Wednesday, April 28, 2010

It's TAKS time in Texas

Be vewy, vewy quiet. 
It is TAKS time in Texas.   

All over the Lone Star State students are being remonstrated, at this very moment, to walk softly, silence their voices in the halls and avoid, at all costs any loud sounds that might disturb the test takers. 

A misplaced whoop in second grade could cause a third grader to startle and snap their no. 2 pencil lead. 
A burst of unwarranted laughter in the kindergarten wing, could cause a fifth grader, debating the best possible answer to a question on  the Science TAKS, to lose focus.  

The day before the tests, they came to the school library in ones or two, then in small groups and finally, three classes at a time (that is 60 kids in the check out line)  to acquire books to read, in case they finish a test before the rest of the class.  

The groups built in size and intensity and frequency,  hitting the library like waves hitting a beach in a storm.  At the campus where I was working, I was buoyed to see great swathes of Andrew Clements books streaming out.  There were runs on Avi novels.  BabyMouse books flew out of the library along with nonfiction books on branches of the military.   To my amazement, tome after tome of the Nancy Drew series were carted away in the hands of fourth graders.

Younger students, who will be exhorted into silence this week, carried out stacks and stacks of Magic Treehouse books and Ron Roy's A-Z Mysteries. 

While the books were being scanned out of the library at the check-out desk,  the excellent library aide moved swiftly around the library covering up any visible words. Posters were rolled up or taken down from the walls.  Signs like "Fiction" and "Magazines" were covered lest they provide some hint to the students who would be testing in the library the next day.  

NSA, FBI, CIA, eat your hearts out. There is no place more secure, than a campus during testing week.  Parents, don't think you can bring lunch to your student this Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday.  Try as you might, to quote Gandalf, "You shall not pass."

A great deal of sound and fury to prepare for this week. Good luck and a BookMoot salute to  all the students, teachers and principals whose futures hang in the balance.  

Brave little souls, just keep turning the pages in the test booklet. It will be over soon.

Texans, please!  Remember to walk and drive softly.  The sound waves from your car horn honking could, imperceptibly,  jostle a child's elbow as they bubble in and be the undoing of some fourth grader teacher's hopes and dreams. 


Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Steph Su Reads: What's Missing In YA Lit? The Contemporary Edition

Steph Su Reads: What's Missing In YA Lit? The Contemporary Edition

Kids Can Cats

I think the most desirable bags to acquire in the exhibit hall at the Texas Library Association conference the year were offered at the Kids Can Press booth.  Bags featuring Melanie Watt's Scaredy Squirrel or Chester the Cat were proudly carried as other conference attendees asked, "where did you get THOSE?"
Alas, I did not score one myself.  That's the way it is at TLA, the tale of the "one" that got away.

Chester's Masterpiece
Chester's Masterpiece
by acclaimed author CHESTER without (or with no help from or Not by) Mélanie Watt, Kids Can Press, 2010
Chester commandeers a red marker and writes his own book with absolutely no help, what-so-ever, from his creator, Mélanie.  It is possible he has had a hand in the disappearance of Mélanie's art supplies so she offers suggestions and admonishment through yellow sticky notes on the pages of Chester's book.

This is an accessible way to demonstrate how a story comes together. It needs a setting characters and hopefully, a happy ending.

Mattoo, Let's Play!Mattoo, Let's Play
writtten and illustrated by Irene Luxbacher, Kids Can Press, 2010
Ruby loves her cat Mattoo but she is so noisy and boisterous that Mattoo does not like playing with her. Her friend, Clemente leads the way in quietly imagining they are in a jungle where all kinds of wild animals appear.  Sensing a calmer and quieter Ruby, Mattoo can join in and play too.

This is a gentle message for young children about pets and how to handle and care for them.

Kitten's SpringKitten's Spring
by Eugenie Fernandes, Kids Can Press, 2010.
Fernandes is described as a 3-D illustrator.  Her characters are sculpted from Fimo-clay and added to a collage that includes painted backgrounds and natural materials.  Her sweet rhyming text focuses on the baby animals of spring, piglets, tadpoles, lambs, duckoings owlets. This is the first Fernandes book I've read.  Little ones should love this.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Magic Tree House Essay Contest

I am sharing this information  in honor of  ALL the Magic Tree House books that were checked out to students starting the TAKS test tomorrow.   If they finish early, they will have Jack and Annie's adventures to look forward too.  

