt Sarah turns 100 years old today, so I thought I would share it again.  I cannot be with her today, but I hope she knows that I am thinking about her and love her and that she was a very important influence in my life.

As a young girl, I devoured Nancy Drew books. I thought Nancy Drew was amazing. Not only did we share the same first name, but she was independent, resourceful and smart. I often imagined I was her.

In my small town, there was a used book store with a bookshelf that held nothing but Nancy Drew books. My great-aunt Sarah often took me there to choose one to add to my personal collection.

Aunt Sarah reminded me of Nancy Drew. She was independent, having never married in an age when marriage was one of the few options women had for security. She was resourceful, having taken care of her dying father while maintaining a career of her own. And she was smart, able to debate the most domineering men on any topic thrown her way.

Aunt Sarah showed me that women didn’t have to follow the rules of society and always do what was expected. She lived her life her way, taking less than ideal circumstances and making the best of them. And she loved me unconditionally.

I still have my collection of Nancy Drew books. When I look at them, I remember the two women who taught me as a girl that life is an adventure and the path that I chose to follow could be of my own making. They showed me how to define my own life, rather than let the circumstances of my life define me, and that is lesson I will always treasure.

22 November 2011

Better Late than Never

It seemed like it took fall a while to get here this year.  Not the actual date, but the colors.  The weather stayed warm and the leaves stayed green longer than in past years, or so it seemed.  But when they did arrive, they were glorious.  The oranges and yellows looked especially vibrant.

Isaac and I were driving home one afternoon close to 5:00, after Daylight Saving Time had ended, so dusk was only about 30 minutes away.  It was one of those perfect times when the angle of the sun was just right and hitting the leaves at just the right spot that it almost seemed as if they glowed. I should have stopped to take a picture, except I don't do things like that and I wouldn't have been able to capture the image well enough to do the colors justice.  But I can still see them when I close my eyes, so maybe they will stay with me long enough to get me through the long, gray days ahead.

I realized, now that the leaves have fallen and been raked and bagged, that I had not included any fall books in my posts this month.  While we were raking leaves in our friend's yard over the weekend, a couple came to mind as I watched Isaac hesitantly jump into the piles that we had made.

Fall Leaves Fall By Zoe Hall and It's Fall! by Linda Glaser are two that I like to read to my classes each year.  They celebrate the colors and the changes of the season.  It's Fall is especially lovely, with its collage art illustrations.  Of course, they include the obligatory science connections (animals hibernating or migrating or  otherwise adapting to the colder weather, temperature changes, how humans adjust).  But they are fun to read and pretty to look at.

So put them on your list for next year when you are waiting for colors that don't seem to want to show themselves. Or read them at the end of January when you need an infusion of color in those long gray days.

21 November 2011

From Matt . . . On Comics

Matt reads some things to Isaac that they have really connected with as only a father and son can, so I asked him to write about them . . . here is the first.

I collected comics when I was a young teen.  Where my buddy Don would read more traditional books like "Wolverine," "Punisher," and "Power Pack," I preferred "The Nam," "Groo the Wanderer," and "The Further Adventures of Indiana Jones."  I collected whatever I could get my hands on even if I didn’t read them because I liked the art, the characters, and the ads aimed at 12 year old boys promising a bounty of riches if I became my own boss and sold “Grit” magazine door to door.

The major comic book labels realize the importance of developing brand loyalty early and have been aiming toys, comics, and video games at younger and younger children. Usually Isaac enjoys them, but they are pretty awkward. (Kid versions of "Hulk" and "Wolverine" on a playground with a childish version of “Abomination?”) 

Last year when I was out of town at a conference, I stopped by a comic book shop near the hotel to pick up some goodies for Isaac and a copy of the recently published “Emma” for Nancy.  I asked the clerk if there was anything new for young boys and he pointed me to a comic that had just been printed for the first time that week called “Axe Cop."

It is written by five year old, Malachai Nicolle and illustrated by his 29 year old brother Ethan.  It had existed as a web comic for a while, but made the move to print last year for a three issue run. 

