Wednesday, February 29, 2012

a retelling

There are no road signs to mark the tiny village of Limpette. It lies between two towns that you may have heard of. If you pass Ostrander's goat farm, you've gone too far.
So begins The Humming Room by Ellen Potter. 

It's a lovely novel inspired by The Secret Garden.

This is the story of Roo Fanshaw. But, in order to see her in the opening scene, you'll need to get down on all fours and squeeze through an opening in the vinyl apron that surrounds the bottom of her family's mobile home. Roo's special skill is hiding.

Roo is the reason you'll like this book. She's distrustful and tough, wild and willful, sensitive and observant. Like in The Secret Garden... there's always the chance for redemption and renewal.

Happy 60th

"All I hope to say in books, all that I ever hope to say, 
is that I love the world."
~ E. B. White

Charlotte's Web turns 60 this year. Have you read it?

One of the best opening lines in a book, ever...
"Where's Papa going with that ax?" said Fern to her mother as 
they were setting the table for breakfast. - Charlotte's Web

*Spoiler Alert:
Possibly the best last two lines in a book...
"It's not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both."

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

crusty old St. Peter...

Today I was remembering a bit of a book that I read this fall...

I’m going to tell you something now I’ve never mentioned to anyone, says Saint Peter in Millions, a book by Frank Cottrell Boyce. The crusty old disciple goes on to give his eyewitness account of the ‘Feeding of the Five Thousand’. Saint Peter... the patron saint of keys and locks and security... also fishermen, popes, and Rome... He's run off his feet, actually... and he's supposed to mind the gate too. He recounts the story of the feeding of the 5,000...

 ‘A little kid came up to him - about your size. His name was - I've forgotten. I still see him sometimes. Anyway, he came up with these loaves and sardines and Jesus blessed them and passed them round. He wasn't trying to do a miracle, he was just one of those people who thought everything would be all right, you know. Anyway, so he passed these sardines, and the first person he passed them to passed them on. Know why? Because he had honey cake and a piece of lamb hidden in his purse. So he passed the fish on and sneaked the honey cake out and made out he'd just taken it off the plate. And the next person, he had a pocket full of dates, so he did the same - sneaked one out, passed the plate on. And so it went on. The truth was, every single one of them had food with them, but they were all keeping it to themselves. Hidden away. Every one of them looking after Number One. And they would have starved where they stood rather than let anyone see. But as the plate came round with the loaves and the fish on, they all got their own food out and started to eat and, as they ate, they started to share and then it began, the biggest picnic in history. And the plate went all the way round back to Jesus and this kid - I'll think of his name in a minute - and it still had the fish and loaves on. And Jesus was a bit taken aback, but then he looked up (he'd been talking all the time) he could see that everyone was eating. So he said, "What happened?" and I just said, "A miracle."  ... it was a kind of miracle. The best kind. Because all those people had all they needed. Except something - I don't know what you'd call it - courage, maybe, or grace. And then this little kid. He stood up and suddenly everyone there got bigger. They were all filled with it and they were there for hours, talking and laughing and drunk on this stuff - this grace or whatever. A little kid stood up and was ready to be generous and that's all it took. One little kid. He wasn't planning to save the world. He was planning lunch. He just did the right thing at the right time. One little kid and a plate of fish, and 5,000 people sorted.’ 

In the book, Millions, a bag stuffed with £229,000 in cash falls 'from the sky' into young Damian's hands. A gift from God, he believes.

"We thought the money was going to take care of everything but we ended up taking care of the money. We were always worried about it, tucking it in at night, checking up on it. It was like a big baby."

It's a great book. You should consider reading it... as you can see, it stays with you.

What do you think could change the world more: one generous little kid or £229,000 in cash?

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Reader's Oath

I promise to read
Each day and each night.
I know it's the key
To growing up right.
I'll read to myself,
I'll read to a crowd.
It makes no difference
If silent or loud.

