Friday, May 27, 2011

A Blogging Life

It's been a fun BEA week even though I've been at home.  I can't imagine trying to be away from the end of the school year to be able to be in New York for this week, but maybe some day I'll be able to attend the Expo.  I love seeing all the pictures and videos of the fun people are having.  I'm excited for another year of new books.

Today's Armchair BEA topic is what are your tips for balancing life and blogging.  Talk about a tough question.  I was there was an easy, straight-forward answer...but I don't think there is.  Thinking back to my post on Monday about how I find ways to squeeze in reading by listening to audiobooks, I guess that's the same way it is when it comes to blogging.

I've been blogging for a year now and when I first started it was the end of the school year, then it was the summer, and then I was on maternity leave.  That was a completely different story from blogging since I have been back to work with two kiddos at home.  I haven't officially gotten back into a rhythm, but I'm hoping I can get back on track now that summer is almost here.

Reflecting on what was working for me when I really did feel like I was in a rhythm has helped me realize what I need to do to be able to better manage blogging in the future.  Here are my top 3 tips for happy blogging!
Tip #1 - Sticky Notes Are Your Friend
If you're a book blogger, then you have to be reading first (I know, duh), but I've realized that if I keep a pack of sticky notes or a notepad close to me when I'm reading it helps to jot down my ideas and feelings as I'm reading so I can refer back to them when I'm ready to review the book or write a post.  There are so many times when I have a great revelation and then forget it.  There's nothing more frustrating then sitting down to write a review and feeling stuck on what to write about.  If I take little notes to remind myself of what I want to blog about it makes writing so much easier.

Tip #2 - Calendars are Cool
I knew when I started my blog that I wanted to be consistent about posting.  I wanted to post regularly so that people are finding new things on my blog.  I started to blog to share my ideas with others and to hear what others have to say about my ideas.  I love books and I love to share what I've read.  The whole idea about blogging is to be putting new reviews out there so people will come back to see what's  new.  I created a calendar just for my reviews and set myself up with a goal for how many posts a week and how often.  I've kind of settled into a routine...and maybe I should switch it up here and there, but it works for me to have an idea in my head of how many reviews I want to post a week and what memes I want to participate in.  As a blog reader, it's not fun for me to go to a blog and see that 5 things have been posted in a day so I try to find a middle-ground.  I love my calendar to keep track of posts I'm planning and any interviews or reviews I'm scheduled to do.  Organization makes me happy.  Happy is good.

Tip #3 - Time Is On Your Side
Time may not be on your side...I feel like sometimes it's against me as it races past but I try to pretend time is my friend.  Here's how!  I look at my weekly schedule and find time to sneak in my blogging.  I try to carve out little chunks of time when I can sit and blog.  Right now I'm sitting in my beloved Starbucks after work but before a retirement party.  I'm way to far away from home to go home and get back so I snuck in here to get this post done.  For me, it's easiest to get into the mode of blogging and get stuff done rather than do little, teeny, tiny snippets here and there.  I can get a lot done in an hour.  If I've got my little, sticky notes and an idea of what I want to accomplish (according to my calendar) then I can sit and do work!  Gotta love it.

So those are my little tricks.  I'd love to hear everyone else's little tricks.  I'm always open to new ideas.  It's good to share and brainstorm.  Whatcha got for me???  Thanks for checking out how I balance my blogging life!
      

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Armchair BEA 2011 Book Blogger Interview!

Armchair BEA continues!  I'm excited to be interviewing Joy from Edgy Inspirational Romance!  Doesn't the title make you want to go see what this genre is all about?  Read on to learn a little more about Joy and then head over to her blog to learn even more about her and her favorite genre!

TMT: Believe it or not, we both started our blogs in May of 2010! I looked at your very first post and it was on May 9th, 2010...and then I went back to check my first post and it was May 10th, 2010.  How crazy is that?  I started blogging to share great books with other teachers and parents.  Why did you start your blog?  What had an influence on you as you designed and set up your blog?
 
Joy: Happy Bloggiversary Jen!  Congrats to us both for lasting a year!
 
I started book blogging to build a platform for my fiction writing. I'm still years (decades?) away from being published, but the last time I tried blogging my only readers were people related by blood, so I figured I'd  start early.
 