Reading the books is like listening to a child who has just eaten an entire box of Count Chocula tell you the story of what he dreamed last night.  The stories involve Axe Cop and his team of friends including Uni Baby, Sockarang, and Wexter (Isaac's favorite), his flying dinosaur with robot machine gun arms.  New good guys join the team, though, whenever Malachai thinks of them. Axe Cop’s team usually fights against bad guys which can include ninjas, robots, vampires, zombies, poop monsters, sharks or any combination.  Jesus, the devil, the Queen of England, Abe Lincoln, and Army Chihuahua all make cameos in the stories from time to time.

One of the things that I love about Axe Cop is that any character can change allegiances between good and evil two or three times in any given story.  A character’s powers change as they die, come back to life, have a spell cast on them, or get blood on them from decapitating a bad guy. 

There is violence in these books, but it is so absurdly over the top, that I never feel like it is going to scare Isaac.  On the contrary, these books take the things that would normally fascinate but scare a child and make them funny.  Malachai’s imagination seems to know no limit, a characteristic that I would encourage in any child. 

We often tell kids that they can grow up and do anything that they want.  After reading "Axe Cop," Isaac knows that even a kid his own age can create stories and worlds that other people want to read about.

I encourage parents to take their kids to a comic book store and see what is available. It can be daunting walking in for the first time, but most of the clerks are knowledgeable, friendly, and are more than willing to point you in the right direction to find something that you and your child will both enjoy.  The owner of our local store, Acme Comics, actually saved the last copy of "Axe Cop" behind the counter for us when it looked like it was going to sell out. 

I close with one Axe Cop’s prayers. “Dear God, Why did you make sharks evil? I would like them to be on my team.” 

20 November 2011

Books to be Thankful For

If you want a book to read for the upcoming holiday, here are some suggestions . . .

The Firefighters' Thanksgiving by Maribeth Boelts is a perfect book for tying together the holiday and some of the people for which many of us are thankful.  The firefighters are continually interrupted while preparing their feast  but, of course, everyone eats in the end.

One is a Feast for a Mouse: A Thanksgiving Tale by Judy Cox is one that I read to the EC class last week. They had a great time listening and counting along to how many scraps the mouse collected, even though he insisted one was enough for a feast.  His eyes are bigger than his stomach and he loses his feast after a run-in with the cat, but there is a bright side when he finds one pea waiting for him in his hidey-hole.

Thank You, Sarah: The Woman Who Saved Thanksgiving by Laurie Halse Anderson tells the story of Sarah Hale who campaigned for over 30 years, writing to numerous Presidents, to get Thanksgiving named a National Holiday.  This is not a dry non-fiction text.  It is a fun, witty, very readable portrayal of the woman who gave us our four day weekend, holiday football games and Black Friday.

It's Thanksgiving by Jack Prelustky is a collection of twelve humorous poems about the holiday.  It's Prelustky, so enough said.

Happy eating.

19 November 2011

Thoughts and Observations

I have written before about my feelings on guns and questions of whether or not to include them in the library or how I would handle a serious challenge.  This week my mettle was tested and I am facing objections to a book that I want the school to use for a community read.  I really believe in the book, but there is one illustration that depicts soldiers with guns in their hands.  I am treading carefully, trying to refrain from getting into debates about personal feelings in order to provide a solely professional perspective and encourage my colleagues to make an informed decision.  It is going to be difficult for me; I am not known for holding back my opinions.  I understand the concerns being expressed, but I also believe that as educators we cannot avoid issues with which we are not comfortable.  More importantly, as a librarian, I believe that we should not censor a book without judging the entire work out of fear of how a few parents will react to one picture.  This issue will play out over the next month and I will respect the decision that my colleagues make, whether or not I agree with it.


We watched Aladdin with Isaac last night.  I had wanted to watch it last weekend when Matt was out of town, but Isaac refused.  We ended up watching Alpha and Omega instead.  But last night Matt decided we were watching Aladdin.  I am not sure why Isaac was against watching it -- I think he thought it would be too scary.  What I have realized in the past two weeks watching movies with him (Alpha and Omega and Real Steel last weekend and Aladdin this weekend) is that he is starting to pick up on emotional nuances.  Before, he never really reacted to the possibility of a character dying or leaving.  But in Alpha and Omega when the female dog is injured in the stampede, I looked over and he was sobbing.  Then in Real Steel he cried, as did I, when the father was leaving his son.  Last night, he cried at the end of Aladdin when the genie was leaving.  I guess I never really thought about when he would begin reacting emotionally to something he watched.  But for some reason seeing him cry at a movie breaks my heart, more so even than when he cries because he has hurt himself.  Maybe it is because I can do something to make the physical hurt better, or I know that it won't last that long.  But the emotional hurts that he will experience as he grows up will be harder to get over and will last a lot longer.


