Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Thing about Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin

I had a good cry earlier today.  It was after I woke up at 5:20 am to finish reading Ali Benjamin's The Thing about Jellyfish. I had no idea it was going to be a six tissue book, but it truly was.  In fact, it probably could have been more but I sniffled quite a bit.

Suzy and Franny had been best friends since kindergarten.  In sixth grade they drifted further and further apart until they were no longer friends. Then on one of the last days of school, Suzy does the unthinkable to Franny to remind her of their friendship.  But instead of bringing them back together they spend the summer apart.

That August Franny drowns.  How could this possibly happen?  Franny was such a good swimmer, even when she was little.  Suzy turns to the jellyfish for answers. Silently determined she concocts a plan to prove she is right and has complete confidence she can do it.  "The trick to anything is just believing you can do it.  When you believe in your own ability to do something, even something scary, it gives you an almost magic power. Confidence is magic.  It can carry you through everything." (p.285)

After Franny's death, Suzy stops talking.  We hear her thoughts but no one else.  At one point, Suzy reaches out and calls Franny's mom. When they are both silent, Suzy is ok with that. "It's peculiar how no-words can be better than words.  Silence can say more than noise, in the same way that a person's absence can occupy even more space than their presence did." (p. 277)

What a great book about friendship, love, forgiveness, family and coming of age.  Just make sure you have time to indulge (you won't want to put it down) and a full box of Kleenex nearby.

Save Me a Seat coming May 2016

Save yourself an afternoon, grab your favorite school lunch and a bowl of blue peanut M&Ms and then open up this wonderful collaboration between Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan because you won't want to get up from your seat before it's finished.  Kudos to these two authors for demonstrating to all of us how  "teamwork does make the dream work"  (that just happens to be our school wide theme this year) YES! Proof it works!

Ravi (pronounced rah-VEE) just moved to Hamilton, NJ from India with his parents and grandparents. On the first day of school, Ravi notices Dillon Samreen immediately as someone who is also Indian and thinks they will become fast friends. Little does Ravi know that even if it's only the first week of fifth grade, a lot can happen between Monday's chicken nuggets and Friday's pizza.

Then there's Joe. Not only has Joe had his fill of being bullied over the years, especially from Dillon, he now has to deal with his Mom being the new lunch monitor. Life is not easy for Joe but that doesn't stop him for sticking up for Ravi. When no one else pronounces Ravi's name correctly, Joe does in his head.  He even tries to get others to do the same. As a reader, I wanted to make sure I was saying it right, also, so when Joe kept practicing it in his head I noticed that I was, too. rah-VEE. rah-VEE. rah-VEE.

I caught myself biting my nails and screaming inside for Ravi to discover the true Dillon and a friend in Joe.  To the end, I was cheering hopelessly for our zebra heroes to outsmart the crocodile with thoughts that nothing could be worse than chili day, or can it?

Each chapter bounces back between Ravi's and Joe's voice, making this a truly awe-SOME, don't-want-to-let-go, read.

I want to:

  1. Eat some Indian food (glad there is a recipe in the back of the book) and peanut M&Ms
  2. Call up Sarah and Gita and say, "Great book.  Your collaboration worked!"
  3. Go out and get a copy for my library and all my young Sarah Weeks fans

But here is what I do instead:

  1. Sit on my hands and drum up some patience since the book doesn't come out till May 10, 2016
  2. Write this up and make note to remind folks in May to pick it up
I have been a Sarah Weeks fan since the Oggie Cooder days.  Now, not only am I a Weeks fan but a Varadarajan fan, too.  I look forward to seeing what they both could be dreaming up for the future.  Until then, I'll be in my kitchen whipping up some naan khatais with a side of apple crisp.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

House Arrest by K.A. Holt

Do you know my crazy, magical story about Karianne Holt and how I discovered her writing?  It was about a year ago when I was chatting with Kwame Alexander through my test Skype a day or two before our Skype with my students.  Kwame and I chatted for over five minutes and during that time he recommended I read Holt's Rhyme Schemer.  I remember scribbling it down on some random piece of scrap paper on my desk.  Hours later I reserved a copy from the public library.  But I didn't have to read the library copy.  Mysteriously in the mail only a few days later came a copy of the book!  To this day, I have no idea how it came to me, if it was coincidence or purpose. Whatever it was, I have been a KA Holt fan since.

