Monthly Archives: August 2007

Poetry Friday (how ’bout some lyrics?)

Just came back from a daytrip along the glorious Niagara Escarpment.  The last true day of holidays before the Labor Day weekend.

No car trip can work without tunes, and it’s usually my job to pick them.  Sarah Harmer seemed just right (she’s so often just right), especially because of her activism protecting that part of the world.

One of my favorites from her latest CD, I am a Mountain, is Oleander.  Given my rather abysmal history with houseplants, this song speaks to me and makes me feel like a naughty, naughty little plant owner.  After what happened last year, I’m seriously rethinking the whole classroom plants idea…

Oleander – by Sarah Harmer

Oleander, Oleander

Will you bloom again this spring?

I adored you

Then I ignored you

And now to me you’re eveything

And those white blossoms that you gave freely

Are now just twinkles in my eye

Oh behold her

Oleander grows on the inside…

For the rest… or better yet, Sarah singing it herself, visit Sarah Pretty.


A Fine, Fine School


Like all the rest of the elementary teachers in the country, I’ve been thinking this week about the books I want to read to my gang in the first week of school.  I make sure that I get a lot of picture books in there right off, because I want all of them to know that they’re not too grown up for that.  I think it’s important to give them permission to enjoy having someone read aloud to them.  I’ve already decided that book #1 is going to be Scaredy Squirrel, mostly because you can’t be breathing and not fall in love with that crazy little paranoid critter.

I will definitely make time for Sharon Creech’s A Fine, Fine School because I hope that it will launch good discussion about the places that we can learn and the value of different kinds of knowledge.  If you don’t know this one, it traces what happens when an overly passionate principal, impressed by the many merits of his school, students and staff, decides that too much of a good thing is wonderful.  He institutes longer school days, school on holidays and weekends and all year long.  Some questions I plan to throw out there are:

  • What’s the most important thing you’ve learned outside of school?
  • How is classroom learning different from learning that happens in the world outside?
  • If you had one more day away from school each week, what would you do with the time?

I know one of the big things that’s on my mind as the last summer hours trickle by is the approaching vortex of the fall term.  What I saw and experienced in my summer travels has inspired me to vow to keep my perspective bigger this year, and Creech’s story is one way to help me to keep that promise fresh in my mind.

Robot Dreams


Finding Sara Varon’s Robot Dreams makes you feel good because you feel like you have stumbled upon this delightfully perfect and brilliant thing that hardly anyone knows about yet.  You read.  You feel charmed.  You smile.  You sigh.  You feel just a teensy bit self-satisfied as you enjoy this sweet fable of friendship, loss and forgiveness.  You swear that you will visit the graphic novel section of your local bookstore more often to find hidden treats like this little gem.

You must get this book this minute! You must read it and then give it to your child or any child you can find (or any adult for that matter).  You will be thanked and the recipient will think you are oh so on top of the latest, greatest and coolest things literary.

Then check out Sara Varon’s site to find out more about her amazing work.

Robot Dreams is published by First Second.

My Book Fortress: Stage One

School is coming.  7 summer days remain.

And so , in a bold act of self-preservation, I have decided all that is left to do is build… a book fortress.


My cat has agreed to be “booked” into the fortress with me, as long as I bring enough stinky sardine food and his mouse pillow.

Here he is inspecting the early phase:

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(Thank you to the Toronto Public Library and the Flying Dragon Bookshop – my partners in this desperate act).

