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February 2007

Go, Dog, Go!

Wwwrandomhousecom_1 Go, Dog, Go! An easy book, right? It's fun—that's for sure. But if you're a first-grader working hard to read at grade level, Go, Dog, Go! is a real challenge. Picture clues abound: big dog and little dog clearly refer to illustrations of the same. But the words, they can trip you up.  To read P.D. Eastman's classic, you'll need to distinguish between tree, three, the, and there; out, of, on, in, and one; and go, going, to, and do. You'll have to recognize that the -ay in play ("Play, dogs, play!") makes a long a sound. For that matter, you'll have to know what a long a is. And forget said; at least it doesn't show up in this book. The sight word said can really throw a person for a loop. Sight words. The only thing to do is to memorize them.

Those are just a few of the myriad things that my first-grade reading buddies have to keep in mind when they read a book like Go, Dog, Go! Becoming a fluent reader is like getting to Carnegie Hall; the children need practice, practice, practice, in addition to the good instruction they get from their talented teachers. Some of the kids' reading-group books are 8 pages long.  Reading 8 pages can be very satisfying. So, when you and a fellow first-grader finish the last of 64 pages in Go, Dog, Go!, you have not only risen to the challenge, you have accomplished a lot. In fact, you should pat yourself on the back.

Go, readers, go!

Tuesday Side Dishes

Wow. What a spirited debate about poetry, comprehension, and copyright law over at What Adrienne Thinks About That! "The Emperor of Ice Cream," by Wallace Stevens, set it all off.

Literary Safari nets a preview of "The Namesake," Mira Nair's film adaptation of Jhumpa Lahiri's novel. The movie opens March 9th, according to Internet Movie Database (IMDb).

People are talking about "Fail better,"  Zadie Smith's recent article about writing, reading, and criticism, in the Guardian.

Maud Newton goes to "Jesus Camp."

Quiet Bubble pages through his favorite comics of 2006 and talks about trends in the genre.

The LA Times profiles Susan Patron, Newbery winner—and senior children's librarian at the Los Angeles Public Library.

The Republican, a Massachusetts newspaper, runs a tribute to author and educator Carol Otis Hurst, who maintained an excellent web site about children's literature, among her many endeavors. She recently passed away. Her last picture book, Terrible Storm, about the blizzard of 1888, was published today.

Mark your calendars:  the exhibition "Picture Stories: A Celebration of African American Illustrators," opens March 24th at the Eric Carle Museum, in western Massachusetts. You can see a sneak preview online.

Jeffrey Toobin considers Google's Book Search project, at the New Yorker.

Debbie Reese, of the blog American Indians in Children's Literature, has an article in ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) about how and why she started her site.

Betsy Bird took great notes at a recent panel on children's TV. See A Fuse #8 Production for lots of interesting details.

Fun stuff: Valentine's Day cards to make, at

Beatrix Potter's Farm, and a New Biography

In response to "Potter mania" (a syndrome currently related to Beatrix, not Harry), Great Britain's National Trust has extended the hours that the author's home Hill Top is open to the public.

"Miss Potter," a 2006 film starring Renée Zellweger, sparked a heightened interest in Peter Rabbit's creator.

An article in the Kitchener, Ontario, Record says that Potter-related tourism has been a real boon for the Lake District.

"The movie is helping our overseas visitors finally get over those horrible images of foot-and-mouth disease in the English countryside," said Andrew Poole, deputy manager of the World of Beatrix Potter, an attraction based in Bowness-on-Windermere, which centres on the author and illustrator's life and storybook characters.

Armchair travellers may prefer to enjoy Potter mania with a new biography (for adults), Beatrix Potter: A Life in Nature, by Linda Lear. Although  the Guardian called it dull, the American Library Association's Booklist magazine gave the biography a starred review, saying, "The result is a meticulously researched and brilliantly re-created life that, despite its length and accretion of detail, is endlessly fascinating and often illuminating." Booklist's own "state of the art Web site" requires a subscription to read any of the review, but you can read the entire thing at Amazon.

Poetry Friday: "Hugging the Rock"

This morning I started reading Susan Taylor Brown's Hugging the Rock, a novel in verse that was just named to the American Library Association's notable children's books list for 2007. I can tell I'm going to like it, although the beginning breaks my heart. The first poem "No Room" opens with these lines,

When my mom decides to run away
she packs up her car
with all the things that matter most
to her.

