Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Shades of Diego Rivera

Diego, concept and illustrations by Jeanette Winter, text by Jonah Winter, translated from the English by Amy Prince. Knopf, 1991

This is a concise little biography about the artist, Diego Rivera. Winter (The Librarian of Basra, 2005) begins Rivera's story with his birth. He was a sickly infant who survived because of the devoted care of an Indian healer. His twin brother did not live. He was a daydreamer in school but his parents encouraged his artistic abilities. He studied art in Europe but was inspired by his memories of life in Mexico. Winter ends the book as Rivera's career as a painter whose "murals told the story of the Mexican people" is just beginning.

The text is in English and Spanish. Each of Winter's illustrations is edged in a unique painted frame. I wish they had chosen to feature the illustrations in a larger format. The paintings are colorful and engaging and deserve more page space.

Clara & Señor Frog by Campbell Geeslin, illustrations by Ryan Sanchez. Schwarz & Wade Books, 2007

A fictional companion to the Diego Rivera story is this picture book, Clara & Señor Frog.

Clara is not happy when her mother is courted by a famous artist named, Miguel. In her mind Clara calls him Señor Frog. Her mother is a magician's assistant so Sara is fascinated with the idea of magic. Señor Frog's painting intrigues her and when he paints her, wearing a white peasant dress in a mural, she marvels at the "magic" that places her image on the wall. Señor Frog invites her to paint with him and Clara discovers that painting unleashes her own imagination or "magic."

Ryan Sanchez evokes the personage of Rivera with Señor Frog's rotund, mustached figure and his style as a muralist. The flowers that Clara is holding in her mural portrait are directly inspired by Rivera's paintings.

Meet the Meerkat

Meet the Meerkat
by Darrin Lunde, illustrated by Patricia J. Wynne. Charlesbridge. 2007

When I am clicking though the television channels ("Fifty-seven channels and nothin' on") I confess I will screech to a halt to watch Meerkat Manor which is why I wanted to take a look at this new book. The meerkat facts are explained in a question-answer format.

Little Meerkat,
what do you eat?

I eat insects, spiders, and scorpians.
I smell them with my nose.
Then I dig them up with my feet.
what do you eat?
I was struck by how well the format of the book lends itself to the Big 6 research model Step 1 which begins by listing the questions that need answers during the research process. What animals eat, where they live, what they look like are the staples of young researchers' animal reports. The book itself could be a model for the product or Step 5.

Patricia Wynnes illustrations capture the expressive faces of the meerkats and their movements. I would absolutely add this book to my 599.74 section.

Photographer/Author: Walter Wick

Drawing books are, no doubt, the most popular books to checked from a school library but Walter Wick's I Spy and Can You See What I See books are equally popular.

I noticed today that his website has a fascinating "Behind the Scenes" section. I found myself spending as much time looking at these pages as the pages of the books themselves.

Nowadays, when any kind of imaginary creature can be given digital life and historical images can be photoshopped, I think it is important for kids to realize that Wick's books are real photographs of real objects. Wick has also included the movie showing his balloon popper from I Spy School Days in motion. I have longed to share this with kids for years. I am so happy he has it on his site now!

Wouldn't it be fun to do a "Walter Wick" style project with students? With the abundance of digital cameras in schools now, it would be inexpensive--no film to develop--and all kinds of language arts objectives could be woven into the project.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Back to School Pencils

Joe Fox: Don't you love New York in the fall? It makes me wanna buy school supplies. I would send you a bouquet of newly sharpened pencils if I knew your name and address. On the other hand, this not knowing has its charms. -- You've Got Mail (1998)

Hat tip to Robert at Librarian in the Middle for finding this very interesting article, "20 Things You Didn't Know About... Pencils."

All the facts are interesting. Three that caught my eye:

13 Pencils were among the basic equipment issued to Union soldiers during the Civil War.

14 The mechanical pencil was patented in 1822. The company founded by its British developers prospered until 1941, when the factory was bombed, presumably by pencil-hating Nazis.

