December 23, 2008
We have a cat named Kip in our home, and he has enjoyed the holiday decorations. Our cat enjoys batting at the tree ornaments, jumping into boxes, and tearing the tissue paper. Kip’s eyes will light up and friskiness arises. He’s fun to watch, yet annoying when wrapping presents.
Margaret Wise Brown must have a cat as she has created a delightful book called A Pussycat’s Christmas. This book is not a new one; oh, but it’s delicious! (Yes, reading a good book is like chocolate to me, delighting my mind’s taste buds.)
Each page leads you to the next page; the last line seems to begin the theme of the next. The sensory detail in this book is exquisite. I do not find many books alerting the reader’s senses to smell, to sounds, to sight like A Pussycat’s Christmas.
“And could she hear the crackle and slip of white tissue paper?”
“Tissue paper rustled. Nuts cracked. Scissors cut.”
“…where she could smell the sharp tangy smell of Christmas tree and candles and nuts and raisins and apples and tangerines.”
Margret Wise Brown interweaves varied sentence lengths with specific word choice and the Magic of Three. The page layout is unique – almost like a poem, yet a narrative essay. The lines stair-step down, guiding the reader’s voice and reflection.
The illustrations by Anne Mortimer compliment the text so richly. (I found that Anne Mortimer has illustrated many cat books. ) The two-page layout is very creative. The left page’s illustrations flank the text as columns. The right page is a complete illustration of the cat and her view of the setting. The only page that isn’t like that is the middle. Only two lines are highlighted: “She saw it! She saw the sleigh go jingling by.” Enjoy this delightful book!
Savorings for reading and in writing for A Pussycat’s Christmas:
- Voice – talks to the reader; the use of questions and varied sentences invite the reader to respond
- Question Lead – “It was Christmas. How could you tell?“
- Font Manipulation – adds to the illustrations and brings the sound to life
- Transitions – the text flows so smoothly
- Sensory Description
December 21, 2008
The voice of Frances, a young curious girl, reaches out and grabs my attention in this book by Kate DiCamillo, Great Joy. She notices life around her during the busy season of Christmas. She notices someone who most see as invisible, the organ grinder man and his monkey. Frances is intrigued and asks her mother question after question, wanting answers that only a child seems to ask. Every little detail is important; but to a parent, the questions often seem to be a burden. I can almost hear the mother sigh in the story. I smile hearing the motherly tone reply, “Oh Frances. Don’t ask me questions I can’t answer.” But Frances is not swayed; she ponders: where do the man and the monkey sleep? I wonder: what catches a child’s attention?
Bagram Ibatoulline paints the setting of Great Joy in the 1950’s, I’d presume (it’s definitely in the past with the car and hair styles). I just realized that he also illustrated The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, also written by Kate DiCamillo. The text, apart from the illustrations, could be set in modern times (I’m not so sure about the organ grinder and his monkey being present day, but I’ve seen other instrumentalists playing on a street corner). No matter. The theme of the story is for all time. The act of noticing, acknowledging, respecting human life through a kind word resonates from Kate’s heart in her narrative. Her dedication adds, “With great gratitutde for open doors….”
I think this book can lead to some interesting conversations. Helping mankind. Being respectful. Having an open heart. May we remember this during the holiday season.
Savorings for reading and in writing for Great Joy:
- Varied sentences with the Magic of 3 – “The world was quiet. Everyone waited. Then, at the back of the sanctuary, the door opened.” Most good writing does a mixture of varied sentences. I find that Kate DiCamillo has done an extraordinary job with this craft to make a short piece of narrative stand out.
- Questioning – why did the man play on the corner? How can something intrigue a child so much? Why did Frances care about the man? Why was he so important? Did she change the world?
- Internal Conflict – “But Frances could not speak. All she could think about was how cold it was outside and how sad the organ grinder eyes were, even when he smiled.”
- Inference – The illustrator closes the story with a wordless two page scene.
Although the scene is very satisfying (and prompted a smile), the reader is left to wonder what happens next. You get to imagine the ending you wnat. I want the story to be solidified with a concrete “this is what happens” ending, but it’s not. Instead, Kate Dicamillo and Bagram Ibatoulline want to do is seep into your students’ minds, making them think and speculate. (I’d love to hear if you try it and what some responses are.)
