Monday, March 31, 2008

Do Not Open by John Farndon

Do Not Open: An Encyclopedia of the World's Best Kept Secrets

Reading level: Ages 9-12
Hardcover: 192 pages
Publisher: DK CHILDREN (November 7, 2007)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0756632056
ISBN-13: 978-0756632052

It's Nonfiction Monday, and today I'm featuring a book I absolutely love!

Parents, if you’re struggling to find books that interest your reluctant readers, I think I’ve found THE PERFECT BOOK for you! I won a copy of Do Not Open: An Encyclopedia fo the World's Best Kept Secrets by John Farndon from Breeni Books over the winter holidays, and I can’t even begin to tell you the numerous times I’ve picked this up and read pieces of it since.

Do Not Open comes in its own silver vault that begs readers to open it, and the book itself is chock full of fascinating facts from ships and aircraft that have disappeared in the Bermuda Triangle to the eerie similarities between Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy.

The book is divided into eight sections:

  • Unexplained
  • Unthinkable
  • Freaky Facts
  • Unknowable
  • Spine-Chilling
  • Spooky
  • Strange Coincidences
  • Classified

Each section features colorful two-to-four page spreads that examine mysteries, hoaxes, optical illusions, bizarre facts, and more. Many spreads are interactive and feature flaps or pull out pages.

My personal favorites include:

  • “Magic Tricks Revealed:” This four-page feature shows how three of the most famous magic tricks are performed: pulling a rabbit out of a hat, sawing a lady in half, and disappearing into thin air
  • “The Code That Trapped Mary Queen of Scots:” This two-page spread tells the story of the trap that was set, using coded letters, to catch Mary plotting against Queen Elizabeth
  • “Conspiracy Theories:” This four-page feature discusses some of the most well-known conspiracy theories, including the theory that the US staged the 1969 moon landing in the Nevada desert, the rumor that Marilyn Monroe was murdered, and that Mozart was poisoned.

Readers can choose to read the book from front to back or flip through and read what interests them—a great choice for kids who may not like to read long stories. I tend to open it up and read whatever comes to me. In addition, there is such a variety of stories that anyone who picks it up will find something that interests them.

This book would make a perfect gift for kids of all ages!!!

Visit the rest of the Nonfiction Monday roundup at Picture Book of the Day.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo

Reading level: Ages 9-12
Paperback: 272 pages
Publisher: Candlewick (April 11, 2006)
ISBN-10: 0763625299
ISBN-13: 978-0763625290

I’m coming in with a day to spare to complete my March reading for the Young Adult Challenge hosted at Thoughts of Joy. For this challenge, I committed to read the last 12 Newbery Medal winners in effort to read more Newbery books. So far, I’ve read Kira-Kira and The Higher Power of Lucky.

This month, I read the 2004 Winner, The Tale of Despereaux, and I was not disappointed.

The Tale of Despereaux has everything I look for in a good fairy tale: a hero, a damsel in distress, an evil villain, and an exciting plot, full of suspense, where ultimately good triumphs over evil. Kate DiCamillo brilliantly includes all of these elements in an unconventional and quirky way that kids will love.

Our hero, Despereaux is a tiny mouse with “obscenely large ears” who lives in a castle with his large mouse family. The runt and only survivor of his mother’s last litter, he has always been different and a source of embarrassment for his family. In addition to his size, he doesn’t enjoy hunting for crumbs and prefers reading books instead of eating them. He even commits the ultimate offense of talking to humans and even let one, the beautiful Princess Pea, touch him. GASP! It’s this offense that sentences him to be eaten by rats in the dungeon. He manages to escape this sentence but soon has to return as he sets upon his quest to save the Princess.

Our villain is the rat, Chiaroscuro, Roscuro for short. He led a normal and rotten rat life in the dungeon until a match was lit in front of his face, and he began to crave light. It’s this craving for light that brings him up into the castle and ultimately results in the Queen’s death. Something happens during this incident that causes him to hate the Princess Pea, and he develops a plan to destroy her.

Our damsel in distress is the kind and lovely Princess Pea who manages to make Despereaux fall in love with her at first sight. But she’s actually kind of boring—the character I liked the most was Miggery Sow.

Named after her father’s favorite pig, Miggery Sow’s, Mig for short, mother died when she was a young girl. Her father sold her for a red tablecloth, a hen, and cigarettes to a cruel man who “clouted” her on the ear so much that she lost part of her hearing and ended up with ears that resembled cauliflowers. A stroke of luck gets the slow-witted Mig a job at the castle, where she desperately wants to become a Princess. Roscuro uses this to his advantage and tricks Mig into helping him execute his plan to destroy the Princess. Readers will feel sympathy for Mig as they learn about her background, but will also roll with laughter when she misinterprets what people say to her because her poor hearing.

These eccentric characters, along with an engaging, fast, and peculiar plot make The Tale of Despereaux a fantastic book that many children will love. I particularly liked the narrator’s frequent asides to the reader. While some criticize this as distracting, I think it actually draws readers in and makes for an excellent read aloud. For example, in one section, we learn about Mig’s arrival at the castle and her inability to find a job she was successful at completing. To help set the stage for this section, the narrator says,

“Reader, as the teller of this tale, it is my duty from time to time to utter some hard and rather disagreeable truths. In the spirit of honesty, then, I must inform you that Mig was the tiniest big lazy. And, too, she was not the sharpest knife in the drawer. That is, she was a bit slow-witted.” (p. 152)

So what made this book win the Newbery Medal in 2004? I think it’s because Ms. DiCamillo skillfully weaves in some great themes that can lead to many discussions, including accepting differences, living with honor, treating others with respect, the power of hope, and more. She manages to do all this through a charming story that children of a variety of ages will enjoy. It’s fast-paced and a great choice for a read aloud to younger children, and kids who are in the 8-10 range will be able to read it with ease.

Kids above ten may like it but pretend it’s too childish, but I don’t want to give off the impression that it’s meant solely for younger children. Along with its lighthearted and funny parts, there is death and a little violence. But here’s how the narrator explains one part that is particularly dark.

