Happy Birthday, Jackie Robinson!

January 31, 2009

Today’s book is based on the life of Jackie Robinson, a baseball hero and pioneer of his time.  My family loves baseball and so I am often drawn to picture books about baseball, especially within the historical narrative genre.  My daughter, Eliz, is celebrating her birthday today as well.  When I share this book, Dad, Jackie, and Me,  Eliz reminded me that she was born on Jackie’s birthday, January 31. (So did another special boy named Sam – Happy Birthday!)

Stories about people persevering entice me.  I want to know their story and what drives them.  I want my children and students to have that drive, to continue on when the going gets tough.  Every day we face, our children face, difficult tasks, fears, and resistance at times.  Stories of everyday heroes can life our spirits and give us added hope, encouragement.

 Dad, Jackie, and Me written by Myron Uhlberg (illustrated by Colin Bootman)  is one of these uplifting books.  The author speaks from his heart through the character’s first person narrative .  The young, baseball-lovin’ boy shares his passion for the game and the the new Brooklyn Dodger’s first baseman, Jackie Robinson.  the distinction in this boy’s life is that his father  is deaf.  As father and son experience the game at Ebbets Field, a parallel similarity of discrimination is shared between player and father.  Both had an inborn trait they could not change and daily faced hardships from it.

“But Jackie never reacted.  He didn’t even seem to notice.  And he never complained.”

I believe everyone of us wish we could change something about ourselves.  Children do too.  Turning to the back, the author shares how he was the son of two deaf parents.  He shares how his father took him to games and would have him watch the discrimination Jackie received while on the field.  Myron Uhlberg’s father also related to prejudice for his deafness.  ” ‘It doesn’t matter, though,’ he always added.  ‘I show them every day I am as good as they are.’

I hope you savor this book personally and with your class as well.  Your students can and will relate.  They will be drawn in and become a spectator of the game.  As Black History Month approaches, read several books that will help students become aware that everyday they have a choice to be fair and accepting.

Savorings for reading and in writing for Dad, Jackie, and Me:

  • Climatic transition – “Our pitcher had a no-hitter going.  An then it happened.”
  • Show not tell – “On a simple grounder
  • Metaphor – “his face was a blank mask
  • Exploding the moment – “Then, in that awful silence, my father jumped to his feet.
  • Dialogue text in two columns – The pages have the illusion of a baseball card with the illustration above and with the narrative below, two t eight lines in length.  but on one two-page spread, the text is written in two columns per page due to short back-and-forth conversation between father and son.  Unique transition in placement of text for emphasis.

(PES Library book)

(A must-have book for my collection:))

Mail-Delivery Dog

January 28, 2009

Dog lovers, you will enjoy this phenomenal true account of a stray terrier who was adopted by the Albany Postal Service in Owney the Mail-Pouch Pooch (Frances & Foster Books, 2008).  In 1888, Owney began guarding the mail bags and helped the men at the post.  After a time, Owney jumped a mail train car.  Upon returning to Albany several weeks later, the rail workers gave Owney a collar and note asking to attach a depot tag to mark his trip while being gone. Owney seemed to love traveling on the train.  As the reader, you almost feel like you are traveling with Owney on his adventures.  It definitely leaves you wondering what he did and how he knew where to go, when to get on and off.

Based on true events recorded by the major newspapers in the 1890’s, Mona Kerby captures Owney’s travels through the United States and even the world, on a special voyage.  In the author’s note, Mona shared “When Owney died in 1897, his friends had a taxidermist preserve him and sent this body to the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C.”  Three original pictures of Owney grace the book.  Check out Mona Kerby’s blog that focuses on letter writing and other activities for this newest book based on Owney.

Savorings for reading and in writing for Owney the Mail-Pouch Pooch:

  • Introduction – “In the year 1888, on a cold rainy October night in Albany, NY, a straggly terrier mutt wandered through the empty streets looking for a place to get out of the rain.  He was so skinny his ribs stuck out.”
  • Descriptive action with the Magic of Three – “circled twice, curled up, and went to sleep
  • Hyphenated words – official-looking, lickety-split
  • Historical narrative – a unique story that’s true
  • Passage of Time

(Warsaw Public Library)

Priscilla and the Hollyhocks

January 26, 2009

Image result for Priscilla and the Hollyhocks by Anne BroylesReading books brings much pleasure to me, but sharing a great story with children and teachers is my delight.  I read lots of books; some I like, others I don’t, some teach lessons and then … some move me as a reader.  When I read a book that moves my heart and makes me think deeper, it is a treasure!  Priscilla and the Hollyhocks is my find today.  Wow!  Knowing that Priscilla existed deepens the story.  I can’t get it out of my mind!