(That "to her" standing on one line all on its own is good, isn't it? Very effective.)

As an adult reader, judging from the title and that opening sequence, I foresee this first poem's inevitable conclusion:

By the time she's done
there's no room left for anything else.
No room left for Dad.

And no room left for me.

I want to find out what happens to Rachel, the preteen daughter of a woman I'm guessing is bipolar.  I'll find out more as I read. I'll sit down later on this Poetry Friday and finish Hugging the Rock

See the blog Book Moot for a full review of the novel, which is written for 9 to 12 year olds, and visit author Susan Taylor Brown's own blog while you're out and about. [Updated to add: I finished this wonderful book; its mature emotional theme, the adjustment of a preteen to her mother's abandonment of her, makes it most appropriate for 12+ readers, in my opinion.]

I am on Poetry Friday roundup duty today, so please leave in a link in the comments in the post below this one. Thanks!

Poetry Friday Roundup, January 26th

Today I am rounding up all the posts for the folks who are participating in Poetry Friday. Please leave a comment here, and I will add to this post later.

If you haven't yet joined in on Poetry Friday, please do! Any poetry-related post is fine. I've found that the poetry posts get repeated hits from Google and other search engine searches, so your poetry post will likely have a long shelf life.

A special shout-out goes to Jane Yolen, who is celebrating Poetry Friday over at her journal. (See Wordswimmer's interview with the author here.)

Next up is the Blue Rose Girls' Elaine, who offers three wintry poems written by Dorothy Aldis. A Year of Reading spoofs Robert Frost with "The Book Not Taken." Funny! A youngster learns the poem "Owls" at Sweetness and Light. Reader poems can be found at Wordy Girls' blog, and Wordy Girls also like "What Should Poetry Do?" At Kiddosphere, you'll encounter a great suggestion for children who think poetry can dull: Lee Bennett Hopkins' compilation Oh, No! Where Are My Pants? Speaking of Frost, I see Kelly F. has "Goodbye, and Keep Cold" over at her place.

Move over, Frost, here's Wallace Stevens: "The Emperor of Ice Cream," at What Adrienne Thinks About That. And good old Mother Goose makes an appearance at Whimsy Books. Lee Bennett Hopkins makes a second appearance, this time at Blog from the Windowsill, who commends his anthology Days to Celebrate. Walter Dean Myers' Blues Journey receives a good word from A Wrung Sponge. Ted Hughes' "Pig" is snuffling around over at Big A little a.

Utter nonsense, by Lear and Carroll, that is, awaits us at Scholar's Blog. Not far behind is a witty work by  A.A. Milne, over at Liz In Ink; it contains a favorite nonsense word of mine. How about a little art with your poetry? Semicolon punctuates her post with both Padraic Colum and Claude Monet. Meanwhile, you can read about the book Pieces: A Year in Poems and Quilts at (Welcome to Poetry Friday, Mindy!)

Reminding us that Longfellow's bicentennial is coming up in February, J.L. Bell writes at Oz and Ends, "Indeed, this artist was without doubt the most popular American poet of the late 1800s, when people quoted verse to express their emotions the way we now crank up popular songs." Liz B. studies poetry in movies at Tea Cozy. Seven Impossible Things links up J.D. McClatchy's "Winter Without Snow."

The Miss Rumphius Effect shares an extra-special poem about a baby shower, as well as an original work and one by Jon Scieszka. Farm School takes a minute to post about the Burma Shave poems. If you're in Santa Barbara this weekend, you might catch a glimpse of the very poetic Gregory K. Pincus, who will be talking about blogging here. Carl Sandburg's "They All Want to Play Hamlet" is up at Little Willow's place.

"Confessions of a Poetry Judge"! Get the scoop at Check It Out. Here in the Bonny Glen sings (metaphorically, of course) the Scottish ballad "The Rigs o' Rye." Click over to Journey Woman's site and you can hear Yeats talk  about his work.

Poetry Friday bonus round: At The New Yorker, you can read poetry editor Alice Quinn's interview with Galway Kinnell and Philip Levine. This is a link to an older piece at the magazine, but maybe you missed it last October, too.

Authors' Tip Sheet: Accelerated Reader

Editor's note: After reading the following article in the Authors Guild Bulletin, I immediately thought of the librarians, teachers, and parentsand especially authorswho frequently have to consider the issues presented by Deborah Lightfoot. I'm so pleased that Deborah has given me permission to run the piece, which first ran in the SCBWI Bulletin, in its entirety here.

