Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Book Fair is here!

I know this will sound like one big fat commercial from a woman who isn't into commercialism but I love the book fair!  Too me it is one more way to get good books into the hands of unsuspecting kids.  And this book fair is the biggest book fair I've ever watched get unloaded which means it took me several hours on Friday + several more hours on Saturday for me to set up.  It was a lot of work.  I even enlisted my husband's help for part of the day on Saturday.  He created a castle front out of my little sketch for the front of the library.  The them is "The Kingdom of reading..."

So excited to introduce Hansen students and staff to the fun of an amazing Mrs Holt book fair.  There are so many good books scattered throughout the fair that I will be hard pressed to get any work done all week long.  I'll be reading...

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Traveling Mercies

(collage by Groovy Girl: G.G. with her super cute cousins)

We spent three days last week in Minneapolis, one of my favorite cities. I lived there for years while I went to college the first time and loved it. Lucky for me I still have family there so it is easy to drive the 3 1/2 hours north to see some of my favorite people.  Sadly I don't make it as much as I'd like to but this time our purpose was to see our new niece born August 13th.  You'd think  (because of my deep love of babies) I would have made the journey before now except that was just about the time school started for me and then it seems that pretty much every weekend after that was filled to the brim with activities.

Somewhere in October I vowed not to fill November weekends up just so we could head north and it worked.  I persuaded my husband to journey with us and he complied by finding a Bluegrass show to sweeten the deal. The show just happened to be on Thursday night so I took a day off from work (oh, so rare) and we headed to Harriet's Brewery after dropping Groovy Girl at my (step)sister Robin's new house.  Her family of four just moved to the Minnehaha neighborhood after living in South Chicago for about 6 years and they are so excited about this move.

Greg and I enjoyed music by The Last Revel at the brewery.  They were fantastic and I would head out of town again to hear them play.  The second band was good also but I can't remember their name.

This was a perfect toe-tapping band and the guys were equally as nice by they way they tolerated chatting with my husband several times about music.

I was a wreck that night for some reason. I got carded coming through the door into the steamy brewery and I could NOT find my driver's license anywhere in my bag.  While I was desperately searching my glasses dropped out of my hand because I'd taken them off due to that steaminess.  They snapped in half and were completely unwearable.  So I couldn't drink the delicious brewed beer or truly see the band.  It was a mess and I still managed to enjoy the evening.  Now I have to buy new glasses and I wasn't ready to do that and I still don't know where my ID is.

(Upside down cousins)
The rest of the weekend was spent at my (step) sister Autumn's home in Eden Prairie.  We walked even though it was chilly. We ate delicious pizza and generally lazed around the house holding her little one. My hope was to give my sister time to sleep and rejuvenate.  Maybe it worked. Sometimes just visiting with each other can make the day solid.  We also had a delicious lunch at a diner in their neighborhood with Robin and family on Saturday before we left town.  I had the best fish sandwich ever. The coleslaw had cranberries in it and the fish had perfect crunch.

Thank you for the alignment of the stars to bring us all together on one weekend even though my glasses and ID decided to jump ship.

We also checked out the construction of my brother's new house.  We can't wait for a return trip in December or January to see the finished product.

(new house)

This picture is all about the cookie.  Groovy Girl wanted to show the size; it is bigger than my face.  My husband is behind me hoping I'm not going to eat that cookie. My glasses in the photo have been super-glued.  That trick only lasted two days. 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Amazon Burning by Victoria Griffith

Amazon Burning

This is not your typical Peaceful Reader type of book based on the cover and the title but it does have an environmental aspect that I bit right into and I enjoyed most of it.

What I liked:

The setting is the Amazon rain forest and I enjoyed learning more about the Amazon and the Indigenous people who live there and struggle with the changing landscape.  The ecology of the rain forest is an extremely important issue and one that gets brushed aside by politics but also by everything local that often takes precedence.  It's difficult to care about what goes on thousands of miles away when there is enough causes here in the US to focus our attention on.  This book brings  this issue to the forefront as Emma and her swarthy photographer friend bring to light not only an animal smuggling ring but discover truths about the rain forest they never imagined.  More books including young adult books should be written about this area to keep it in our minds.  The writing for the most part was good.  Ms. Griffith is a journalist, well-traveled, and did a great job with dialogue.