I'll read at my desk,
At home and at school,
On my bean bag or bed,
By the fire or pool.

Each book that I read
Puts smarts in my head,
'Cause brains grow more thoughts
The more they are fed.

So I take this oath
To make reading my way
Of feeding my brain
What it needs every day.

Debra Angstead, Missouri - NEA

Friday, February 24, 2012

poems about books

A new book arrived yesterday, and she's a beauty... 
a beautiful book of poems about books
by Laura Purdie Salas.

Calling All Readers

I'll tell you a story.
I'll spin you a rhyme.
I'll spill some ideas -
and we'll travel through time.

Put down the controller.
Switch off the TV.
Abandon the mouse and
just hang out with me.

I promise adventure.
Come on, take a look!
On a day like today,
there's no friend like a book.


Line after line of inky black birds
forming the flocks that shift into words.
Page after page of tales winging by,
singing a story against a
white sky.

Written in Snow

Snowy pages,
steady track,
tiny footprints
dipped in black.

Through the blizzard
stories roam.
They tiptoe bravely
out, then home.


I swallow up dragons and
cannons and

I don't fear old mansions
with slow, creaking

I quite like the dark -
murky midnight's no

The one thing I fear
is the feeling of -

When puddles attack me or
raindrops are

they leave me quite soggy -
they turn me all

The End

You race
toward me,
checking page numbers
and calculating their distance.

sprint skip skim
to win
the reader's race
to cross me -
the book's finish line.

But then
smile cry sigh,
flip to chapter one
and start again.

I am not so much
The End
as I am an
invitation back
to the beginning.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

told you so

Every tween goes through a time when they feel 'alien'... when the world seems a different planet. Their bodies change, their moods change, their attitudes change, life seems completely different.

Joylin is a tomboy who loves playing basketball with the boys. But suddenly at 12 years old... things are changing.

The story is written as narrative prose, short poems that perfectly capture the crazy, sometimes conflicting feelings of being a tween girl.  At its close, readers will remember the timeless truth at the center of Joylin's story: be yourself. As Joylin says, "I wouldn't trade places with anyone."

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


"The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars. But in ourselves." 
Easy to say when you're a Roman nobleman 
(or Shakespeare!),
but there is no shortage of fault
to be found amid our stars.

Hazel is 16 and she has terminal cancer. I knew she and I were cut from the same cloth when she was asked why she was a vegetarian... "I want to minimize the number of deaths I am responsible for," she said. And when she talks about her favorite book, An Imperial Affliction... "Sometimes, you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book. And then there are books like An Imperial Affliction, which you can't tell people about, books so special and rare and yours that advertising your affection feels like betrayal." I loved Hazel.

John Green writes a beautiful book about how, in an ordinary life, there are not many opportunities for epic heroism... throwing ourselves on grenades for others, if you will. 

I loved the bit Hazel's dad said... "You are not a grenade, not to us. Thinking about you dying makes us sad, Hazel, but you are not a grenade. You are amazing. You can't know, sweetie, because you've never had a baby become a brilliant young reader with a side interest in horrible television shows, but the joy you bring us is so much greater than the sadness we feel about your illness."

Great thoughts from the book:
Pain demands to be felt.
The world is not a wish-granting factory.
The universe wants to be noticed.
Any word can mean love... okay.

I have a favorite quote from the author, John Green:
"Forever is an incorrect concept wrongly based on the idea that the sun isn't going to explode. We are temporary. This is temporary, and our responsibility as humans within this temporary -- this weirdly temporary but still sort of, in some ways, infinite -- life that we have, with our gift of consciousness, is to find a way to live as well as we can live, to take the best care that we can of each other and of ourselves, and organize our lives in a way that reflects our values and our hopes for the people who'll come after us, as well as honoring the people who came before us -- that's a very, very complicated thing to do."

He writes wonderful books, and this one should not be missed.

