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A Friend I Someone Who Likes You

A Friend is Someone Who Likes You
by Joan Walsh Anglund

My multiple lives were bound to collide at some point.  Moment One-I have an assignment in my writing class to bring a Non-Fiction picture book to class.  We are preparing to create our own for our first project.  Moment Two- I received a handwritten note from my roommate at the Arkansas Women Blogger Conference.  In it, she expressed her thanks for the ride to the mountains and for the fun we shared.  I was reminded of how great it is to have close friends that love you just because.  Add them together and you get this lovely little book by Joan Walsh Anglund, A Friend Is Someone Who Likes You.

Written in 1958 this little primer about friendship is a must on every child's book shelf.  The prose lets the reader know that everyone has the friends they need.  It launched Joan Walsh Anglund's career.  She went on to write and illustrate more than 120 books, which have been translated into 17 languages.  The titles include fiction, non-fiction and poetry.  Another of my favorites is Childhood is a Time of Innocence.  Each of these books contains her signature children whose faces only had two eyes.

Not only did we have the books when I was a child, but I had a small doll that looked just like Anglund's characters. Here she is. She still guards my books and reminds me that everyone has at least one friend.  "Where did you find yours?"


An American Exodus

An American Exodus
by Dorothea Lange and Paul Taylor

I spent the weekend in the Ozark Mountains with a group of fantastic women.  I attended the Arkansas Women Blogger Conference and learned more than is possible about the worlds of blogging and social networking.  As I walked the halls of the buildings of the Ozark Mountain Folk Center, I kept seeing the images of the old timers who once walked the same halls.  All I could think of was the amazing work done by Dorothea Lange and Paul Taylor in the book An American Exodus.

In the piece of non-fiction, Lange and Taylor, document the movement of more than 300,000 migrant workers to California during the Great Depression.  It combines Dorothea Lange's unmatched documentary photography skills to the oral history captured by her husband, Paul Taylor, in accessible prose.  It tells the story of the impact of the Depression on the rural poor and is a nice contrast to the overwhelming amount of information about the effects of the time on the urban poor.

It isn't a book that needs to be read through from beginning to end. It would serve well as the centerpiece of a family discussion of the past, especially since references to the Great Depression are so often found in the media today.  Find a photograph that is meaningful to you or your child and read about the person it hopes to reflect.  It is not currently in print, so get a copy of it from you local library.  If you find that you  want to include it in your own library, it can be purchased on the used market.


The Secret Garden

The Secret Garden
by Frances Hodgson Burnett
I started a new writing class today.  The take away assignment was to write a page or two, doubled spaced, about a childhood memory about reading. I rode the city bus to campus to avoid parking horrors, and on the ride home, I opened my writer's notebook to catalog the memories flooding into my mind.  As I sorted them, I decided to write about the Book Mobile so that I could reach my assignment goal of two pages.  But as the day has progressed, I keep coming back to my mother reading me The Secret Garden at bedtime. The cover to the left is the one of my childhood.  

At first I did not like Mary at all.  She was rude.  She was sour.  She was unfriendly.  I had nothing in common with her, but envied her adventure to a new land.  My mother kept reading and as the story unfolded, I finally found a connection to Mary.  She asked for a bit of ground.  My grandmother regularly set me outside with a spoon and a bowl in the dirt for a morning's occupation.  We both grew in the dirt.  We both learned about ourselves in the dirt.  We found ourselves in the garden.  It is a wonderful tale.  And it is not just for girls!  Dickon and Colin are beautifully developed boy characters.  As a matter of fact, Dickon, a boy who could "talk" with the animals, is one of my son's first and favorite friends from literature.

To help with the temptation we have to judge a book by its cover, puffin classics has a new addition with updated art. There are also many additions that only have our friend the robin on the cover, if you are trying to get a boy interested.