As far as design, my one requirement was that it be cute.  I guess 'if you build it they will come,' because this book blogging thang took off faster than I expected and I've had to find help to keep up the posting schedule.  In January I took on a contributor (writer Serena Chase) who helps with content. 
 
TMT: I'm not sure I entirely understand the genre of edgy, inspirational romance yet but I love the writing on your blog.  I can definitely hear your voice and personality coming through and you have me interested for sure.  I'm thinking the genre might appeal to and be more appropriate for adults.  Is this true?  Or are there (much) milder versions of these types of books that might possibly be appropriate for young adults?  If so, which might you recommend to a high school student? A middle school student?
 
Joy: I blog about all kinds of Christian romance, edgy or otherwise.  Inspriational romance is usually appropriate for young adults.  On my blog I use the iced tea analogy.  You can find Christian romance that's sweet tea- for example Amish books or the Christian category lines like Love Inspired,  or you can find Christian romance that is unsweetened (edgier) like Deeanne Gist or Francine Rivers. 
 
But compared to inspys, mainstream romance looks like a Long Island iced tea.  Even our edgy authors don't seem so edgy next to that.   
 
TMT: It's obvious that you are passionate about reading.  To whom or what would you accredit your strong love of reading? 

Joy: My mom is a reader and I'm so glad she passed her love of books on to me.  We have slightly different tastes, she likes thrillers more than romance. But even though she's in her 60's she reads YA which makes me smile.  YA is my second favorite genre.   

TMT: As a parent, what advice do you have in encouraging children to read?  

Joy: I have three sons and one of the best parenting decisions I've made is no TV or video games during the week. So after they finish homework they either play outside or read a book.  I try to keep reading fresh for them. We go to the bookstore frequently and hang out in the children's section reading new releases. 

TMT: Can you describe your perfect reading spot? 

Joy: In bed on a Saturday morning before anyone else wakes up or on my couch one rainy afternoon. 

TMT: I read on your blog that your grandmother worked for Helen Keller!  As a teacher who works with students who are deaf and hard of hearing, and even some who have multiple disabilities like deaf-blindness, that is so intriguing to me.  Did share any stories or perceptions with you that you can share? 
 
Joy: I wish I paid more attention to my grandmother's stories while she was alive!  What I wouldn't give to be able to interview her now that I appreciate the significance of her past.  All I remember is this piece of a conversation:
 
I think technically she was employed by Helen's teacher and companion Anne Sulliven when Helen lived in New York City.   Once my grandmother was asked to wait for the man coming to install flooring (or fix the floor?).  When the man arrived, he couldn't get past Helen's dog. My grandmother had to go upstairs to get Helen so she could restrain her dog.  By the time she got to the top of the staircase, Helen Keller had opened the door.  She felt the vibrations of my grandmother's foots on the stairs.  

TMT: And finally, I love to ask people how you would finish this sentence: "Reading is..."  

Joy: ...my mind's amusement park.

One reason I started my blog was to interact with other readers, parents, and teachers.  I love seeing what other bloggers are up to.  The beauty of the blogger interviews is that I'm not sure I would have found Joy's blog otherwise!  I hope everyone at BEA is having as much fun as we are with Armchair BEA!  Have you read any edgy, inspirational romances you want to recommend?  Any other blogs you have discovered that you would love to share?  Thanks for stopping by!
 

Monday, May 23, 2011

Armchair BEA Kickoff!

