Cats and Holiday Decorations

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



Great Joy

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.)

Christmas Eve

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:

  • Theme8
  • Wonderings
  • Community building
  • Deeper thinking

Christmas in the Country

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,

soft angels

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
  • Compare/contrast
  • Symbolism – family warms the heart and protects
  • Threadback – “But in that closet of wool and mothballs, there would be boxes of old ornaments, waiting.”

What’s Your Favorite Christmas?

December 14, 2008

Grandpa, do you have a favorite Christmas?”  Grandpa begins to share his tale.  “I was 1914.  My mates and I had been on the battlefield fro any weeks….” John McCutcheon brings to life this fictional tale of a historical event that happened along a 400 mile stretch between the British and the Germans during Christmas.

John McCutcheon first heard of the Christmas truce in 1984.  “I was so taken with the woman’s story, I wrote the entire song ‘Christmas in the Trenches’ during the intermission of my concert that night.”

This story, Christmas in the Trenches, highlights one character’s memory of a true event on Christmas Eve.  The British soldiers were waiting in trenches, knowing they would not be able to be with their families.  Across No Man’s Land, the Germans were waiting too.  Suddenly Christmas carols could be heard.  The British responded singing in their native language until both sides blended singing ‘Silent Night’.

The story continues of a conflict stopped in time, differences put aside.  A soldier appears crossing the field with a candle-lit tree.  The Christmas Truce began.  Soldiers mingled, sharing little gifts of food and showing pictures of loved ones.  For one night, the Great War was put on hold.

Savorings for reading and in writing for Christmas in the Trenches:

  • a Tension Twist – “A ghostly sound cut through the cold night air.”  (next page – Singing!)
  • Resolution – a moment where human differences could be put on hold for a greater good
  • Flashback – an important slice of life that impressed the character for life
  • Character emotion – “It was so surprising and so brave I couldn’t help myself.
  • Suddenly – for tension, surprise, and closure

Happy Birthday, Indiana!

December 11, 2008

Today is Indiana’s statehood birthday.  I read a unique book to some fourth grade classes today in honor of our state.  The book is called Dadblamed Union Army Cow by Susan Fletcher.  As I have mentioned before, the book jacket frequently shed light on the author’s idea for the book. 

The illustrator, Kimberly Bulcken Root, states, “Because of my family history, I fell in love with two daguerriotypes of my great-grandfather in his cavalry uniform, and some of my earliest drawings were of him.”

Susan Fletcher shares in her author’s note that she first heard of this story from a media specialist in Washington, who learned of it from Mrs. Tethers, the daughter of Captain Lee of the regiment.  The cow traveled with the Fifty-Ninth Regiment of Indiana Volunteers, supplying them with milk and helping keep them alive. “After the war, the cow was written up in the Greencastle, Indiana, newspaper.”  Go to the website linked above to see the real photos of the cow and captain.

Savorings for reading and in writing for Dadblamed Union Army Cow:

  • Voice – “she come in mighty useful”
  • Hyphenated words – sweat-soaked, rope-burned, hoof-bruised
  • Adjectives – a different descriptive word is used for the dadblamed cow, summarizing an event:  persnickety, heavy, dangerous
  • Apostrophes – whittlin’, playin’

Snowmen and Children

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!

Giving Back

December 7, 2008

Cynthia Rylant weaves words in such creative ways that require me to read and reread for deeper understanding.  I can just imagine her words are like clay in an artist’s hands.  Cynthia shares stories from her home – the Appalachian the bring you to the people she knows.  This book, Silver Packages:  An Appalachian Christmas Story, makes an excellent read aloud, as well as teaching writerly craft.

In her author’s note in the front, she states:   “This story was inspired by a real train, the ‘Santa Train,’ which rolls through the Appalachian Mountains each Christmas season….since 1943.”