Then I was lucky enough to get a copy of House Arrest , a novel in verse, and am thankful I took this past holiday to enjoy every morsel of it.  I finished it while we were driving home from Vermont yesterday and was glad the tissue box was nearby.

I just wanted to hug (even though he wouldn't want me to) Timothy every minute of the book.  I wanted Mom to get a break and have a moment to herself and of course, I just wanted to Levi to be able to breathe easily, say "Brother", sing and dance.

After Timothy steals a wallet so he can buy his baby brother, Levi, his expensive medicine, he is caught and gets put on "house arrest" for a year.  During this year his probation officer, James, and his psychologist, Mrs. B, require him to write in a journal.  House Arrest is his journal.  Written in verse, you want to make sure you not only have tissues by your side, but a chunk of hours because you won't want to be interrupted in your time together with Timothy.

If you are anything like me, you will cheer for Timothy as he opens up to James, expresses his feelings to Mrs. B, starts crushing on his best friend's sister, perseveres in writing to a doctor in Ohio, and gets closer and closer to the end of his house arrest.  The last few weeks just got my heart racing so fast (it's still racing thinking about it) and my eyes welled up.  As much as I want to talk about the ending, I won't because you should enjoy this gem of a book on your own with no spoilers from me. Then, once you do, please get in touch with me so we can talk about it together.

a handful of stars by Cynthia Lord

Warning:  You will crave anything blueberry, especially a big, overflowing bowlful of fresh, tiny, sweet Maine blueberries.

Unfortunately for me, I did not read Cynthia Lord's a handful of stars when it was released this spring when blueberries were closer in season than they are now so since it is late November, my mouth is just watering.

I have been a fan of Lord's since I first listened to the audio book of Rules.  I still remember cleaning the kitchen floor so that it would "shine like the top of the Chrysler building" so I didn't have to turn off the CD player.  From then on, I'm always excited when Lord writes another book and this last one did not disappoint.  It's as sweet as those blueberries I'm craving.

The blueberry puns won't be lost here either as I say that the lessons learned are packed in this story as the blueberries in a pie.  When Lily's blind dog, Lucky, runs off into the blueberry barrens, Salma, a migrant worker from Florida, saves him from going off into the unfamiliar forest by giving him her lunch.  The next day Lily goes to the camp where Salma is living to bring her family a pork pie to thank her and they almost instantly become friends.  Lucky, too.  In fact, when Lucky jumps into Salma's lap, Lily explains that "...maybe he just heard the friendship in her voice." The first clue that Salma, Lily and Lucky are going to be friends.

Lily's painting and selling bee boxes to raise money  for an operation that might get Lucky to see again. To do that, Salma starts helping her. Salma uses her imagination and paints more creatively than Lily.  That's ok since as Dr. Katz, the veterinarian says,  Different can be good...It makes you pay attention."

On top of that, Salma has decided to enter the local Blueberry Queen pageant, the one that Lily's friend, Hannah won last year.  Hannah offers Salma to wear her dress from last year and Lily is torn between her friend she is drifting away from and her new found friend.  Lily is protective of her bond with Salma and is weary of including Hannah, "Some things are magic between two people, but they fizzle when anyone else gets involved."

Ahhh...and the reference to Robert McCloskey's Blueberries for Sal is lovely.  I really enjoyed revisiting a favorite picture book.

I would never have imagined that my heart would be pounding and that this book would be a page turner, but it was.  I really wanted Salma to win the crown, stay in Maine and the money to be raised for Lucky.  "Real truth is never easy" says Lily, however with this book it just works.

