Monthly Archives: February 2008

Poetry Friday: Kristine O’Connell George

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I’m getting ready to dive into teaching poetry again, and so I’ve been revisiting resources that I’ve used successfully and tinkered with before. Kristine O’Connell George’s website is a gift to teachers. Here’s why:

1. The Poetry Aloud section offers audio clips of many of Kristine’s poems from most of her books. Get the kids to listen in order to learn a bit about how to recite a poem effectively. Then they can podcast their own poetry!

2. There are oodles of amazing ideas for using Swimming Upstream (Kristine’s poetry collection on Middle School life) in the classroom. How about reading some of the student-written poems inspired by the poems in this collection? Check out the Teacher Guide and Discussion Guide for even more to do.

3. Speaking of Teacher Guides and Discussion Guides, Kristine has downloadable Educator Guides for all of her books, packed with ideas that are practical and fun. (Feeling spoiled yet?)

You can read a few of the poems from Swimming Upstream: Middle School Poems here. I like Sunday Night Meltdown. And Fold Me a Poem? To borrow a phrase from my students, “This book rocks.” Wrap it up with a few packages of snazzy origami paper. Slap a bow on it. Instant birthday present perfection for the poetically inclined.



Attention boy book reviewers / readers / bloggers / book industry types (OK, and you girls listen up too)!

For those of you who are not “in the know,” there is an awesome bloggy idea hatching as we speak, and it shall be called: GuysLitWire. Colleen Mondor, of Chasing Ray fame, came up with this master plan to create a marvelous site devoted to book recommendations for teenage boys. The site will be produced by the collective brain power of many bloggers and friends and it will consist of all manner of glorious things: interviews, playlists, reviews, rants, lists, meant to encourage, inspire and entertain teen guys. If all unfolds according to plan, the site will “go live” by June.

At the moment, what is needed is more men. We need men! Men to read. Men to review. Men to write posts and do interviews. Men.

So, if you feel like being a GuysLitWire guy, Colleen would love to hear from you (colleenatchasingraydotcom). Who wouldn’t want to hang out with all kinds of brainy book girls from every corner of the kidlitosphere? (And girls… I bet she wouldn’t mind hearing from you either. So join in!)

Elf Envy: Random Round Up

A few enviable links worth looking at:

Spring 2008 Book Sense Children’s Picks List is out and about.

Colleen at Chasing Ray offers us Adult Books that Teens Will Love (2008 Edition!)

New blog alert!!! I.N.K. (Interesting Nonfiction for Kids) offers lots of news and reviews to challenge readers to “rethink nonfiction.” Thank you INK-sters from teachers everywhere.

I’m loving the sound of Sherri L. Smith’s new book, Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet. She’s been hanging around the kidlitosphere these days at The YA YA YAs and at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.

A few days ago, Miss Erin interviewed Elizabeth C. Bunce, author of A Curse Dark as Gold. I didn’t think it was possible to want that book any more than I already wanted it. I was wrong.

Thanks to bookshelves of doom for the link to lots and lots of purty bookshelves. I like this one. Cute but not so functional. (Like me?):



Non Fiction Monday: Graphic Library Series

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Here’s a simple way to test a book for kid appeal in the classroom:

1) Buy book.
2) Hide in classroom library amongst older, non-flashy titles.
3) See how long it takes for the kiddies to locate new book and fight over it.

By this measure, Capstone Press’s Graphic Library Series has significant kid appeal. I can’t slide one of these puppies into the classroom library bins without a bookworm finding it within minutes. At the moment, I have just a few Graphic Library titles in my class and I would be happy to have more.

If ever you needed to convince someone of the educational merit of the graphic novel genre, I can imagine that these books might be just the back up you need. The amount of information in the texts is considerable, and it is conveyed in a completely accessible manner. There’s a lot of supplementary material that will serve to deepen kids’ understanding of the subject matter and head them towards further investigations: a timeline, glossary, bibliography and list of related websites comes at the end of every book. The graphics are dynamic, bright and the layout is clean and pretty slick looking.

There’s nice diversity in the subject matter (heavily American, but hey, what can ya do). The series seems to have a fairly decent multicultural focus overall, and many of the texts address issues of social justice and equity and would offer a starting place for more discussion and learning along these lines.

I found a link at The Graphic Classroom that describes how Capstone is bringing out Interactive CDs as companion pieces to some of these texts. They sound pretty cool, with animation and sound effects and other features too. If only every school could have equal access to resources such as these. If only…

I feel guilty just looking at it…


I feel guilty just looking at this. Don’t you? And yet… if The Luxe followed me home in all of its terrible, satiny pinkness, I’m fairly certain Meg Rosoff wouldn’t stand a chance at the moment. So parents, listen up! This is what happens when you deny your teen the right to read trash now and then, instead feeding her a steady diet of the “Great Works of English Literature.”