In the acknowledgments in the back of the book, John Green thanks everyone who helped with the book. One of the friends he mentions is Vi Hart... Vi Hart! John Green and Vi Hart are friends... amazing, it's a small world. 
But this begs the question after yesterday's post... is there some cool club where brilliant, amazing, smart people hang out? Are John Green, Vi Hart, & Ransom Riggs shooting pool together - while discussing F. Scott Fitzgerald and Quantum Physics as Salman Khan and Markus Zusak look on? I'm just wondering... and if you know, could you get me a one day guest pass?

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

surround yourself with smart people...

Today I am reading The Fault In Our Stars by John Green and I am loving it. A strange coincidence is that John Green and Ransom Riggs are friends. Ransom Riggs wrote Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children... have you read it yet? You should... it's great. And soon, because I am loving it, I am going to try to persuade you to read The Fault In Our Stars.

Check out this cool friendship between authors John Green and Ransom Riggs:

Monday, February 20, 2012

little actions make a big difference

This is Groundhog Day meets Mean Girls plus It's a Wonderful Life (but if you weren't a wonderful person - more from Mr. Potter's point of view).

It's Friday February 12th, Cupid Day, at Thomas Jefferson High School. Sam Kingston is pretty and popular and it's her favorite day of senior year. Yet, on the way home from a late night party, Sam is in a car accident... and dies. Only, instead of dying she relives February 12th again and again. In each go round, Sam changes her actions little by little. Slowly she begins to learn what matters most in life.

Imagine if you got to relive your last day over and over again to try to account for your mistakes. You get the chance to re-evaluate your life and make changes by living the events of your fateful last day again and again...

I would have loved to read this book as a teenager.

This is a haunting story, brilliantly told by Lauren Oliver (who wrote Liesl & Po). It is sure to make you look at your actions and see that all choices have consequences. Everyone's lives run deeper than you can imagine.

parental warning: I would recommend this book to 14 and older.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

an absolute must...

I've posted a few times about the book, Wonder by R.J. Palacio. I was so excited about what I had seen & heard. It was released on Tuesday and I finished reading it today.

Let me just say, it did not disappoint. I loved it. I want everyone to read it. I especially want absolutely every fifth and sixth grader to read it.

It's sad and funny and inspiring and infuriating and eye opening and wonderful.

The story is told brilliantly through six different character perspectives. 

I love the underlying theme that in kindness lies the order of the universe.

As in this quote from the book:

“…no, no, it’s not all random, if it really was all random, the universe would abandon us completely and the universe doesn’t. it takes care of its most fragile creations in ways we can’t see. like with parents who adore you blindly. and a big sister who feels guilty for being human over you… maybe it is a lottery, but the universe makes it all even out in the end. the universe takes care of all its birds.”

It reminded me of a quote I heard recently on a TED talk:

"Not a sparrow falls, without his maker knowing."

I loved August; I loved Via; I loved Jack. I loved Mr. Tushman's middle school Director's Address. I loved Mr. Browne's Precepts. Daisy broke my heart open and Summer was my hero.

Run out and get this book... not just for yourself, but for every 11 to 13 year old you know.

ps- once you read the book, check out these annotations.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

wonderful words

Every school day feels the same for fourth graders Lucy and Henry and Evie and Russell and May. Then Ms. Mirabel comes to their class - bringing magical words and a whole new way of seeing and understanding.

Word After Word After Word is a book for any child who's a writer... or wants to be a writer. This book will definitely whisper something important in the ears of all who read it. Everyone is a writer with a story to tell.

Ms. Mirabel is a famous author who visits the fourth grade class to guest teach for six weeks. She teaches the children and Miss. Cash, the fourth grade teacher, something magical... the beauty of words.

"Remember this if you remember anything from our time together," said Ms. Mirabel. "Writing... is... brave. You are brave."