16 More than half of all pencils come from China. In 2004, factories there turned out 10 billion pencils, enough to circle the earth more than 40 times.

Hmmm...recent recalls of Chinese products for lead paint make me wonder about all the teeth marks I've seen on pencils over the years. Oh dear.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Back to School

I know school has already started in some parts of the country. It starts here tomorrow.

Elaine Magliaro at Wild Rose Reader has assembled a truly wonderful offering of poetry for going back to school. She has a list of back to school poems and poetry books and suggestions for integrating poetry into the classroom. I love her suggestion of having students write a poem each week and then compiling that poetry in a booklet for each of them at the end of the year. What a meaningful memento of a school year that would be.

Helpful back-to-school advice

A year ago, Steve Blow of the Dallas Morning News authored some excellent advice for parents. Do read his whole column.

Here's the myth: Schools educate children.

Don't fall for it! Too many children have suffered already.

Let me explain. Of course schools can help educate a child. But just like a book or a pencil, a school is only a tool. And a tool can only do so much. A book can't open itself. A pencil has no words of its own. And schools alone can't educate.

Parents must be in charge of their children's education. To put it plainly: The success or failure of your child's education is up to you.

We spend a lot of time talking about "fixing" schools. The truth is that few are broken. The much bigger problem is parents who have forgotten their vital role. When that happens, schools struggle.

Teachers have a hard time discussing this. It sounds like they're making excuses. But it's true.

As a parent, you have the power to make a complete failure of the very best teacher or finest school. How? Easy. Just say bad things about the school to your child. Tell how unfair teachers were to you. Criticize a lot. Or simply take no interest at all. Trust me, your attitude will quickly be your child's attitude.

On the other hand, if you are excited about school, chances are your child will be, too. Make it clear how important education is to you. Set high goals. Volunteer at school if you can. At least introduce yourself to the teacher. Don't hesitate to make an appointment as soon as concerns arise. Working as a team is everything.

Reading Assignment

Finally, Rosemary Wells's My Shining Star should be required reading for every single parental unit in the country. Over a year ago I talked about this book after hearing Wells at a conference. The book lays out a path for raising a child who is ready for school. It seems so simple and so obvious but so many children will arrive at schools tomorrow, ill-equipped to learn.

Her preface explains her book's message.

All children bring to school what they learn at home.
This book is about creating a home full of harmony
and the preparation of a successful child.
You are your child's first teacher.

Students, teachers, librarians, and parents I hope this is a wonderful year for you all.

Good luck!

Star-Lit: a Children's Literature Festival

The Star-Lit Children's Literature Festival has been an annual event in the Dallas area since 2003. Proceeds from from the one day event benefit the Dallas Bethlehem Center. Breakfast with the Authors tickets are $30 but the rest of the day's events are free to the public this year. If that were not reason enough to attend, uber-blogger, Cynthia Leitich Smith and Greg Leitich Smith are among the authors and illustrators presenting this year.

I have dreams of attending this and the Texas Book Festival every year but events on the home front seem to always conflict. Maybe this will be my lucky year?

Cynthia will also be presenting at the 2007 National Book Festival in Washington D.C. this year. The Mercer Mayer's poster is beautiful. I picked up a copy of last year's poster at the Library of Congress in May. These would be so interesting to collect.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Jason Bourne meets "Arthur"

Animation Magazine discusses the new season of Arthur for PBS:

The theme for this season on Arthur is "media literacy." Jason Damon will be making an appearance.

Cookie Jar animation director Greg Bailey was able to sketch Damon in person to capture his likeness and translate it for Arthur’s world. For the backgrounds, the animators had to create an environment where Damon would live and what his office looks like. “We realized that Matt’s brother, Kyle Damon, is a wonderful sculptor and painter, so our animation artists used his artwork as a basis for all the backgrounds that Matt appears in,” Valette notes. “So there’s that nice collaboration with his brother.”

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

What a Doll!

Subterranean Press is publishing a special edition of Neil Gaiman's Coraline. They have asked puppeteer Mary Robinette Kowal to build three Coraline dolls, one of them to go to someone who preorders the book.