Jack Prelutsky Fun

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When I taught poetry last year, one of my aims was to get the kids to realize that Shel Silverstein is not the only funny poet in town. Don’t get me wrong, I get a hoot out of Shel as much as they do (Runny Babbit has to be one of the most hilarious books ever – and so clever). I also know that Shel Silverstein’s work has helped many a kid get excited about poetry. I just don’t think that children’s experiences with poems should begin and end there. So when I introduced their poetry recitation assignment and I announced that I would hear only 2 Shel Silverstein poems, there were many pouty faces. But I was unmoved! I schlepped out giant bins full of delightful collections and told them to get searching. I kept on waving around the Jack Prelutsky books and shouting, “Funny poems! Funny poems!” like some kind of fisherwoman. I was surprised at how few children jumped at them at first.  Perhaps it was because they were not shiny and new-looking. Then one of the boys who was having a hard time finding anything he liked, ended up with one of the collections. After a few minutes of page-turning, he took it off quietly into the corner of the classroom library all inconspicuous, the way my dog carries off a treat that is really good to enjoy privately.

One of my super-cute girls did an outstanding recitation of “We’re Fearless Flying Hotdogs.” Who knew that hotdogs could possess such complex emotional lives?

We’re Fearless Flying Hotdogs

We’re fearless flying hotdogs,
the famous “Unflappable Five,”
we’re mustered in formation,
to climb, to dip, to dive,
we spread our wings with relish,
then reach for altitude,
we’re aerobic weiners,
the fastest flying food…

You will find the rest of the poem here: Jack Prelutsky Fun on Jack’s great site, complete with jazzy music. To do so, you must catch the flying hotdog.


Each Little Bird that Sings


Ok… so I know that everyone else out there has already figured this out, but Deborah Wiles can really write.  I’ve been put off Love, Ruby Lavender because I didn’t think I could stand the sweetness.  After reading this, I am now prepared to persevere.

I love this book. I really do. It has taught me some important things:

1) More novels need to contain recipes.

2) I can learn to love – and not be annoyed by – characters with completely outrageous names like Comfort and Peach and Declaration (well maybe not Declaration… still pretty annoying).

3) Just because a story has a strong streak of down-home country charm doesn’t mean it can’t be every bit as important as pretentious “literary” stuff that 6 people in the world claim to understand.

I’ve always found it hard to believe people who say, “I finished the book and I loved it so much I just turned straight back to page one and started all over again.”  I don’t do that sort of thing.  Actually I don’t think I’ve ever done that sort of thing.  Wiles’s book has many moments that could stand up to immediate rereading, that’s for sure.

In my estimation, this is definitely an “Openmind” title (a book to challenge and change kids’ perspectives), because Wiles does not shy away from bringing kids face to face with how devastating death can be.  I’m sure some children would find this book pretty difficult, especially if they had experienced a loss.  I don’t quite know how I’d pitch it to parents at the bookstore.  Just about any combination of the words “funeral home,” “kid,” and “death” usually get mom and dad antsy.  Not exactly the best birthday party pick.  All the same, I’m glad that Wiles was able to prevent herself from making everything turn out all perfect in the end.  I know I will find a way to frame it because it is an outstanding piece of fiction.  I cried – we’re talking messy tears here (fortunately I was in the tub).  Very few books make me cry like that. It really should have won the E.B. White Sob Aloud Award.

I am eager to read her latest, and to give Ruby Lavender a proper chance, sweetness and all.

Each Little Bird that Sings is published by Harcourt.

SMART List #6: Lauren Child is absolutely and always forever a favorite

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Exhausted after a mere 24 hours of auntie-ness, I feel it is the moment to praise the sheer perfection of just about everything Lauren Child comes up with (hence the initiation of a new category: “Brit Hits”). Yes, I am a tad disappointed by the commercialization of little Lola, but I have to admit, if I were 5 years old, a Charlie and Lola haircut sticker book would be the essence of cool, and most of the time, Child still gets it smack on with the funny stuff. Besides, once you look beyond all of the Charlie and Lola craziness to the rest of her work, you see she’s no one-trick pony. (List arranged roughly according to age appeal – younger to older readers).

I will not ever NEVER eat a tomato

I am not sleepy and I will not go to bed

I am too absolutely small for school

That Pesky Rat

What Planet are you from Clarice Bean?