What I could live without:

It's a romance and I'm not a prude but WoW.  I know the word burning is in the title. I get that something had to be burning but I thought it would have been in higher order if the burning was the issue not the sex. The sexy scenes were far too graphic for me and they seemed uncomfortable for the author and her characters as they didn't flow well.  What momentum Griffith created in good dialogue reverted to dime-store romance novel in a second.  I like the mystery of a romance and I think it damages the overall good impact a book like this can have.  At the end of the day are you writing soft porn or saving the rain forest?  I vote rain forest and the book has so much to offer but there are many friends I can't hand this book to because of those very raw scenes.

I also thought the struggle between Emma and her professor was a very timely issue to add in and might have made the perfect reason for her to stay out of the sheets until the end of the book-leaving us with the understanding that her and Jimmy would now be free to pursue their passion for each other.  Emma's ability to shut her professor down makes her a strong and worthy character that might think twice before jumping into bed.  Just my 2 cents worth.  Now you want to read it more than ever just to see what I'm talking about...let me know if you want to borrow my copy of Amazon Burning OR
You can buy it from Astor + Blue's website for $4.99 right now.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Where has October gone?

There have been posts I've meant to write about and they've stayed in my head.  Like my favorite Halloween read aloud: Perfect Pumpkin Pie by Denys Cazet.  Everything about that book is great including the cover which makes kids beg you to read it to them.  I cannot carry a tune yet kids love to hear me chant the dead man's wails for pie over and over.  So much fun for October.

Today though is Halloween and I've made a delicious soup for a pre-trick-or-treating gathering.  And Groovy Girl is excited to trick-or-treat one more time. She doesn't know what year will be here last but it's soon.  The picture above is from last year.

I'm excited for my school's Halloween parade. Now that I know the students a little more it will be fun to watch them march around gleefully in their personality-infused costumes!

Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Elementary Non-fiction love

One of my goals for this school year is to up-date our nonfiction selections.  This will be a challenge for me as I prefer fiction.  I need to get over this though as I read great reviews and found lots of cool nonfiction on the shelves of the public library, where I go for all my hands-on research. Nonfiction has so much more pizazz than it used to; my general feeling of NF is droll pages of way too much information with not enough pictures. Not so with nonfiction of today; it is bright, lively, and perfect for a read aloud.

No monkeys, no chocolate by Melissa Stewart, Allen Young and Nicole Wong (2013);  Told in a backwards format I learned how the rainforest eco-system helps cocoa beans thrive and grow. Students will love knowing that maggots, lizards, and aphids all help the cocoa bean tree grow. Luckily we have a special store downtown that sells truly good rainforest fair trade chocolate because this book made me hungry for good quality chocolate not that waxy stuff that will fill Halloween buckets next week.  This wonderful nonfiction is a must order for my new library and if you have curious ones at home this would make a perfect purchase. Excellent Melissa Stewart website.

S is for Sea Glass; a beach alphabet by Richard Michelson and Doris Ettlinger (2014);  This is an alphabet book filled with wonderful poetry and lovely illustrations.  A wide variety of poetry styles are featured and this book will be loved by both students and teachers.  My favorite poem:

Q is for Quiet

The sun as it's rising 
The drift of a cloud
Spiders spinning webs
Crabs scuttling
Across the ocean floor
The swimming of fishes
The wishing of wishes
The opening of a door
The thoughts in my head

These are things I can hear
When it's quiet 
As I lie here in bed.

My second favorite is from a dog's point of view as he runs along the beach.  What joy!  This book pulls me back to our family beach vacations and makes me feel happy.  We definitely need this one for our poetry collection; it holds a mini vacation between the cover.

Animal Teachers by Janet Halfmann and Katy Hudson (2014); This book is exactly why I take my research seriously. This is an amazingly fresh look on animal behavior.  The illustrations are gorgeous!  Who knew I could find such joy over a nonfiction title.   Groovy Girl loved the cover and came near to read this one with me.  Each animal has something unique it learns from its parent and then Ms. Halfmann asks the reader to put it in their terms.  For example the chicken teaches the chick to peck for seeds specifically and then the question is posed "who taught you what's good to eat?" "Did you ever try to bite your toes?"  Other animals included are otters, dolphins, kangaroos, beavers, elephants, and cheetahs; just to name a few!  A huge list in the back of the book provides even more unusual facts for us to marvel over.  We were astounded that "beavers have a set of see-through eyelids that work like goggles underwater."  Yes, yes I will order this one as well and can't wait to hand it off to a teacher when animal books are requested.  After years of doing animal research with students this one motivated me!

