Monthly Archives: June 2008

How I Learned Geography

This story is one of the most moving picture books I’ve ever read. I’d heard lots about it before picking it up, and it met expectation in every respect. In How I Learned Geography, Shulevitz remembers the difficult period when his family fled Poland after the blitz and ended up in Turkestan. One evening, his father brings home a huge map instead of dinner. So begins Uri’s fascination with the exotic places on the map that he visits only through his imagination. The map changes who he is, offering him dreams and feeding his curiosity.

I love how this story challenges readers to redefine or rethink what it means to be wealthy and what we think it means to be poor. Yes, the Shulevitzes did not have much money to spend, certainly not on luxuries. However, their son was rich in imagination and passion, and what seemed to be a frivolous purchase turned out to be a life-altering, enriching gift.

Sometimes grown ups forget that geography really is a profound act of imagining for kids – and that’s what Shulevitz is getting at here. In spite of all of the connections available to children through the media today, when it comes right down to it, Fukuoka and Pennsylvania and Alberta are still just places on a map that need to be imagined in order to seem three-dimensional. No wonder kids love learning about other places.

I considered using this text to model writing a Found poem in my class. I soon realized that it wouldn’t work, though, because the text is already a poem disguised as a story – beautiful and spare and rich all at once. This book does belong in every classroom, for the sheer pleasure of it.

Other reviews:
Planet Esme Plan
I.N.K. Interesting Nonfiction for Kids


Poetry Friday: Tap Dancing on the Roof

  I can’t decide what pleases me more – touching poems, funny poems or clever poems. I’m crazy about Linda Sue Park’s collection of sijo (a traditional Korean verse form), because here I don’t have to decide. Tap Dancing on the Roof  provides readers with delightful poetic offerings of all three sorts – touching and funny and clever. Every elementary teacher needs this book.

A sijo is similar in nature to haiku, in that it has a specific syllabic structure (3 lines, each with 14-16 syllables). Linda Sue Park explains the form fully at the outset of her book. The nifty thing about sijo is that the third line of the poem offers up a twist, something funny or ironic or unexpected. This makes reading every one of Park’s poems a bit like savouring a gorgeous little petit four – they’re all neat, beautifully formed, delicious little packages of wisdom. I like that Park turns her attention to what’s funny and lovely about everyday occurrences: brushing your teeth, reading under the covers, watching birds at the feeder, long division. This book is ideal for teaching kids about the way poets look to small moments for inspiration.

And just when you imagine it couldn’t get better? The book is illustrated by the miraculous Istvan Banyai. I couldn’t think of a better visual match for Park’s whimsical poetry. A complete treat.

Rapunzel’s Revenge

How many Hales does it take to write a rollicking Graphic Novel? Well, in this case, three. Wife and husband team, Shannon and Dean Hale, have joined forces with another Hale, Nathan Hale (no relation), to produce a fantastical, fantastic new take on the story of Rapunzel. You’re going to love this. It’s adventurous, a tad romantic, and touched with magic too.

I don’t imagine many people would believe that a remake of Rapunzel could be very appealing to boy readers, however, I think Shannon and Dean have managed to create a snazzy new version of this classic tale that will keep boys and girls turning the pages. As in the original story, this Rapunzel was taken away from her mother as an infant and raised in a walled villa by a witch, here named Mother Gothel. Now when Rapunzel discovers the secret of her past, she makes her escape to search for her mother, who now slaves for Mother Gothel in the distant mines. Along the way, Rapunzel joins up with a rascal outlaw, Jack, and the two gallop about the wild west, fighting strange creatures and lowlife cowboy scoundrel types while Rapunzel plans her reunion with her mother and her revenge against Gothel.

Gosh this was fun. One of the best parts about this book for me is that it is such a departure from the original setting and time that I more or less completely forgot that it was built on an old, old tale. It feels super fresh, like an entirely new story. That can’t be easy to achieve when working with a story as well-known and loved as Rapunzel. But of course, we are in the hands of the master fairy-tale refurbisher here: Miss Shannon Hale. This is certainly a girl power narrative, but there is more than enough action to keep boys into it, with strong, bright, detailed art as a complement. Yum.