We spent this morning working in the yard of an elderly church member who needed her leaves collected and bagged.  Isaac came along and there was a group of about 10-12 people working throughout the morning.  Isaac jumped right in, literally, and helped rake, bag and haul leaves to the curb.  He worked alongside the adults without complaint, occasionally taking a break to drink some more milk and eye the donut box.  When we had stopped for donuts, Matt was approached by a guy holding a license plate that said “JESUS.”  I am not sure what the guy was trying to talk Matt into doing, but Matt informed him that we were on our way to do Jesus’ work at the house of a friend and wished him luck in his endeavors (I am paraphrasing, of course).  As we worked, I thought about that and that Matt was right.  This was what Jesus would have done . . . helped his neighbor, not proclaimed his name on a license plate or a bumper sticker.  And that is what I hope Isaac will remember when he is older.


After raking leaves, Matt had promised Isaac we would go to The Lost Ark, an old-fashioned arcade and used video game store.  They have a wall lined with pinball machines and some other older shooting, driving and assorted arcade games.  I will admit, reluctant as I was to go, that it was fun.  But I couldn’t help but notice that some of the pinball machines had release levers shaped like gun handles.  And of course there were the games with the rifles and the violent fighting games.  Then I saw the front page of the paper when I returned home, with a color picture of a Swat Team, rifles out, arresting two suspects.  I sighed and folded the paper up to go watch football.

18 November 2011

A Good Night

Thursday night we had our first "Boys Love Books" club meeting at school.  Our PE teacher spearheaded the effort to get boys and their male role models to school to read together.  The turnout was great and will hopefully continue, or grow, for future meetings.  I was allowed to attend even though I am a girl.

We wanted to have a theme each month, partly to have a focus, partly to come up with a hook to get people there for this first meeting.  We chose comic books and graphic novels because we knew it was something that the kids would get excited about.  It just so happens that one of our parents knows someone who draws for comic books so the artist came to speak briefly before we let the boys and their dads/granddads/uncles/friends/mentors loose with the books.  The boys loved hearing him talk about his work and I got a couple of questions afterwards about how long it would take to get a book published.

I shared a picture with the group that Matt had torn off the back of a Reader's Digest years ago.  It depicts an African-American boy standing on a street corner, book opened, oblivious to the world around him, while in the background a group of people pushes at each other to see the latest gadget in the technology store window.  I love this picture.  If anyone were to ask me what my vision would be for my students, this would be it.

Meetings like this are energizing rather than exhausting, especially since I fill a supportive role rather than having to lead.  I am reminded of what the real purpose of my job is - to bring books and kids together.

17 November 2011

Always Look On the Bright Side of Life

I asked Isaac what book I should write about tonight and this was his pick . . . I'm the Biggest Thing in the Ocean by Kevin Sherry. It is about a giant squid who spends almost the whole book bragging about how he is, well, the biggest creature in the ocean.  Until he is swallowed by a whale.  But he quickly regains his composure when he realizes that he is now the biggest thing inside the whale.

The illustrations are really cute and the squid's exuberance is contagious.  Even when you are sure that he is totally crushed by the circumstances he finds himself in (being swallowed by a whale would depress just about anyone, I would think), he manages to find the silver lining and bounce back.

This was actually a good book for me to reflect on tonight.  It's been a bumpy couple of days, but there is always something positive to reflect on and it is always better to focus on the good stuff than the bad.  For a realist like me (I don't like the term pessimist -- too negative) that is a message that cannot be repeated often enough, especially during the times when it feels like you are in the belly of a whale.

