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December 2007
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February 2008

Chipmunk Tale

Chipmunk How Chipmunk Got His Stripes
by Joseph Bruchac and James Bruchac
illustrated by Jose Aruego and Ariane Dewey
Dial Books for Young Readers, 2001
ISBN-13: 9780142500217
32 pages

A lively picture-book version of an old Native American story, written by Joseph Bruchac and his son, James, who are of Abenaki heritage. Big bossy Bear brags that he can do anything, including stopping the sun from rising. A skeptical squirrel challenges him on that, and when daybreak comes the next morning, Brown Squirrel gives Bear endless rounds of grief. Bear's anger and a swipe of his paw onto Brown Squirrel's back turn the smaller creature into something else. Young readers won't miss the poor outcomes of bragging and teasing, needless to say. Aruego and Dewey employ a colorful naif style to show all the animals involved as well as the passage of time; Bear is goofy enough not to be really scary. Seven or eight year olds who want to read a shorter book on their own won't go wrong with How Chipmunk Got His Stripes.

I've found that kids love these pourquoi tales. The educators' web site ReadWriteThink gives this helpful definition: "Pourquoi stories are stories or folk tales that explain how or why something exists (usually in nature)."  Perhaps part of the appeal for children comes from looking at ordinary things in a new, magical light, too. You can find a long list of additional pourquoi recommendations at the Center for Children's Books.

A Quarterback's Mom Helps Out

It was not the first time [Eli] Manning and his mother [Olivia Manning] had bonded over stories. Long before he learned to read defenses, Manning struggled to decipher Dr. Seuss. “I had trouble reading,” he said.

The inadequacy he felt drove him deeper into his shell. “As a child, it’s embarrassing and frustrating,” Manning said. “They call on students to read out loud in class and it’s one of those deals where you’re praying the whole time that they don’t call on you.”

His mother, he said, was influential in helping him improve his reading so he would not have to repeat first grade. “She worked with me and stayed patient,” Manning said. “Her laid-back attitude and her soft Southern drawl helped me keep calm about it. She’s the one who kept telling me it would all work out and it did.”

From "Eli Manning Took Cues from Mother," a profile of the Giants quarterback, in the New York Times, 1/29/08. Written by Karen Crouse.

Go, Giants!

For Kids Who Like Facts: Orbis Pictus Award

Each year the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) gives out the Orbis Pictus award for excellence in children's nonfiction books. Here is this year's roster, announced last week. Some of these books are familiar Cybils nominees*, while others don't ring any bells to me at all. I'm off to the library to put in a request for Clarabelle. I can't resist a good cow book.


M.L.K.: Journey of a King, by Tonya Bolden

Honor Books

Black and White Airmen: Their True History, by John Fleischman*
Helen Keller: Her Life in Pictures, by George Sullivan
Muckrakers, by Ann Bausum*
Spiders, by Nic Bishop
Venom, by Marilyn Singer


3-D ABC: A Sculptural Alphabet, by Bob Raczka*
Animals in the House: A History of Pets and People, by Sheila Keenan
Clarabelle: Making Milk and So Much More, by Cris Peterson
Living Color, by Steve Jenkins*
The Snow Baby: The Arctic Childhood of Admiral Robert E. Peary's Daring Daughter, by Katherine Kirkpatrick*
Tracking Trash: Flotsam, Jetsam, and the Science of Ocean Motion, by Loree Griffin Burns*
The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain, by Peter Sís*

Today marks the beginning of Nonfiction Monday, a weekly event started by Anastasia Suen. Going forth, the author plans to gather together all Monday blog posts about nonfiction for children. Curious five to eight year olds should look for Suen's latest book, Wired, which is all about electricity*. Junior has already applied much of what he read there to what he sees in the neighborhood: "Look, Mom. It's one of those step-down transformers!" You can catch the roundup later this afternoon at Suen's blog Picture Book of the Day.

Thank you to Franki, at A Year of Reading, for the Orbis Pictus news.

