Ameila Earhart

July 25, 2011

Robert Burleigh chooses beautiful words dipped with richness in his book Night Flight: Amelia Earhart Crosses the Atlantic. His use of careful phrasing, short quipped sentences and interwoven personification,challenges your thinking. His biographical narrative allows the reader to feel Amelia’s anxiousness and hopefulness at the same time. I marvel at Burleigh’s molding of words. The emotion keeps you on the edge.

1:00 a.m. The friendly night becomes a graph of fear: a jagged line between where-I-am and not-quite-sure.

Your students will be engaged in thought. Each page turning brings forth a new possibility.

Wendell Minor‘s paintings illuminate the highlights of the scene. The reader has the sense he/she is flying with Amelia, viewing the Atlantic for the first time.

When you open the book, notice the end papers. They have a map of Amelia’s journey from Harbour Grace, Newfoundland to Derry, Northern Ireland. A sketch of her plane, Little Red Bus, depicts the Lockheed Vega she flew. An afterword in the back shares a short biography of Amelia’s ambitious personality and love for flying. In addition, other research websites are shared. I particularly love the “Things Amelia Said” section. She was a bold lady with zest!

Savorings for reading and in writing for Night Flight: Amelia Earhart Crosses:

  • 2 word sentences – lots of varying
  • Foreshadowing – the flight seems to be going smoothly when a storm erupts
  • Similes – lots
  • Personification – brings the reader into the midst of history
  • Colon – used numerous times

PES new book

Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse

May 2, 2011

I love Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse. The book has many possibilities. Kevin Henkes packs so many craft moves into this book.  It was one of the first books introduced to me during my Writer’s Workshop training.  I use it as a mentor text in the primary grades.

Kevin Henkes molds an everyday event into a story of forgiveness and restoration. Lilly is a young student who embraces school. She loves the activities and adores her teacher. Mr. Slinger creates an environment of fun and creativity. I love how Kevin Henkes highlights writing and drawing by have a learning station in the classroom. Lilly writes stories of her beloved teacher. One highlighted scene shows Lilly writing her story and saying, “I’m an author!”

Kevin portrays the child-like quality of impatience through Lilly. She has a new purple plastic purse that played music. Her glasses were like Mr. Slingers and her quarters jingled.  She wanted to show her classmates her wonderful, new possessions. Giving in to temptation, Lilly interrupted class to show everyone.

When Mr. Slinger asks for her things, Lilly’s emotions change from sad to furious. She secretly draws a picture of her teacher in an untasteful way. Unknowingly, her teacher writes a note of encouragement and gentle expectation, slipping it into her purse. With forgiveness displayed, Lilly learns a valuable lesson of the power of words.

Savorings for reading and in writing for Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse:

  • Alliteration – “curly and crunch and cheesy
  • Letter writing/Notes – teaches young children the power of an audience
  • Magic of 3 – using sentences, phrases, and words in groups of threes
  • Speech Bubbles
  • Repeating Line
  • Emotions – “Lilly’s stomach lurched.”
  • Everyday happening – trouble at school; feelings of regret

The Junkyard Wonders

April 14, 2011

Patricia Polacco is one of my favorite authors. Her writing is warm, full of meaning, with hints of humor. The Junkyard Wonders is a memoir about her school days. Her book is a tribute to the inspiring teacher in all of us.

Mrs. Peterson began her school year with a note of expectation that all her students would acquire.  With a dictionary in her hand, she read the definition of genius to the class of special children.

Genius is neither learned nor acquired.

It is risking without fear of failure.

It is creativity without constraints.

It is … extraordinary intelligence!”

Your heart will sail as she tells her students to memorize it, to look at it every day. “The definition describes every one of you.”

Patricia was placed in a special class. The class had been dubbed “The Junkyard.” Mrs. Peterson believed in her students’ potentials despite their challenges. For learning, she placed the class into tribes. The tribes worked on projects together throughout the year. The five kids in Patricia’s group became very close.

Due to bullying and wanting her kids to see themselves as more than just the left-overs, Mrs. Peterson took the children to the junkyard. They were to create a new invention from the junk they collected. Patricia’s group created a plane that could fly. They decided to launch it at the science fair.