Priscilla and the Hollyhocks by Anne Broyles is based on historical events.  The book jacket stated that Anne Broyles  “discovered Priscilla’s story while researching the Cherokee Trail of Tears for a young adult novel she was writing.” Click on this link to see a preview of the book. (The first two pages still linger with me, let alone the story. March 2018)

The story begins with Priscilla’s mother being sold away when she ‘s young, approximately five.  Then, she begins working in the Big House by age six.  One visitor to the plantation talked with Priscilla and was kind.  His name was Basil Silkwood.  He didn’t agree with slavery.  By age 10, her master dies and she is bought by a new owner:  a Cherokee family.  Priscilla finds comfort in the hollyhocks she has planted at the new place.

During her time with the Cherokee family, America was expanding and began to round up the Indians.  The Cherokee family was forced to move.  They were “rounded up like animals” and forced to walk the “Trail of Tears.”  Priscilla went too.  After several months, they were passing through a town, when Priscilla miraculously happened to see Mr. Silkwood on a hotel porch.  She called to him and Mr. Silkwood asked about her.

Later that evening, Basil came to her Cherokee master.  “Massa Silkwood handed the Cherokee a bag of gold that held my freedom.”  He took her home and then set her free, adopting her into his family of fifteen children.  “Home we went to a family who claimed me slave not longer, daughter once more.”  Incredible!

The author’s note sheds more light on the background events shared in the story.  I know my eyes will look upon Hollyhock’s with a new appreciation.

Priscilla and the Hollyhocks tells a story too often ignored or overlooked – a story of how the west was not won but captured.  Reading about Priscilla’s remarkable life makes all our hearts a bit warmer while filling our heads with a much-needed piece of American history.”  – Nikki Giovanni, poet

Symbolism of hope/love/home:  Interweaving hollyhocks –

  • The one item that Priscilla loved and remained unchanging in an unsettling environment was the hollyhocks.  She carried the seeds with her to each new place she went and found comfort being near the plants.

Savorings for reading and in writing for Priscilla and the Hollyhocks:

  • Synthesize:  What can we learn from this story?  How does it affect us now?  We must guard against prejudices and be like Basil Silkwood, seeing worth in a person.
  • Lead – emotional, “Freedom filled my dreams, but I was born a slave’s child.”
  • Word choice – mirrored the mood; yoke, pined
  • Inference – “my insides was a’quiverin.”
  • Varied punctuation including semi-colon and colon –

(Warsaw Public Library/ MH owns)


January 24, 2009

My daughter loves elephants.  She collects different stuffed animals and reads about them.  When I found the book, Elephant’s Story, I began to think of Eliz.  Harriet Blackford is a zoologist and has created a delightful nonfiction narrative to create background knowledge of the elephant.  she introduces the African savanna elephant and their family behavior.  The reader is introduced to the central character, a baby elephant.  Manja Stojic catches the reader’s attention with her paintings.

Harriet Blackford creates scenes that children will connect with.  Feelings are inferred, such as being scared.  “The bank is high and she cannot see her mother.  For the first time in her life, she is alone.  Elephant squeals with fright.”  elephant also feels a sense of belonging and safety with her mother and herd.  “Elephant’s mother strokes her baby all over to help her feel safe again.”

Savorings for reading and in writing for Elephant’s Story:

  • Background knowledge of the elephant
  • Connections  – elephant’s behavior and children’s behavior
  • Inference
  • Informational text at the end
  • Animal characteristics – “Elephant is born on the vast African savanna, a tiny wrinkly baby with big floppy ears and a most extraordinary nose.”

