Monthly Archives: May 2008

Elf Envy: Books I want that other people like (a lot)

Yesterday I came home to piles upon piles of books (OK… it was 7 books, but they’re free and they were waiting for me, and that’s pretty fantastic). Even more fantastic is the fact that one of these books is RAPUNZEL’S REVENGE by the lovely Shannon Hale. Yippee! Hooray! Jubilation! I’ve been wanting to read it ever so much, especially after Miss Erin’s gush-fest. Now I can.

If you’re in the mood for something spooky, I suggest you head over to read Kelly’s review of In the Woods over at Big A little a. It’s almost summer, so mysteries are allowed. Unlike during winter, when we read “serious books.” ūüôā

I love the sound of Band Geek Love. Let the YAYAYAs make you love the sound of it too. I was a total control freak and band geek in high school, so I’m all over this one.

Daphne and Coe over at The Longstockings recently interviewed Adrienne Maria Vrettos, the author of Sight, which is about a girl who happens to be psychic. It sounds exciting – a glimpse into an experience so out of the ordinary.

Jen R lets us know that The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey (the sequel to The Mysterious Benedict Society) is, in her opinion, “slightly stronger than the first.” Sold!

A new Karen Hesse book? Cannot wait. Fuse #8 tells all in her review.


To dance: a ballerina’s graphic novel

I read the Graphic¬†Novel¬†memoir¬†To dance, by Siena Cherson Siegel and Mark Siegel, for the¬†first time¬†quite some time ago. Then a week ago I read Miss Erin’s SBBT Interview with Siena Cherson Siegel and it inspired me to read it again. Now that I’ve reread it, I realize, I need my own copy. This is a book¬†filled with¬†heart, warmth and passion. There are some books I know I will want to be able to read again at different points in my life, and I think this is one of them.

One of the aspects of this Graphic Novel that impresses me the most is the fact that the story is told in a way that is completely natural. It’s not dressed up or fanicified or overdone in any way. Siena Cherson Siegel tells the¬†simple story of¬†her journey into dance, her family life, her growing up. It’s like a true sliver of someone’s life, not glamorized. This sort of story gets into me more than any overly dramatic plot line ever can.¬†¬†Of course, the other reason this slim text is remarkable is Mark Siegel’s art. Every page is a rich visual experience. The palette is¬†bright, with many petal-hued¬†colours, and the images are full of energy and movement (no surprise!). There are so many images that will just stop you in your tracks. I slowed down especially at the section when Siena is experiencing the wonderful busy intensity of backstage life for the first time, and then you draw in close and everything¬†darkens as she watches the dancers¬†all alone from the wings. Wow. You are right there.

If you haven’t read To dance: a ballerina’s graphic novel, you really ought to. It belongs in every library, and in the hands of all young (and not so young anymore)¬†dancers, artists¬†and dreamers. Enchanting.

More information can be found here: To dance. And here’s a brief interview with Siena at School Library Journal.



Nonfiction Monday: National Geographic Biographies: Anne Frank

Anne Frank: The Young Writer Who Told the World Her Story by Ann Kramer is part of National Geographic’s World History Biographies Series. The biography is marketed as an introduction to Anne’s story for readers who might not yet be ready to read her diary. The format of the text is very visually appealing, with excellent balance of text and images, numerous¬†photographs of the Frank family and the Secret Annex, and a timeline that runs along the bottom of the pages throughout the entire¬†book. You feel like you are getting a real glimpse into Anne’s world and experiences.¬†The background of some of the pages is the same plaid pattern found on Anne’s actual diary itself, which I think is a lovely design touch. The text¬†is divided into manageable sections focusing on Anne’s early years, the period of hiding in the Secret Annex and the family’s discovery and deportation. Interspersed throughout are several sections to provide background information or context on the historical period (Jews In Europe, Kristallnacht, The Holocaust). The writing is straightforward and accessible.

National Geographic is pitching this book for the 8-12 range. I don’t think most 8 year olds are ready for the intensity of the content here, not to mention the¬†strong images related to concentration camps in the section on The Holocaust. As always, presenting a text with this type of content means that you have to really know the child who will be reading it. In fact, I think that in some ways, if a child isn’t ready for Anne’s actual diary, they might not be ready for this book. I first read the Diary when I was about 11 or 12, and I would have really been interested to have this book at my side. It would be a good companion text for Anne’s beloved book.