Hunger Games-Wizard of Oz

The Hunger Games
by Suzanne Collins

So, the movie came out the weekend.  We have bought it and watched it.  My son has actually watched it twice.  I was struck by the details of the novel that were left out and by the art direction of the movie.  District 12 looked just as I imagined, but the Capital was so much more.  All I could think of, as I watched, was how much the Capital reminded me of the Emerald City.  And the all powerful Oz, or in this case President Snow, acting as the puppet master.

Watching the movie has made me add the Hunger Games back to my "to read" list.  I am always up for a reread.  And with this book and the attention given it by young readers, I feel I should know my stuff.  It has also piqued my interest in rereading The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum. 

A few words on rereading...  It is one of my favorite occupations.  I tend to give over to my need to know how the story ends and rush through on my first attempt.  When I pick up a novel to reread, I find little jewels left by the author.  Those brief allusions that make me feel like a member of an exclusive club or some sub-theme that makes me see the text in an entirely new way.  If this is not already a part of your reading practice, you might want to give it a try.  My first attempts at convincing my son of this practice were met with "But Mom, there are so many books and so little time."  This is true, but a great book is always waiting to tell you just a little bit more.



by Marcus Sedgwick

I have a fascination with the West.  Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, any lone gunman really, making his way through the West catches my attention.  My first great love in the Western world was Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry.  And, if you are looking for a good short story, with a hero toting a gun, you can never go wrong with Elmore Leonard.  So you can image my glee when I read this cover:  Revolver:  A menacing stranger. Stolen gold. And A loaded gun.

Because I am only fair at creating drama on the page, let me offer you the overview from the publisher:

"A taut frontier survivor story, set at the time of the Alaska gold rush.  In an isolated cabin, fourteen-year-old Sig is alone with a corpse: his father, who has fallen through the ice and frozen to death only hours earlier. Then comes a stranger claiming that Sig’s father owes him a share of a horde of stolen gold. Sig’s only protection is a loaded Colt revolver hidden in the cabin’s storeroom. The question is, will Sig use the gun, and why?"

I truly enjoyed this book.  It is currently being passed from student to student at my son's school.  Every time I think I might get it back, I am told, "OH, so and so is reading it now."  Well, that is the job of books.  The artful descriptions really caught my attention.  I was actually cold the entire time I was reading it. Just thinking about it makes me wonder where my jacket is.  

If you are as fascinated by America's beginnings as I, give this book a try.  You will end up in San Fransisco for your troubles-just like any frontiersman would dream.


Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
by Roald Dahl

My son crawled next to me in bed last night for an hour of reading.  I am finishing In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson and he is reading Mines of the Minotaur, the 3rd in the companion quartet, by Julie Golding.  As we lay there in our little house, I had a flicker of the image of Charlie's Grandparents, all four, sleeping in the middle of the small but, loving home created for them by Roald Dahl.

James and the Giant Peach (another novel by Dahl) is one of the first stories I remember my mom reading to me as a child, but I have to admit, I love Charlie more.  His circumstances pull at my heart strings.  The happiness that abounds in his small and rundown home gives me hope.  I laugh and marvel at the wretched stereotypes who are the winners of the golden tickets-especially the t.v. crazed Mike-how prophetic!  I am entertained by the queer and sometimes frightening Willie Wonka.  But mostly, I love the warnings given by the um pa-lumpas.

This is a must read!  And in this case, a must watch.  The movie adaptations, Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, are both terrific.


Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children
by Ransom Riggs

I just finished up registration for book club with the help of our Media Specialist, Mrs. Greer, and we have 162 students between 3rd and 8th grades participating.  This is out of about 750 students, so I am very excited, if not just a bit overwhelmed.  The registration forms include a ballot.  There is also a place for children to write in their suggestions for the group.  One of my most voracious readers in the 8th grade suggested this new novel by Ransom Riggs.  I have just read it myself, but didn't include it with my suggestions, because as a rule I don't include a book unless is it available in paperback.

How do I describe this book?