One boy, Jody, had a disease that caused his body to grow too fast. That spring, Jody’s heart gave out and he died. (Yes, I cried. Patricia knows how to pull at my heart-strings.) The plane was a tribute for Jody. The closeness, hard work, and genius propelled their plane into the sky.

I love the ending. Patricia Polacco has an epilogue about her tribe. The other three children grew and flourished into amazing positions – ballet school director, world renown fashion designer, NASA engineer, and Patricia became a phenomenal children’s author.  They attributed their success to their teacher, Mrs. Peterson.

Savorings for reading and in writing for The Junkyard Wonders:

  • Believing in yourself – overcoming hardship
  • Community – accepting and seeing possibility in everyone
  • Transitions – highlighting main events throughout the year
  • Character description
  • Strong emotional sense


February 28, 2011

The author’s and illustrator’s notes add a deeper meaning to the beautifully crafted text.  Nikki Giovanni and Bryan Collier share their passions for Rosa Parks.  I can hear their voices.  Bryan Collier stated that the heat was his first noticing when visiting Alabama.  Thus, in his paintings, you will observe “a yellow, sometimes dark, hue.  I wanted the reader to feel in that heat a foreshadowing….

When I was younger, I just knew that Rosa Parks was famous for not moving from her seat in the bus.  But there is much more to the story.  Rosa had been part of the civil rights movement.  She had been at work and heading home, thinking about supper like most wives.  She had trouble on the bus before and this one time, she decided she would take a stand.  Although life was hard, the unity that her one act created was amazing.

The narrative brings Rosa Parks alive.  When I read it to a class, they had more questions and felt an emotional tug.  The kids connected to the message being shared by Nikki Giovanni.

Savorings for reading and in writing for Rosa:

  • Voice – sense of passion and belief
  • Biography – summarizing crucial points
  • Internal Thinking – “She sighed as she realized she was tired…. Tired of ‘separate’ and definitely tired of ‘not equal‘.
  • Repetition of a word – major emphasis
  • One sentence paragraphs – “Mrs. Parks sat.”

The Snowman’s Path

January 19, 2011

Helena Pittman created an adventurous tale of a friendship between a boy and a snowman.  Children can have  active imaginations.  Nathan’s imagination creates something extraordinary out of the ordinary.  A snowman appears and Nathan watches.  The snowman engages in child-like frolic, playing in the snow.  Nathan ventures out to watch.  Illustrator Rau’l Colo’n (illustrated My Mama Had a Dancin’ Heart)uses his exquisite pictures to add tension and feeling to the special narrative.

One night Nathan is brave and introduces himself.  Sharing cookies, they swap stories.  Each night their friendship grows.  Even with their closeness, Nathan realizes Sky, the snowman, needs someone; he seems lonely.  Nathan builds a female snow lade, and the two glow together.  A touching story of true friendship.

Savorings for reading and in writing from The Snowman’s Path:

  • Similes – “tumble down snowbanks, moving like an acrobat
  • Everyday happenings with imagination – playing in the backyard, “dug in the alley’s potholes for pirate treasure
  • Personification – “The wind sighed past the trees...”
  • Tension – “made my heart beat fast.  Suddenly...”
  • Passage of Time

Overcoming Fear

October 7, 2009

My mind relives the narrative, The Forest by Claire A. Nivola, over and over after each reading.  I do not recall the first time I came across this book, but the text is one that strikes at the core of emotion:  fear.  I, the reader, am intrigued and sucked in to the mind of the character from the beginning.  What an emotional lead!

I had always been afraid of the forest, that dark and unknown place at the farthest edge of my little world.  At night I often dreamed of it and woke chilled with fear.  The fear was there in the day, too, hidden inside me no matter what I did or where I went.”

The main character is Mouse.  The narrative is shared through first-person, inviting you in to Mouse’s thoughts and feelings from the beginning.  Mouse is afraid.  The fear nags at him until one day he decides to face the fear by venturing out to the forest.  All the way, Mouse has internal conflict – should he continue or return home to his safe haven?

I believe many children have fears that nag at them.  Some fears are real; most are just insecurity or uncertainty.  As you read this book to children,  the narrative invites prediction.  How will Mouse survive?  Will he follow through?  The text is also an excellent example to teach inference or show, don’t tell.