You will find a listing of the other titles in this series at National

The Color of My Words

Discovering a wonderful book that was not published 5 minutes ago always makes me feel like I’ve unearthed something secret. The fact that all of the hype and discussion and chatter about the book has passed is quite freeing to me as a reader. I can just experience the book for what it is, and not feel pressured to feel the same way about the book that the rest of the world feels. It’s like coming to a new place without any preconceived ideas about it. Sometimes it’s refreshing to step out of the whirlwind of what’s new and what’s hyped and to explore the many, many worthy books already out there.

The Color of My Words by Lynn Joseph is this kind of book. It’s not new. It’s just lovely. It tells the story of Ana Rosa, a twelve-year-old growing up in a small community in the Dominican Republic. She longs to be a writer. She is full of stories and curiosity and dreams. Her family and neighbors don’t have it easy. It is a struggle to make ends meet, and so much depends on the vagaries of the tourist economy. Nevertheless, Ana Rosa’s family is pretty strong, and she has particular love for her older brother who is desperate to create a better future for himself. Seeing Ana Rosa’s talent, her family finds small ways to support her writing and Ana Rosa begins to experience the power of words to create change in the world. When tragedy comes to the family, Ana Rosa’s faith in words and poetry faces its first great test.

Writing a beautiful, affecting book is hard. Writing a beautiful, affecting, short book must be very difficult. Joseph’s novel is slim, and yet it examines difficult and complicated issues (poverty, alcoholism, economy in a developing country) in a sensitive and thought-provoking way. You will fall in love with the voice in this book. Ana Rosa is a character you really believe in. It’s strange to feel you have hopes for an imagined person, but you really do hope that Ana Rosa’s life will be rich and fulfilling. This is an eloquent story.

Teachers, The Color of My Words is made for the classroom. It would be the perfect read aloud, seeing that it’s short, with strong characters and growing suspense throughout. Here are a few teaching links with suggestions for using the novel in the classroom:

Color of My Words Webquest
Literacy Conversations with Color of My Words
Books & Curricula for Social Justice

Poetry Friday: Tree

Tree – by Jane Hirshfield

It is foolish
to let a young redwood
grow next to a house.

Even in this
one lifetime,
you will have to choose.

That great calm being,
this clutter of soup pots and books‚ÄĒ

Already the first branch-tips brush at the window.
Softly, calmly, immensity taps at your life.

(OK… so I know I’m not really supposed to¬†give you¬†the whole poem – but it’s so beautiful and so small and it cannot be broken into two tiny pieces. So, to make up for this, please go read more of Jane Hirshfield’s poetry over at Poetry Foundation).

(photo © Michael Jastremski for CC:Attribution-ShareAlike)

Weekly Geeks: Issue Books


I haven’t joined into the Weekly Geeks fun over at The Hidden Side of a Leaf.¬†Until now. Each week, Dewey offers up a topic related to books and blogging and interested bookish geeks (like me – and you perhaps) create¬†posts on that theme and drop off links at The Hidden Side of a Leaf, creating a delightful collection of interesting, thematically connected posts. Fun, yes?

This week, I couldn’t resist the subject: “Choose a political or social issue that matters to you. Find several books addressing that issue; they don‚Äôt have to books you‚Äôve read, just books you might like to read. Using images (of the book covers or whatever you feel illustrates your topic) present these books in your blog.” .

My topic: Global Food Issues

My books:

Chew on This – by Eric Schlosser

The 100-Mile Diet – Alisa Smith and J.B. Mackinnon

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle – Barbara Kingsolver

What the World Eats – Peter Menzel and Faith D-Aluisio

If the World Were a Village – David Smith and Shelagh Armstrong

I’ve only read the last two of these, but the first three have been on my TBR list for months. Now that Barbara Kingsolver’s latest is out in¬†PB I will likely succumb and treat myself, having shown restraint for many months.¬†I have to take a moment to¬†sing the praises of What the World Eats because it is such an incredible, eye-opening book (not to mention visually stunning). If you get a chance to take a look at it, you will find profiles showing the amount, the total cost¬†and the types of food eaten by families in 21 different countires around the world. What’s really cool about this text¬†is the photography. There’s a shot of each family along with all of the food they consume in one week. It is so striking to see the remarkable differences between how much and what kind of foods people eat in different countries. When presented in¬†this visual way, the inequality of global food¬†distribution really hits home. This book is amazing for any educator.

Weekly Geeks Unite!


Ode to Jellaby

As mentioned in my post below, I’ve got Odes on the brain this month. So, I thought I would depart from the typical and offer up an Ode to Jellaby rather than a conventional review of Kean Soo’s adorable, lovely graphic novel. (No rhyming folks… it’s Sunday morning and I’ve only had one cup of coffee). Ahem:

Ode to Jellaby

Oh Jellaby, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
Thou art purple,
a secret,
a gentle giant.