"The story is not a pretty one. There is violence in it. And cruelty. But the stories that are not pretty have a certain value, too. I suppose. Everything, as you well know (having lived in this world long enough to have figured out a thing or two for yourself), cannot always be sweetness and light." (p. 183)

If your kids are Harry Potter fans, these parts are certainly not as dark as scenes in those books—not even close in fact. I wouldn’t have a problem sharing it with younger children, but be prepared to explain these issues if your young kids have questions.

I finished this book about two weeks ago and have sat down numerous times to write my review, but I’ve actually a hard time explaining it and wrapping it up into a succinct little description because it’s different than any other book I’ve read, but in a good way. In fact, I don’t think I’m doing it justice now. The bottom line is that I highly recommend it, and I think you and your children will like it just as much as I did.

What Other Bloggers Are Saying:

Nymeth at Things Mean A Lot: "What I loved the most, I think – it’s hard to pick in a book like this – was the warmth and comfort that this story brought me. The story in itself heartwarming and charming, but the tone in which Kate DiCamillo tells it increases that feeling even more." (Read the rest)

Do you have a review of The Tale of Despereaux? If so, leave a comment with the link, and I'll post it here.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Back on Track

March has definitely been hectic, but things seem to be calming down, and I'll be able to resume more of a regular schedule on The Well-Read Child next week. Regardless of how busy life and work have been, I've still managed to read to my daughter every evening. However, because my reviews require brainpower (none of which has been left at the end of some pretty long days recently), I haven't written many. I do have a huge stack of books waiting to be reviewed, so they're coming!

Tomorrow, look for my review of The Tale of Despereaux, Kate DiCamillo's 2004 Newbery Medal winner. I also have a few nonfiction selections I've read but haven't yet decided which one I'll feature for Nonfiction Monday.

Friday, March 28, 2008

The Well-Read Child Book Store

When you buy a book from The Well-Read Child's Amazon book store, a small percentage goes to support the blog. Thanks for reading and instilling the joy of reading in your child!


Thursday, March 27, 2008

Poetry Friday: The Villanelle

Here's an interesting exercise: write a 19 line poem with just two rhyming sounds, and in which about a third of the lines are refrains. The first stanza haunts every other -- its first and third lines alternating as conclusions to the stanzas that follow, until they come together to end the poem as a couplet. Do that and you will have created something called a "villanelle."

Below I've included a) a great villanelle by Theodore Roethke and b) my own attempt at the form. If you're inspired to try your own hand at this, please feel free to post the result as a comment to this post. (It's a very fun excercise; learn more about the villanelle and how to write one here; for another famous example, see Dylan Thomas' Do not go gentle into that good night).

The Waking
by Theodore Roethke

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go.

We think by feeling. What is there to know?
I hear my being dance from ear to ear.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Of those so close beside me, which are you?
God bless the Ground! I shall walk softly there,
And learn by going where I have to go.

Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?
The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair;
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Great Nature has another thing to do
To you and me; so take the lively air,
And, lovely, learn by going where to go.

This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.
What falls away is always. And is near.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I learn by going where I have to go.

Villanelle Expirans
by Wes

There is one small thing I would have you do
Don't let me down when I look up and say:
"Know I would only ask it of a few"

Never did I deny your silent moods
The time it took all evening to hear:
"There is one small thing I would have you do"

So leave me lying here when I am due
Don't lift me up when I lay down at last
Know I would only ask it of a few

Leaning is taking, the world gives me its hue
My debt called up sings this familiar tune:
"There is one small thing I would have you do."

I held the world dear even in its ruin
Tell morning this with hands wedged into time
Know I would only ask it of a few

The night's last hour on the budding dew
Leans down and waits to feel my arching soul
There is one small thing I would have you do
Know I would only ask it of a few.

Visit the rest of the Poetry Friday roundup at Cuentecitos today!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Girlwood by Claire Dean

Today, I'm pleased to present the first review from Marlies, our newest contributor. Enjoy!

Girlwood by Claire Dean
Age Range:
Young Adult
Hardcover: 256 pages
Houghton Mifflin (May 19, 2008)

Last spring, I had a plastic thumb. When my neighbors were asleep, I’d sneak outside and poke plastic stems into my so-called garden. I couldn’t name more than ten flowers and far fewer trees, and I certainly didn’t know that Fireweed is the first plant to grow back in burned areas. But that was all before I read Girlwood, by Claire Dean.

So is Girlwood a boring book about plants? Absolutely not. It’s a story that speaks to the hearts and minds of girls 12 and up and shows them that life can be filled with wonder and magic if they have the courage to hold onto hope. Polly, the main character, must believe that she can help her runaway sister survive in the Idaho woods—in winter, with wolves, and bulldozers. She gets her strength from her beloved grandmother, Baba, who shares the “secrets” of the woods that have actually been known for thousands of years.

All of the characters in the book are complex and quirky, and the writer’s voice is strong and intuitive. For example, here’s how the book opens:

“The first and last kiss Polly received from her sister was as contrary as Bree herself. Lightweight but intense, a kiss that was supposed to impart some deep meaning but offer zero affection, a kiss that was retracted nearly before it began.”

Girlwood will be released May 19, and in anticipation, I recommend visiting the author’s website. On it, she talks about the book and its themes and shares one piece of wisdom: “Only joy works. Don’t stop until you’ve found yours.”

This book spoke to me. I know I won’t stab plastic convenience into the ground where wondrous nature belongs. And I bet, when faced with trouble, adolescents and young adults who read the book will remember Polly and find new ways to choose hope over self-doubt and fear.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Goosebumps is Back

I've actually never read R.L. Stine's Goosebumps series, but I do know that starting at around age 12, I had a thing for dark books. I absolutely loved V.C. Andrews' twisted books like Flowers in the Attic and My Sweet Audrina and remember checking out one after the other in the library. When I got a little older, Stephen King and Dean Koontz were always in my book pile.