Get Your Books AR Listed
© 2007 by Deborah J. Lightfoot

(This article appeared originally in the September–October 2006 SCBWI Bulletin. Used here by permission of the author. All rights reserved.)

“I bought this book for my daughter, but since it wasn’t on the AR book list at school, she never got around to reading it.”

Magyk: Septimus Heap, Book One, by Angie Sage, was the book not read. An online reviewer posted that comment in 2005, shortly after Magyk's  publication.

The reviewer’s remark troubled me. It was the second time I had heard the mysterious “AR book list” blamed for a young reader’s rejection of a book.

The first instance involved work of my own. While visiting a clutch of elementary schools, I asked whether their libraries had (or would acquire) my book Trail Fever, a biography for readers 9 and up. It complements fourth-grade history studies—one of the main reasons I wrote it.

“I’ll check,” said the librarian. Then, with an apologetic shake of her head: “It’s not on the AR list, so we won’t buy it for our library. The students don’t read books that aren’t AR books.” She added: “A lot of authors don’t know that.”

Being among the ignorant, I set out to uncover the all-powerful AR list. “AR,” I learned, is Accelerated Reader, a computer-based system for tracking reading in schools. It’s owned by Renaissance Learning, a company that sells assessment and monitoring programs for pre-K through 12th grade.

The company calls AR “reading management software.” Under the program, a student reads a book, then sits down at a computer to take a quiz about it. Correct answers earn points that the student redeems for rewards or prizes such as pencils, pizzas, candy bars, T-shirts, or special privileges.

AR’s web site ( says it offers 100,000 quizzes on library books and textbooks. Many thousands of books, however—classics and new titles—are not “AR books.” And there’s the rub. Students don’t earn points for reading non-AR books. They are motivated to reject the non-listed, thus passing up books they shouldn’t miss.

The AR program may further restrict a child’s reading through its system of awarding points. Chapter books earn more points than picture books; long novels get you oodles of points. The harder the book, the more points. To build their totals, students may choose books to read solely because of the number of points the selection is worth—never mind whether it’s the right book or even a readable book for that child.

AR has its critics. At, Dr. Frank Serafini of the University of Nevada–Las Vegas argues against reading as an act “reduced to a thing students do to collect points.” He asks: “Why should we allow a commercial program to decide what books we should purchase for our schools?” Serafini worries about the effect on publishers: “My biggest fear is that AR will influence publishers’ decisions and limit the choices available for students.”

On the other side, Jim Trelease, author of The Read-Aloud Handbook (, says: “I hear ten times more positives than negatives” about reading incentive programs. Among the positives, he cites these: “Students read a significantly larger number of books at all levels as a result of incentives,” and “With the increase in usage and demand, the library now contains a larger and newer book collection.”

With 60,000 schools—half the K–12 schools in the country—embracing AR, writers may be more inclined to participate now and take sides later. I’m favoring the Serafini camp. “Children end up rushing through books,” he warns, “neglecting the aesthetic experience of reading, to get to the computer test to score points.” Agree though I do, I e-mailed Renaissance Learning ([email protected]) to ask how to get my book onto their list.

They instructed me to send two copies to the Title Selection Coordinator, Renaissance Learning, Inc., P.O. Box 8036, Wisconsin Rapids, WI 54494, with a cover letter describing the book’s awards, positive reviews, and distribution (whether it is available through major school library suppliers).

I complied, and after six months Trail Fever got its very own AR quiz, No. 102632. I checked the list for Magyk, too, and found that AR has caught up with the book’s popularity: Magyk is quiz No. 86518. Because Magyk has ten times more words than my brief chapter book, it awards readers an attractive 18 points, against a mere 2 for Trail Fever. (The Hello, Goodbye Window, like most picture books, rates half a point, and near the other end of the scale Moby Dick gets you a whopping 42 credits. The curious may search for their own titles at

Will the daughter read Magyk, I wonder, now that her efforts will earn her pencils and candy? Can my easy two-point book compete with the more lucrative mega-tomes? Most of all, I wonder, whatever happened to “Reading is its own reward”?