This week is Book Expo American in New York.  I've been finding more and more reasons to visit New York City and this might be the top of my list...maybe after the Scholastic store!  So the question for today is, "Who Are You and How Do You Armchair?"  I'm sitting here contemplating this after putting down Mile Markers: The 26.2 Most Important Reasons Why Women Run by Kristin Armstrong.  I haven't run for about a year and a half now since I stopped running with I got pregnant with my second kiddo.  Little Bird is now almost 11 months old so I probably should get back to running soon!  Now that the weather is warming up (finally) I'm really itching to get back to running.
I would have never considered myself a runner until I took up the sport/pastime when I was in college.  I would walk a little and run a little until I was running 3 miles without stopping every day.  After that I found races to run in and eventually signed up for the Chicago Marathon.  My husband and I ran it in 2003.  It is one accomplishment in my life that I am so proud of.  I love the feeling of running and I love to be around other runners for a race.  I also love the feeling of being up early and being the only only one out on the streets when everything is quiet and I can actually hear and appreciate nature in the midst of suburban life.
Before I got pregnant with baby number two, I was running with my iPod and listening to books while I ran.  I hadn't done that in the past because I like to focus on myself and my running when I run, but I was excited to listen to a book I had checked out from the library and finding it hard to find time to read with Peanut at home (the book was Gods Behaving Badly: A Novel by Marie Phillips).  Getting out of the house early in the morning with my running shoes and my iPod let me embrace both of my favorite hobbies: reading and running.
Finding time to read, like reading while running, has been the secret to being able to read as much as I do.  I squish reading in however and wherever I can.  I always have a book on audio with me.  I take my iPod from my car in to the house and if I get the chance to sit for a bit I've got a physical book or Henry (my Nook Color) with me.  I urge my students to always have a book with them.  You can never be bored if you have a book with you and any kind of wait, even 3 minutes, is worthy of a book to read.
That's a little bit about me as a reader and as a runner.  Hmm...maybe if I could qualify for the New York Marathon, that would be another reason to get to New York.  Too bad BEA and the New York Marathon don't coincide.  Since I'm not really that competitive or that fast of a runner to qualify for New York...maybe I'll stick to sidewalks and books for now!
 

Friday, May 20, 2011

Bill Thomson Illustrator Interview!

ChalkLast year, as my family planned to go to my parents' house to celebrate Thanksgiving, I chose Bill Thomson's Chalk as one of the books to bring with to read to my older son before bedtime.  I had just picked it up from the library after hearing so much about it on Twitter.  You can see my review of Chalk here.  That weekend we fell in love with the book and Thomson's artwork.  It is amazing.  I thought maybe it was digitally created and then modified to look like it was hand-drawn...but no, that is all the skill of Bill Thomson!
I am thrilled to be share even more than the book with you now.  I had the pleasure of interviewing Bill, who I found out is a Chicago Bears fan just like me!
TMT:  On your blog, you talk about reading comic books and drawing your own comics.  What drew you to comic books?  Was it the books themselves (artwork/story) or did someone influence you to read them?
Bill Thomson: Coincidentally enough, it all started with the Chicago Bears. In the fall of 1970 while visiting my uncle in Atlanta, I saw a pro football game between the Chicago Bears and the Atlanta Falcons. The cover of the game program featured a bunch of Marvel Comics superheroes for an article called “Beware the Linebacker”. The article compared football players of that time to comic characters, and one of my favorite players, Dick Butkus, was depicted as the Hulk. It was the first time that I had ever seen the Hulk, and after seeing his comparison to Butkus, I loved him. When we got home from the game, I repeatedly tried to copy the Hulk illustration, failing miserably at every attempt. The artist, John Buscema, was way beyond my 7-year-old capabilities. My mother, who is pretty talented, tried her hand at it and did an AMAZING job! 

A few months later, I was home sick from school with a cold. My mother went out to get me some medicine, and remembering the Hulk drawing, she also bought me an Incredible HULK comic book. That comic made me feel much better than the medicine did and began my childhood obsession with comic books. I was initially mesmerized by the Hulk, but later became even more fascinated with the drawings and visual storytelling contained in comics. The comic books credited the artists who created them, so I became a big fan of particular artists and repeatedly tried to copy their drawings. Although I could never draw as well as them, I never stopped trying and continually improved. Eventually, I would invent my own comic characters and stories.

(Many years later, I tracked down the original artwork from both the NFL program and the cover of my first Hulk comic (Hulk #139), and both drawings are now hanging on the walls of my studio. It is pretty cool having the actual drawings that were at the core of my artistic career hanging in front of me while I’m working everyday.)
Here are links to each original drawing:
http://members.cox.net/billt140/HULKbutkus.jpg
http://members.cox.net/billt140/hulk139photoa.jpg

TMT: How cool that you seemed drawn to art since you were very young.  I remember loving to grab the Archie comics in the grocery store checkout lane but I liked reading about the characters and their crushes!  What comic books or books from your childhood do you distinctly remember reading?  Did any of them influence your artwork?