Goosebumps is geared toward a younger audience than these books, so the series is not as dark and doesn't contain many of the more mature themes and language, but it definitely can give kids their horror fix.

Via this NY Times article, R.L. Stine is back with a new Goosebumps series: Goosebumps: HorrorLand. The first in the 12-book series, Goosebumps HorrorLand #1: Revenge of the Living Dummy, will be officially released on April 1, but it's already available on Amazon.

These are the types of books that kids can have fun with and that may turn some reluctant readers onto reading.

Meet Marlies

My ultimate vision for The Well-Read Child is to have a wide variety of book reviews for children and teens and also a variety of voices via a number of select contributors. I've been overwhelmed with the response to The Well-Read Child by authors, publishers, and most importantly, you, the readers, and I've found myself with a giant stack of books begging to be read and reviewed.

Marlies, an avid reader, mother of two, and aspiring young adult author offered to help out after shameless begging and offerings of free books and chocolate cake. She'll be reviewing and recommending books for middle graders and teens, and I'm so excited for you hear what she has to say.

Please join me in welcoming Marlies to The Well-Read Child, and check in tomorrow when I'll post her review of Claire Dean's new novel, Girlwood.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Nonfiction Monday: Animal Books

It's Nonfiction Monday over at Picture Book of the Day. Stop by and check out the nonfiction goodness everyone has to offer.

If you haven't already peeked at the two nonfiction animal books I reviewed in the past week, take a minute to check them out.

First, I reviewed Steve Jenkins and Robin Page's newest book, Sisters & Brothers, a picture book about animal sibling relationships. If your little ones love animals, they will definitely like this book.

Second, I reviewed JG Annino's Florida's Famous Animals, a book for older kids about some Floridian animals who've made the news. In addition to reading their stories, kids can learn all kinds of fun animal facts and get links to more online resources.

Do you have a favorite nonfiction book about animals?

Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Twelve Gifts of Birth by Charlene Costanzo

My baby girl just turned one, and it's only going to be a matter of time when she's not a baby but a little girl. I don't think I'm alone when I say that as a parent, I often wonder how I'm going to raise a strong, self-assured, and happy child. It's a daunting and sometimes frightening task to achieve what with bullying, poor body image, young children developing eating disorders, and so much more I read about in the news. I also know that however hard I may try, I can't shield her from everything, but it is my job to remind her often about how much she's loved and about her inner strengths, and I'm going to use The Twelve Gifts of Birth to help me.

Charlene Costanzo sent me an autographed copy of this touching book a couple of weeks ago, and it's already become one of my favorites that I've read to my daughter many times. The book opens up talking about how in fairy tales, princes and princesses always received gifts from wise women or fairies when they were born. These wise women longed to give these gifts to every child that was born, but were forbidden. Well...the time has finally come that ALL children inherit these twelve gifts when they are born. The rest of the book names these twelve gifts:

  • Strength
  • Beauty
  • Courage
  • Compassion
  • Hope
  • Joy
  • Talent
  • Imagination
  • Reverence
  • Wisdom
  • Love
  • Faith
As each gift is named, a short affirmation follows. For example,

"The first gift is strength. May you remember to call upon it whenever you need it.
The second gift is beauty. May your deeds reflect its depth. "

Accompanying the text are sepia-toned photographs by Jill Reger and illustrations by Wendy Wassink Ackison that give the book a magical, dreamlike feel.

What I like most about the book is its universal message that every person has these inherent gifts within them regardless of where they're from, what they look like, and even what they've done, and it's up to them to use them wisely and bring them out in others. While it's absolutely an excellent choice for any new or expectant parent, it would also make a great gift for anyone celebrating a milestone such as graduation, a new job, and for anyone who may be experiencing some sort of adversity.

This book bridges all religious boundaries and is appropriate for people from all walks of life. As stated in a letter from Charlene Costanzo, it's been used in baptisms, bat mitzvahs, funerals, schools, churches, and even prisons. It is a book that I will cherish and that I will give often as a gift and that I would recommend to any parent.

There are two other books in the series, The Twelve Gifts for Healing and The Twelve Gifts in Marriage. In addition, Charlene Costanzo has developed a website full of resources for readers, parents, and educators, including a free classroom curriculum.

Florida's Famous Animals by JG Annino

Florida's Famous Animals: True Stories of Sunset Sam the Dolphin, Snooty the Manatee, Big Guy the Panther, and Others by JG Annino

Reading level: Ages 9-12
Paperback: 160 pages
Publisher: Globe Pequot (February 12, 2008)
ISBN-10: 0762741368
ISBN-13: 978-0762741366

I'm always a sucker for books about animals, so I jumped at the chance when the author herself offered up a copy of this book for me to review. Florida's Famous Animals features the stories of 13 Floridian animals who've made the news.

Some animals we learn more about include:
  • Dave, the Parade Cat, a feline who loved parades and actually led many by riding on the shoulders of his human, the "Catman."
  • Lu the hippo, an animal actor who developed a special bond with fellow actor, Susie the donkey
  • Jet the airport dog whose "job" was to chase flocks of birds away from the path of airplanes
My personal favorite story in the book is that of Sunset Sam, a dolphin who was discovered stuck in a mud flap near death. We learn all about Sunset Sam's rescue and recovery and the disabilities that prevented him from being able to be returned to the wild.

Each animal story also includes boxes with more information, fun facts, and links to more resources about that type of animal. For example, in Maya the Mystery Owl's story, we learn about some "Owl Oddities," and get a list of owl species that naturally prowl in Florida. Annino also includes links to online owl resources, including the Nature of Conservatory's site about the Owls featured in Harry Potter.

My only wish is that the book would have included color photographs of the animals like we see on the cover instead of black and white. This is a book that older children will enjoy reading on their own, and younger children will enjoy hearing read to them. Floridians will especially enjoy reading more about the animals they've heard about in the news.