Kowal is writing about the process of designing the dolls. I find this utterly fascinating. I love paper models and I was one of those "insert tab A into slot a" sort of people and I still will buy paper models to put together even though I never seem to get around to it anymore.

Watch her work on the design of the head.

Power of Puppetry

Thank you to Sara Lewis Holmes at her blog Read Write Believe for this link to a Washington Post article about the Peace Through Puppets organization.

I think puppets are one of the most powerful forces in the universe. My own introduction to the world of puppetry came from a fellow school librarian and I owe her a world of thanks every time Dragon and I sit down with children. (There are times when I wish that the snide, obnoxious creature had never shown up but kids seem to appreciate his anarchy even when I do not.)

I have seen the busiest children sit perfectly still and follow directions to the letter in order to experience the joy of a puppet on their hand. One of the most moving school stories I've ever heard was of a distraught child in the principal's office would only talk to the small simple Styrofoam ball and handkerchief puppet creation that was a fellow librarian's side kick for years.

I did a series of puppetry lessons with my students every year once I discovered their power. Dover has a terrific book, Making Puppets Come Alive: How to Learn and Teach Hand Puppetry by Larry Engler and Carol Fijan which is an excellent resource for teaching ideas and has a pattern for a simple, faceless hand puppet which I used. You will need a class set.

Puppets engage imaginations and emotions in deep and important ways. We bemoan the effects of media on young people today, well, I say, hand out the puppets and watch the magic happen.

Sara Lewis Holmes website

Inspirational Teaching

Whether you are a teacher die-cutting letters for your bulletin board or a parent gearing up for another year of fun in the classroom, do not miss Mental Multivitamin's post "Teach, damn it." She has put together a short but sweet list of books, full of teaching inspiration for the new school year.

My brother, Principal Blandsworth, told me he had read Rafe Esquith's excellent Teach Like Your Hair's On Fire this summer and recommended it highly. If MMV and Principal Blandsworth recommend it, it has to be good.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Spell Chequer

Make sure your teachers, students and all writing friends see this video on the perils of spell-check and editing from Fuse #8's Video Sunday.

I make sure to dial up Fuse on Sundays just to see what she has found each week.

Piano Piano

Piano Piano by Davide Cali, illustrated by Éric Heliot, Charlesbridge, 2007
First published in France in 2005

When Charlesbridge offered me a chance to see some books from their catalog I was immediately drawn to the cover of Piano Piano. Heliot's strong opening image of a kid running down a keyboard just, well, struck a chord.

Marcolino practices the piano for several minutes a day. He would rather be doing ANYTHING else than playing the piano. When his mother tells him of her own missed opportunity of becoming a grand pianist, Marcolino practices for her. A visit with his grandfather reveals an interesting truth about his mother's piano dreams and helps him find the musical instrument that really defines him.

Héliot's illustrations give the story the perfect comic touch. His seemingly simple drawings convey the character's emotions perfectly. Marcolino's face as he sits at the piano is very familiar.

This story brought back such memories of my own childhood piano lessons and adult regrets of wishing I had practiced more. It also evoked parental memories of herding my own children back to the piano bench.

This book is for kids who are looking for their own musical instrument and parents who express their own dreams through their children.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Dilemma about 'Will's Excellent Adventure'

There is nothing like being in a school library before school starts.
Teachers start coming in, long before their contracts start, to set up their rooms and begin planning for the year to come. Even though the librarians start work a week before the teachers, there is precious little time to work for the library itself which is why I found myself cataloging a load of new material for a very busy librarian at an elementary school this week.

The librarian at this school runs a fun "Books to Movies" reading club every year. She was telling me of her plans to use The Dark is Rising as her first book in conjunction with the movie The Seeker: The Dark is Rising, aka Will's Excellent Adventure, when it comes out.

Wow, have you heard about the brouhaha surrounding the movie I ask?

I ended up feeling badly because she is now pondering using another book to start the year. I don't think she has read the story yet so I told her not to decide until she had.