If you’ve read this temptress of a book, now’s the moment to:

a) tell me why I should cave and read The Luxe when I have so many proper books in my TBR pile

b) splash some cold water on my face and explain why it’s SO not worth my time or $

My inner-struggle is all thanks to Leah McLaren’s article in today’s Globe and Mail. Then I revisited Naomi Wolf’s NY Times piece on YA Fiction and the response over at Read Roger. I can’t sort it out. I just want the pink satin dress.

Poetry Friday: The Wizard

I’ve read as many negative reviews as positive ones for Jack Prelutsky’s The Wizard. Too commercial, an insult to Wiccans everywhere, not as memorable as many of Prelutsky’s poems …

Dare I say it … I like this book? Sure, I think that it’s really Brandon Dorman’s outstanding illustrations that make this work. They are gorgeous – somehow lush and clean-looking all at once, the detail and the light effects on every page sweep you into the wizard’s world. You cannot help but want to slow down and pore over this book – and that’s quite something given how little text there is. Dorman’s pictures bring out the best in Prelutsky’s poem, which is, I confess, not the finest example of his poetic prowess.

I can see that this book will work beautifully as a read aloud in a poetry unit with young to middle elementary students. It seems perfect for a lesson in visualization. I’d like to read it to my class without showing them the pictures and then get them to draw what they imagine before revealing the illustrations. Here’s the opening:

The wizard, watchful, waits alone
within his tower of cold gray stone
and ponders in his wicked way
what evil deeds he’ll do this day.

He’s tall and thin, with wrinkled skin,
a tangled beard hangs from his chin,
his cheeks are gaunt, his eyes set deep,
he scarcely eats, he needs no sleep…

I think you could probably manage a whole poetry unit on a magical theme with this book as a launch. That could be one way to make poetry a tad more palatable to the masses. I am reminded of another wizard-themed poem that I love (it’s a list poem): Ian McMillan’s Ten Things Found in a Wizard’s Pocket. You can hear an adorable primary student from Devon reading this poem here.

So go buy or borrow this shiny, slightly-spooky gem for any budding poet/magician. It’s too much of a visual stunner to miss.

Raising a Foodie Through Reading: How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World


If I were to make a list of 13 things every kid should experience before they turn 13, making an apple pie would likely be on it. Was there ever a better way to turn a kid into a foodie than by way of apple pie? First of all, all kids deserve to fiddle about with their own tiny pieces of pie crust scraps and sprinkle cinnamon-sugar over the leftover bits. Of course it is most desirable that the kids visit an orchard and pick the fruit themselves, if at all possible. I made a few apple pies with my Granny when I was young, and what I remember most is how long it seemed to take – the peeling, the slicing, the measuring, the crust-making and chilling and rolling and filling. And then, the waiting. That took forever.

Marjorie Priceman’s lovely book, How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World, would be the ideal way to pass the time after everything is washed up and the pie is crisping and bubbling and wafting its buttery, sugary, apple scent about the kitchen. It’s a bit whimsical and old-fashioned in appearance – a friendly-looking book in which a young baker describes the journey she might take to various countries around the world to procure ingredients for her apple pie. The book serves not only to entice potential baby bakers, but teaches a bit about geography and the global marketplace at the same time. It may be an easy and engaging way to get youngsters to think about how far our food often travels before it makes its way into our ovens and fridges and bellies. After that, they can read The 100 Mile Diet (ha ha).

Perhaps instead you might start off with one or two of the food-ish titles recommended just the other day by the ever-fantastic Esme of Planet Esme Book-a-Day fame.

Hungry yet?

Enola Holmes


This is the kind of book I would never have had bought for me when I was a kid. Here’s why:

1) It has the nerve to be a “take off” of a masterpiece of English literature (!).

2) It’s not written by a Renowned Children’s Author (or by a Brit, which would automatically lend it some merit.).

3) It seems unlikely to teach worthy, lasting life lessons (or Latin, for that matter).

(Dad… I hope you’re not reading this).

Joking aside, my Dad was the book-buying man when I was a kid, and he bought me stacks of books very regularly, with great generosity. The upside of this is that I became a complete bookworm (thanks Dad). The catch was that I was only given books of a certain sort (very British, very classic, very historical, very profound). So it shouldn’t surprise you to learn that before I was a teenager, I was given Conan Doyle’s The Complete Stories of Sherlock Holmes Volume I. And I read it… well… most of it.

Not only did I read it. I loved it. (How many 12 year olds have read The Sign of the Four because they wanted to?) Even now, after a whole load of reading, Holmes remains one of my most beloved fictional characters. So it was with serious trepidation, and fighting some deep-seated prejudice about what books are “worthy”, that I opened Nancy Springer’s first Enola Holmes Mystery.