Frankie waits beside the train for a present.  He wishes for a doctor’s kit.  A silver package is thrown to him by the man from the train.  He’s excited by waits until Christmas morning to open his only gift.  Disappointment mingles with his gratefulness, as he receives socks and another toy.  Cynthia Rylant creates such a sense of longing from the character year after year waiting by the train.  As the reader, I’m drawn in;  I watch to see what each silver package will bring Frankie.  Then, the story flashes forward to a young man who is a doctor, thinking of his family in the Appalachians.  He remembers the gifts that came at just the right time.  “And Frankie remembers something about owing a debt.”

Savorings for reading and in writing for Silver Packages:

  • Flash-forward beginning – the history of the Christmas train
  • One line sentence for emphasis – “So the train is awfully important.”
  • Repeating line – a doctor’s kit
  • Foreshadowing – “icy feet aching” and he gets socks as a present that year
  • Not this, but that – Okay, I’m not sure what to call this craft, but I’m intrigued by the way Cynthia Rylant creates the text.  In the beginning, three times she says a similar phrase, “…but why isn’t importan.  What matters is what happened.”  “But who came aalong isn’t important either.” It’s almost like she’s summarizing and making the reader stay focused on the important part, not the side story.  Read it for yourself and let me know your thoughts!!

The Beauty of Snow

December 3, 2008

Winter is upon us here in Indiana, and although I do not enjoy the cold, icy winds, I do love the beauty of the fresh fallen snow.  The whiteness blankets the barren lands and brown, sleeping ground.  As I looked out my window at some gently falling flakes, I was reminded of a beautiful book, Stranger in the Woods by Carl R. Samms II and Jean Stoick.  First Snow in the Woods is a companion book.

A Photographic Fantasy (Nature)      A Photographic Fantasy

Carl R. Samms II and Jean Stoick are fantastic photographers of nature’s beauty.  I’m intrigued by the brilliance of the photos.  If you have an Elmo, you students will enjoy seeing the photos in an enlarged fashion.  My favorite picture is of the cardinal in flight.

The snow has fallen softly in the woods, but something is amiss.  The animals sense a stranger and begin to share their feelings, thoughts, and concerns.  This book shows such great voice.  “Who-hoo’s in the woods?  Where?  Where did the jays say?  Where is he?” asked the Owl of Many Questions.  Your students can predict who the stranger might be.  The narrative creates a sense of tension among the animals.  As the reader, you gain an empathy for the animals, who are trying to be brave.  In the end, a snowman is the stranger.  The photographs will draw your attention in.

To learn a little about the authors, view the below YouTube video. I think your students would enjoy seeing the authors in person.

Savorings for reading and in writing for Stranger in the Woods:

  • Voice
  • Point of View – the animals share their perspective
  • Non-fiction brought alive
  • Publishing – the placement of the words to add to the movement of the animals
  • Punctuation – creative to show a sense of tension:  “You’ll not be volunteering me!  No sir-ree!”  said the scared rabbit.  “Is…is he watching me?”

Libraries Around the World

December 2, 2008

The author shares that she read an article “about a camel in Kenya that was used to bring books to young people who lived in remote desert villages.”  Intrigued, Margriet Ruurs researched and learned of “mobile libraries.”  My Librarian is a Camel:  How Books are Brought to Children Around the World is a creation of the photos and stories shared.  Each two page spread shares about people who are passionate about reading and getting books to others.

The text layout shows the country’s physical map, flag, and some general information including basic language(s) spoken.  It’s very intriguing!!  I’m thankful that I can walk to our town’s library and drive to another nearby one.  Libraries bring so many opportunities to us, and I’m thankful we are blessed with them.

Mode of transportation for the books include the following:  camel, wheelbarrow, donkey and cart, elephant, book bus, bicycle, flat boat, and by mail. This book would be a great way to introduce other cultures around the world.  It can also be a way to talk about how special the school library is and the ones in our communities.

Check out Margriet Ruurs recommended books.  Many are my favorite too.