Read the first few chapters... Word After Word After Word

beautifully illustrated

Erwin Madrid is one of my favorite illustrators. He was born in the Philippines and grew up in California.

This is one of my favorites:
It's the cover of the book Kindred Souls.

You'll probably recognize this illustration from the book Juniper Berry

This is the cover of the book Word after Word after Word.

Erwin Madrid has also worked as an illustrator on the movies Shrek 2, Madagascar 2, and Megamind.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

behind-the-scenes vs highlight reel

Anya's Ghost by Vera Brosgol
Anya is a first generation American and a self-conscious, brooding teenager trying to fit in. On her way home one day, Anya falls into an abandoned well. There she discovers a skeleton and... a ghost.

This is Vera Brosgol's debut graphic novel. She has created a smart, funny and compassionate portrait of someone who, despite all her sulking and sneering, is the kind of daughter many parents would like to have... and the type of teen many parents once were.

Anya's Ghost is a mystery, a ghost story, and a horror story - all wrapped in a gray/black/purple graphic novel. But even more importantly, it's a story about self-acceptance and figuring out what you really want in life.

As Anya  says toward the end of the book, "Everyone else's life seems so much easier..." It reminded me of a quote I read on pinterest: "The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else's highlight reel." ~Steven Furtick

Anya's Ghost is a humorous, beautifully drawn reminder that our lives, especially as teens, aren't so easy.

Parental Warning: this book is aimed at teens. There's smoking, implied underage drinking, etc...
Read the first part of the book here.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Mystery of the Secret Piecrust Recipe

Alice's Aunt Polly was a natural born pie maker. She makes incredible pies. Anyone who tasted one of her pies always said the same thing - "You ought to open up your own pie shop, Polly!" And so she did... being a humble person, she gave her pie shop a humble name - PIE. What was most unusual about her shop was that Aunt Polly never charged for her pies. Aunt Polly had said, "Why on earth would I charge people money for something that brings so much pleasure?"

When Aunt Polly died, no one was sadder than Alice who had always adored her aunt.

Their little town is turned upside down when it learns that Aunt Polly has left her famous piecrust recipe to Lardo... and has left her unfriendly cat, Lardo, to Alice. The story is a wonderful mystery and the search for the elusive recipe leaves Alice and her friend Charlie to put the pieces together.

As an extra treat to this sweet book, each of the 14 chapters begin with one of Aunt Polly's famous pie recipes. 

You can read the first chapter of Pie on Sarah Weeks website.

Friday, February 10, 2012

and one fine morning

I'm re-reading The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald before the new movie comes out in December.
In the 2012 remake, Tobey Maguire will play the Fitzgerald-like character, Nick Carraway. And, party-giving millionaire, Jay Gatsby will be played by Leonardo DiCaprio.

The first sentence:
"In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me advice that I've been turning over in my mind ever since."

Read that sentence out loud... Can you hear the rhythm in that sentence? I love it.

Oh, and here's the advice that his father gave (in case you were wondering) :

"Whenever you feel like criticizing any one," he told me, "just remember that all the people in this world haven't had the advantages that you've had."

Thursday, February 9, 2012

in literature, it refers to great whales...

When I was at The Learning Lab's Lunch for Literacy, I won the book - Leviathan, by Scott Westerfeld.

Forget what you think you know about World War I ...

This story takes place in an alternate 1914 Europe. Fifteen-year-old Austrian Prince Alek is on the run from the Clanker powers who are attempting to take over the globe using mechanical machinery. He forms an uneasy alliance with Deryn, a girl disguised as a boy to join the British Air Service. She is learning to fly genetically engineered beasts used by the Darwinists to fight the Clankers.

The narrative of the book alternates between the perspective of Alek... the son of the murdered Clanker nobles ...and that of Deryn... the daughter of a dead British Navy airman.

This book is the first in a series of three that are sure to entertain.