December 19, 2008
Eve Bunting shares a Christmas Eve story that will grab the reader’s heart. Eve brings difficult social issues alive, wanting children to be aware of others. I believe she wants children, and us, to focus on others, not just ourselves.
December is told through Simon, the son. Simon and his mother live in a one-room cardboard home. But, it’s Christmas Eve, and they are thankful. As they begin to slumber, a knock is at their door. An old woman stands there. “Can I come in?” she asks. “I’m so cold.” The story warms my heart as those with a little share. A lesson for us all.
I envision you reading this book to your class and then discussing possible themes: thankfulness, caring enough to share, unselfishness. In the end, you are left wondering what really happened that night. Did the angel, December, bless the family? Take the conversation further. How could looking toward others needs benefit in the classroom? In life? After reading this book, a cold night hasn’t passed without my heart being thankful for my warm bed and home .
Savorings for reading and in writing for December:
- Community building
- Deeper thinking
December 16, 2008
I had the privilege to attend a two day conference with Penny Kittle culminating today. Penny shared her passion and experiences with reading and writing workshop. For two days, I sponged her stories and strategies and ideas, learning and reflecting and agreeing. One idea Penny uses often with her students is spring-boarding a quick write with a poem. One such poem she shared is called “Where I’m From” by George Ella Lyon. Here’s a taste of the beginning of this poem:
“I am from clothespins,
from Clorox and carbon-tetrachloride.
I am from the dirt under the back porch.”
The sensory detail comes alive in the lines of the poem.
Stacked in the books I want to write about, I read Christmas in the Country last night. As I was rereading and savoring lines, I realized I connected this book to the poem I had read. When I read this book, I feel as if I’m reading a “Where I Am From” story about the author. Cynthia Rylant creates a sensory-detailed narrative essay that alerts my attention to detail and sparks memories of my past Christmases. The weather weaves its way into the story. The cold winter outside changes to the warmth with a home inside.
During the savorings of lines and books, I sometimes daydream what the author might say to me if we were talking. If I had the opportunity to ask Cynthia to write a poem from her book , I wonder if it might sound like this:
I am from my grandparents’ country home,
from wool and mothballs.
I am from foam balls glued with green glitter,
ornaments reminding me of my whole life.
Cynthia did not compose the above poem; it’s just my mythical envision as I read her lyrical words. The story’s countryside breathes beauty through the white, smooth snow. “Everyone is ready for something really special.” Somehow, the holidays allow us to remember, to reflect – and savor the moment. Take a moment and read Cynthia Rylant’s book and enjoy her memory of a Christmas long ago.
Savorings for reading and in writing for Christmas in the Country:
- One sentence paragraphs – highlights for emphasis
- Description with small moment examples to support
- Symbolism – family warms the heart and protects
- Threadback – “But in that closet of wool and mothballs, there would be boxes of old ornaments, waiting.”
December 10, 2008
Children love snow. They love to jump and play and create with snow. I remember as a child making a snow igloo once. Was I crazy? No, just having child-like adventure. Children look at the world differently and observe ordinary things in an unordinary way. Snowmen at Night is a story like that. It begins with a child saying, What do snowmen do at night?
When I first read this book by Caralyn Buehner, I scoped out the book jacket. Authors will leave clues to where their ideas come from. (I at least feel like I know the author a little better if I read the information about him or her.) I was not disappointed with this one. Caralyn said that her son looked out at the snowman he had built the day before and wondered what happened to him, now droopy and lopsided. The picture of that original snowman was there on the book jacket too. How cute and creative – a question a child asks spurring an idea for a book.
Snowmen At Night begins with a boy wondering what happened to his snowman. His active imagination comes to life as you turn the page and see the snowmen becoming personified. Mark Buehner uses his illustrations to enhance the playfulness of the snowmen.
Savorings for reading and in writing for Snowmen at Night:
- Perspective – a child’ imagination tells the story in first person
- Poetic Prose
- Colon – used in a couple of places in the book; for Snowmen at Christmas, a semi-colon is used.
- A fun read!