Life on Mars

May 1, 2018

Kids often wonder about life on the moon or other galaxies. Movies bring outer-space beings into a seemingly possible reality. Is there life on other planets? Jon Agee allows a child to explore the possibilities in his book, Life on Mars.

The astronaut believes there is life. He begins to explore. Time passes. Doubt begins to set in. The reader hears the character’s internal dialogue. Alongside the meandering astronaut, a silent story parallels his feelings.

This text lends itself to teaching kids life lessons of perseverance, confidence, affect, trial/error, discovery, celebration.

View the book trailer here.

View the book read aloud at this link. I think your kids will enjoy the sound effects.

Savorings for Life on Mars:

  • Internal Thinking
  • Silent parallel story
  • Two characters
  • Wonderings
  • Life lessons
  • Surprise Ending
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Boy + Bot

February 25, 2018

Boy + Bot by Ame Dyckman, illustrated by Dan Yaccarino,  is a delightful tale of friendship. These two become friends despite their differences. They engage in fun activities, have compassion for each other, and work out problems. The tone of the book invites readers to think about characteristics of a friend, how to overlook differences, and possibly try something new. For some extension activities, visit RIF.

To hear the entire book, view on the YouTube link.

Savorings for Boy + Bot:

  • Synonyms
  • Varied sentence length
  • Sequence of events
  • Past tense verbs – /ed/
  • Parallel structure
  • Comparison – man vs. machine
  • Wonderings – Was the boy imagining a friendship with his toy robot? Notice the illustrated toys in his bedroom.
  • Friendship
  • Compassion

The Teachers’ Lounge

October 20, 2014

Kids wonder what happens when teachers get together. They pass by the room with the sign Teachers’ Lounge and try to peek. Jerry Pallotta portrays adventurous activities for teacher relief in What I Saw in the Teachers’ Lounge. Wouldn’t it be fun to walk through the forest during lunch time? As I reread the book, I noticed Howard McWilliam gave some clues from the paintings on the wall. Several match the adventures the teachers have.

After reading the book, kids could draw and write what might be happening in the teachers’ lounge. It would be fun to hear what they think.

Below is a video of the book, narrated by a student. The quality is good. It definitely gives you a preview of the book.

Savorings for reading and in writing for What I Saw in the Teachers’ Lounge:

  • Wonderment – what is happening?
  • Interjection – Yikes
  • Sentence Structure – simple text as well as complex sentences with clauses
  • Plural possessive
  • Magic of 3

The Christmas Sweater

December 23, 2010

Brandon Dorman creates such warm paintings through his illustrations in A Christmas Sweater: the Picture Book by Glen Beck.  Children will wonder if grandpa is Santa Claus.  The illustrations of his white beard and the red fluffy hat plus the events shared make you think he is.

Like other children during this holiday season, Eddie is anxious for a special gift.  He has his heart set o a new bicycle.  Grandpa shares a secret with Eddie, after he snooped around looking at the presents. Grandpa has bad and good news – no bike, but a Christmas sweater.  Grandpa explains that a Christmas sweater can be so much more than Eddie could imagine.

Eddie is not thrilled.  He closes his eyes; when he opens them, Eddie finds himself in a different snowy setting.  A single gift awaits him.  “What your heart needs most,” the tag says.  Eddie is whisked away to fun adventures – sledding with dad and baking with mom.  Eddie learns that a family’s love is so much more than a gift.  A family love brings magic to your life.

Savorings for reading and in writing for A Christmas Sweater: a Picture Book:

  • Wondering
  • Setting
  • Realistic Happenings
  • Transitions – whisked from one scene to the next
  • Ellipses

Cowboy and Octopus

September 1, 2009

Boy readers will love Cowboy & Octopus.  I read the book to a fourth grade class, and we were all laughing.  The humor reaches in and tickles your funny bone. 

Cowboy and OctopusJon Scieszka creates a tale of friendship between two odd characters – an octopus and a cowboy.  The book does not share how the idea sparked in Jon’s brain, but the end papers give the reader a clue.  Savoring a book requires some inquiry, asking questions to develop insight.

Jon Scieszka uses the book’s humor as an in road to discussing how to be a friend.  Each character, Octopus and Cowboy, definitely have their differences, and their likes.  Yet, they appreciate each other and share their honesty too.

We are friends,” says Cowboy.  “And that’s why I am telling you – your new hat looks like something my horse dropped behind him.  ‘Cause that’s the truth.”

Savorings for reading and in writing for Cowboy & Octopus:

  • Realistic conversation – “Sounds loco to me,” says Cowboy.  “But okay.”
  • Interweaving of Detail – Cowboy decides to surprise Octopus and make him dinner.  Octopus is definitely surprised.  “Heavens,” says Octopus.  “What is this?”
  • Ellipse – “Wow,” says Octopus.  “That is really… um … different.  Do you like my new hat?”
  • Chapter Titles – scenes that highlight their friendship
  • Humor –
  • Rereading – you must reread sections to catch all of the humor (knock, knock joke)

excellent Boy Read!

PES library and Warsaw Public Library


Snow Ponies

January 10, 2009

The illustrations created by Jason Cockcroft caught my eyes.  (I also admire horses and am awestruck by their beauty.)

Snow Ponies by Cynthia Cotten is a metaphoric narrative that makes the reader ponder.  Prior to this writing, I have read, reread, put it away, reread and pondered about this book.  Although the symbolism of the changing winter season is clear, I kept being “stumped” about what to write about.  The language in this book drew me in each time that I felt I needed to share.

Good writing is supposed to evoke sensation in the reader–not the fact that it’s raining, but the feel of being rained upon.
– E.L. Doctorow (found on Cynthia Cotton’s website, under her writing quotes)

I finally showed the book to my eleven year old daughter and asked what she thought about the book.  Through my discussion with her, my wonderings and questions, I was able to finally process the text.  Her new perspective and our sharing discussion made my writerly-eyes become focused… and my understanding deepen.  A lesson learned!!

Our students need time to process.  Conversations about a text is so crucial for children to go deeper into their comprehension.  But I also think it has to do with returning to a familiar text.  With rereadings, deeper meaning arises.

Jason Cockcroft illustrates “Old Man Winter” as a wilderness, rugged, white-haired gentleman.  My daughter, E, immediately exclaimed, “He looks like Santa Claus in work clothes.”  It made sense.

Cynthia Cottenscripts her mind’s eye of how snow storms blankets the wintery setting.  Old Man Winter sends his snow ponies out to romp.  “Their feet make no sound on the cold, hard ground, and whatever they touch turns white.”

Savorings for reading and in writing for Snow Ponies:

  • Symbolism – Old Man Winter for the season change and weather
  • Alliteration – “Their whinnies and whickers whistle through the trees.”
  • Science – hibernation and changing of a season
  • Author’s dedication – “… for James Ashcraft, the first teacher ever to make me rewrite something – now I know why.”
  • “Paced” action – I’m not sure what to call this craft, but the author chooses her words to create a mood like music, a symphony of word notes.

The snow ponies “toss their heads and paw the floor” –> “Faster and faster they go, manes flying” –> “In their flurry…” –> “Flakes fly off branches…”  “Wilder and wilder their play becomes” –> “At last the snow ponies begin to tire.”  –> “shake their heads, shuffle their feet, and sigh long sleepy sighs.”  –> “…and slowly, slowly nod off to sleep.”


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.)