Saturday, December 24, 2011

A Chinese American Who Wanted To Fly

Everyone has a dream.  Mine is to swim a mile next summer.  Maggie  Gee wanted to
fly airplanes.  During World War II, she joined a group called Women's Air Force Service Pilot or Wasps for short. Their principal job was to  ferry airplanes from the factory to the field where male pilots would fly them in battle.
This week's curriculum tie-in is Sky High : The True Story of Maggie Gee by Marissa   Moss. This picturebook tells  Maggie's story from her childhood  through her flying adventures, in  the first person. You feel like Maggie herself is talking to you.The  author's note includes more information plus some photographs from Maggie herself.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

How to learn about animal migration

Why Do Animals Migrate? by Bobbie Kalman is my curriculum tie-in this week. I'd recommend this to grades 3-5. It is a chapter book;  32 pages in total.
It starts with definitions. Example: "All animals have areas where they live. These areas are called habitats." The book gives the reason for migration: because when seasons change it becomes too difficult to stay in their habitats. So they move to a new habitat for a certain period of time. They migrate.
Teachers, here are two questions to ask of your classes.

Q. Why do Canada geese fly in a V-formation?
A.  Flying in a V-formation keeps them from getting too tired. p.10

Q. Which animal migrates the farthest?
A. The arctic tern. p.12

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A Feel of the Early 1960's

Curriculum tie-in
The early 1960's in New York City was a period where folksingers met in coffeehouses. For teachers doing a section on the '60's I recommend this slice of life picture book biography, When Bob Met Woody ;written by Gary Golio and illustrated by Marc Burckhardt.  Bob Dylan is still with us but Woody Guthrie passed away many years ago. This biography takes Bob  from his early interest in folk music to his meeting Woody Guthrie. A nice feature of this book is "Quotation notes" where the actual sources of the quotes in the book come from.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Learning About the Native American

This week's post highlights a couple of books  exploring the Native American culture.  The first title: Black Elk's Vision: a Lakota Story by S.D. Nelson gives a first person perspective on Black Elk, a Lakota -Oglala medicine man who was a cousin of Crazy-Horse. The author includes archival images as well as his own art work. This 48- page book is suitable for grades 3-6. Another title detailing the customs of Native Americans  is Indians of the Northwest by Petra Press.  This title is part of a series called The Native Americans. Other titles in the series are: Indians of the Great Plains, Indians of the Northeast, Indians of the Northwest, Indians of the Southwest. They are all available from your local library.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Elephants On My Mind

This is my niece, Marina. She kindly provided this photograph taken
on a recent visit to Thailand. Here's Marina:
"We visited elephants outside of the town of Chiang Mai on an eco-reserve. There are two types of elephants in Thailand - domesticated and wild elephants. These elephants were not wild, and in fact wild elephants are not possible to command. One thing I learned that surprised me is the average life span of an elephant -- if I remember correctly, they live to 80 years old on average!
Riding on top of the elephant, it's immediately apparent just how much larger they are, proportionately. When several people ride on an elephant, their spinal chord protrudes and is quite large, about 3-6 inches in radius (if I had to take a guess); their 'hair' is thick and bristly; their ear holes very large; their skin of such great thickness that they can barely feel your touch as you grab the skin and climb along their leg to get to the head (i.e. your seat)... and yet despite their advantage in size, one also notices how slowly they trot! Perhaps it's all the weight which holds them down. "
 Elephants Trumpet by Pam Scheunemann, our curriculum tie-in this week, is a nonfiction early reader.  Here is a sample: "The elephant  is the biggest animal around. It can make a loud trumpeting sound."
For a fictional picture book on elephants, see Kai-Mook by Guido van Genechten about the birth of a baby elephant.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Would you want to eat frog soup?

Would you want to eat frog soup?  This is one of the strange medical cures covered in  Carlyn Beccia's picturebook for the older reader, I Feel Better With a Frog in My Throat: History's Strangest Cures. Frog soup, using nine frogs,  was a medieval cure for  a cough.  Carlyn indicates whether these cures worked or not. For frog soup, the answer is no. Carlyn has a whimsical personality, as you can see in this photograph of her dressed as Anne Boleyn.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Life With Charles and Emma

Charles and Emma:  The Darwins' Leap of Faith

Charles and Emma Darwin are the focus of this week's curriculum tie-in.
Three cheers for the Young Adult title Charles and Emma : the Darwins' Leap of Faith by Deborah Heiligman. The Darwins are an example of how opposites attract. He was neat and organized. She was disorganized and messy.
Because he was developing a theory about evolution, he was harboring many doubts about religion. She was a religious woman who worried whether her husband would be with her in the afterlife. Nevertheless they had a happy marriage and she  supported his work.

Deborah Heiligman photo
 This book was a labor of love for the author, Deborah Heiligman. Listen to her talk about this in her acceptance speech for the YALSA 2010 Printz Awards.
She and her husband also discuss religion  and science. Like Emma Darwin, she too found the right partner in life.
 The librarian in me absolutely needs to share how she did her research.
And if you prefer audiobooks, Charles and Emma is now available in this format.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The pioneer spirit

The 10th anniversary of  9/11 has reminded me of the pioneer spirit of this country. This week's curriculum tie-in is Heading West: Life With the Pioneers, 21 Activities by Pat McCarthy.

This wonderful book has so much to offer. It provides an historical overview of how pioneers settled the country, beginning with the Appalachian Mountains and continuing to the Pacific Ocean. Join Pat as she journeys with the settlers in their covered wagons and the hard work they encountered during the trip: the cooking, the hunting. Learn about the native Americans they met.
Then when they arrived they had to build themselves shelters. A dugout would be constructed by digging into a hill or creek bank until there was enough space for one room. Next they contructed a front wall using blocks of sod.
Laura Ingalls Wilder's family lived in a dugout for a time. She wrote about that in On the Banks of Plum Creek.  