Bill Thomson: My favorites were the superhero comics, especially the Hulk, Spider-man, the Fantastic Four and Captain America. However, more than the characters, I was following the artists that created them. I would buy anything that particular artists did whether it was a superhero, horror, western or war comic. My favorite artist was Sal Buscema. I also loved the work of Sal’s brother John Buscema, John Romita, Gil Kane, Herb Trimpe, Neal Adams, Jim Aparo, Gene Colan, Jack Kirby and many others. I saw how each artist had their own style and way of storytelling. They essentially functioned as movie directors showing scenes from various points of view to make the stories more engaging and dramatic. Their drawings also taught me a lot about anatomy, perspective and foreshortening.

(When I was in high school, I worked stocking shelves at a supermarket. I was friendly with the butcher and one day I noticed the last name on his time card was “Aparo”- an uncommon last name that also belonged to a comic artist. When I later asked him if he was related to anyone named Jim Aparo, he replied, “My brother, Jimmy? He draws Batman and lives in town. Do you want to meet him?” I couldn’t believe that one of my artistic heroes lived right in my town! I later went to Mr. Aparo’s house and he showed me his creative process and critiqued my drawings. He was a very kind and generous man, and while I didn’t want to be a nuisance, I visited him a couple of times. He was the first professional artist that I ever met, and for the first time, I began thinking that I could possibly pursue a career in art too. Around that same time, I began doing editorial cartoons for a local newspaper. The editor was looking for a cartoonist and his daughter was in my class and told him about me. By the time I graduated high school, I had been published well over fifty times, but more importantly, was then certain that I wanted to be an artist.)

My children’s book illustrations reflect the lessons that comic book artists ingrained in me throughout my childhood. Although I work realistically, I try to incorporate dynamic perspectives to make the images more engaging so readers feel like part of the scene. I also try to make each page a completely different visual experience, constantly varying the vantage point and scale of subjects, while continuing to advance the story. Much of what I do in terms of storytelling and composition has its roots in comics. I found these things interesting when I was young; so I hope this generation of readers will too.

TMT: Can you talk about your workspace where you do your artwork?  Do you work during a specific time of day or have any kind of routine when it comes to doing your work?

Bill Thomson: My studio is in the lower level of my house. Because I work so realistically, it takes me a long time to paint all the meticulous little details. Each illustration takes around 100 hours to complete, and depending on the number of pages, an entire book takes a year to a year and half to complete. When I have a deadline, I keep pretty crazy hours and am usually working 7 days a week. I’ll work during the day when the kids aren’t home and often through much of the night when they are asleep. My prime time begins at 9pm when the kids are going to bed and interruptions are at a minimum. On days that I teach, I work for around 4 hours when I get home. My secret is Diet Coke- it is a great aid to sleep deprivation.

(Here is a link to my creative process:
 http://billthomsonillustration.blogspot.com/2010/08/painting-technique-for-chalk.html )

TMT: Meticulous seems perfect to describe your artwork, I can't even imagine all the detail that goes into producing such amazing work!  Lately, there has been an emphasis on encouraging boys to read.  As a father of three sons, what did you/do you do to encourage them to be readers?

Bill Thomson: My wife and I have always read with our sons before bed. In addition to being a wonderful source of learning and entertainment, I think that books also provide one of the best bonding experiences for parents and their children. Whether we read to them or they later read to us, books provide us with the chance to experience a story together, while also fostering casual discussions (about the book or anything else). Another thing that I have always done is telling impromptu stories to my boys. I tell them a story in exchange for them telling me a story. These complete flights of fancy, shared on a car ride or at the kitchen table, would stimulate their imaginations and encourage them to think. Both reading and storytelling involve participation exercising the mind- much better activities than being mindlessly dictated to by a television or video game. Unfortunately, it gets harder as they get older (my two older sons are now teens), but I like to think that we have ingrained something in them.

TMT: I completely agree that sharing books with kids is as much as giving them that bonding experience as it is about giving them the experience of reading the book!  Your book, Chalk, is a wordless picture book.  Did you ever think about writing the text with the book or did you know you wanted to tell the story solely with the artwork.

Bill Thomson: In addition to CHALK, I have also illustrated Karate Hour, Building With Dad, Baseball Hour and the recently released Soccer Hour. Each of these other books was written by Carol Nevius and published by Marshall Cavendish. Whether a picture book has text or not, I think the pictures should still generally tell the story. Without text though, the illustrations must be especially clear and informative. I absolutely love to tell a story and bring an idea to life through my paintings… I’m like a modern day caveman in that respect.