Mary Pope Osborne's series continues to hold a special place in the hearts of the children in my school district.

Random House Children’s Books and Kids Crooked House Team Up
to Host Magic Tree House Essay Contest
Grand-Prize Winner Receives Custom Designed Kids Crooked House Playhouse
Inspired by Mary Pope Osborne’s bestselling Magic Tree House Book Series
NEW YORK, NY – April 26, 2010 - Random House Children’s Books and Kids Crooked House are kicking off an essay contest for kids to promote adventure, imagination, and creativity: themes that are all reflected in Mary Pope Osborne’s bestselling Magic Tree House series. The grand-prize winner will be awarded their own Magic Tree House: a custom designed playhouse by Kids Crooked House, creators of the most whimsical playhouses for children. Ten runner-up winners will receive a Magic Tree House book autographed by Mary Pope Osborne, beloved author of the wildly popular New York Times bestselling series that has now sold nearly 70 million copies.
The Magic Tree House series, first published in 1992, follows brother and sister duo Jack and Annie as they journey back in time via a magic tree house, traveling to exotic places and meeting famous historical figures. Children interested in entering the essay contest must submit a response to this question: Write about an adventure you would like to have in the Magic Tree House. Where would you go and what would you do? Mary Pope Osborne will review the submissions and choose the winner.
Essay entry forms are available for download at and must be mailed to Random House offices at 1745 Broadway New York, NY 10019. Entries will be accepted from April 27 through October 31, 2010. The winners will be announced in mid December 2010.
“There is nothing more exciting than a child using their imagination and this essay contest is a great outlet. No one knows boundless imagination better than Mary Pope Osborne, a truly creative and artistic author. Kids Crooked House is honored to work with Ms. Osborne and a partner like Random House to help make this an exciting endeavor for many children,” said Glen Halliday, creative director and CEO for Kids Crooked House.
Kids Crooked House is inspired by, and infused with, Maine and its natural wonders. Glen and his cousin, Jeff Leighton, built their first crooked house because they loved being outside and wanted their kids to love it, too. Glen and Jeff’s goal is to encourage children to use their imaginations as wildly as possible, and with the diverse range of playhouses Kids Crooked House offers, it isn’t very hard to do.
“I’m so excited about this contest, knowing it will inspire an adventure and allow children to be as creative as they dare. I can’t wait to read their ideas, and learn about where they would like to go! This essay contest touches on my main goal in writing the Magic Tree House books: to encourage children to go on adventures using their own imaginations,” said Mary Pope Osborne.
About Random House Children’s Books and the MAGIC TREE HOUSE Series
Random House Children’s Books is the world’s largest English-language children's trade book publisher. Creating books for preschool children through young adult readers, in all formats from board books to activity books to picture books and novels, Random House Children’s Books brings together award-winning authors and illustrators, world-famous franchise characters, and multimillion-copy series.
It is the proud and longtime publisher of Mary Pope Osborne’s celebrated Magic Tree House series, which has now sold nearly 70 million copies and has been translated into 28 different languages in 31 countries since it was first published in 1992. The series is widely regarded among children, teachers, and parents alike for its power to instill a passion for reading. Teachers and kids can experience even more Magic Tree House fun on the interactive Web site, which features games and activities for children and teaching tools and materials for educators.
Random House Books for Young Readers is an imprint of the Random House Children’s Books division of Random House, Inc., whose parent company is Bertelsmann AG. Visit us on the Web at
About Kids Crooked House
Based in Windham , Maine , Kids Crooked House was founded by fun-loving dads Glen Halliday and Jeff Leighton, who couldn’t find a unique, affordable, and imaginative playhouse for their young kids. They looked in all the big home centers and scoured dozens of Web sites. The products either looked like a tool shed for lawnmowers or like a small city with a price to match. For the graphic designer and carpenter-electrician, the answer was simple: Build one of their own. The entire neighborhood was soon hanging out in Glen’s backyard. So FUNky was his kid’s new crooked house, the rest is (becoming) history. For more information about Kids Crooked House, visit www.kidscrooked

Nonfiction Monday: Origami Toys that Tumble, Fly and Spin

Origami Toys: Paper Toys That Fly, Tumble, and Spin

Origami Toys that Tumble, Fly and Spin

by Paul Jackson,  Gibbs Smith, 2010  --  Dewey:  736

The ONE art supply that school kids always have at hand is paper. Origami books are continually in demand in school libraries, Books that focus on paper airplane folding are especially popular.  Jackson has gone beyond airplanes in this book and focuses on other "action" forms. Dogs, birds, beaks, frogs, fish, and crocodiles bark, snap, and flap.  Jackson's directions are clear and easy to interpret.  He defines the complexity of the models by "simple," "intermediate," and "advanced."  It occurs to me that the catapult on page 115 could have many uses to bored and imaginative students. He does not neglect aeronauts and does include some flying models as well.