16 November 2011

Knock, Knock

I have helped weed the children's library at church more than once.  The first time we were renovating and moving the library to a new room. We tossed some really old books, but kept enough to have a good-sized library.  The second time we were reorganizing the space to work better for our Sunday School program and tossed more books that were hopelessly outdated.

During the first round of weeding, Matt grabbed a couple of books that he found particularly funny -- very old, very Southern Baptsist guides for boys and girls.  The second time, I did not give him a chance to save any -- I very liberally filled garbage bags and hid them from his view.

Apparently, I was not as thorough as I had thought.  A couple of weeks ago I found a book that made me chuckle while at the same time shaking my head in consternation.  The book is called Clean Jokes for Children.  Not to be confused with the book Dirty Jokes for Children because we want it to be clear that nothing inappropriate is between the covers.

I cannot link to the book I found, it is that old, but did find some others with similar titles . .  there is 777 Great Clean Jokes, 202 Good Clean Jokes for Kids, and Extremely Good Clean Jokes for Kids.

I brought the book home for Isaac because he is going through a joke phase, Knock Knock jokes especially. (If anyone knows any new ones, please share.  The Amos Quito bit me joke is getting a bit tired.  But, please make sure they are clean.)

Okay, so if you have not caught on, I cannot contain my sarcasm when referencing the title of this book.  I want to ask who would publish a children's book and include dirty jokes?  But as soon as I ask that I am sure someone will be able to find me an example.  But it should go without saying that if the book is meant for children, the jokes will not be of the adult variety.

Of course, this book was in a church library and is a Christian publication from the 1950's, so the "clean" does not necessarily refer to the absence of innuendos or unsavory content as we would view it today.  What it really probably means is that there are no fart jokes.  I am not a huge fan of fart jokes, but I have a six-year old boy so they are part of my life.  And that is okay.  As long as Isaac knows when he can and cannot share the jokes, I will indulge his need to make fun of bodily functions.

Luckily, we attend a church where a book like this is laughed at as being rather ridiculous. (I got a few rolled eyes when I passed it around our pew.)  Boys, and girls, are encouraged to be themselves, unclean jokes and all, and are taught that they are loved even when they are uncouth.  And yes, Isaac is allowed to tell his fart jokes to our friends at church.  Our minister has probably taught him one or two himself.

15 November 2011

To Thine Own Self Be True

Not being afraid to be yourself is a common theme in children's literature.  Children struggle with fitting in and peer pressure, even kids Isaac's age, and understanding that it is okay to be different or that everyone has special talents is difficult.

Two of the books on the North Carolina Children's Book Award list this year are variations on this theme.  Sylvie by Jennifer Sattler is about a flamingo who begins experimenting with different foods after finding out that it is the shrimp that she eats that makes her pink.  After turning every shade of the rainbow, and a few wild patterns, and suffering from a pretty bad tummy ache, Sylvie realizes that pink is fine.  But being a little different can be fun, too.

Most often the books that explore how children deal with feelings of personal expression or inadequacies have female main characters.  Hmm . . . tell you something about girls?  But a few do feature boys.  Spoon by Amy Krouse Rosenthal is about a little spoon who doesn't feel special.  He can't do the cool things that fork, knife or chopsticks can do.  But his wise mother points out to him everything that he can do that the others cannot, and he gains a greater appreciation for his uniqueness.

The NCCBA books are recommended by children.  The fact that each year there are at least one or two that feature characters that are different or feel like they do not fit in is rather telling, I think.  Kids are very sensitive about how others perceive them and wanting to fit in and be liked begins at an early age.  Books are one way to help them through those difficult times when it seems like no one likes them or there is nothing about them that is special.  Sharing the book with a caring adult is even better.

14 November 2011

Poultry 911

Farm animals seem to get big laughs in children's books, if they are not in danger of being sent to slaughter that is.  Some of my favorite books to read to Isaac and my classes center around the antics of a duck, sheep, pigs, cows, or chickens.  Or in some cases all of the above.

Chickens to the Rescue by John Himmelman is another book that turns the everyday life of the mundane farm animal into a giggle fest.  The chickens have a busy week helping out the farm family -- diving into a well to retrieve a watch, rewriting a book report that was eaten by the dog, making dinner, stopping a runaway truck, getting a cow out of the tree, and rounding up lost sheep.  They work so hard that on Sunday they are exhausted and don't respond to the milk emergency in the kitchen.  They are sleeping.  It is the day of rest after all.