If you don’t love this one… I’ll grow super-long braids and ride off into the sunset.

Rapunzel’s Revenge will be released in August.

Read a few other reviews:

Reading Rants
The Reading Zone
A Year of Reading
Miss Erin

Don’t “ewe” want it too?

Yesterday I was at the local bookshop trying to be good (“No books for you, only for Dad. No books for you, only for Dad…”). I came across this:

A sheep detective story? Quel genius! The premise: a flock of sheep works to discover who killed their shepherd. There is only one word for this: awesome. Then, just as I was about to put the book down and step away from temptation, I saw that in the lower corner of every page there was a comic-like drawing of a friendly sheep, creating the coolest frolicking sheep flipbook as a delightful bonus. Somehow, in spite of the glory of the ovine flipbook, I found strength and wrote the title into my little wish list book and grumped off.

I want it. You’ll want it too, I think. Read this interview of author Leonie Swann in the meantime.



Ashley Hannigan is just about the last girl in her high school to give a crap that the math teacher has stolen all the prom money about a week before the big night. Ash wasn’t even planning on going, and she certainly couldn’t care less about the prom paraphernalia (dress, shoes, purse, corsage, car… blah blah blah). But her BFF Natalia, the head of the prom committee, is crushed, and since Ashley is an excellent best friend, she gets roped into saving the party.

There’s tons to like about Laurie Halse Anderson’s Prom. This title happens to be the readergirlz selection for this month, the theme being, “risk-taking.” Ashley is a risk-taker in a very real, “this could be a girl I know” kind of way. She just steps up, because no one else will, and for this reason (along with many others), she is an entirely likeable, truthful character. Of course, since it’s prom season, it makes sense to highlight this novel at the moment. I would like each and every prom-crazy teenaged-girl to read Anderson’s book, because I think it reveals and celebrates the true value of this oft-over hyped right of passage: celebrating friendship. This might really help to put the prom extravaganza into focus. I love the fact that in her acknowledgments, Anderson offers up a “loud, rowdy shout out” to the “normal kids” who inspired this story. She has certainly succeeded in telling their stories. It’s a treat to read a YA novel that is about normal kids, with day-to-day issues. This one’s poignant, grounded in reality and often funny. Now I’m eager to read Speak and Twisted, two other Anderson titles that I’m embarrassed to admit I’ve not yet read. Which first?

Poetry Friday: Baby Ate a Microchip


This one cracks me up. It’s report time, so I can’t help but wonder if this strategy might work for older kids too? Don’t we all need a bit of help to “think deep” this time of year?

Baby Ate a Microchip – by Neal Levin

Baby ate a microchip,
Then grabbed a bottle, took a sip.
He swallowed it and made a beep,
And now he’s thinking pretty deep.

He’s downloading his ABCs
And calculating 1-2-3s.
He’s memorizing useless facts
While doing Daddy’s income tax.

He’s processing, and now he thrives
On feeding his internal drives.
He’s throwing fits, and now he fights
With ruthless bits and toothless bytes…

To complete this morning’s smile, head over to Poetry Foundation.

(photo © Darren Hester for CC:Attribution-NonCommercial)


Guys Lit Wire

Launched on Monday, June 2nd, Guys Lit Wire  is bound to be a fantastic new presence in the litosphere. The idea was born in the creative brain of Colleen Mondor, of Chasing Ray fame. Guys Lit Wire aims to bring all kinds of literary news, reviews and opinions to teenage boys and all those who care about what teen boys read. The idea is to highlight great reads, some new and some older, on all topics imaginable, that will likely have broad appeal to teen boy readers. Every day of the week there will be at least one new post, offered up by one of a team of bloggers from all over the (kids)litosophere. I’m on the team, and I’m super excited to be involved. See who else is along for the ride at the contributor’s list. Impressive! I think you’ll find that the site is already filling up with super interesting reading. 

Oh yes… and the blog design (isn’t it spiffy?) is the masterwork of Sarah, of Finding Wonderland. Fantastic. I think we’ve got the whole package here.