The club is really popular so it would be a chance for lots of kids to experience Cooper's work. Maybe learning that the movies are not faithful conveyors of a beloved story is a good thing to teach kids.
Maybe it is not so bad to reward feckless studios who are counting on librarians to promote their offerings in scenarios just like this one?
Maybe the movie is going to be so alien from the storyline that it will not spoil the book for them.

What do you think?

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Advice for School Librarians

It seems inevitable. Each spring the swallows return to Capistrano, baseball season begins, azaleas bloom, and book-banners stumble out of their caves and narrow their eyes in the direction of the school library.

I believe book challenges occur in greater numbers in the spring because parents have built up a store of unhappiness, resentment, and/or feelings of powerlessness earlier in the year and tend to lash out during the second semester. In junior high and high school the books get edgier just as parents are feeling less in control. If you are dealing with full-blown-book-banner-nutter-dom (as opposed to an interested parent who talks to the librarian about their concerns) you just have to ride the wave and hope your principal and district follow policy. Realize that it has very little to do with THE BOOK and everything to do with the parent's neediness.

In the interest of forestalling book challenges, as this new school year begins, ask yourself these questions:

1. Do your students look forward to their time in the library?

2. Do you interact with your students while they look for books? This means you have to leave the check-out desk. I know, this is hard if you do not have an aide or volunteers.

3. Do you get to know the kids' interests and reading strengths? They love it when someone takes a personal interest.

4. Do your students recognize you in the hall? Do they know your name? (added: Do you recognize them in the hall and do you know their names?)

5. Do parents hear about the "very cool" things you are doing in the library from their kids?

6. Do you take the opportunity to speak to the PTA or other parent groups at your campus about your program? They always need speakers. Volunteer! If they have paid for you to attend a workshop or conference, give them a report and send a thank you note.

7. Does the library have a presence on the school website? Do you contribute to the school newsletter regularly? These are PR opportunities made in Heaven.

8. Do you read the books so you can book talk at the drop of a hat with passion and enthusiasm to students, parents and teachers?

9. Do your teachers rely on you for recommendations and support in the classroom?

If you answer yes to these questions, you are an "A Plus" librarian and you probably enjoy the support and affection of your students, parents and teachers. You still may end up with a book challenge but lots of folks are going to think the complainer doesn't have enough to do with their time and lots of them will be in your corner.


1. Are you an "in-the-office" librarian, only focusing on the administrative aspects of the job behind a closed door?

2. Do you try to have as little personal contact with the kids as possible?

3. Does your reading aloud performance (this applies to secondary school too) communicate a desire to be anywhere else, maybe in the dentist chair having a root canal?

4. Have you ever put a teacher to sleep during a lesson?

5. Are your faculty members afraid of you? If the answer is yes, does that make you happy?

6. Are the kids afraid of you? If the answer is yes, does that make you happy?

7. Do you black out the "bad" words in the books on your shelves?

If you answer yes to these questions you might want to re-evaluate your mission. I could warn you about book challenges but you probably already a stack of "problem" books on your desk.

I salute the librarians who work so hard to teach important research skills, stoke young people's imaginations and instill a love of books and reading in their students.

Your joy and passion for your job is contagious.
Have a wonderful school year.

Clip art from School of Library Science, Sam Houston State University, Huntsville, TX

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Book Stack of Reproach

I have a TBR stack, actually it is several stacks, well actually it is a continuous veneer of TBR books that covers the homestead.

I also have a stack, or rather a shelf of books that I have read and enjoyed yet have not talked about here on BookMoot yet. Every day I see these books looking at me with sadness in their eyes.

--- --- --- --- --- --- ---

Books: We thought you liked us.

Me: I do. I liked all of you. I LOVED some of you and I know kids who would love you.

Books: But we just sit here. You don't tell anyone about us and you will not let us move on to another reader.

Me: Well, I am PLANNING to write about you. I want to write about you. I cannot give you away yet because I need you by my side when I write about you.

Books: What is stopping you?