Enola Holmes is the much younger sister of Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes, but she has had hardly any contact with her brothers throughout her childhood. The story begins when Enola’s mother disappears on the evening of Enola’s fourteenth birthday, bringing Sherlock and Mycroft to Ferndell Hall, the family estate, to investigate this mystery. A few secrets are unearthed early on, and the Holmes brothers decide that the best place for their young sister is a finishing school. Enola chooses to escape to London by bicycle, dressed as a widow to evade her brother’s detection. She seeks her mother, and soon finds herself caught up in another disappearance. With Sherlock and some nasties on her trail, Enola needs every bit of her pluck, wit and level-headedness if she is to solve these two mysteries and make her own way in the world.

This book is a delight. Enola is a fiesty, intelligent and vulnerable character. I like how she sees things nobody else does, and slowly comes to trust her own instinct and skill. She’s a “go-to-it” sort of girl. This makes her a character that girls today will identify with. In fact, Enola feels rather modern in spite of being very carefully and convincingly situated in the 19th century. The plot ticks along with a few surprises and some remarkable descriptive passages. Try this:

“All around me towered a man-made wilderness, buildings taller and more forbidding than any trees that ever were. My brothers lived here? In this – this grotesque brick-and-stone parody of any world I had ever known? With so many chimney-pots and roof-peaks looming dark against a lurid, vaporous orange sky? Lead-coloured clouds hung low while the setting sun oozed molten light between them; the Gothic towers of the city stood festive yet foreboding against the glowering sky, like candles on the Devil’s birthday cake.”

Yes! I think even Dad would approve. My only complaint? It would have been nice to have a little more Sherlock in the story. His appearance was all too brief. So, what I hope for in the next two books in the series? More Sherlock please. He deserves a greater presence. More than anything else, I just want more Enola. If Enola makes a few kids curious about the adventures of her famous brother, I would be very pleased indeed.

Read Enola, and then read this:

Or the other way around, I suppose. Worked for me.

A few other reviews:

A Patchwork of Books
Chasing Ray
Books for Kids Blog
In My Book
Welcome to My Tweendom
Fuse 8
Fuse 8 on the newest Enola title
SLJ’s review of the Audiobook (Great. I want this now too)



I see Gordon Korman as a one-size-fits-all childrens’ writer. It’s tough to find a kid who doesn’t find something to like in his books. They’re readable. They’re accessible. There’s always a little humour and a few light life lessons. Korman has a good thing going, and Schooled is in these respects, classic Korman.

Cap (Capricorn) Anderson hasn’t done a lot of things. He’s never eaten pizza, never used a cell phone, doesn’t know about soap operas or school cafeterias or football teams or bank accounts. This is all due to the fact that he’s been raised and home-schooled by his hippie granny, Rain, on an alternative farm commune. After Rain breaks her hip while harvesting plums in their orchard, Cap is thrust into the “real world.” He moves in with a social worker and her teenage daughter and heads to the local middle school. The inevitable result is a whole lot of hilarity at Cap’s expense, not to mention considerable cringing as we witness an earnest and clueless Cap crash headlong into the 21st century. The nasty/popular crowd at C Average Middle School (nickname for Claverage M.S.) selects Cap as the perfect candidate for 8th Grade President with the intention of getting as many laughs as possible from the hapless home-schooled oddball. Naturally, the plan doesn’t take the kids in the direction they had predicted.

Like all of the other Korman books I’ve read, I put down Schooled feeling that it had been worth my time, and knowing that I could find many a kid or teenager who would be happy to read it. Korman can be right on with humour, and there are some honest chuckles to be had here as Cap encounters all of the confusion and crap and warmth and nastiness buzzing about the hallways of C Average Middle School. It’s a fun read, told in an multiple first-person narration which is engaging – if not conducive to nuanced characterization. There are some implausible elements that you just have to ignore (the school principal handing a book of signed checks to the Grade 8 President for social expenses), and some simple lessons that can handle some light pondering (what it means to be cool, etc.).

In my bloggy wanderings, I’ve noticed a few homeschooling reviewers not too pleased by Cap’s over-the-top strangeness. There are moments when he approaches the point of caricature. However, while Cap is weird, we’re rooting for him, and in the end, he’s the kid with complexity, understanding, and heart. I don’t think homeschoolers should be up in arms about this one. Also, it’s worth remembering that most MG / YA protagonists aren’t exactly the picture of normalcy. That’d make for some pretty boring reading. So don’t take it personally homeschoolers – we’ve got plenty of weird ones in the mainstream school system too. I’ve read numerous reviews in which Schooled is compared to Stargirl. Confession time: I have not read Stargirl (gasp!). I will read it soon, very soon, and let you know what I think about a possible Schooled / Stargirl combo-read for a teen book club near you.

I’ll leave you with a passage from the book that rang very true. It’s moments like this one that make Korman’s books worth reading:

“Garland Farm followed simple logic: you plant tomato seeds, you get tomato plants. No seeds, no tomatoes. Cause and effect. But a real school was so messy and random that solutions sometimes fell into place by sheer luck. It was almost like getting tomatoes without first planting seeds.”

I couldn’t agree more.