Regarding CHALK
, it actually was originally going to include minimal text. The first and last pages of the story were going to read, “Saturday was a rainy day” and “Sometimes rainy days are nice”. After seeing the finished art, my editor (Margery Cuyler) suggested making it completely wordless. I embraced that idea since the book was always about the pictures anyways- with a few simple words or none at all, the book would function the same. My bigger goal for the book was to create something with possible educational value that could be used as a confidence builder for beginning/reluctant readers, as a writing prompt for more advanced students or as a possible launching point for artistic activities. I love how the wordless format allows readers to participate and become involved in the story in a variety of ways.

TMT: If I had a piece of magical chalk, there are lots of things I would (try to) draw!  Maybe floor-to-ceiling bookshelves full of my favorite books, my time-stop/teleportation button I would love to have, or a Starbucks barista right in my kitchen...if you had a piece of magical chalk, what would you draw and bring to life?

Bill Thomson: I would draw ten more arms onto my body so I could make books faster and not be such a creative slow poke. However, I am not sure how my wife would feel about those extra additions, so I would also be drawing lots of rain clouds to get rid of them at the end of each work day.

TMT: Ten arms would definitely help you get more done!  It sounds like it might serve the same purpose of my time-stop button.  I would love more time to get things done without having to miss out on other things. Finally, people might not have known that you are a Chicago Bears fan.  We both know how awesome they are.  Just for fun, who is your favorite Bears player, from the past or present and why?  


Bill Thomson: Can’t I say “all of them”? I would single out Dick Butkus, Gale Sayers and Brian Piccolo as some of my favorite Chicago Bears, but place Walter Payton at the top of the list. After enduring years of embarrassingly bad records and accompanying childhood ridicule, I finally had something to be proud of when the Bears drafted Walter Payton in 1975. Although he wasn't the biggest, the strongest or the fastest, Walter Payton quickly became one the very best running backs in the NFL because of his heart, talent and tremendous work ethic. Payton held many of the most prestigious NFL records when he retired, and his career provided a shining example of the benefits of hard work and determination. When I was growing up, that really struck a cord with me and I tried to emulate Payton’s example in my life.





I remember celebrating the '85 Bears and doing the Superbowl Shuffle but not much of watching them play.  Since I've been married to a Bears fan, I know a lot more about recent Bears players.  Obviously, I know Payton's legacy as a Bear and also an amazing football player in general.  

Thanks again for sharing your passion for illustrating with us!  Now that the weather is warmer and we're getting more and more sunshine, it's definitely time to be grabbing Chalk and some sidewalk chalk and heading out with the kiddos!  

Have you read Chalk?  What activities have you used with Chalk?  On his blog, Bill shares two schools that used Bill's artwork to create some amazing experiences for students.  You can read more at Bill Thomson Illustration.

       

Monday, May 16, 2011

Deep in the Swamp

Deep in the SwampTitle: Deep in the Swamp     
Author: Donna M. Bateman   
Illustrator: Brian Lies
Publisher: Charlesbridge
Publication Date: 2007
Genre/Format: Non-Fiction/Picture Book   
Summary: Learn about the animals that live in the Okefenokee Swamp through Bateman’s sing-song text and Lies’ colorful artwork.
What I Think: As I read the first page of this book, I was instantly reminded of Raffi’s song "Over In The Meadow".  I have fond, fond memories of Raffi from my childhood so I was excited to read (or sing, rather) through this book.
      Bateman incorporates various wildlife into her book as each page focuses on a different animal living in the swamp.  I love the illustrations and think this would be great to use in a preschool classroom.  This book could be used for elementary students as well, though, because at the back of the book she gives facts about the swamp and the animals that are highlighted throughout the book. 
Read Together: Pre-K - 5
Read Alone: Pre-K - 5   
Read With: I don't know any other swamp books - but I would definitely get some other non-fiction books about the swamp or the animals in this book. As a counting book, it could be read with:   
Snatch of Text: 
“Deep in the swamp, where the neverwets grew,
Lived a mother snapping turtle and her little turtles Two.
‘Swim!’ said the mother. ‘We swim,’ said the Two.
So they swam through the prairies where the neverwets grew.”
Reading Strategies to Practice: Using Non-Fiction Text Features, Activating Background Knowledge, Asking Questions 
Writing Strategies to Practice: Expository, Persuasive
Writing Prompts: Write a paragraph/essay about animals that live in the swamp.  Write a paragraph about the swamp habitat.  Write a letter to persuade someone to protect the swamps or an animal that lives in a swamp. 
Topics Covered: Integration - Science - Swamps/Animals, Integration - Math/Counting, Integration - Music, Rhyme
Translated to Spanish: No
 