Poetry Friday

January 23, 2009

On Jane Yolen ‘s website, she is called “the Hans Christian Andersen of America”.  She definitely is a gifted writer and has created some delightful poetry books.  The featured book today is Count Me a Rhyme:  Animal Poems by the Numbers.  Her son, Jason Stemple, has collaborated with her on eleven poetry books using nature photographs to ignite the poetic words.

Animal Poems by the Number

The playfulness  of Jane’s words will entice your children’s attention. Vocabulary is stressed in this fun rhyming book.  Jason captured animls in their natural environments, from groups of one to ten.  The photos are vivid, and students of all ages will enjoy seeing them.  Read one a day and enrich your classroom.

Savorings for reading and in writing for Count Me a Rhyme:

  • Roman numberals
  • Synonyms fo reac number – 2, duet, pair, dual
  • Table of Contents – simpler text than a text book
  • Alliteration – in “Five Geese, Five” – “misty, moisty morning”; “paddle, puddle perfect”
  • Repeating line – in “Six Spiders Spinning” to sho action – “Hand over hand over hand over hand over hand”
  • Shape poem – in “Eight Bighorn Sheep” – wording is shaped in a one word column

(PES book and WPL book)

Pet Friendship

January 21, 2009

The adorable cover illustration caught my eye.  I have a soft spot for German shepherds.  Fluffy and Baron is based on the author’s “many happy memories of my childhood pets, who really were best friends.”

Many of our students have pets and they also have friends.  I find that Laura Rankin creatively blends the two interests into this special story of friendship.  I love the character qualities expressed.  The story begins with a warm, loving scenario …

… until three wild ducks reside on the farm’s pond in the spring. 
Fluffy watched, waddling back and forth – toward the newcomers and then back to Baron again.”
Laura’s illustrations make your heart melt as Baron deals with being alone.  Children can connect as they have experienced  loss of friends who have moved, divorce, death.
This book has several places that infer the character feelings and mood of the storyline.  You also have to fill in the gaps between event with the passage of time.  For primary students, this book is ideal for teaching story elements, the climax mountain, and internal character conflict.
Savorings for reading and in writing for Fluffy and Baron:
  • Magic words of story – “One summer day, someone new waddled into Baron’s life.”
  • Passage of time – use of seasons
  • Transitions – “For the next three nights,”
  • Inference – “Baron’s tail wagged and wagged.”
  • Internal character conflict – “Fluffy watched, waddling back and forth

A Sweet Smell of Roses

January 20, 2009

Angela Johnson has a beautiful way of taking a slice of life and creating a text that children connect with.  I enjoy using her books with children, as they can see themselves being able to write stories like her.  Angela Johnson has taken a snapshot in time on the historical day of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s freedom speech in the book, A Sweet Smell of Roses.  This poetic narrative is unique by shedding light that children also marched for their rights.

But the men and women we commonly hear about are not the only ones who took action against injustice and oppression.  For each of the names that we know, there are tens of thousands that we do not.  And some of those overlooked names belong to children.  A Sweet Smell of Roses is a tribute to them. (author’s note from Angela Johnson)”

The illustrations have been designed with pencils, black and white drawings.  On each page,  Eric Velasquez adds a bit of red coloring on the ribbon, roses, or the United States flag.  I’m not a great interpreter of art, but the red makes me think of contrast.  The roses are  beautiful yet not without it’s thorns.  I would envision having a conversation with your students about the symbolism created in the text.  As Ellin Oliver Keene has shared in To Understand, our children often have deeper understanding when given the opportunity to think beyond surface comprehension.  If you use the book, I would love to know what discussion arises.

Savorings for reading and in writing for A Sweet Smell of Roses:

  • Repeating line – “the sweet smell of roses
  • Book ending the text
  • One Day historical event – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speech
  • Each refrain repeats
  • Poetic narrative

Martin Luther King, Jr.

January 19, 2009

Today is an honorable day as we remember the dream and works of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  As my daughter read the book, my brother Martin, she was amazed to even think that skin color made a difference.  I am thankful that our nation is changing, although I’m still a realist in knowing that people are still self-centered and judgmental.

Christine King Farris shares her memories of her younger brother through the book, my brother Martin.  I love the way Christine shares stories of practical jokes and childhood happenings that she shared with her brother.  For children, the book allows them to connect with Dr. King.  They can visualize that he was a “real” person with ambitions and a view for a better world. 