Isaac thought the chickens' were rather funny as they swooped in and cleaned up messes or aided in emergencies.  I thought just reading about their exploits was tiring and I envied them their time off to sleep.  I am sure any busy mother who reads this book will feel the same.

13 November 2011

Miss You, Pop

My grandfather died one year ago today.  He was almost 103 years old.  It is still hard to believe he is gone -- it seemed like he would always be around.  Isaac got to meet him a few times, though he will not remember him well.  But he will always be a part of me because he was one of the most influential people in my life.

I pushed myself to do well in school because Poppy expected it.  College was not an "if" because Poppy expected I would go.  He had very high standards which I strived to meet.  I cannot say I got my love of books from him -- he read, but only the newspaper, the bible or a science magazine.  It was my grandmother who read the novels.  But I did get my value of education from him.  He was always learning.

I do remember being very young, in elementary school, just learning to read, and reading my grandfather a book that I had brought home from school.  I was practicing it, preparing to read it out loud to my class.  It was probably excruciating for him to sit through.  I don't remember what the book was, something about a playground, but after reading the leveled books that Isaac brings home I am sure it was not the most exciting book to listen to.

He did listen, though, and that memory sticks with me.  I think about it as we read with Isaac many nights.  I wish Poppy were around to listen to Isaac read.  Though maybe he is listening.  Somewhere out there.

12 November 2011


Isaac spent the morning working in a friend's woodshop building a bird house.  He learned how to measure, why woodworking pencils are flat instead of round, and how to punch his initials in copper sheeting.  When I picked him up two hours after dropping him off and running errands, they had made a rather impressive birdhouse.  He also had a hammer, measuring tape, carpenters apron, some carpenters pencils, and one of those triangle shaped tools that help you draw square lines to begin his very own tool collection.  It was one of those times when I am overwhelmed by and oh so thankful for our village.

As I was looking at the birdhouse this afternoon, I was reminded of a book that I read to Isaac a couple of years ago.  I wish I had it this weekend to read.  Old MacDonald Had a Woodshop by Lisa Shulman is an adaptation of the children's song . . . I am sure you can guess which one.  In this story, Old MacDonald is a ewe and the song catalogs her workshop tools rather than farm animals.  It is a fun book to read and I am sure Isaac could teach me about the tools mentioned after his morning using them

The birdhouse Isaac made is sitting on the counter waiting to be painted.  It is something that I will cherish as a reminder that there are many people who love him and who are willing to take the time to teach him skills that his father or I may be unable to.  And who knows, maybe this will be the beginning of a life-long hobby.  I wouldn't mind a new dining table some day.

11 November 2011

Strength and Honor

Today is 11/11/11.   It is also Veterans Day.  I don't really have a book to share, though there are a few lists of recommended titles out there.

We don't have school and I am scheduling playdates and outings for our long weekend since Matt will be out of town and it's just the boy and I for a couple of days.  One thing I do think we will take the time to do is visit the grave of a friend who was killed in Iraq shortly after Isaac was born.

Isaac never knew Andrew, but he has heard the story of his life and death.  He knows how he died and where he was.  He has been told of his bravery and sense of honor.  He has even shared his version of Andrew's story with others.

I attended Andrew's funeral, but because Isaac was barely three months old at the time, I did not go to the graveside.  Matt has taken Isaac to visit more than once, but I still have not gone.  Today I will and Isaac and I will talk about Andrew and what today means and why it is important, not just because of our fallen friend, but because of all of the men and women who have given their time, health and lives in the service of our country.

10 November 2011

Zoom Zoom

We keep talking about taking Isaac to a NASCAR race.  Not that either of us is interested in NASCAR.  But Isaac was a huge Lightening McQueen fan for a long time, and we thought he would enjoy the experience.  I am willing to do almost anything once, just for the experience.  I have been to Monster Jam, once.  I rode a horse, once.  I went skiing, once.  I am willing to watch cars go in a circle for a few hours, once.