Friday, March 21, 2008

The Willoughbys by Lois Lowry

The Willoughbys by Lois Lowry
  • Reading level: Ages 9-12
  • Hardcover: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin/Walter Lorraine Books (March 31, 2008)
  • ISBN-10: 0618979743
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618979745

I'm a longtime fan of Lois Lowry's--so much so that when I was teaching, I created units of instruction for The Giver and Number the Stars. You can only imagine how happy I was to learn that she was releasing another novel this year, but be warned those of you familiar with Lois Lowry's work--this is very different from her other works but oh so DELIGHTFUL.

This Lemony Snicketish novel features the four Willoughby children who long to be "old fashioned," like the characters in many of the books they love like Anne of Green Gables, Jane Eyre, and James and the Giant Peach. Tim, the oldest, is the rather bossy leader of his siblings: identical twins Barnaby A and Barnaby B (A and B for short), and the youngest and timid Jane. It's very clear from the beginning that their parents are well--not that much into being parents. The banker father is "impatient and irascible," and their mother is "indolent and ill-tempered." They "frequently forgot that they had children and became quite irritable when they were reminded of it." They actually become so irritable with their children that they devise a plan to get rid of them by selling their house while they go on vacation. Little do they know that this adventurous (and highly dangerous) vacation is the children's plan to get rid of their parents so that they may finally become old-fashioned orphans. But things don't go EXACTLY as planned, and along the way, the Willoughby children learn a little bit about kindness and find a loving family of their own.

I found myself snickering at the book from the very beginning, and it's actually kind of difficult to tie it up into a neat little description. It's dark yet irreverent and lighthearted at the same time. Lowry does a fantastic job of weaving in hilarious scenarios and funny characters, from the kind nanny who disguises herself as Aphrodite to scare off potential home buyers to the rich benefactor who made his fortune in the candy industry. I also immensely enjoyed the references to lots of classic "orphan" books she pokes fun of.

But let me SHOW you what I'm talking about. In this passage, the children receive a postcard from their parents.

"'Dear ones,'" Tim read. "'Though slightly bruised, we have survived quite a lovely earthquake (you may have read the headlines: THOUSANDS KILLED)...'"

"'Oh my," Jane said sadly. "I suppose kittens were killed, too. How sad."

"Shhh," Tim told her, and he continued. '"...and next we are off to kayak a crocodile-infested river. Such FUN! '"

"They don't know how to kayak!" Barnaby A exclaimed.

"They never once have kayaked," his twin added.

"Precisely," Tim said. (pages 56-57)

Even Lowry's glossary in the back is injected with this same type of bizarre humor, and she even takes a poke at herself:

IGNOMINIOUS means shamefully weak and ineffective. Oliver Twist saying, "Please sir, might I have some more?" would be ignominious, except that he isn't shameful, just sort of pathetic. This book has ignominious illustrations. They are shamefully weak because the person who drew them is not an artist. (p. 163)
(Lowry herself sketched all of the illustrations in the book).

I predict that children and parents alike will love this book even though some young children may not get all of the jokes. However, those that do will probably read it over and over again and find something new to laugh at every time. I admit that I was first a little skeptical when I heard that Lowry would be writing a humorous book, but like all of her books, she executed it with perfection and added her own special style.

The Willoughbys will be officially released on March 31st, but it's available on now.

What other bloggers are saying:

A Fuse #8 Production: "
It’s a great book for kids and adults alike. Perhaps it is not for all takers, but those with a keen sense of humor and a taste for the bizarre will enjoy this winsome tale of the beastly, the diabolical, the irascible, and the unkempt. An auspicious departure." (read more of Ms. Bird's review)

The Goddess of YA Literature: "
Though the book is aimed at younger readers, it will work well in classrooms dealing with humor and satire and irony nicely." (read more of the Goddess' review)

Sarah Miller: Reading, Writing, Musing
"This ain't no Giver, but it is a wonderfully snarky romp with the unmistakable flavor of Roald Dahl and a dash of Lemony Snicket. Outlandish? Yep. Likely to be too much for some hyper-sensitive parents? You betcha. Precisely why I loved it." (read more of Sarah's review)

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Sisters & Brothers by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page

Sisters and Brothers: Sibling Relationships in the Animal World by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page

Reading level:
Ages 4-8
Hardcover: 32 pages
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin (April 14, 2008)
ISBN-10: 0618375961
ISBN-13: 978-0618375967

My friend Jay was just telling me how his daughter Amelia loves going to the zoo and seeing all of the animals. Amelia also loves books, and I think I've found a book that she'll love.

Sisters and Brothers: Sibling Relationships in the Animal World presents all kinds of information and fun facts about animal siblings. For example, did you know that nine-banded armadillos are ALWAYS born as identical quadruplets? Well, did ya? I bet you didn't know that there are no male New Mexico whiptail lizards or that cheetah brothers hunt together throughout their lives while the sisters separate from their families when they're two years old to start their own. Pretty cool, huh?

The book features 19 different species of animals from elephants and beavers to European shrews and giant anteaters. Splendid cut-and-torn paper collage illustrations compliment each paragraph of intriguing information, and a fun caption accompanies each illustration. I especially love the caption by the black widow spider's egg sac: "I'm having my family for dinner..." Eeeeek!

It's a challenge to write engaging nonfiction for young children, and Jenkins and Page have definitely risen to the challenge and created a book that children of all ages will enjoy. Even very young children who may not understand the text will be fascinated by the illustrations. I highly recommend this for any child who loves animals.

Sisters and Brothers: Sibling Relationships in the Animal World won't be available until April 14, but it's definitely one to keep on your radar.

This is not the first collaboration of the talented husband and wife team, Steve Jenkins and Robin Page. Their other books include:

Monday, March 17, 2008

A Little Bloggy Break

I'm taking a little bloggy break this week to focus on some work projects that will require all of my brainpower. I'll try to post when I can. Have a fabulous week!