Before I try, here is the overview I found on Barnes & Noble's website:

A mysterious island.
An abandoned orphanage.
A strange collection of very curious photographs.
It all waits to be discovered in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, an unforgettable novel that mixes fiction and photography in a thrilling reading experience. As our story opens, a horrific family tragedy sets sixteen-year-old Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores its abandoned bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that the children were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a deserted island for good reason. And somehow—impossible though it seems—they may still be alive.

This summary is accurate, but the thrill and adventure is not what I loved about the book.  I am a sucker for rich characters, and this book is filled with them.  I felt like I was reading a diary, and I came to care deeply for not only Jacob, the main character, but all of the other people, both peculiar and not, who help shape him into the man he is becoming.  Upon completing the novel, I was also reminded that the people we love can always surprise us, and sometimes for the better.


Trumpet of the Swan

Trumpet of the Swan
by E.B. White

Bird rescue update.  Lou is thriving.  His feathers are filling in nicely. He is eating seeds and trying his wings out with a short flight or two.  This evening, I headed out to our screened in porch and found him and my son studying for a history test together.  Lou was perched on Miller's shoulder and nestled up beside Miller's ear.  As Miller's back began to tire of the slanted posture he had assumed to make Lou the most comfortable, he placed Lou onto the table with its stacks of notes and Lou immediately pooped.

The love between Miller and Lou reminds me of Sam Beaver and Louis, in E. B. White's, The Trumpet of the Swan.  If we would permit it, I am sure Miller would hike Lou onto his shoulder and proudly take him to school, just as Sam did.  I am not sure if our Lou has the intelligence or size to master writing on a chalk board like Louis, but the bond between bird and boy is growing just the same.  When Lou finally flies away from our home, it will be fun to imagine the adventures he is up to and wonder if he, too, is finding a mate and starting a family.

If you have not given this novel a try it is well worth the time.  John Updike was quoted in the New York times as saying, "While not quite so sprightly as Stuart Little, and less rich in personalities and incident than Charlotte's Web, The Trumpet of the Swan has superior qualities of its own; it is the most spacious and serene of the three, the one most imbued with the author's sense of the precious instinctual heritage represented by wild nature."

As a mother, I am a big fan of Louis' father, who risked life and wing to acquire a trumpet for his mute son.  He believed he needed to give his son a voice of his own so he could make his way in the world.  I can only hope to do the same for my son.


The Outsiders

The Outsiders
by S.e. Hinton

The best writers are also readers.  There is nothing better than reading along in a well written novel and finding an allusion to another piece of great literature.  It makes me feel like a member of a secret club.  Teachers will call it a text-to-text connection-I simply call it cool!

Miller and I are reading, S.E. Hinton's, The Outsiders.  We are both finding some of the slang difficult to navigate.  As an example, the characters are regularly stating the fact that they need "a weed."  This is a cigarette, apparently, but that took some time to figure out.  This compelling tale, told by 14 year old Ponyboy, has absolutely captured our attention.  The tragic incidences of the boys' lives make it hard to read, but the lessons are great.

Yesterday, we came across the sentence, "he smiled like a chessy cat."  Miller asked, "It that some more slang I don't understand?"  I answered, "Perhaps, but why not take another look and see if you can understand the phrase."  "I guess it could be slang for a big smile like the Cheshire Cat."  And just like that, this dedicated reader had broken the code and was admitted to the secret club.  Here, Hinton had given a nod to the great Lewis Carroll and his classic Alice in Wonderland.  If you just quickly read the dialogue,you would understand the plot, if not the sentence.  But this reader, not only came to understand the reference, he developed a deeper connection to the author.

Can you think of a great allusion you have come across that made you think to yourself-Cool?


Make Way for Ducklings

Make Way for Ducklings
by Robert McCloskey

Yesterday, I walked to my car to the screams of about 100 8th graders.  I scanned the area, looking for the cause of the ruckus and saw a small mourning dove chick in the middle of the downtown intersection, desperate to get to safety.  The students were anxious to help, but were held in place by the invisible barricade created by the rules for proper street etiquette.  Never being too concerned with norms my self, I checked for on coming traffic and made my way to the frantic baby bird.  Hobble, Hobble, Flap, Flap, Flap.  He was trying to get away from the screaming children, my feet and hands and the hot pavement.  I lifted him to safety, saw that the children were still tucked behind their barrier, and thought of Make Way for Ducklings. 