Thou art a faithful friend to young Portia,
an eater of tuna fish sandwiches,
cut flowers
and ramen.

Thou art loyal,
and bold,
an outsider
far from home.

Thou art… a dinosaur?
A dragon?
An imaginary friend?

Whatever thou art, Jellaby,
this much is true,
I’m more than ready
for more of you.

Here’s some more Jellaby love:

Fuse’s Review
100 Scope Notes Review
A 7-year old’s review over at 123oleary

Poetry Friday: Morning – Billy Collins


We’ve been learning about odes in my class this week. When I asked the kids if they had ever heard the word “ode” before and if they had any idea what it meant, one of them raised his hand and said (in complete earnestness), “Yeah, an ode is something that smells bad.” I swear it’s¬†surprises like that that keep a teacher alive half way through May. So I’ve found an ode for Poetry Friday¬†today, one of my favourites: Morning by Billy Collins. In fact, I am in complete agreement with Billy on the superiority of morning compared to¬†all other times of the day. I am a morning person – as much as my tired teacher brain is attempting to convince me otherwise these days. I will continue to repeat that phrase, “I am a morning person. I am a morning person…” (between cups of strong coffee)¬†all the way til June.¬†¬†

Morning – by Billy Collins

Why do we bother with the rest of the day,
the swale of the afternoon
the sudden dip into evening,
then night with his notorious perfumes
his many-pointed stars?
This is the best –
throwing off the light covers,
feet on the cold floor,
and buzzing around the house on espresso‚ÄĒ

maybe a splash of water on the face,
a palmful of vitamins‚ÄĒ
but mostly buzzing around the house on espresso,
dictionary and atlas open on the rug,
the typewriter waiting for the key of the head,
a cello on the radio…

That is what I’m hoping my upcoming long weekend will look like. Please do read the last stanza over at Poetry Foundation.

(photo photo © Darren Hester for CC:Attribution)  

Meme of Five

I’m not much of a meme-girl. In fact, this will be my first ever meme. I’m doing it because it’s a¬†simple one, and because Jenny, of¬†Read.Imagine.Talk. asked me to, and she seems nice and she says she reads my blog all the time and therefore she is lovely.

Here’s the deal:

  1. The rules of the game get posted at the beginning.
  2. Each player answers the questions about themselves.
  3. At the end of the post, the player then tags five people and posts their names, then goes to their blogs and leaves them a comment, letting them know they’ve been tagged and asking them to read the player’s blog.
  4. Let the person who tagged you know when you’ve posted your answer.

What were you doing five years ago?

I was just at the tail end of my job as a pastry assistant in a very chic pastry shop here in the city. I was pretty much done with the seemingly bottomless grouchiness of my boss and was happily getting set to head off to NYC to take a course in artisanal bread-making. I was living with my guy. I had a 2-year old terrier and a 5-year old Siamese. I dreamed of opening my own pastry shop. Life was opening up to new possibilities.

What are five things on your to-do list for today (not in any particular order)?

1. Walk the hound (a couple of times).
2. Finish reading Jellaby.
3. Try not to eat more of those mini chocolate bars I hid from myself in the cupboard.
4. Teach small children stuff.
5. Mark. Mark. Mark. And then mark more.

What are five snacks you enjoy?

1. Olives
2. Tamari almonds
3. Cheese bread
4. Dark chocolate
5. Homemade granola

What five things would you do if you were a billionaire?
(not in order of action folks!)

1. Open a children’s bookstore.
2. Pay off the mortgage (OK boring, yes, but true).
3. Give money away to family, friends and causes I believe in.
4. Buy an apartment in Paris down the street from my favourite café in the world.
5. Fix my lawn, and my back sliding doors, and my front porch, and our windows and… and…

What are five of your bad habits?

1. I’m not very cool-headed when I have a zillion things to do.
2. I can be a tad fiery (my Irish blood).
3. Eating cookies when I feel sad. (A bad habit for a former pastry chef who makes very, very yummy cookies).
4. Buying books when I feel sad. (A bad habit for a newish teacher who has many years and many courses to take before she moves to the top of the pay scale).
5. Compulsive worrying about big and small things.

What are five places where you have lived?

1. Schomberg, Ontario
2. Bolton, Ontario
3. Toronto, Ontario
4. New York City (but only for a few months)
That’s it!

What are five jobs you’ve had?

1. Lifeguard
2. Pastry Chef
3. Chocolate Maker
4. Teacher
5. Children’s Bookseller

Now… for my victims. I shall tag:

Miss Erin
Squeaky Books
A Year of Reading
Welcome to my Tweendom

(Don’t feel you’ve got to ladies!)