Friday, March 14, 2008

Bonus Poetry Friday Post

Thinking of Bob Dylan's lyrics has made me start thinking about other songs that make great poetry. One song that I loved from the moment I heard it is Snow Patrol's "Chasing Cars."

We'll do it all
On our own

We don't need
Or anyone

If I lay here
If I just lay here
Would you lie with me and just forget the world?

I don't quite know
How to say
How I feel

Those three words
Are said too much
They're not enough

If I lay here
If I just lay here
Would you lie with me and just forget the world?

Forget what we're told
Before we get too old
Show me a garden that's bursting into life

Let's waste time
Chasing cars
Around our heads

I need your grace
To remind me
To find my own

If I lay here
If I just lay here
Would you lie with me and just forget the world?

Forget what we're told
Before we get too old
Show me a garden that's bursting into life

All that I am
All that I ever was
Is here in your perfect eyes, they're all I can see

I don't know where
Confused about how as well
Just know that these things will never change for us at all

If I lay here
If I just lay here
Would you lie with me and just forget the world?

Poetry Friday: Every Grain of Sand

Jama Rattigan has asked us to share our favorite Dylan lyrics for Poetry Friday. I do admit that I'm not a huge fan of Bob Dylan's voice, but I do think he is an exceptional song writer. One of my favorite Dylan songs is Every Grain of Sand, and I particularly enjoy the last stanza.

Listen to the song here and view some great art and photography while you listen.

In the time of my confession, in the hour of my deepest need
When the pool of tears beneath my feet flood every newborn seed
There's a dyin' voice within me reaching out somewhere,
Toiling in the danger and in the morals of despair.

Don't have the inclination to look back on any mistake,
Like Cain, I now behold this chain of events that I must break.
In the fury of the moment I can see the Master's hand
In every leaf that trembles, in every grain of sand.

Oh, the flowers of indulgence and the weeds of yesteryear,
Like criminals, they have choked the breath of conscience and good cheer.
The sun beat down upon the steps of time to light the way
To ease the pain of idleness and the memory of decay.

I gaze into the doorway of temptation's angry flame
And every time I pass that way I always hear my name.
Then onward in my journey I come to understand
That every hair is numbered like every grain of sand.

I have gone from rags to riches in the sorrow of the night
In the violence of a summer's dream, in the chill of a wintry light,
In the bitter dance of loneliness fading into space,
In the broken mirror of innocence on each forgotten face.

I hear the ancient footsteps like the motion of the sea
Sometimes I turn, there's someone there, other times it's only me.
I am hanging in the balance of the reality of man
Like every sparrow falling, like every grain of sand.

Check out the rest of the round-up at Jama Rattigan's Alphabet Soup.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Building the Well-Read Child's Library With Series Books, Update

Last week, I shared my story of my favorite childhood series, Trixie Belden, and asked you to share your and your child's favorite series books.

Can I just say, "Wow," and "Thank you, thank you, thank you!" So many of you wrote in with great recommendations, and there are tons of books I must now read.

I'm working on organizing this wonderful list and writing short summaries of each one. I imagine I'll be presenting them in multiple posts, and I'll bring you the first list next week.

In the meantime, if you didn't get a chance to list your favorite childhood series or your child's favorite series, please do so!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Niwechihaw/I Help by Caitlin Dale Nicholson w/ Leona Morin-Neilson

Pages: 32
Age range: 2-5
Publisher: Groundwood Books (March 2008)
Source of book: Review copy from publisher

Niwechihaw/I Help by Caitlin Dale Nicholson w/ Leona Morin-Neilson

I'm always on the lookout for books that celebrate different cultures, help children feel a sense of pride in their heritage, and encourage children to develop an understanding and appreciation of a culture that may be different from their own. In just 24 beautifully-illustrated pages, Niwechihaw/I Help, Caitlin Dale Nicholson's bilingual picture book in Cree and English achieves this.

In the book, a young Tahltan* boy follows his "kôhkom," or grandmother through the bush picking rosehips. He observes and imitates her as she walks, listens, prays, etc., and along the way, learns more about his culture.

Written in simple repetitive phrases, the Cree word is followed by the English word.
"Kôhkom pimohtew./ Kôhkom walks./Nipimohtan./I walk."

Nicholson's soft acrylic-on-canvas illustrations give the book a feeling of reverence and awe and focus on the beauty of the earth and the loving relationship between the boy and his Kôhkom.

At the end of book is a recipe for rosehip tea, again written in both Cree and English. My only wish is that the book had a pronunciation key for the Cree words or an accompanying CD so children could hear the beauty of the language spoken by a native Cree speaker.

This is a special book that Tahltan children will cherish. Nicholson's message to her children at the end of the book sums it up: "I hope you stay strong and proud of who are you as Tahltan people with good minds and hearts. This book reflects the education that the elders are giving you...."

Even if you're not Tahltan, Niwechihaw/I Help, is a great introduction to Native American cultures and will help your child develop an interest in and respect for different cultures.

*The Taltan are a Native American people located in the northern British Columbia area. .

Monday, March 10, 2008

Resources about the Israeli / Palestinian Conflict

Yesterday, I reviewed Tasting the Sky: A Palestinian Childhood, Ibtisam Barakat's gripping account of her childhood growing up on the war-torn West Bank.

As I mentioned in my review, found here, I found myself wishing to know more about the history of the war and of the long, ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine. But given the fact that Barakat stayed with the viewpoint of a young child, that kind of information just wouldn't have worked in this particular book. After reading the book, your children and students will be likely to have questions about the war and the continuing conflict that has been ongoing for decades.

Not surprisingly, I had difficulty finding neutral websites that stuck to the facts, but I did manage to find a couple here:

Social Studies for Kids This site gives a basic overview of the conflict.

The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict in a Nutshell A more detailed overview, with lots of links for more information.