Me: I'm just slow and it is summer and the Texas heat and humidity is finally here. Plus, each one of you is somebody's baby and I feel like I owe it to the author to communicate my enthusiasm as clearly as possible. I'm a librarian not a journalist--some days the words are hard.

Books: Well can you at least give us a shout-out or something? In the time you taking to talk to us now, you could be recording your thoughts about Red Mood at Sharpsburg by Rosemary Wells or Avielle of Rhia by Dia Calhoon or Skullduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy.

Me: Hey, I mentioned Skullduggery as one of my”48 Hour Reads.” That book is awesome, funny and original. Didn't I mention that?

Books: What ever. Just get a move on will you? We need to move on too. You already have library gigs booked for the school year and we like it when you give us to kids at the schools.

Me: OK, OK.

These books are excellent and I will tell you why soon.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

The End of Artemis Fowl?

Eoin Colfer says Artemis Fowl 6 may be the last book in the series. He has posted a video at Artemis Fowl Confidential where he discuss all things Colfer. His laconic delivery is always a hoot.

Oh how I wish I could go to the Bath Festival of Children's Literature.

I think I am a book behind in my Artemis reading. I better get to it.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Movie: The Dark is Rising

I noticed that with the DiR title change to The Seeker etc. etc., came a new trailer at

Chocolate and Vodka points out that the new trailer has also replaced the old one at YouTube.

Lo and behold, all those mean negative comments have disappeared too! The astroturf was taking hold when I last checked.

Given all the changes to the story, I think the new title should be Will's Excellent Adventure.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Weekend review

We just saw The Bourne Ultimatum. Very enjoyable. If you are a fan of the series, I recommend it heartily.

They gave away one of the best moments of the movie in the trailer, which was irksome, but as Treebeard says, in a choice between marketing and art, art loses every time.

Watching Jason Bourne on his quest reminded me again of the Jimmy Coates novels by Joe Craig. Both Bourne and Jimmy are creations of a secret government agency that is willing to use them to nefarious ends. They are both in search of their history and trying to come to terms with their past.

I have a sibling who is a high school principal, God bless him. Another happy note this weekend was the discovery that "Principal Blandsworth" has read both Maude March books this summer, is listening to The Thief Lord while he works on his high school's "master schedule", and uses Jack Gantos's Hole in My Life as a cautionary tale in his work. He asked for some more good audiobook suggestions!

He is so awesome.

Author: J.K. Rowling

I'm guessing JKR is going to eventually explain e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g, down to the last cobweb in the attic of Hogwarts.

Treebeard commented that she is in danger of going "Frank Herbert" with comments like this one that she made during her live web chat on Bloomsbury's website:

J.K. Rowling: I like this question, so I'll take it for my last.
Tess: What muggle song do you imagine would be played at dumbledores funeral
J.K. Rowling: Surely 'I did it my way' by Frank Sinatra.

Oh, surely not.

Saturday, August 04, 2007


I came across some videos made by book fans today. It is fun to see their enthusiasm for their favorite books!

Harry Potter vs Percy Jackson is a hoot. Think of the time these kids put into planning this.

An ode to Inkheart

A fan's vision of the Airborn movie

Friday, August 03, 2007

Art form: Reading-Aloud

Local Houston Chronicle columnist and celebrity gourmand, Ken Hoffman, has been invited to read at a Reading is Fundamental event. In yesterday's column he recounted a past experience
The book they gave me to read was And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, by Dr. Seuss.I knew about the book, but I had never read it.

He also included the books he will be reading this weekend. They are all based on major television franchises, Scholastic is sponsoring which is nice but otherwise...yikes.

Hoffman is looking forward to it and he is a funny guy so he will have fun with Scooby Doo but I thought, these books would not be my pick for read alouds. (I was handed Berenstain Bears Don't Pollute to read while subbing one time and I actually asked, "Do I have to?" The organizers looked askance but let me substitute A Tree Called Steve.)