Of course, whether or not Isaac would actually enjoy the race is 50/50.  He would love seeing the cars, but he would hate the noise.  And I am positive he would be bored to tears after about 100 laps.  Or maybe that would be me.

While I am not a huge fan of modern NASCAR, the history of the sport and how it grew out of moonshining, and its connection to the region in which we now live, is mildly interesting.  We took Isaac to the Moonshine Festival a couple of years ago and they had old race cars and cars that had been outfitted specifically for running shine on display.  Isaac loved it.

When I saw Racecar Alphabet by Brian Floca on the shelf, I thought it was a book Isaac would enjoy.  The text is simpler than many of the books we are reading now, but it was a nice change of pace after slogging through Isaac's leveled reading books and reading text heavy chapter books.  It is an alphabet book, but the format is not typical for this type of concept book.  Each letter is not associated with an object; instead the text flows from page to page, with car parts or characteristics or even just adjectives for each letter interspersed throughout.

Boys who love cars, and racing, will love this book.  But what I think they will really like looking at is the end papers.  Floca has used his illustrations to show the history of racing, even though the words in the book are really merely descriptive.  The end papers are used as a timeline of racing, with cars from different periods (with dates) represented.  Cars from the earliest days of racing to the modern variations of the sport are shown.

I don't think we will make it to a race any time soon.  But Isaac and I wouldn't mind going back to the Moonshine Festival to see some of these cars up close again.

09 November 2011

Another Classic

There is a new book of Shel Silverstein poetry out.  It is a collection of poems that have never been published selected by his family members.  There was a segment about the book on Morning Edition a few weeks ago.

I remember being read Shel Silverstein as a kid in school -- A Light in the Attic was published the year I was born and Where the Sidewalk Ends came out when I was in first or second grade.  As I went through school I wished many times that poetry had stayed as simple as it was when I was in elementary school.

Isaac has been introduced to Shel Silverstein, but his poetry was not his first taste of the poet's humor.  Matt and I have passed on to Isaac our love of Johnny Cash who made Silverstein's poem/song "A Boy Named Sue" famous. We do also have two of his previously published collections of poetry which we read from occasionally.  But if you tell Isaac that he is the man who wrote the song about the boy whose name was Sue, you will get a faster reaction.

This new collection of poetry is called Everything on It.  We bought a copy for our niece for Christmas (don't spoil the surprise, please) and I will probably buy my own copy (for Isaac, of course) at my book fair in a few weeks.   As I flip through the book, there are many poems that I would like to share here.  But I will limit myself to two of my favorites. Don't worry they are short.  But very poignant when you remember that the poet is no longer here.

This is the first poem in the book:

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

This is the last:


When I am gone what will you do?
Who will write and draw for you?
Someone smarter -- someone new?
Someone better -- maybe YOU!

08 November 2011

Science Experiments 102

Yesterday I posted about 11 Experiments that Failed by Jenny Offill.  It reminded me of one of Isaac's favorite TV shows, Mythbusters.  To be honest, it is one of my favorites, too.  And the underlying message in the show, and the message that the hosts, Adam and Jamie, try to spread, is that it is okay to fail.  As long as you keep trying and learn from your mistakes.  They also think explosions are really cool and that every show should end with a big one-- they are boys, after all.

We went to see Jamie and Adam speak last year.  They shared their histories and their philosophies.  And they talked about what they hope people, especially kids, take away from the show -- to accept that you will make mistakes, have to start over sometimes, but eventually you will find the solution, even though it may not be what you originally expected.

I really like their message.  It is one that kids don't hear enough.  Too many students are unwilling to make mistakes and cannot handle when the learning process does not go smoothly.  Science is about problem solving.  Sometimes it involves a lot of backtracking and rethinking what you think you know.  The reward comes when you finally solve the problem and have gained new knowledge.

We were watching an episode of Mythbusters over the weekend and one of the tests that Jamie and Adam were doing in their effort to prove or disprove the myth didn't work.  In fact, it failed miserably.  They went back to the workshop, reworked their plan and tried again, with much better results.  They commented that science is not easy, but that is what makes it fun.  I made Isaac repeat that to me.  I want him to remember it.