Poetry Friday: Sweet Thang's Allison Whittenberg

Bbs28poster_2 It's Poetry Friday! Follow me to the corner of  "52nd and Spruce" to read Allison Whittenberg's poem at flashquake, an online literary journal.

A poet, playwright, and children's book author, Whittenberg is one of 28 writers and illustrators who will be featured at the Brown Bookshelf blog during the month of February. That blog's "28 Days Later" initiative is a "celebration of vanguard and emerging children’s authors of color."

Whittenberg's novel for nine to twelve year olds, Sweet Thang, was a Washington Post "Book of the Week" back in June. The Post's write-up began,

Charmaine Upshaw is 14, and she's discovering, the hard way, that life just isn't fair.

She's smart and funny, but that doesn't matter much because she still has to share a bedroom with her annoying, tap-dancing brother, Leo (totally unfair). When a favorite aunt dies (again, not fair), her spoiled 6-year-old cousin moves in. With an extra mouth to feed, Charmaine's mom has to go to work, leaving Charmaine to care for her cousin. (Could life get more unfair?)

Continue reading the review here.

On a serendipitous note, in the same issue of flashquake is "Tidal Chart," a poem by the kidlitosphere's own Mitali Perkins.

The Poetry Friday roundup of posts is at Mentor Texts today.

Ghost Hunting, Wimpy Kids

Like many kids his age, my eight year old likes ghosts and spooky tales. His favorite read-alouds of the past couple of weeks have been Cornelia Funke's Ghosthunters and the Incredibly Revolting Ghost (#1 in a series) and, currently, Ghosthunters and the Gruesome invincible Lightning Ghost (#2). Junior even got up early so that he could hear "just one more chapter" before school this morning. Starring a nine-year-old boy, the books are more exciting than scary, and include a good bit of humor. And while no one will mistake the writing for E.B. White's,  an adult may find the books easier on her ears than, say, the various A to Z Mysteries or Magic Tree House titles. (Granted, the Funke series is written for somewhat older children.) My husband reports that the audio versions are fun to listen to, also.

On his own, Junior is reading Diary of a Wimpy Kid, which was a breakthrough book for a classmate. This buddy (a girl) had never read a chapter book all the way through, but read most of Jeff Kinney's comics-heavy bestseller in one sitting. She was way excited to hear about the sequel, Diary of a Wimpy Kid #2: Rodrick Rules. Although the official publication date isn't until February, that one is already in stores. I haven't read either yet, but the first certainly sounds funny from Junior has read to me.

First-Grade Festivities with My Reading Buddies

Olivia and Sofia like to write words. Give them a dry-erase board and a marker and they're going to want to copy sentences from a book. Then the three of us sit around and admire their writing because it's so nice and neat. I read with the first-graders one day a week at their school; they're so, so close to having their reading skills come together. I mean, look at those boards!

Right now, reading contractions aloud is hard for these six-year-old scribes. "We're" looks like "were," "it's" is kinda strange, and "I'm" occasionally eludes them. "Tickle," though? No problem. "Tickle" they can read. Today they both read a short new book to me, and needed help only with the contractions. Afterward I read Mr. Putter and Tabby Walk the Dog to them. In that advanced beginning reader (more of a second-grade book), the main character and his cat care for a dog, Zeke, while Zeke's owner recovers from an injury. Zeke fails to manifest self control, and Mr. Putter thinks that he is a "nightmare," instead of a dream dog. "Why does he keep saying that!" Olivia wanted to know; she didn't care for describing Zeke that way.

One of the last pictures is a two-page spread of a party that Mr. Putter and Tabby have when their Zeke-walking stint is over. Their relief is palpable (to an adult), but what Olivia and Sofia liked was Arthur Howard's illustration of a table laden with cupcakes, cookies, a teapot, and a pie. "Let's draw a party!" Olivia said. They madly erased all their sentences on the dry-erase boards and drew inviting- looking parties, both of which included refrigerators to keep the drinks cold. Streamers filled the air; balloons floated among the guests. Olivia added a piñata, and Sofia made sure to have doughnuts. They put plenty of chairs around each table. All of us wanted to go those parties.