My advice and rules for newbie read-alouders

1. You HAVE to like the book you are going to read.
2. Read the book before hand
3. Try to have the kids "below" you. If you are sitting in a chair, get them on the floor. If they are in chairs, stand. Maybe this is just me but I like to be at a "commanding" elevation if possible.
4. Know what kind of time frame you are expected to fill.
5. Make eye contact with your listeners while you are reading.
6. Have fun! If you are not enjoying yourself, no one else will.

This may not be the best time to do an all-call because folks are still on vacation but school is starting soon. So, what are your "all-time-favorite-go-to-I've-really-read-it-to-a GROUP-of-kids-and-it-is-a-solid-hit-every-time" read-alouds?

Do you have any other hints for readers?

Books are personal, not all books appeal or work for all read-alouders but what book(s) would you hand a read-aloud newbie with confidence?

A smattering of some of my favorites:

Picture books:

Snip Snap!: What's That? by Mara Bergman, illustrated by Nick Maland (fantastic and scary, kids love it)
Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! by Mo Willems (anything by Mo Willems)
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak (classic, kids never ever tire of it no matter what age they are)
Duck for President by Doreen Cronin, illustrated by Betsy Lewin (brilliant for election season)
Down Girl and Sit: Smarter than Squirrels by Lucy Nolan and Mike Reed (a must for any dog person)
No, David! by David Shannon (the picture of David running down the street gets them every time -- also a good choice to give a student who has to read to a class--he/she will be successful even if they are not a strong reader)
My Dog, My Hero by Betsy Cromer Byars, Betsy Duffey, Laurie Myers, illustrated by Loren Long (they will be begging you to read one more chapter--they are short chapters)
Saving Sweetness by Diane Stanley and G. Brian Karas (cowboy story, brush off your Texas twang and have fun)


The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup and a Spool of Thread, chapter 1
and of course...The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan, chapter 1

More please?

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Movie: The Dark is Rising

A commenter at IMDB's Dark is Rising entry has called for a new title to this movie. I liked the suggestion: The Fans are Bawling.

Care2 has a petition up to ask Walden to change the name of the film since it has nothing to do with the book by the same title.

Maybe in that spirit, Walden has apparently changed the title of the Dark movie. They appear to now be calling it The Seeker: The Dark is Rising.

I have been feeling so badly for Susan Cooper. It must be terrible to watch something like this happen to one of your books, even though you know that the movies are separate entities on their own. It also occurred to me though, that it might be wonderfully heartening to know there are so many people who feel so passionately and have such a loving connection with the books.

I spent some time looking at blog posts and comments about TDiR (or is is now TSTDiR?) movie and came up with a list of keywords that have been employed to describe readers' reactions. I've left of the ones that would earn this blog an "R" rating or worse.

I think the most often employed word was "cry."

One commenter used the expression "a quick toss off" which is probably accurate. I don't think Walden knew what they were stepping in when they messed with series.

Fools, fools, fools.

something one of my cats puked up
completely without imagination
horrified almost to the point of muteness
brutally slaughtered
semi-literate imagination-deprived monkeys
the vomit is rising
unbelievably painful
painful, pathetic mess
Oh, twist the knife a little more, why don't you?
a quick "toss off"
depressing departure from a well-loved story
erase our minds
disservice they are doing to a beloved classic
fix it before it's too late
butchering them
mindless vandalism
I just threw up in my mouth.
wanton dismantling
I shouldn't care about this so much.
Stupid Stupid Stupid!!!!
total hash
severe disappointment
shocked and confused
disfigured and trivialized
My Gorge is Rising
The Dreck is Rising!
"Will's twin" insanity
I feel ill.
The Dark is Winning?

A fan at IMDB did have this take:

The only comfort I get out of any of this is from knowing that there are so many wonderful, intelligent, eloquent people out there who are as passionate about these books as I am. Granted, nothing that any of us do or say is likely to stop Walden Media from releasing this colossal piece of crap, but I have to hold on to the hope that someday, a true fan will make a movie that does justice to the story.

Thanks to Chocolate and Vodka for some new links on this topic.