In addition, in the back of the book, Barakat gives recommendations for books, websites, and films where you can learn more about the history. I'm most intrigued by these books:

Three Wishes: Palestinian and Israeli Children Speak by Deborah Ellis
From booklist: " 'They murdered my friend.' Growing up separate and apart in a world of bombs, bullets, removals, checkpoints, and curfews, 20 Israeli and Palestinian young people talk about how the war has affected them. The author of Parvana's Journey (2002) and other novels about children in Afghanistan moves to nonfiction with 20 stirring first-person narratives by Jewish, Christian, and Muslim young people she interviewed in 2002. An accessible historical overview that is fair to all sides leads off, followed by brief individual profiles of the kids, which include a small photo, and the words of kids, who are traumatized, angry, hopeful, hateful, despairing, brave."

The Flag of Childhood: Poems From the Middle East by Naomi Shihab Nye
Book description from Amazon: "In this stirring anthology of sixty poems from the Middle East, honored anthologist Naomi Shihab Nye welcomes us to this lush, vivid world and beckons us to explore. Eloquent pieces from Palestine, Israel, Egypt, Iraq, and elsewhere open windows into the hearts and souls of people we usually meet only on the nightly news. What we see when we look through these windows is the love of family, friends, and for the Earth, the daily occurrences of life that touch us forever, the longing for a sense of place. What we learn is that beneath the veil of stereotypes, our human connections are stronger than our cultural differences."

Barakat also mentions the organization, Seeds of Peace. From the site: "Founded in 1993, Seeds of Peace is dedicated to empowering young leaders from regions of conflict with the leadership skills required to advance reconciliation and coexistence." It's well worth checking out.

These links, along with Tasting the Sky, will help your child learn more about the conflict between Israeli and Palestine and help put a face to the stories we read about and hear on the news.

Tasting the Sky: A Palestinian Childhood by Ibtisam Barakat

Nonfiction Monday!

Hardcover: 192 pages
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (February 20, 2007)
Language: English
Source of Book: Review copy from publisher

Winner of the 2007 Middle Grade/Young Adult Nonfiction book, Tasting the Sky: A Palestinian Childhood is Ibtisam Barakat's memoir of her childhood growing up on the war-torn West Bank.

The story begins in 1981. 17-year-old Ibtisam is on a bus heading home to Ramallah when Israeli soldiers board the bus and order the driver to take the passengers to a nearby detention center. It is here when we first get a glimpse into the fear that has consumed Ibtisam's life for nearly 15 years since the 6-day war of 1967.

As Ibtisam is released unharmed and safely returns home, she takes us back to that day in 1967 when the war was declared. What was a normal day soon turns to terror as three-and-a-half year old Ibtisam, her family, and neighbors are forced to flee their homes. In the rush to get away, Ibtisam doesn't have time to put on both shoes and somehow loses her family and her other shoe. She miraculously finds her family after walking quite a distance barefoot. Her feet are injured, but they must continue onto Jordan where they've been granted refuge.

We see the next four years of Ibtisam's life through her eyes--the eyes of a child dealing with the realities of war. We see her parents struggle to protect their children, to keep their family together, and try to maintain some semblance of normalcy. They do have happy moments but are often reminded that the life they once led is gone, that Ramallah is occupied by Israeli soldiers, and that they must always be on guard.

A gripping and emotional story, I was drawn in from the beginning and had a difficult time putting the book down. As I was initially reading, I felt I wanted to know a bit more about the history of the war and what was going on politically, but then I realized that Ibtisam Barakat was intentionally leaving this information out because she was telling us the story from a child's point of view. It simply wouldn't have worked if she would have added more historical information aside from the brief note in the beginning. All we see is how a child tries to grip with what's going on around her, and she sticks to this point of view throughout the entire story.

It also helped me put a face to war and to the innocent people and children who live in war-torn countries. It also made me realize that regardless of where you're from or what happens in your life, we all have the same emotions. Kids will be able to relate to this book even though they may not have had the same experiences.

I recommend this book to everyone, not just children, and I hope it's not the last we hear from Ibtisam Barakat.

Check out more nonfiction books at Picture Book of the Day.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Books Read in January and February 2008

So, I know I'm a little late with this list, but better late than never! My goal for the year is to read 200 books. Here's how I'm doing so far.

Fiction Picture Books

Nonfiction Picture Books

Middle Grade and Young Adult

Adult Fiction

Adult Nonfiction

So, that's 30 books and 170 to go. I'll need to pick up my pace a little in order to meet my goal....I think I can. I think I can.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Poetry Friday: Robert Lowell's "The Quaker Graveyard in Nantucket"

Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth, I wear a tourist's shirt with "Nantucket" printed on the front. A nurse who had already done several embarrassing things to me saw the shirt and asked me if I had been there, and I told her I hadn't, there once was a girl had given it to me. I like the shirt because "Nantucket" seems simply exclamatory, and universal enough that you don't have to have been there. That's not just because of many honorary limericks, but because the island once ruled the sea, and deprived it of the world's largest animals. As Melville put it, "Two thirds of this terraqueous globe are the Nantucketer's. For the sea is his; he owns it, as Emperors own empires."

Owning the sea means dying in it, especially when you're hunting whales. Nantucket ruled the sea, and the sea was its graveyard, and the graveyard was a function of doing violence to the sacred--to the Leviathan, to the water: "The death-lance churns into the sanctuary...." Robert Lowell's "The Quaker Graveyard in Nantucket" mourns this violence, in the form of an elegy for his cousin Warren Winslow, who died at sea in World War II. Lowell himself was a pacifist who went to prison rather than fight. So the poem is not just an elegy but a rebuke to violence, broadly conceived as war against both nature and fellow human beings.

The whale and the sea are points of confluence for this theme, the whale because it is a large animal with religious significance, and the sea because it is both a sacred source of life and yet ready to do violence to it. In a way the whale is the preeminent pacifist, slow, lumbering, peaceful, and lodged in the violent ocean; magnificent but vulnerable to "the kill." Like Mary in the sixth stanza, there is something meditative in it, an evocation of the religious turning away from the ways of the world that makes itself vulnerable to them.