What a fine way to spend a cold, dreary winter morning.

Lit. Carnival, New "Edge of the Forest," Awards

The January Carnival of Children's Literature is going on right now at Wizards Wireless.  Check out lots of posts on the theme of literary awards.

Don't miss the new issue of The Edge of the Forest, an online journal about children's books. It's chock full of reviews, interviews,and feature articles.

January brought the announcement of the 2008 Charlotte Zolotow award, which honors outstanding writing in a picture book. Greg Foley's Thank You Bear was the #1 choice. You'll find more recommended books at the link, too.

One final list for readers today: the American Library Association's 2008 Notable Children's Books.

The Chicken Gazette, 1.19.08

Fancyimagedbcgi_2 If you're stopping by here for the first time, welcome. I usually write about children's books and other literary matters, but on Saturdays I talk about chickens, too. With a small coop in the yard since last summer, I have been documenting my son's and my adventures as suburban chicken-keepers. And to excuse this self indulgence stay helpful book-wise, I include picture books featuring barnyard fowl as part of the post.

I picked Patricia Polacco's Just Plain Fancy as today's book. It has a neat setting: the Amish community in Pennsylvania. Two young sisters find an unusual egg in the pasture and put it under their hen to incubate. But they misunderstand some adult rules, and become very worried about their flock's unusual new hatchling. Polacco writes with empathy about children's fears and other emotions, all the while telling an engaging story. This book is a third-grade read-aloud at my son's school, and like the rest of Polacco's work, the reading level is at least that grade or higher.

If you'd like to hear about our backyard chickens, keep reading after the jump.

Continue reading "The Chicken Gazette, 1.19.08" »

Poetry Friday: Twelfth Night

"When that I was and a little tine boy,
With hey ho, the wind and the rain,
A foolish thing was but a toy,
For the rain it raineth every day."

So begins the clown's song at the end of "Twelfth Night," which is my favorite of Shakespeare's comedies. I'm in the middle of re-reading it as I gave myself the Complete Arkangel Shakespeare for Christmas. This week I've been playing the "Twelfth Night" CD and following along in my Riverside Shakespeare. I started doing that on occasion years ago when I lived in the city and tried to see a lot of the Bard's work.  (The free Shakespeare in the Park was especially fun. In the old days, you'd have to wait on line for tickets for hours and hours, which was part of the experience.) It often helped to know the play a little bit, so I would look for recorded versions beforehand.

Sometimes the audio strategy backfired. I remember listening to a splendid "Two Gentlemen of Verona" on tape, and then the live production sagged in comparison. On the other hand, I still recall with fondness an Off Off Broadway version of "Measure for Measure" in a tiny theater next to a loading dock in Tribeca. For a long time afterward, I kept a quote from the play on my desk: "Our doubts are traitors,/And makes us lose the good we oft might win,/by fearing to attempt."

Here's my plan. We'll see if it works out. Read and listen to a play, and then rent a DVD of a good production. And, of course, seek out live professional performances when I can. Since I'm not in the middle of London or New York, I will have to look a little harder for those. After "Twelfth Night," I'll move on to "Richard II" (love that "royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle" speech) and then tackle "Henry V." And keep going after that, of course. Why do any of this? I think you can't see, hear, or read too much Shakespeare. That's all.

"A great while ago the world begun,
With a hey ho, the wind and rain,
But all that's one, our play is done,
And we'll strive to please you every day."

The weekly roundup of other Poetry Friday posts hies over to my friend Becky's place, Farm School, on January 19th.

If you have a favorite book about Shakespeare or a favorite production or DVD, please do leave a comment. I'd love to include some criticism and biography in my reading. (I have Harold Bloom's door-stopper and Northrop Frye on Shakespeare.) In March my pals at Constant Reader on GoodReads discuss "Romeo and Juliet." Stop by!