Pioneers were the original do-it-yourselfers. Pat includes a number of activities for you to try. Try making maple snow candy, like Laura Ingalls Wilder did.
Try churning your own butter. Back then toys were handmade. Would you want to make a doll out of a clothespin?  Some little girls did.

If reading Pat's book makes you and your family hanker to visit pioneer sites, this  article from The New York Times  will give you information about visiting places Laura Ingalls Wilder lived. 

If you can't  visit,  read  Laura Ingalls Wilder Country, a  photographic  book of  Laura's homes.

If you want Pat to visit your school to give a program about the West visit her at her web site.

Friday, September 2, 2011

The Wonders of Electricity

Electricity is something we take for granted until we loose it. In the aftermath of Hurricane Irene, many people along the East Coast still have not had their power restored. If you have well water you don't have water either because you need electricity to pump water from your well. I hope power is restored to everyone very soon.

This week's curriculum tie-in is an ode to electricity.Wired by Anastasia Suen takes  middle grade readers on a journey of how electricity gets to their homes.
Anastasia Suen

Anastasia has an activity and games for students to try. For more information visit her at her web site.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Paddle Your Own Canoe

I just came back from  a trip to the  Delaware shore  and the New Jersey shore where I had fun in the waves. Swimming is my favorite sport but maybe you enjoy boating or canoeing.

 This week will start a periodic salute to Canadiana: books related to our neighbor to the north, Canada, with the title  An Algonquin Heart Song: Paddle My Own Canoe by Amber J. Keyser.

Amber takes her readers on a canoe trip in  Alonquin Park, located in the Province of Ontario, where she took canoe trips while growing up. Her grandmother, Esther Sessions Keyser, was Algonquin Park's first female canoe guide.

For more information about Amber and her books visit her at her website.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Eat your vegetables

On a recent visit to the New Jersey State Fair, I visited the tent with the prize-winning vegetables. A man was pulling a basil bush onto the floor. It had fallen over, he said. Did I want it all for $1.50? Absolutely I wanted it!

 Basil is excellent in tomato sauce and if you have a kid who likes tomato sauce but hates vegetables do I have a book for you! This week's curriculum tie-in is Rah, Rah, Radishes: a Vegetable Chant by April Pulley Sayre.

April Sayre’s Book Rah, Rah, Radishes: A Vegetable Chant
What is a chant?  As a noun it is a phrase repeated rhythmically. As a verb it means to shout or sing rhythmically. 

What age range this book for?  April says,  "The publisher put the age level on the book at ages 3-7 in order to hit that preschool age that would not read the book but could hear it. But from what I'm hearing, teachers are using it all the way up the curriculum (even to grade 4) as a read-to, read-aloud, chant-out-loud, poem for many voices because so many older kids love rhythm, rhyme, and need veggie vocab. "

For more information on April's chant books  visit her web site.   And eat your vegetables.   

Friday, August 5, 2011

Swimming to the start of the school year

This week's post will use swimming as a metaphor. There will be no mention of swimming, the sport. Instead I will be introducing what I hope will be a weekly feature  the curriculum tie-in.

  Yes, parents, it's time to get your offspring swimming enthusiastically to the start of the school year. With this in mind, I'd like to introduce Phillis Sings Out Freedom: the story of George Washington and Phillis Wheatley by Ann Malaspina. When George Washington was struggling to win  independence
from Great Britain, the poet Phillis Wheatley wrote a poem of encouragement just for him. This picturebook biography  can be used as supplemental reading for the lower grades. Since the book is set in Massachusetts, I looked at the states core curriculum. Biographies are among the informational texts   acceptable for Pre-K- grade 5.

Ann says, "In my book, I tried to stick to what is known about Phillis Wheatley's life, which is not that much.  Because there are wide gaps in the details of her life, I did the best I could, using the best historical sources I could find. I gathered details and words from her poems and writings, as well as documents from Massachusetts Historical Society, scholarly biographies, and George Washington's own letters and biographies. "

For more information, visit Ann at

Thursday, July 28, 2011

"Longer Boats Are Faster"

Recently I read an on-line article called LONGER BOATS ARE FASTER, by Terry Laughlin, a swimming coach. Laughlin talked about a naval architect who tested various vessel shapes to find out the one that would go the fastest. The architect discovered the fastest boat was longer aat the waterline.

Laughlin  went on to discuss how this applied to swimmers. Swimmers should not try to increase muscle size. That does not produce speed. swimmers need to keep their bodies as long as possible  in the water.

I am planning to use his suggestions for improving my own swimming strokes.
Compettive swimmers  spend much of their time doing drills specific to freestyle, backstroke, etc. Fitness swimmers can do the same.

And I am extending my reach into my writing by thinking outside the box.  This means writing for children, writing magazine articles for adults, and providing good content for this blog.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Swimming: The Cure for Writer's Block

Have writer’s block? Go swimming. Why? Because exercise is good for you. It will get you out of the house. Ideally you will feel refreshed and ready to return to your computer.

I have always loved swimming. Before my shoulder objected I belonged to a Masters Swim  Program at my local YMCA. On one occasion I participated in a fundraising swim in the Chesapeake Bay. Of course I still swim at my local pool in the summer.  I plan to use swimming as a reward after I get my daily quota of writing done.

Personal discipline is another important ingredient. When I retired I used my time to enroll in some writing contests and to apply for a grant through SCBWI (Society of Childrens Book Writers and Illustrators.  I also took an online course on preparing a book proposal, which was very helpful.