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Picture Book Frenzy

I went to the library and picked up a so many delightful picture books off the shelf my bag was packed.  I usually think I have to be with my friend Tina to overfill my bag but I guess I've proved that I can do it all by myself!

I was looking for ideas for school.  The collection at my school library is still new to  me so I go to the public library to look at the new shelf to see if it is worth buying and maybe it will work its way into a lesson plan.

That's what happened with Monsters Love School by Mike Austin. What  a delightful picture book.  I read this to all my kinder and first grade students.  It covers the exciting part of going back to school as well as the fears in a fun Muppet-kind of way.  We compared monster's school experience with their own here at Hansen.  The illustrations are filled with color and the writing is all over the page.  We all loved Ms. Scribble the art teacher with her very clever head of hair.  Please Mike Austin bring us more Monsters...they could love Halloween, or Winter, or the playground.  Anything.  Monsters and students say "more, more, more!"

I also loved Dog Days of School by Kelly DiPucchio and Brian Biggs.  Charlie does not like going to school (we all know someone just like this right Groovy Girl...) because he is tired of all the work.  One Sunday night Charlie wishes he were a dog so he could stay home and lay around instead of face another week of school work.  The next morning Charlie's done the "freaky friday" thing and is laying on Norman's dog bed instead of in his own.  Norman gets ready for school and Charlie stay home to sleep with adorable results.  This will have everyone wishing they could trade places just for one day. An interesting side fact-Brian Biggs is from Little Rock, AR.  He also has a a series out called Everything Goes.

Arlo Rolled by Susan Pearson and Jeff Ebbeler; Arlo is a pea and he doesn't want to be eaten; he wants to grow up.  He escapes from his pod and rolls through the yard finding bugs and slugs and dogs until he's exhausted.  While he takes a nap something marvelous happens to him.  This is a perfect spring book to talk about plants and how they grow. It also makes a fun anytime read aloud with a lot adventure for one cute little pea.

Creamed Tuna*Fish and peas on Toast by Philip Christian Stead; Amazing illustrations, funny story.  Kids will think it is funny.  I wanted him to try the creamed tuna fish and peas on toast first before discarding it; it's just the mother in me.  I was hoping he'd end up liking it like green eggs and ham.  Nope. Didn't happen that way but the layered illustrations and the bird antics make it worthwhile anyway. Philip's website has some beautiful and free music for your listening pleasure.

Little Lola by Julie Saab and David Gothard; Lola starts her day with a to-do list and the last thing on the list is to have an adventure (as every day should).  Heading off to school for the day her adventure is perfect until she spots a mouse in the classroom.  Hilarious.  I hope to see more of Little Lola as she has the right attitude that will have little ones thinking.  Brand new husband and wife illustrator/writer team.

If you buy for a school, for yourself, for your lovely grandchildren-any of these would be amazing additions for reading over and over again.

What did you read this weekend?

Monday, October 13, 2014

Belong to me by Marisa de los Santos; read it and rejoice

{cute cover}

This book was a huge hit at home.  Both my husband and daughter loved the cover. " It's the bright rain boots" Groovy Girl commented as she ran her finger up and down the different sizes of boots, thinking about the children in the story who would be slipping them on.  My husband also made comments regarding the cover and the title. Usually they don't pay this much attention.  We do love rain boots at our house but maybe it was because my nose was often stuck down into the book at different times of the day trying to read one more chapter, paragraph, or sentence.  Maybe it's because de los Santos is a poet as well that her words make such wonderful sentences.

I finished it and had that same old bluesy feeling that I didn't want it to end. The characters became a part of me.  Even the woman that I thought I wouldn't ever like turned out to be pretty darn likable. Cornelia, Piper, and Dev all share their stories with us in alternating chapters and in very distinctively different voices.  Surrounding those three characters are a crew of others that we also grow to love and even weep about it.  I know...don't you just want to know more...

Okay I'll tell you a little more.  But just a little.  You should really read it for yourself.

Cornelia and her husband, the handsome Teo, have moved to the suburbs leaving NYC after 9-11 made them feel a little less safe in the city.  Cornelia's not excited about the suburbs and her fears all come true when she meets Piper, her wound-too-tight neighbor.  Piper is snobby, complex, and unhappy; she likes to be the queen until one thing in her life falls apart and she sees how much it doesn't matter.  Cornelia doesn't like snobby and writes Piper off as a neighborhood quack.  But then Cornelia meets Lake in the grocery store and they hit it off right away yet there is a story behind Lake and her super intelligent son Deveroux that Lake isn't willing to share.  Family secrets and good friendships wind their way through this well-written plot.