I think Jamie and Adam would like the character in 11 Experiments that Failed.  They may even take some of her experiments and try them out for themselves.  I would like to see their results.

07 November 2011

Science Experiments 101

In a couple of years Isaac will be doing science fair projects for school.  Matt will help him.  It will  be better that way.  Trust me.  Matt actually already has a couple of experiments in mind . . . at least one of them may be appropriate for an elementary school science fair.

Isaac has already started showing interest in doing "experiments."  Luckily, he has not undertaken any of the projects on his own.  When we read 11 Experiments that Failed by Jenny Offill, I appreciated Isaac's restraint.

This book is actually very cute and captures the imagination and inquisitiveness of childhood with humor and understanding.  The main character is a girl, and while I write about books for boys, it is always nice to see girls depicted in strong or non-traditional roles.  She is a scientist at heart and conducts experiments around her house.  They all fail.  Miserably.  But she keeps trying, which is a great message about science education and life in general.

Isaac may soon decide to start trying experiments on his own.  I pray that we will escape unscathed  In the mean time, I think I will hunt down warranty information for our major appliances and make sure I have the plumber and other repairmen on speed dial.

06 November 2011

Accessible Love

Our church is undertaking a Capital Campaign to renovate and improve some of our space. The focus of the campaign has been access -- making the church accessible in all ways to all people. The campaign leadership team has emphasized that the work we are going to be doing is not for those of us using the space now, but for those who will come after us.

One of the things I have always appreciated about our church is that our children are included in everything we do. Milestones are also celebrated as the children grow up. Babies are presented the first time they come to church and then dedicated a few months later. Children get their first bible at their dedication, the first of seven bibles or books they will receive as they grow up in the church. The youth are recognized throughout their middle and high school years, and graduations from high school and college are important events.

Isaac's first bible is now falling apart. The spine has just about separated from the binding. When he turned four he received a beautiful book of psalms paraphrased for children. We some times use these as bedtime prayers. He received another bible when he entered first grade, a children's version of The Message.

We have talked a lot about the capital campaign with Isaac, at home as we have decided what our commitment will be and how Isaac can help, and in Sunday School as we have helped the children understand why the church is doing the campaign. I hope that some day Isaac will appreciate our church and the way he is loved. Right now, it is mostly the place where he sees his friend Aidan and the old ladies (no offense Darcy, Penny and Agnes) who always have a treat for him. Until he truly understands the value of this community of faith that we have stumbled upon, I will appreciate it for the both of us.

05 November 2011

Going Far

I ran a 5K with students and other staff members from my school this morning. The Go Out For A Run (GoFar) program was started to get kids active and each year students all over the country train for and run a 3.1 mile race. Registration is open to anyone, so parents, family and community members also run.

This was my first GoFar race and it was a great experience to see kids out running with their parents and friends. Isaac was too young to participate this year, but I am already hoping that he will be running with me in a couple of years.

The program includes lessons to be taught in conjunction with the weekly workouts. They stress health, safety and sportsmanship. One of the things that I like about running is that I am my own competition. I don't run as much as I used to, but in each race I try to run just a little faster than the time before. Life is already so competitive and stressful, even for the students, that I like how the GoFar program stresses personal challenges and goals, rather than beating the runner next to you.

The PE teacher at my school uses the book You're a Good Sport, Miss Malarkey by Judy Finch at the beginning of each school year. He makes a point of talking about sportsmanship with the students in addition to the discussions in the GoFar curriculum. Kids these days see so many examples of poor sportsmanship, that one book isn't going to counter the prevailing negative images, but it at least gives an alternative view of competition.

Isaac has played t-ball and soccer and taken taekwondo. We are trying to help him find a sport he enjoys, something his father and I never had. Until I started running, I never felt athletic. I focused on academics and dreaded gym class. I want Isaac to at least be able to have fun in PE, even if he is not a top athlete. Programs like GoFar which emphasize the experience and health benefits over the competition will, hopefully, help him and other kids be willing to try a new activity without worrying about being the best.

04 November 2011

Yes, Boss!