So,  before you begin, jump ahead to page 77, find the ingredients, whip up a blueberry enchilada, and seek out your comfie chair for this star-filled novel by an author we love.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Wednesday's Mystery Skype

A group shot of Mrs. Yager's class and our Mystery Skype class on the SmartBoard
How do the people that blog every day manage to do that?  I can't keep up with my own responsibilities at school, at home and then to find a few extra minutes to reflect on the day.  So even though we had our "Mystery Skype" last Wednesday, I wanted to make sure I wrote about it since it was pretty cool.

Once again, another shout out to Twitter.  Somewhere along the way, I began following and she followed me back, a librarian from a state that-will-not-be-named just yet.  Then a few weeks ago I got a Twitter DM asking if we'd like to mystery Skype.  Sure!  I'm really up for anything and everything.  Her students were researching regions of the country and wanted to chat with a third graders from the Northeast. We can do this and I knew a good class to do it with.

I asked Mrs. Yager if she was game and of course, she was!  I am a big promoter of Capstone and Pebble Go so when Mrs. Underhill (the librarian from that state that-will-not-be-named) said she was using PebbleGoNext, I got right on it and asked for a trial.  Mrs. Yager's third graders came in on Friday, did a little research and took notes on our great state of New York and we were almost ready. Then, with Mrs. Yager they each drew a picture depicting something about our state/region (NY Giants, Empire State Building, Erie Canal, a tree in autumn, pumpkins, dairy farm, etc).  They also had yes/no questions to ask our new friends so we could try and figure out where they lived.

Wednesday afternoon we were ready! So exciting!  There were the kids from our mystery state, projected on our SmartBoard wearing shorts and t-shirts.  Hmmmm....Then we started asking questions.  "Do you have snow?" "No." "Can you swim outside now?" "Yes." Interesting.  "Do your leaves change colors in fall?" "Not really." They asked us questions, too. "Are you near Arizona?" One of our students actually drove to Arizona one summer so he knew the answer to that, "No!" Finally they were ready to guess.  "Are you in New York?" YES!  Bingo! Excellent job!

It took us just a little longer to figure out their state.  But once we did, it was so exciting on our end, too!  It was also neat to find out that they live in their state's capital and we live near ours!  We're capital twins!  We only had a little bit more time left so each student shared their artwork and we took a picture together (not the clearest, but still fun to do).  Mrs. Underhill asked if we'd like to be penpals and of course, we said, "Yes!"  Does that mean we'll be receiving snail mail?  How cool is that?  I received an email from her shortly after the Skype and she said her students wanted to draw pictures of their state and community and send them to us.  We're on the lookout for them!  I have to give Mrs. Yager the credit for starting that.  Great idea!

So once again, Twitter has come through for me.  You have reminded me that the world is flat and small, and that is not a bad thing.  Also, anything is possible.  Thank you, Twitter, for connecting us to our new friends in the South. Until the next collaboration...

In Castleton looking at Tallahassee

Getting excited to see our friends in Florida

The view from Florida looking at us

Another view of us in New York from Florida

Thursday, November 19, 2015


PINCH ME!  Did today really happen?  Did we really have a Google Hangout (not the best quality, mind you, but we made it work) with Anna Kang and Chris Weyant?! Did they just chat with us as if we were hanging out with them in their office and kitchen? Give a thumbs up if you think the answer is YES! THUMBS UP!

Holy moly! If you have not read the 2015 Geisel award winning book, You are (Not) Small, go out and get it! Then, go out and get their newest book, That's (Not) Mine, featuring the same characters. Perfect books for the first grader (and BIG first graders, like myself!).