That vulnerability leads to a contamination of the sea, as Abel's blood is of the earth: "When the whale's viscera go and the roll/ Of its corruption overruns this world"; similarly for the victims of war: "Atlantic, you are fouled with the blue sailors,/ Sea-monsters, upward angel, downward fish." This reference to Paradise Lost joins man and sea, as does the juxtaposition in the first stanza of the recoil of honorary steel guns and earth-shaking Poseidon. There are costs to treating both human beings and nature as objects of violence, for the sake of commercial exploitation: "All you recovered from Poseidon died/ With you, my cousin, and the harrowed brine."

This is a difficult poem and I wish I had more time for analysis. Look for the references to Paradise Lost, Moby Dick, Thoreau, and the Bible. Here is a relevant passage from Moby Dick, one that appropriately joins peace and restlessness:

"And meet it is, that over these sea-pastures, wide-rolling watery prairies and Potter's Fields of all four continents, the waves should rise and fall, and ebb and flow unceasingly; for here, millions of mixed shades and shadows, drowned dreams, somnambulisms, reveries; all that we call lives and souls, lie dreaming, dreaming, still; tossing like slumberers in their beds; the ever-rolling waves but made so by their restlessness."

The Quaker Graveyard in Nantucket
Robert Lowell

Let man have dominion over the fishes of the sea and the fowls of the air and the beasts of the whole earth, and every creeping creature that moveth upon the earth.

A brackish reach of shoal off Madaket—
The sea was still breaking violently and night
Had steamed into our North Atlantic Fleet,
When the drowned sailor clutched the drag-net. Light
Flashed from his matted head and marble feet,
He grappled at the net
With the coiled, hurdling muscles of his thighs:
The corpse was bloodless, a botch of reds and whites,
Its open, staring eyes
Were lustreless dead-lights
Or cabin-windows on a stranded hulk
Heavy with sand. We weight the body, close
Its eyes and heave it seaward whence it came,
Where the heel-headed dogfish barks its nose
On Ahab’s void and forehead; and the name
Is blocked in yellow chalk.
Sailors, who pitch this portent at the sea
Where dreadnaughts shall confess
Its hell-bent deity,
When you are powerless
To sand-bag this Atlantic bulwark, faced
By the earth-shaker, green, unwearied, chaste
In his steel scales: ask for no Orphean lute
To pluck life back. The guns of the steeled fleet
Recoil and then repeat
The hoarse salute.


Whenever winds are moving and their breath
Heaves at the roped-in bulwarks of this pier,
The terns and sea-gulls tremble at your death
In these home waters. Sailor, can you hear
The Pequod’s sea wings, beating landward, fall
Headlong and break on our Atlantic wall
Off ’Sconset, where the yawing S-boats splash
The bellbuoy, with ballooning spinnakers,
As the entangled, screeching mainsheet clears
The blocks: off Madaket, where lubbers lash
The heavy surf and throw their long lead squids
For blue-fish? Sea-gulls blink their heavy lids
Seaward. The winds’ wings beat upon the stones,
Cousin, and scream for you and the claws rush
At the sea’s throat and wring it in the slush
Of this old Quaker graveyard where the bones
Cry out in the long night for the hurt beast
Bobbing by Ahab’s whaleboats in the East.


All you recovered from Poseidon died
With you, my cousin, and the harrowed brine
Is fruitless on the blue beard of the god,
Stretching beyond us to the castles in Spain,
Nantucket’s westward haven. To Cape Cod
Guns, cradled on the tide,
Blast the eelgrass about a waterclock
Of bilge and backwash, roil the salt and sand
Lashing earth’s scaffold, rock
Our warships in the hand
Of the great God, where time’s contrition blues
Whatever it was these Quaker sailors lost
In the mad scramble of their lives. They died
When time was open-eyed,
Wooden and childish; only bones abide
There, in the nowhere, where their boats were tossed
Sky-high, where mariners had fabled news
Of IS, the whited monster. What it cost
Them is their secret. In the sperm-whale’s slick
I see the Quakers drown and hear their cry:
“If God himself had not been on our side,
If God himself had not been on our side,
When the Atlantic rose against us, why,
Then it had swallowed us up quick.”


This is the end of the whaleroad and the whale
Who spewed Nantucket bones on the thrashed swell
And stirred the troubled waters to whirlpools
To send the Pequod packing off to hell:
This is the end of them, three-quarters fools,
Snatching at straws to sail
Seaward and seaward on the turntail whale,
Spouting out blood and water as it rolls,
Sick as a dog to these Atlantic shoals:
Clamavimus, O depths. Let the sea-gulls wail

For water, for the deep where the high tide
Mutters to its hurt self, mutters and ebbs.
Waves wallow in their wash, go out and out,
Leave only the death-rattle of the crabs,
The beach increasing, its enormous snout
Sucking the ocean’s side.
This is the end of running on the waves;
We are poured out like water. Who will dance
The mast-lashed master of Leviathans
Up from this field of Quakers in their unstoned graves?


When the whale’s viscera go and the roll
Of its corruption overruns this world
Beyond tree-swept Nantucket and Woods Hole
And Martha’s Vineyard, Sailor, will your sword
Whistle and fall and sink into the fat?
In the great ash-pit of Jehoshaphat
The bones cry for the blood of the white whale,
The fat flukes arch and whack about its ears,
The death-lance churns into the sanctuary, tears
The gun-blue swingle, heaving like a flail,
And hacks the coiling life out: it works and drags
And rips the sperm-whale’s midriff into rags,
Gobbets of blubber spill to wind and weather,
Sailor, and gulls go round the stoven timbers
Where the morning stars sing out together
And thunder shakes the white surf and dismembers
The red flag hammered in the mast-head. Hide,
Our steel, Jonas Messias, in Thy side.