Deborah J. Lightfoot is the author of three books of history and biography, including Trail Fever (by D.J. Lightfoot) and The LH7 Ranch (under the byline Deborah Lightfoot Sizemore). She’s been a member of the Authors Guild since 1995 and a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) for about as long. Her first young-adult novel, Waterspell, is now out with her agent. It’s long enough to score piles of AR points. Follow its fate at

The Works: Anatomy of a City

Imagedbcgi_6 On the suburban boulevard where I grew up, a greenbelt with a creek a drainage ditch surrounded by grass ran the length of the street, and my friends and I spent hours there fishing for tadpoles, swimming in the ditch when it rained, and lounging in the huge under-the-street pipes during dry spells. A lot of drama happened at the ditch.  I remember a group of us getting scolded every whichaway by Sugar, an adult neighbor who had stalked over in high heels and a slip. Most likely the scolding concerned an infraction by someone's dog; this neighbor had a lovely yard and a dislike for pets, none of whom had never seen a leash in its life. Still, it was hard to listen, given Sugar's attire.

My seven-year-old is very interested in pipes, drains, grates, tunnels, and the like; one of his ambitions is to see the Hoover Dam. Last night we watched a TV show about the history of plumbing.  Needless to say, Junior would have loved a drainage ditch in front of the house. Meanwhile, for both of us, I bought the coffee-table book The Works: Anatomy of a City, by Kate Ascher, after seeing Jody Rosen's mention of it on Slate. The inside flap reads,

All cities, big and small, rely on a vast array of interconnected systems to take care of their citizens' most basic needs: keeping water bubbling through the pipes, traffic moving on the streets, power flowing to businesses and home. Largely invisible and almost always taken for granted, these are the basic building blocks of urban life.

Using short text and awesome graphics, Ascher's book examines the infrastructure of New York City, but, of course, you can apply what you learn to other cities and towns, too. Although The Works is written for adults, interested children will enjoy reading it with grown-ups and perusing it on their own, provided somebody is nearby to help with the vocabulary. It's no substitute for plunging into a fast-running creek during a rainstorm, but I think even Sugar would approve of sitting down with a good book—just not in her yard, please.

Seeking Feedback: Caldecott, Newbery Webcast

Looking at my stats, I see that many readers tried the hyperlink for the Caldecott and Newbery webcast yesterday. Was anyone able to see it? I am afraid that the answer is going to be that very few people were able to get on. Please let me know in comments here, because I plan to write a letter to the American Library Association.

If you tried and did not get to see the webcast live, I apologize. I never would have provided such a frustrating link if I had known it would not work.

Thanks, as always, for visiting Chicken Spaghetti.

Newbery and Caldecott Awards Announced Today

Here are summaries from the America Library Association's web site, which is sporting a handy link on its home page. (I added hyperlinks to online bookstores so that we could see the winners.) Take it away, ALA:

John Newbery Medal for the most outstanding contribution to children's literature

The Higher Power of Lucky, written by Susan Patron, is the 2007 Newbery Medal winner. The book is illustrated by Matt Phelan and published by Simon & Schuster/Richard Jackson.

Three Newbery Honor Books were named: Penny from Heaven, written by Jennifer L. Holm and published by Random House; Hattie Big Sky, by Kirby Larson, published by Delacorte Press; and Rules, by Cynthia Lord, published by Scholastic.

Randolph Caldecott Medal  for the most distinguished American picture book for children

Flotsam, illustrated by David Wiesner, is the 2007 Caldecott Medal winner. The wordless book is published by Clarion.

Two Caldecott Honor Books were named: Gone Wild: An Endangered Animal Alphabet, written and illustrated by David McLimans, and published by Walker, and Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom, illustrated by Kadir Nelson, written by Carole Boston Weatherford and published by Hyperion/Jump at the Sun.

Meanwhile, there are more, more, more prizes, including the Printz and Coretta Scott King. My hero James Marshall, who died in 1992, received the Laura Ingalls Wilder award for "a substantial and lasting contribution to literature for children." Amen to that. Long live The Cut-Ups!

10th Carnival of Children's Literature

The 10th Carnival of Children's Literature, with links to blog posts hither and yon, is available for your reading pleasure. Cheers for the amazing Kelly Herold, who hosts this rawther large endeavor at her blog, Big A little a, and does so much for the community of children's book blogs. Hip, hip, hooray! Kelly started Poetry Friday, she founded the Edge of the Forest online magazine, and co-founded the Cybils awards. I elect Kelly Mayor of Munchkin Land, don't you?