Random quote:

He and Clare started walking toward the bus stop, their shadows stretching out ahead of them.  Dev watched the girl shadow take the boy shadow's hand, and he realized that the homesick feeling had disappeared.  In its place was a new feeling, too new to have a name.  

"How cool would that have been, though?" He shot Clare a sidelong, happy grin. "A dad with a bike shop?"

Clare laughed her jingle-bell laugh, and Dev realized that what he felt was young.  He'd been young all his life, of course he had.  But now he was  aware of it.  Every cell, every electron of his body felt young: unencumbered, uncluttered, as clean as the clear blue sky. (153)

The interesting part is that Clare is a repeat character from de los Santos' first book, Love Walked in, and she makes me want to go back and reread that first book again even though I have many other books laying about my house to read. Clare's and Cornelia's story is intriguing and makes an interesting twist to bring them together again and share this young love story with us.

Marisa de los Santos website

A Literary Mama interview with de los Santos about all three of her books.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Laugh with the Moon by Shana Burg + a recipe

I found this at the library one day browsing around like I do; it was on my list to read for possible Iowa Children's Choice book awards.  It was the last one I read in my tall stack of choices and it was one of the best.

I loved that both boys and girls would enjoy the story even though it is told from a 13-year-old girl's point of view and that we learn so much about the country of Malawi.  Clare is a spunky character who is filled with grief over her recently deceased mother.  Ever wonder why so many realistic fiction books for kids involve death?  Her father is a doctor working for a world aid organization and probably to help his own grief he takes on this journey back to Malawi where he served before Clare was born.  I think both parent and child are in need of a change of scenery even though Clare isn't aware yet of how much this trip will mean to her.

Even though she is completely bitter on the first leg of their travels and her anger grows when she sees the small cabin where they will live she makes friends in the village and at school.  She helps to change lives while their as she teaches English to the youngest children at school and gets everybody involved in a play.

A quote:

Outside, Memory shows me a dress that's hanging from a clothesline behind the hut. In the dusk, I can't tell if it's blue or green or gray, but I can see the shape of it just fine.  I don't mean to be rude, but it looks like a pilgrim frock.  Still, I'm a firm believer in stretching the truth in the name of friendship.  At this rate, Memory might be the only person I'm speaking to on the entire African continent, so I tell her "It's so cool!" even though I'd never be caught dead wearing something like that myself.  (37)

She does indeed end up wearing a dress quite similar to her new friend Memory's "pilgrim" dress and that is not her only compromise she must make.

I loved this book for the experience it offered me; while lots of books are written about dead mothers, not many share such an interesting path through grief.  I love that her mother appears to her when she needs her most and that through their journey we get to see a part of life in Africa especially since this continent is in the news right now.  Burg has first hand experience in Malawi and that helps us get a realistic feel for the country.

At the end of the book is a recipe for Sweet Potato Biscuits that I just had to try.  I made them, we loved them, and then the dog stole the rest of the biscuits right off the counter and ate every last crumb..

Mbatata (Sweet Potato) Biscuits

1/4 cup mashed cooked sweet potatoes
1/4 cup milk
4 T melted butter
1 1/4 cups sifted flour
2 tsp baking powder
6 T sugar, plus 2 T to sprinkle on top
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon, plus additional 1/2 tsp to sprinkle on top

Preheat the oven to 375*. Mix the sweet potatoes, milk, and melted butter and beat well.  Sift together the flour, baking powder, 6 T of the sugar, the salt, and 1/4 tsp of cinnamon and add gradually to the sweet potato mixture.  Drop by tablespoonfuls onto a greased baking sheet.  Mix the additional cinnamon and sugar and sprinkle on top.  Bake for 15 minutes.

They were delicious.  Even the dog thought so.  I didn't even sprinkle on the extra sugar topping.  I plan to make them again for Thanksgiving.

Read this book, share it with any elementary and early middle school students, share it with your class as a read-aloud.  Right now it could provide an empathy for the people of Africa as they struggle with the affects of the Ebola disease.

Shana Burg is also the author of A Thousand Never Evers an excellent historical fiction that takes place in Mississippi in 1963.