There once the penitents took off their shoes
And then walked barefoot the remaining mile;
And the small trees, a stream and hedgerows file
Slowly along the munching English lane,
Like cows to the old shrine, until you lose
Track of your dragging pain.
The stream flows down under the druid tree,
Shiloah’s whirlpools gurgle and make glad
The castle of God. Sailor, you were glad
And whistled Sion by that stream. But see:

Our Lady, too small for her canopy,
Sits near the altar. There’s no comeliness
At all or charm in that expressionless
Face with its heavy eyelids. As before,
This face, for centuries a memory,
Non est species, neque decor,
Expressionless, expresses God: it goes
Past castled Sion. She knows what God knows,
Not Calvary’s Cross nor crib at Bethlehem
Now, and the world shall come to Walsingham.


The empty winds are creaking and the oak
Splatters and splatters on the cenotaph,
The boughs are trembling and a gaff
Bobs on the untimely stroke
Of the greased wash exploding on a shoal-bell
In the old mouth of the Atlantic. It’s well;
Atlantic, you are fouled with the blue sailors,
Sea-monsters, upward angel, downward fish:
Unmarried and corroding, spare of flesh
Mart once of supercilious, wing’d clippers,
Atlantic, where your bell-trap guts its spoil
You could cut the brackish winds with a knife
Here in Nantucket, and cast up the time
When the Lord God formed man from the sea’s slime
And breathed into his face the breath of life,
And blue-lung’d combers lumbered to the kill.
The Lord survives the rainbow of His will.

This Poetry Friday is hosted by The Simple and The Ordinary

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Building the Well-Read Child's Library With Series Books

Today, I'm putting a different spin on the third installment of "Building The Well-Read Child's Library." Instead of giving you recommendations for a number of books, I'm going to talk about series books and the role a particular series played in my childhood and ask YOU for your recommendations.

Many of you may have grown up with Nancy Drew, The Bobbsey Twins, Anne of Green Gables, or even Beverley Cleary's Ramona Quimby. I myself grew up with Trixie Belden, and Candace Ransom's article about Trixie Belden in February's edition of The Edge of the Forest, a monthly online children's literature journal, has inspired me to write about my own childhood experience with this series.

When I was a young girl, I think around 7 or 8, a family friend, Leanne, who knew I loved to read, gave me a box of books she had read when she was a young girl. In the box were a number of books in the Trixie Belden series. Little did she know that a couple of decades later, I would still remember this and remember how such a small gesture impacted my life.

Trixie Belden is a freckled-faced tomboy who lives with her parents and three brothers on Crabapple Farm in New York. In the first book, The Secret of the Mansion, she meets her rich new neighbor, Honey, who soon becomes her best friend. Before you know it, they've embarked upon their first mystery when they notice something strange going on at the old, abandoned Frayne mansion. Who is the boy sleeping in the house? Who is he running from? What will happen to him?

After reading this first book, I was HOOKED on the series and immediately fished the second book out of my box. The boy in the first book was Jim Frayne who becomes a central character in subsequent books in the series. Wherever Trixie and Honey go, a mystery awaits them, and they soon form a gang, The Bob-Whites, with their close circle of friends, who solve all kinds of mysteries in the 39-book series.

Why did I love Trixie and her friends so much? I loved the adventures, the stories, the down-to-earth characters. I longed to have Di's violet eyes and admired Trixie's intelligence and integrity. Honey had what I didn't have and what her friends didn't have, yet she was generous and kind. I had a crush on Trixie's smart and handsome older brother, Brian. In short, I felt I KNEW these characters. I was drawn into their world, and I looked forward to reading the next book to see what they were up to next and to see how they progressed. I was so excited to learn through Candace Ransom's article that Random House has re-released the first 13 of the 39 books in the series. Now a new generation of children can get to know Trixie and her friends.

Good series books draw readers into the lives of the characters. We care about them. We get to know them. We want to know what happens next. We can't wait until the next book comes out. One book is not enough. We. must. have. more. Take the Harry Potter phenomenon. Kids and adults (I was one of them) stayed up until midnight so they could get their hands on the newest book in the series as soon as it came out. We were entranced by J.K. Rowling's words and stories. We wanted to know what would happen to Harry and Voldemort. Who would live? Who would die? Would Ron and Hermione fall in love? Would Harry ever find happiness? Would Hogwarts be destroyed?

That's the magic of series books and why I love them and think every kid should get the opportunity to get hooked on a series.

So now I'm appealing to you...I want to build a list of the best series out there. What did you enjoy as a child? Why? What does your own child love?

Chipper Kids: Counting in the Crazy Garden by Margarette Burnette, illustrated by Brooke Henson

Chipper Kids: Counting in the Crazy Garden by Margarette Burnette, illustrated by Brooke Henson

Reading level: Ages 3-7
Library Binding: 32 pages
Publisher: Jenprint Publications (March 28, 2008)

If you have trouble getting your little ones to eat their vegetables, give this book a try. After reading about "jiggly, wiggly, wobbly worm cobbler" and "hairy, scary spider cookies," broccoli will sound delicious.

Arnold Chipper, a young bear, enjoys making "food" in his garden, but it's not edible at all. His siblings, Maria and Albert, are appalled by his gross (but creative) concoctions, but when Arnold begins to eat a handful of seeds, Maria shows her brothers how to plant them. Soon Albert is able to make healthy and delicious meals for his family.

A book suited for preschool-aged children, Counting in the Crazy Garden teaches numbers and counting from one to ten through Arnold's dishes. For example, he makes "one jiggly, wiggly, worm cobbler," "two tall tubs of tumbleweed soup," and so on. To make the connection between numerals and the spelled-out words, when Arnold presents his dishes, the numeral in red is in the upper corner of the page and the spelled out word, also in red, is in the text. There's even a little lesson on how to plant seeds and grow food.

The illustrations themselves are very simple and will appeal mostly to young children. While older children may enjoy the story, they may think the pictures are too "baby like." However, the story itself is engaging and will make children laugh and also turn their noses up at the yucky foods. I imagine them saying, "ewwwwwwwww" and giggling as they read the story.

A fun take on traditional counting books, this is a nice choice for parents who are helping their children learn to count and recognize numbers. I also think it would make a good board book.