Isaac is all boy, though construction doesn't fascinate him like it used to. A couple of years ago, we couldn't drive by a construction site without him getting excited about the big trucks and cranes and cables. Our trip to DC was a constant "look Mom!" or "see that Dad?" since DC is always building or fixing something. Now, Matt or I are the ones saying "Isaac, look . . . " with a half-hearted "Yeah" in response from the backseat.

But if I come across a construction book, I still bring it home to share just in case it sparks a dormant fascination. I came across just such a book in my reading for my Children's Lit group last month. Job Site by Nathan Clement is perfect for any little guy who loves big trucks, earth movers, or anything building related.

I will admit that I did not love the illustrations. They are computer generated and feel just a bit flat to me. But, I don't think that children will be bothered by that. I did like,though, that at the end of the book you see the completed site that all of the machines were working on. It was nice to see the project carried through to the end.

Now if I can just get Isaac to feel the same way about his classwork . . .

03 November 2011

Reach Out and Touch the Page

Lois Ehlert is one of the best illustrators out there, in my very humble opinion. Her medium is collage and she infuses natural elements, as well as found objects, into her art. Her pictures are so detailed and textured, that you can't help but touch the page thinking you will feel the birds' feathers, the butterflies' wings or the dogs' fur.

Many of her books that she has worked on have science connections, so I have used a lot of them in my lessons. The books that she also authors are mostly written on a primary level, so they are perfect for kinders and first graders.

Isaac is a science kid, so I try to bring home books that match his interests. He also has a quirky sense of humor, so I also look for books that will make him laugh. Ehlert has two books out this year that fit the bill.

Ten Little Caterpillars
is written by Bill Martin (Brown Bear, Brown Bear) and his collaboration with Ehlert on this book is reminiscent of his work with Eric Carle. It is a life cycle book, but the added details in the labeling and the illustrations make it stand out.

My favorite of her new books, though, and the one that got Isaac laughing, is Rrralph. Remember all of those bad "talking dog" puns that made you groan? They are all here in this story. They still make you groan, but you giggle, too. The dog in the story, with his tab top nose and zipper mouth is adorable.

Fall is a perfect time to enjoy Ehlert's books. Red Leaf, Yellow Leaf and Leaf Man are two you should check out, especially once all of the color is gone from the trees.

02 November 2011

Rocks In Her Head

I came across a really cool book that I just loved and I shared it with Isaac and a lit group I am participating in. It is a concept book, but a very unique one. As I told a teacher the other day, not all picture books are created equal and this one definitely has an edge.

If Rocks Could Sing by Leslie McGuirk uses rocks that the author collected over a ten year period of time to illustrate the letters of the alphabet and the object or concept that the author chose to have them represent. All of the rocks were found along the shore, mostly near the author's home in Florida. The rocks and other, mostly natural, elements are photographed in creative vignettes. Some letters are connected to something concrete (B is for Bird), while others have a more abstract relationship to their concept (J is for Joy represented by large and small fish shaped rocks).

The book is visually stunning, but what I found even more intriguing was the author's dedication to the project. Spending over a decade of your life slowly building toward a goal, the last bit of it waiting to happen upon the perfect rock for that last letter (I think it was "k") is commitment that few people can relate to.

And did I mention all of the rocks were found on the beach? Makes me want to go to Florida and escape the cold.

01 November 2011

Here We Go . . .

We had a conference with Isaac's teacher last week. He is doing well, progressing with his reading and catching on quick in math. But he likes to talk. So much so that there are days he is not finishing his class work because he is talking too much. Who would have thought our son would be a talker?

He is sitting right now, actually, finished with his breakfast, trying to get his homework done before school. He didn't do it last night because he had so much class work to finish. The talking doesn't bother me as much as the not finishing. He can talk all he wants as long as he has done what he needs to do.

In the conference we went over his DRA and DIBELS scores. These are the assessments that our county uses for reading. I am a teacher, though I do not administer these assessments, and I don't even really understand them. But his teacher says he is a certain level, so I will be bringing books home to read with him to give him extra support in building his independent reading skills.

I probably won't be writing about those books this month, though. They are not the most fascinating reading. I do have a list of many others that I want to share, so hopefully I will have enough to get me through the National Blog Posting Month challenge.

Check back each day . . . I promise to try to have a new post for you.