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Disreputable History of Frankie Laundau-Banks


The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks
Author: E. Lockhart
Publisher: Hyperion Books
Publication Date: 2008

I just finished listening to The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart yesterday.  I was waiting and waiting to see what would ultimately happen to Frankie in the end!  Frankie has had enough of being on the fringe of her new boyfriend’s group of friends and their secret society, that she takes matters into her own hands.  She trails him to their private meetings and then creates an e-mail account that allows her to impersonate one of the club’s leaders.  Frankie wants to desperately to fit in and is hoping she can prove to them that just because she is a girl, it doesn’t mean she can’t be one of them. 

Fly on the Wall: How One Girl Saw EverythingThe Boyfriend List: 15 Guys, 11 Shrink Appointments, 4 Ceramic Frogs and Me, Ruby OliverThe whole time I was listening and wondering how it would all turn out for Frankie.  I’ve read The Boyfriend List: (15 Guys, 11 Shrink Appointments, 4 Ceramic Frogs and Me, Ruby Oliver) and Fly on the Wall: How One Girl Saw Everything by E. Lockhart before and I remember finishing The Boyfriend List and having to convince myself it was a happy ending.  I was wondering if this book would have the same type of ending…and it did.   

Peace, Love, and Baby DucksBoth books have happy, real-life endings for the girls.  But the endings are not what I’m used to in books or movies or TV.  It got me thinking about how much society tells the tale of girls who try and get the guy.  Girls who we read about or watch and just wait for them to get their guy and get happy.  I admit, I love these stories and I always want to see how she ends up with her guy.  A perfect example is Peace, Love, and Baby Ducks which I recently read by Lauren Myracle.  I rooted for Carly to finally open her eyes and realize who her true ironic love boodle was.  The same goes for Jandy Nelson’s The Sky Is Everywhere.  I can’t help but hope and wish and read to find out if she gets the guy. 
The Sky Is Everywhere 
The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z.Sugar and Ice


When I read books like The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks or Kate Messner’s middle grade books The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z. and Sugar and Ice, they make me stop and have to reassure myself that just because the climax and resolution of the books don’t center on the girl getting the guy, they still are happy endings.  It’s kind of a weird feeling to finish a book and have to counsel myself but that’s the feeling I’m left with.  I love all of these books and I’m starting to appreciate them more and more for being solid examples of stories about girls who do what they have to do, apart from their crushes or boyfriends.  I still love the gushy love stories, but I recognize how I had way too much of that when I was growing up and this subtle message of girl power: I’m a girl and here’s what I can do in spite of or regardless of boys is needed in middle grade and young adult literature.  Life isn’t a constant romance and books or movies and television that portray that foster an unrealistic expectation for girls.  If happily-ever-after love stories are all girls are reading, I think we're setting them up to be disillusioned in real life.

I won’t stop reading the books where the girl gets the guy but I’m glad to know there are books that don’t center all around the girl getting the guy and I’m excited to read those, too.

Do you know any books like The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks with a strong female protagonist who doesn’t necessarily end up with the guy?  Do you get this same feeling when you read them?  What’s your opinion on these types of books?