This Caldecott winning picture book is an enduring classic about Mrs. Mallard and her hatchlings.  It is worth reading and sharing at any age.  When my own words fail me, in discussions with friends and family, I frequently search for an appropriate picture book and the tale enclosed within to help drive home a point. In Make Way for Ducklings, I have a chance to remind myself that it takes a lot of help to raise a family.  When I share it with my son, he gets a soft reminder of the obstacles that face a growing chick.  

As for my adopted bird. We have named him Lou, short for Louisiana, because we found him at the intersection of 3rd and Louisiana.  He is eating and feeling as at home as a wild bird can.  In a few weeks, we should be able to let him fly away to make his own way in the world.


The Teacher's Funeral

The Teacher's Funeral
by Richard Peck

Today was the first day for book club registration at the school my son attends.  I went to all of the classes, 3rd-8th grades, presented the forms and explained to every student how to join our group.  This year the children will pick books for themselves.  To prime the selection process, I put a few titles on each ballot and invited write-ins.  On the fourth grade book list I included this wonderfully funny book by Richard Peck, The Teacher's Funeral.

It has one of the most appealing first lines in a novel for a student, if you find yourself in a school classroom for most of your young days- "If your teacher has to die, August isn't a bad time of year for it." This book, is full of wit and sass. Russell Culver is fifteen in 1904, and he's raring to leave his tiny Indiana farm town for the endless sky of the Dakotas. To him, school has been nothing but a chain holding him back from his dreams. Maybe now that his teacher has passed on, they'll shut the school down entirely and leave him free to roam.

I imagine during these August days, when the temperatures are so high that our students must have indoor recess, many a student awakens from a daydream of their own. And while their dreams might immediately seem wildly different, after reading this book, you will be reminded that the theme of youth's interests in taking on the world is still very much alive in this new century of ours.


L is for Lolly GaG

L is for Lolly Gag
illustrations by Melinda Beck

Today was coffeehouse for the 6th grade writers at my son's school.  They are reading their first compositions of the year. The type of work required for the day was personal narrative.  As I listened to these writers reading their creations, I was impressed by their ability "to show not tell" the story.  The language was delightful  They are learning to take risks with new words and it is definitely improving the work.

It brought to mind this lovely little dictionary.  It claims to be a book of "quirky words for a clever tongue," and it delivers.  It defines words like agog,eager or really excited, and hanker,to yearn or have a real longing for something,  while giving interesting facts about words along the way.

Did you know, for instance, that a pangram is a sentence that uses every letter of the alphabet? And, that the most famous pangram is, "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog." Or that there are authors who purposely refrain from using certain letters or words.  This is referred to as a lipogram.  Can you think of a oxymoron to share with us? If not, you should give this book a try.  Send the best one along.


Mary Poppins

Mary Poppins
by P.L.Travers

Miraculously, it was raining this morning and only 80 degrees as I headed out for a lunch meeting.  This meant that I could use one of my favorite accessories-my umberella.  My brolly, as it is sometimes called in Great Britian, is exactly like Mary Poppins', except that my parrot doesn't talk, yet!  I bought it at a production of the play in New York.  It is a treasure to me.

As I was toting it to the car, I thought back to the Olympic Opening ceremony and the section honoring children's literature.  The best moment for me was when the flock of Mary Poppins's came floating in to put the children to bed.

Mary Poppins, written in 1934, is a part of a series written until 1988.  The series continued when Mary Shepard, the illustrator, became the second author.  The novels are darker than the Disney film, however the current Broadway production is truer to the text.  They are each magical tales and deserve your attention. If the language is difficult for your young reader to master, try it as a read-a-loud.