My Uncle is a Hunkle says Clarice Bean

Hubert Horatio Bartle Bobton-Trent

The Princess and the Pea

Utterly Me Clarice Bean (chapter book series)

Lauren Child has a newish website – many sections are still in the works. The design of her bio page is brilliant and hilarious. Go directly to Official Lauren Child Website.

Why oh why does it seem like some people possess the creativity that should rightfully be shared by 50 of the rest of us? The world is cruel.

Road Trip Reads

I’m off to play Super Auntie for the weekend and I’ve decided to read In Search of Mockingbird on the bus, since I hear that most of the story takes place on a bus. I’ve been curious about this one since I picked up the ARC at the bookstore, but it got lost in the summer stack.

Before I have my say, here’s what everyone else thinks about it: Chasing Ray, propernoun, Becky’s Book Guide. (It’s also on the list of possible titles for consideration at Sharon’s Newbery).

This got me wondering about road trip stories for kids.  Anyone know any greats aside from Polly Horvath’s The Vacation?

A little Can-Con (Canadian Content): Rex Zero and the End of the World


Tim Wynne-Jones’s Rex Zero and the End of the World is a quiet book that deserves to get noticed, and with 2 recent awards, it likely will be (2007 Boston Globe – Horn Book Award Honor Book, CLA Book Award 2007).

It’s summer 1962, and Rex Norton-Norton (Rex Zero to you) is a ten-year old kid who has just moved from Vancouver to Ottawa.  He has those typical new kid concerns – will he make friends? what will the new school be like? – and he has much bigger things on his mind – rumours of an escaped panther in the local park, the Russians, the Big One, backyard bomb shelters. The story traces the events of Rex’s first summer in the city, its lazy days underscored by the distant but ever-present possibility of nuclear disaster.  I love Rex’s voice, and the clever way Tim Wynne Jones has Rex say things that are hilarious in a completely unselfconscious way.  Rex’s family is charming and kooky: Cassiopeia – who craves sophistication, Annie Oakley – who builds a bomb shelter out of old Punch magazines, the dog Kincho who no one really wants, and the baby – “the Sausage.”

It’s hard to really describe what this book is about.  Part of what makes it feel rich and real is the fact that there isn’t one single thread of story that pulls you through the book.  Rex has a lot of questions, and worries big and small.  There are many things going on in his head and so the story drifts between the day-to-day workings of family life – car trips and meal time and watching tv, to the messiness of the outside world.  It’s a book that manages to be simple, but deep.

The book has an old-fashioned feel that belies its current relevance.  I imagine kids today feel most of the time that they’re getting just part of the picture when it comes to what’s going on in the world.  Rex faces different “unknowns” during his first summer in Ottawa, and figures out a few mysteries.  There are so many books out there for kids about “the summer that changed everything.”  It’s kind of a cliche.  What I like about this one is the fact that yes, this is a summer of change for Rex, but the changes are subtle, and of the kind that he probably won’t recognize or begin to understand until he’s much older.  This is a book that makes you wonder about who Rex will become, because you imagine he’ll turn into one cool teenager.

Let’s hope Mr. Wynne-Jones has been busy writing this summer.  We want more Rex.

Rex Zero and the End of the World  is published by Groundwood, House of Anansi Press

Elf Envy – Random Round-up

Today just felt like the right day for my first foray into Round-up land.

Here are a few juicy items that made the Elf envious aujourd’hui:

A cool co-review of Knuffle Bunny Too and The Wall at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.

Fuse 8 pointed me to a new mock Newbery site, Sharon’s Mock Newbery. I’m curious about several of the titles that are up for consideration.

Semicolon has assembled some sensible and fantastical bookshelf possibilities. I must have a Book Cave. I must.

I’m liking the sound of Emily Gravett’s Little Mouse’s Big Book of Fears described in Times Online by way of Achockablog. Shades of Scaredy Squirrel perhaps? What’s not to love?

Thank you to The Miss Rumphius Effect for her teacher-type poetry idea: the cento. Fun stolen do-it-yourself poems. I like.

I will try to be clever all by myself tomorrow.