Savorings for reading and in writing for my brother, Martin:

  • Visualizing
  • Poetic narrative
  • Historical connection – kids can compare/contrast events during history to current events.
  • Purpose – so many of our students do not write with a purpose.  Dr. King’s dream had a purpose and so did Christine by sharing her stories about her brother. 

A Kid’s Aeronautic Dream

January 17, 2009

I often like to find books that are about kids being creative.  The cover of  Violet the Pilot caught my eye:   a girl in a homemade flying machine. How  cool is that!  She’s blowing a bubble, and her dog is her passenger.

As usual, I check the book jacket to learn more about the author, Steve Breen.  Since I am not an avid comic strip reader (except for Charlie Brown), I had no clue that Steve Breen had won a Pulitzer Prize.  He is on staff at San Diego Union-Tribune, creating the nationally syndicated comic strip “Grand Avenue”.

As a kid, Steve made modeled airplanes.  He added that somehow “they never turned out quite like the pictures on the box.”  From these experiences, he thought of a story.  Remind our students that everyday activities can spark an idea for writing.

Violet was a mechanical genius.”  She worked with different parts, building machines.  the she ventured into flying machines of all sorts.  Her dog, Orville (from the Wright Brothers, I presume), is always by her side.   I love the way Steve creates a character who uses her imagination to create.  the inventors in your crowd will love seeing the contraptions Violet makes.

Violet has dreamed of being a star pilot.  Her opportunity arises with the local flying show.  As Violet heads off, she sees a Boy Scout troop in distress.  Helping them, she misses her chance at the air show and returns home disappointed.  You can feel her disappointment.

Steve Breen doesn’t end the story there.  As good scouts, they bring a crowd to her house and honor Violet for saving the day – a hero!  I’m glad that doing an act of kindness, even in a fictional story, is given honor.  We need to shower our children with stories of bucket-filling.  What a better world we would have.

Savorings for reading and in writing for Violet the Pilot:

  • Suddenly – interrupts the flow of thought
  • Word play – “wing-a-ma-jig”
  • Varying punctuation – parenthesis, hyphen, quotation marks, ellipses
  • Character feeling – “We’ve missed the air show.”  She turned her plane toward home and sighed.  It was a miserable feeling.
  • Predictions – “And not just any old machines…”;   “Violet knew she had to help…fast.”

Wilson “Snowflake” Bentley

January 15, 2009

Tonight the temperatures are dipping in the negative numbers, plus add the wind chill, equals Brrrr!  Cold is not my favorite;  I’d prefer spring to summer any day.  So, when I glanced at the dedications, I began sharing my head.  Mary Azarian, the illustrator for Snowflake Bentley, writes:

For all the snow lovers of the world, who – like me – think that snow is like chocolate; there is never enough.”

I do enjoy the white, sparkling beauty of newly fallen snow, so I can grasp that a young Wilson Bentley could become fascinated with snow.  Wilson believed that the beauty of a snowflake was a treasure – no two alike.  He lived for snowstorms.  “I never know when I will find some wonderful prize.”

Snowflake Bentley is a blended genre of narrative nonfiction and informational text.  On the side columns,  Jacqueline Briggs Martin has added information paralleling the current part in history.  I appreciate the voice that is added through this format.  I think this format brings to life the biography of Wilson Bentley in a way that your students will respond and find fascinating.  Mary Azarian illustrates in an almost-cartoon-like format, grabbing more of the reader’s attention.

As a class, after you’ve read the book, talk about the character of Wilson Bentley.  He persevered through the cold and enjoyed the moment.  He was self-motivated, learning at home and experimenting.  He was patient, very precise and careful with each snowflake.  He had a dream and worked toward it his entire life.  Wilson Bentley wanted to give the world a gift, and he was finally able to publish his book when he was sixty-six years old.  Wow!  We need to talk to our kids about striving for a goal and keep working at it, in school, in life.
Savorings for reading and in writing for Snowflake Bentley:
  • Biography with voice
  • Passage of Time – Each part of W. Bentley’s life that is highlighted, the focus is on the progress of his work; very self-motivated.
  • Perseverance – “He waited for hours for just the right crystal and didn’t notice the cold.”
  • Character traits