“Leaping for cover, I tripped and fell headlong to the ground, Lie still, I thought; if you cry or move, you will be found.  Could my thundering heart be heard outside my head?”

You must read it.  At the end of the page with the above quote, you, the reader, are left hanging.  What will happen next?  As you turn the page, the illustration brightens and you immediately sense a change with the setting.  “The sunlight was raining down through the leaves and warming my back.  A sweet breeze stirred my fur.  I was alive!”

Savorings for reading and in writing for The Forest:

  • Symbolism – “In the morning, standing in the doorway of my home, I saw the cozy chair by the fire, my warm bed, the objects I loved.  I turned and closed the door behind me.”
  • Emotional – ‘my heart began to race
  • Show don’t Tell (Inference) – “Uneasy, I looked back at my village – a dot in the distance.”
  • Repeating Structure – “But would I lose myself?  Would I be devoured by some wild creature?  Would I die of fear?”
  • Grabber Lead
  • Internal Conflict
  • Predictions

The Giant

October 4, 2009

A year and a half ago,  I had the privilege of meeting Claire Ewart.  Claire is an Indiana author and illustrator, residing in Fort Wayne.  She spoke at our school for our Young Author’s Conference.

One of my favorite texts is The Giant.   The text is rather moving, bringing the emotion of the daughter alive to the reader.  A girl, who has lost her mama, searches for the giant who was to watch over her.  She looks and notices the giant in the clouds, stars, and every time she thinks she can reach the giant, he always is beyond her.  Paralleling this search, Pa is working the farm.  Pa was steady by his daughter’s side, yet she could not see beyond her loss and the daily chores… until one morning.

“And there was Pa…like he’d always been, standing there, tall and strong in the wind.”

Claire shared that one idea for the book came one day as she was driving along US Hwy. 30.  Looking out across the spring fields, she noticed large puddles.  Claire said the puddles seemed like giant footprints walking across the land.   Claire uses figurative language so beautifully.  I savor the words like chocolate.

Small lakes formed

where ponds and low spots had been,

like Pa’s big boot prints,

like huge feet had walked across the land.”

Savorings for reading and in writing for The Giant:

  • Figurative Language – interwoven throughout the text
  • Transition in Time – from early spring to harvest time in the fall
  • Illustrations – painted in the clouds, shadows is a foreshadowing of the giant
  • Inference – the reader longs to find the giant with the girl
  • Symbolism – What does the giant stand for?  In the end, who is the mysterious giant?
  • Varying Sentences

The Rest of the Gettysburg Story

November 5, 2008

AImage result for the cemetery keepers of gettysburg by linda oatman highuthor’s notes provide added background knowledge for deeper understanding.  It often gives more to the story, and so I often will read it first (although its usually placed in the back).  Linda Oatman High was intrigued by the history of the Gettysburg Battled and learned of the heroic determination of Elizabeth Thorn.

The Cemetery Keepers of Gettysburg is written in poetic narrative, and it moves me.  The story is told through the eyes of the Thorn’s eldest seven-year-old son, Fred.  The Battle of Gettysburg was “the most ferocious and bloody battle of the Civil War“, and Linda Oatman High captures the emotion of the wounded soldiers, the fear-gripped children, and the devastation left behind. Although the battle was horrible, Linda’s words are poetic and rich and appropriate for upper elementary-aged children.

Linda Oatman High then tells the rest of the aftermath.  Nearly one hundred soldiers lay dead.  Elizabeth Thorn (six months pregnant), her father, and Fred dig the graves to honor the men.  Astounding!  The story ends with President Abraham Lincoln giving the Gettysburg Address and then honoring Elizabeth for her heroism.  Wow!  I have to read and reread this book and each time I focus on something new.  This book is excellent for developing background knowledge for the Civil War and provides good discuss on what families did behind the scenes. Savorings for reading and in writing for The Cemetery Keepers of Gettysburg:

  • Point of view – from a child
  • Word Choice – “grandfather with wrinkled skin
  • Emotion – “huddling, shuddering together
  • Poetic narrative
  • Show don’t Tell – “he said as a tear creeped down his cheek