I had NO IDEA our Mock Geisel project would turn out as wonderful as it has so far, and we've only been doing it for two weeks.  The Geisel community is so warm and welcoming and open.  I feel like we have made so many new friends just through these books and our students.  The kids are so excited to read the Geisel contenders and score them.  They are honest, too!  They have no qualms about giving a book 2-3 stars and saying that they would not be interested in reading a sequel or other books by that particular author.  Thankfully, we all wanted to read more of Anna and Chris's books because there are going to be a total of five (so far!).  Different characters but still same awesomeness!  Woo-hoo!  AND we got to see the cover of the next one which will be released in May. Yay!

Despite the poor sound quality, and me having to mute our end of the conversation, the hangout was great!  The students came up and asked questions and I typed them in.  There is no lag time with the typing so Chris or Anna answered the questions almost immediately.  Anna showed us the new book and Chris showed us some sketches. They talked about the writing and illustrating process and how long it takes to make a book.  The kids were surprised it took a year (or more!). Regardless, teamwork makes the dream work.

Anna and Chris are such wonderful people.  Mrs. Pryde already put a bug in my ear that she wants them to be our author/illustrator visit next year.  Hmmm....we might be able to make this work (wink-wink).  At least it's only a car ride away.  You know how you'd just LOVE to see Castleton, New York, right?

We are thinking we want our Geisel Committee members to have special t-shirts.  How cool would that be?  And we have a crazy idea for the design but we also asked the kids to come back by Monday to see if they had any ideas.  Stay tuned.

Check out these pictures. I'll put my arm out the next time I see you to get that pinch!

Anna showing us the book that comes out in May featuring a frog!

Posing with BIG Chris!

Posing with BIG Anna (with me on the left and Mrs. Pryde on the right)

Another shot of us all riveted by Anna and Chris!

Thanks again to Anna and Chris for taking time out of their day to be with us and being patient as we figured out the technology and making it work!  Hooray for Anna! Hooray for Chris! Hooray for Geisel!  

Our 2016 Castleton Elementary School Geisel Committee Members!

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

9 yo Guest blogger/reviewer of RED

I was lucky enough to snag an ARC of Red by Liesl Shurtliff at AASL and my 9 year old son just finished it and loved it! Here's his review:

by Liesl Shurtliff
Review by Zack

Red is the story of “Little Red Riding Hood”, but with a twist. Red is a witch that is afraid of her own magic. Then her granny gets very sick. Her granny has the recipe for the “curious cure all.” So Red goes to the woods to find ingredients for this potion. She meets a girl named Goldie. Red becomes friends with Goldie. She is a girl with blond hair and together they travel to search for the ingredients.  While in the woods they meet a huntsman and a wolf. Once you get farther into the book, you realize that Red, Goldie and the Wolf are not going for the potion ingredients any more. What they end up searching for are red wine, red roses and magic hearts.  Do they find them?  Does Granny get better? You’ll have to read this great book to find out!

I didn’t want to stop reading “Red” because it was just so good.  I was shocked at the ending because I didn’t expect that something that did happen happened.  The book was intense pretty much from start to finish.  I couldn’t put it down.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Madeline on my mind

I was in Paris this summer with my daughter.  We explored and discovered the magic  for 2 1/2 days. It was an amazing way to to end our 12 day excellent European adventure.

I've noticed that the attacks on Paris have affected me differently than any other foreign terrorist attack of recent times.  Is it because we were just there?  Is it because we can visualize a Paris map and know where we were with respect to where things happened?  It is because we fell in love with Paris and now that it is hurting, we are too?  Whatever it is, we are feeling it.

And then there is Madeline, our beloved children's book by Ludwig Bemelmans.  I always loved Madeline and so when Tari loved her before the age of 4, I was thrilled.  Especially because at that age, you read and re-read and re-read the books again and again.  And in Tari's case, we actually got the audio books out, too, and I remember listening to those stories over and over and over and over, making car rides quite bearable if bearable means listening to the same story at least 12x.

I still have Tari's Madeline doll, although she has moved from her bedroom to my library.  We also bought her the Madeline book that teaches about manners.  I think Tari was having some etiquette issues and we thought if anyone can teach her how to be polite, it will be Madeline.  I think it worked.