"You see, my grandfather's true realization was this: if you remove one element--the cats, the mice, the bees, the flowers--the entire web is disrupted. An archduke and his wife are murdered, and all of Europe goes to war. A missing piece can be very bad for the puzzle, whether in the natural world, or politics, or her in the belly of an airship."

Listen to the first chapter of the audio book for free.

Check out Scott Westerfeld's video tour of his office and how he does his research.


Wednesday, February 8, 2012

among the dead

I have been trying to find time to read The Graveyard Book. It's in a pile on my bedside table.

But, today I made a miraculous discovery... you can watch Neil Gaiman read the entire story online... for free.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

frosted fresh and white

"Over the snow, the world is hushed and white. But under the snow exists a secret kingdom of squirrels and snow hares, bears and bullfrogs, and many other animals that live through the winter safe and warm, awake and busy, under the snow. Discover the wonder and activity that lies beneath winter’s snowy landscape in this magical book."  ~ Chronicle Books

Over and Under the Snow

Over and Under the Snow is a lovely book for kids (& grown ups) who enjoy exploring nature & snow. It follows a little girl and her father as they ski through the woods on their way home. As they ski, they talk about all the animals living beneath the snow, their habitats, and how they survive the winter. Kate Messner is a favorite author of mine who I follow on twitter (@KateMessner), and Christopher Silas Neal's illustrations are beautifully simple and stunning.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Sunday, February 5, 2012

things I love...

... nerdy book humor.

From a recent episode of the Simpsons... Bart asks Lisa if she really needs all this Kurt Vonnegut. Lisa replies, "They self-reference each other!"

Saturday, February 4, 2012

often go wrong

I finally ordered the book, The Pull of Gravity, by Gae Polisner.
It's embarrassing to say, but I have been avoiding this book because of the cover. 

Take a look:

Ugh... right?

But, with my new found love of Steinbeck, and this being a book about a book (Of Mice and Men)... I had to get past my petty judgement... Gang aft agley

How can I possibly avoid a book that contains 3 of my favorite things: troll dolls, Yoda, and Steinbeck?

Thursday, February 2, 2012

but in ourselves

I love John Green, how can I not? 
I also love nerdfighters and brotherhood 2.0 and vlogbrothers.

So, of course, I bought a copy of The Fault in our Stars.  I have been looking forward to reading it, but I could not find where I put it (which can be frustrating and exacerbates my nagging fear of being a disorganized book hoarder).

Come to find out, my copy of The Fault in our Stars ended up being donated in the auction basket for the Learning Lab tomorrow. Mystery solved and hoarder disorder avoided (for now).

Here's a clip of John Green. I know you'll love him. He shares my ongoing irritation, fascination, and annoyance with the oxford comma - another one of his endearing qualities.  

Here's one more John Green video blog that I love... I just couldn't help myself.

one tiny, one tall

One of my favorite early reader books is Bink & Gollie by Kate DiCamillo and AlisonMcGhee, illustrated by Tony Fucile.

Bink & Gollie are two best friends... 
one tiny (Bink), one tall (Gollie).

This book is amazing and charming beyond all expectations. 
I love to give it to all the 7 year olds I know.

And now... there's more... coming in June!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

iPad literacy apps

Question Builder is designed to help children learn to answer abstract questions and create responses based on inference.

Popplet is a productivity app that also works as a mind mapping tool. Use the app to begin structuring the writing process. The app can also be used to create graphic organizers, classroom visuals, organize material according to text structures (list, sequence, compare–contrast, cause–effect), and to practice sentence combining and complex sentence creation by connecting individual "Popples." Not ready to commit to the $4.99 price tag? Try out Popplet Lite for free.

SimpleMind is a basic mind mapping tool that turns an iPhone/iPod into a brainstorming, idea collection and thought structuring device. SimpleMind's limited options make it a good tool for students that are new to mind mapping. Not ready to commit to the $6.99 price tag? Try out SimpleMind Lite for free