Many of these models would work well in a storytelling setting too.

A packet of origami paper is included.  The book is a worthwhile addition to any origami collection, I recommend it for paper folders of all ages.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Paris in the Spring with Picasso

Paris in the Spring with PicassoParis in the Spring with Picasso
by Marjorie Priceman, pictures by Marjorie Priceman, Schwartz & Wade, 2010.

This is a book that I thought was going to be right up my alley and on a certain level, it succeeds. I confess, even my French major, literature clogged memory had to wrestle quite a bit to recall the works of Guillaume Apollinaire.

Having made numerous personal pilgrimages to Shakespeare and Company in Paris, I truly embraced the spirit of this book.

For young readers, one has the sense that these artists and writers were "somebody?" but the lovely meander through early 20th century Paris does not evoke much unless you are already familiar with the personalities here. I highly recommend the book for students of the Montparnasse artists, poets and writers. I think this is a book that would be a great addition to a high school library where art, literature and language students will benefit.

So, "good on ya" for folks in the know and a "wha?" for elementary readers who will probably not appreciate the Montparnasse artistic movement depicted here.

I DID adore Marjorie Priceman's illustrations. They evoke Paris with every stroke. Ses illustrations sont tout à fait géniales et très beaux!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Nonfiction Monday: Off Like the Wind!

Off Like the Wind!: The First Ride of the Pony Express
Dewey:  383

Off Like the Wind!: The First Ride of the Pony Express by Michael P. Spradlin, paintings by Layne Johnson, Walker, 2010

Today, every thought, observation or news event can be instantly communicated from anywhere in the world through cell phones, blogs, Twitter, and Facebook.  The idea that it would take weeks to receive news and mail is almost unfathomable.

...which is exactly why books that share stories like this are important.

Michael Spradlin and Layne Johnson re-enact the first ride of the Pony Express as a composite of the many challenges that riders had  to contend with as they carried the mail between St. Joseph, Missouri and Sacramento, California.  The sheer distance took a toll on horses and riders as did weather and encounters with wildlife and native tribes.  Spradlin narrates the story as a timeline, following the riders through the geography of the route during the eleven day trip.

Layne Johnson's riders, gallop, from left to right across two page spreads. The action often moves towards the reader as if it would burst out of the book. Stampeding buffalo thunder straight on.  Johnson's landscape and charging horses bring the artwork of Charles Russell, Frederic Remington and John Ford movie westerns to mind.  The endpapers of the book are a map showing the route of the service across half the continent as well as a time-line. This is worth noting as pleas for examples of time-lines are regularly requested on school library listservs.

The book concludes with an outstanding compilation of facts, insights and resources.  There are suggestions for further reading and a bibliography (which is important to point out to students--you have to cite your sources!) A list of Pony Express websites, associations and museums round out the resources.

Spradlin is an author I am drawn to because he writes about things that are interesting to me.  The Texas Rangers, the Knights Templar, Daniel Boone.

I am a huge fan of picture book storytelling of history.  Candace Fleming, Louise Borden, Spradlin, and others share stories, in this format, which would go untold otherwise.  In a too-busy school day, the drama of these important moments in  history would never be told. These books are perfect launching points for research or lesson extensions.

When stories like this are brought to life, with a strong narratives and engrossing pictures, then readers' and listeners' imaginations are engaged and connections with history are made.

    Monday, April 05, 2010

    Teen BookCon in Houston!

    The Greater Houston Teen Book Convention
    Event location: Alief Taylor High School

    Keynote speaker: Sharon Draper

    I've heard Draper speak. She is a dynamic and impassioned presenter! Don't miss her!

    And LOOK who else will be there!

    These are the REAL RockStars, folks!
    Admission to the event is free!
    (You will need money to purchase books and food!)


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