Being the kind of person that always wants to be surrounded by friends, family and love, I envied Madeline.  Twelve girls in two straight lines, together, forever. There would never be a loss for a friend or someone to play with.  I was envious. She even made getting your appendix out look fun.

Here it is, November and it's Picture Book Month.  This is a time set aside to celebrate picture books. A time to single out the beauty and wonderfulness of picture books.  Some of my all time favorites are truly the classics:  Madeline, Where the Wild Things Are, Make Way for Ducklings, Blueberries for Sal, The Snowy Day, I'll Fix Anthony even The Little House.  There are more--too many to name! I have newer ones as favorites now too:  Flotsam, Knuffle Bunny, Beekle, Nana in the City and even a 2015 favorite, Float, that I hope gets a medal of some sort in January.

There is nothing like turning the pages of picture book and taking in the sights, sounds and text of each page. In 32 pages, picture books take you to places you have never been, real or imagined.  They introduce you to new friends, new ideas and even teach you how to solve problems and continually stress the importance of family and loved ones.  They are the most perfect way to escape, learn and explore.  Happy Picture Book Month!

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Reflections on AASL in Columbus--PART 1

Yes, we got back to the land of Great Danes and Saint Bernards on Sunday after living in the Buckeye State (and NOT even tasting a buckeye!) for three nights but, as usual I needed some time to sit back, think about it all and then process the experience.

It was another great conference.  After Mrs. Harris came with me in 2013 to Hartford to present about our Newbery project, she hasn't turned down a library conference since and this one was no exception!  So there she is picking me up at 5:30 am on Thursday so we could head out for our 8:00 flight to Columbus.

All went smoothly with our travel and we managed to check in, unpack with time for some lunch and ice cream at the North Market
Maria, from Buffalo, and I leaping at Jenis Ice Cream.

Boy was that Oatmeal Cookie ice cream sandwich delicious!

and then to our first event, the IdeaLab.  It was there that we met up with a few old friends and already made some new ones.  My favorite "booth" was the one about the Elementary Library Centers.  Those women are amazing and so creative! Here's a link to the presentation they were sharing from Carolyn Vibbert:

Heidi Hayes Jacobs was the opening keynote. I don't think anyone will argue with you that she wasn't inspiring and motivating.

The exhibits opened that evening and Karen and I had a good time meeting more people, especially some friends from Texas.  I am always in awe of their enthusiasm and energy around conferences and their connectedness to one another.  Whenever I see tweets from Texas librarians, it makes me want to be a citizen of the Lone Star State.  Hey! I'd be proud of any state that Anne Richards hailed from and lead!
Super Librarian with Maria!

In her next life, Karen will be a Super Librarian! For now, "Super Teacher" will do!

We had a fun dinner out that night with Sue Kowalski and the crew from Britannica.  Lots of learning going on there, really.

Friday, for me, was literally an authorpalooza.  It started out with a huge bang in a front row seat at Shana Corey's facilitated panel that included Shannon Hale, Sara Pennypacker and Troy C.  

Just a few stars right here.  BTW Sara has a new series coming out, Waylon
Can't wait! I almost snagged an ARC but missed my opportunity!

Yeah, I got Shannon to leap with me!  

I just realized that if I write about every minute detail it will take me days to post.  This really must be the highlights.  And forward to some exhibit time meeting Sean Qualls, illustrator extraordinaire and then our last workshop of the day facilitated by Matthew Winner and where some new friendships were made and others strengthened.

I wish we had The Case for Loving around to leap with. I just love that book!
But I love Emmanuel's Dream, too!

Love this picture!

I met Shana for the first time when she came with Chris Grabenstein to CES.  
It was so great to hang with her!

 And leap with her!

See the woman in the hat?  That's Gennifer Choldenko!

 With Marc Nobleman
It was here that I learned that I am one of the guilty ones that was fortunate to Skype last year 
with Jonathan Auxier of The Night Gardener fame.