 

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Whopper Cake

Whopper CakeTitle: Whopper Cake 
Author: Karma Wilson   
Illustrator: Will Hillenbrand 
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books  
Publication Date: 2007  
Genre/Format: Fiction/Picture Book   
Summary: Grandpa wants to surprise Grandma with an extraordinarily large chocolate cake for her birthday!  Can he pull it off?  And who'll clean up the mess!?   
What I Think: This book brought a smile to my face because it made me think of my husband and my own dad cooking up storms in the kitchen.  My husband makes me nervous in the kitchen because I'm never sure what he's going to put together - although it does always end up turning out good!  And he always ends up with a mess!  My dad loves to cook and also makes some really amazing food but he does everything big so I was reminded of him.
     This book is written in rhyme which makes it fun.  Grandpa really does go crazy and ends up needing shovels to frost his giant chocolate cake.  You can imagine how happy Grandma feels when she gets her surprise.  I love pointing out the silly things Grandpa puts into his cake and laughing and how we think it's all going to turn out.  Bonus: at the end of the book, there's a real recipe to make your own whopper cake. Love it!  
Read Together: Pre-K - 6  
Read Alone: 2 - 6 
Read With: Sweet Dream Pie by Audrey Wood, Cupcake by Charise Mericle Harper  
Snatch of Text: 
"Granddad holds the paddle firm
and sets himself to mixin'.
'I'm thinking that old cookstove
might not hold this cake we're fixin'.'

Recipe says one pinch salt.
Granddad 'pinches' more.
Recipe says one cup cocoa.
In go twenty-four.
(Twenty-four boxes, that is...)" 
Reading Strategies to Practice: Activating Background Knowledge, Making Connections 
Writing Strategies to Practice: Expository
Writing Prompts: Write step-by-step directions to explain how you would decorate your whopper cake to surprise someone for his or her birthday.  Write a letter to explain to your parents what kind of birthday cake you would like. 
Topics Covered: Family, Birthdays, Integration - Foods, Thoughtfulness, Surprises, Rhyme
Translated to Spanish: No

Monday, May 2, 2011

All The Way To America: The Story of A Big Italian Family and A Little Shovel

All the Way to America: The Story of a Big Italian Family and a Little ShovelTitle: All the Way to America: The Story of a Big Italian Family and a Little Shovel     
Author: Dan Yaccarino   
Illustrator: Dan Yaccarino 
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
Publication Date: 2011   
Genre/Format: Biography/Picture Books   
Summary: Dan Yaccarino tells the story of his great-grandfather coming from Italy and the values his family has handed down from generation to generation.   
What I Think: I've been waiting to get my hands on this book ever since Dan Yaccarino sent me the book trailer!  I love his illustrations and the story of the little shovel and the values his family has passed down to him.  I think it's important for kids to know where their family comes from and who their ancestors are.  I love hearing my own family stories and hearing my students talk about their families.  Reading this book would be a nice way to start a discussion about families.
     Including families into teaching is important because students need support at home to be successful in school.  After reading this book with students, you can ask students to interview their parents or even grandparents about their family history.  To put a literacy swing on it, you might ask them to include questions like who read to the child when he or she was a baby, what books he or she liked as a baby, what was the first book he or she read, what book he or she would ask to be read again and again.  I recently thought about asking my students to interview their family about when they first thought the student had a hearing loss and what they did when they suspected the child might have a hearing loss.
     I know as a mom I love telling Peanut about when he was a baby.  He already likes to hear stories and then he'll retell them to us or other family members.  I know it makes me feel warm and fuzzy and loved to hear my mom talk about me as a kiddo.  Just the other day she was talking about how surprised and excited she was when I took my first steps!
     You can watch the book trailer at Dan Yaccarino's website to get an idea of the story and the illustrations!  I had the honor and pleasure of interviewing Dan last year after I read The Fantastic Undersea Life of Jacques Cousteau.  You can read my interview and learn a little more about this awesome author and illustrator!
Read Together: Pre-K - 12
Read Alone: 3 - 12 
Read With: On the Night You Were Born by Nancy Tillman, Tell Me Again About the Night I Was Born and/or When I Was Little: A Four-Year-Old's Memoir of Her Youth by Jamie Lee Curtis
Snatch of Text:  
"'Work hard,' his father told him, handing him the little shovel.
'But remember to enjoy your life.'
'And never forget your family,' his mother said.  She hugged him and gave him their few family photographs and her recipe for tomato sauce."
Reading Strategies to Practice: Activating Background Knowledge, Making Connections, Asking Questions 
Writing Strategies to Practice: Expository - Interview, Personal Narrative/Autobiography 
Writing Prompts: Interview your parents/grandparents about you when you were growing up.  Use the interview to write your own biography or a story from your life when you were a baby.   
Topics Covered: Family, Tradition, Values, Morals, Hardwork, Determination 
Translated to Spanish: No