The headless leap because Jonathan is so tall!

Karen moved back to get the full leap!

With Matthew Cordell (you must read his new book, Wish, with a tissue by your side) 
and my friend, Loren Long

Karen told Loren that Little Tree reminded her of her upcoming retirement. Ahhh....

How lucky am I to get these guys to leap with me?
(from left: Matthew Cordell, me, Loren Long and Matthew Winner)

I am going to have to make this a two parter--Stay tuned for more reflections and of course, more leaps!  

What I Spied at the Pediatrician's Office Today!

I brought my 13 year old in for her annual physical today.  Very exciting--we moved to the other side of the office.  No more crying babies. No more Curious George posters.  Now it's the 2015 versions of "Say no to drugs."  Seriously.  But the MOST exciting part of our visit was that on our way out, next to the prize stickers, we spied these cards:

Side 1

Side 2

The first thing Tari exclaimed when she spotted the card was, "Look!  It's Ivy and Bean!"  and then she grabbed it and wouldn't let go.  It must have brought back some fond memories, you know those innocent days of 2nd and 3rd grade when she had not a trouble in the world and could just cuddle up with a good book.  Yeah, those days...

I was excited, too, but for different reasons!  I had just been mesmerized by Sophie Blackwell this past weekend when she participated on a panel in Columbus at the AASL Conference!  She was amazing!  Not only that, later she leapt with me!  Sophie is a delicious illustrator!  I was so pleased to meet her and even chat with her a bit.  She shares a work space with Brian Floca and other fine illustrators.  Sophie had a great story about how she kind of had a feeling he might win the Caldecott for Locomotive that in advance of him winning the award and before she went on a trip hiking on some remote mountain (I forget where), she had a bottle of champagne chilling in their fridge in their studio.  When he calls her to tell her he has news, Sophie says, "Check the fridge."  Man, I had to dig around for a tissue then. So moving.  

It's great that Sophie is working on this initiative.  I hope all people understand the essential value of vaccinations and take them seriously.  Here is a link from Sophie's webpage about her work on this global cause:

Here I am with the incomparable, Sophie Blackwell!  Woo-Hoo!

We look so cute with our matching headband and scarf!

I love Sophie's fist pumps with her leap!
Thanks for the JUMP!  Funny story here--while we were jumping, it looked like so much fun that Dana Walrath asked to leap with me!

I love seeing the reactions of our bystanders, including Sophie!

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Ready, Set GEISEL!

My ride is picking me up at 5:30 am to catch our plane for Columbus, OH for the AASL conference.  I am tired and need to go to sleep...BUT today was AWESOME!  We had our 2016 Castleton Elementary School Geisel Committee Kickoff!  Mrs. Pryde's first graders walked into the library, got their OFFICIAL Committee credentials with a photo and a full round of congratulatory applause.  We read their welcome-to-the-committee letter out loud and then we FaceTimed with JoAnna Schofield, a member of the 2015 Geisel Committee.  JoAnna was INCREDIBLE!  She spoke at the kids' level and told us a lot of good stuff.  She even showed us some artwork from Anna Kang, Christopher Weyant and Mo Willems gave her after the Geisel ceremony. Wow!  Mrs. Pryde and I are so pumped for this project!  The Committee Members each have a personal notebook to use to score their books and take notes and they each received a Dr. Seuss pencil.  Oh yeah, and we can't have a celebration without my famous "Rattner Popcorn."

The Committee Room before the members arrived!

The letter, credentials and a little "Rattner Popcorn"

Committee Member Grace

Mason getting congratulated by Mrs. Warland

Look at that SMILE!  Is he happy to be on the Geisel Commitee or what?!

Pre Leap for the GEISEL!

And more congratulations are due!

It was such a great day!  Mrs. Pryde tweeted a collage:

So, now my friends, I must get a few hours of sleep before my ride arrives for my next adventure.  I am looking forward to seeing old friends and making new ones at AASL!  See you there!