Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Story of Ferdinand

Title: The Story of Ferdinand
Author: Munro Leaf    
Illustrator: Robert Lawson 
Publisher: Viking 
Publication Date: January, 1936 
Genre/Format: Fiction/Picture Book
GoodReads Summary: A true classic with a timeless message, The Story of Ferdinand has enchanted readers since it was first published in 1936. All the other bulls would run and jump and butt their heads together. But Ferdinand would rather sit and smell the flowers. So what will happen when our pacifist hero is picked for the bullfights in Madrid? This new edition contains the complete original text of the story and the original illustrations with watercolor tones added. 
What I Think: I absolutely love this book! I had no idea it was over 75 years old. I actually love it just a little bit more now. Believe it or not, I think the first time I read Ferdinand wasn't until after I saw the movie The Blind Side. That movie and Ferdinand tell the story of someone who is judged because of his size. Both make me think (again) about how easy it can be to judge people based on their looks. It's been 75 years since Ferdinand was first published but it's story is still relevant today...which makes me kind of sad but glad for the story at the same time. My husband and I wrote letters in the front and back pages of this book to give to Peanut for his first day of first grade. I especially love Ferdinand's mom in this book. I love that she gets him, she cares about him but when he assures her that he's okay, she's okay with that, too. Actually, I just realized that Ferdinand might be an introvert! I read Quiet by Susan Cain earlier this year and it was fascinating to me to learn more about introverts and that often society values extroverts. In this book, clearly, Ferdinand was expected to be loud and fierce and strong when he truly preferred to just spend time by himself. Ferdinand is a good reminder, especially to parents and teachers, that we need to honor and support people, especially students, with a preference towards introversion. I think this book makes a great mentor text for encouraging students to find a topic to write about because there are so many things they can talk about based on what they feel after reading Ferdinand's story.
Read Together: K - 6 
Read Alone: K - 6 
Read With: Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon  by Patty Lovell, One by Kathryn Otoshi, Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick
Snatch of Text: 
"His mother saw that he was
not lonesome, and because
she was an understanding
mother, even though she was
a cow, she let him just sit
there and be happy." 
Reading Strategies to Practice: Activating Background Knowledge, Making Connections, Visualizing 
Writing Strategies to Practice: Personal Narrative 
Writing Prompts: Write about a time in your life when someone believed in you and supported you. How did it feel to know that that person supported you? Are there times when you prefer to spend time by yourself like Ferdinand or would you rather spend time with people?
Topics Covered: Identity, Family, Adversity
I *heart* It:

Thursday, August 29, 2013

THE YEAR OF SHADOWS Blog Tour: Visual Inspiration

Today I'm excited to welcome Claire Legrand to celebrate her new book The Year of Shadows! She has insight to share about her planning and inspiration!

THE YEAR OF SHADOWS Blog Tour, Day 11: 
My Visual Inspiration for The Year of Shadows

A lot of authors make “inspiration boards” for their projects—collages of images, art, even knick-knacks and music, that help them develop a book’s tone. I’m no different! I spent a lot of time on Tumblr and Pinterest finding images that captured the atmosphere I wanted readers to feel when reading The Year of Shadows. I wanted that atmosphere to feel, well, shadowy—full of darkness and light, shifting icy breezes between bursts of warmth, danger and sadness ultimately giving way to hope.

Below, you can find some of the images that make up my Year of Shadows virtual inspiration board, with commentary explaining why I chose certain images and how they helped me craft the story.

Please note that credit was given when I could find it.


The Year of Shadows is on its surface a ghost story, and the ideas of death and loss hang heavily in protagonist Olivia’s mind, so I curated many eerie images to help me establish this sense of uncertainty and fear.


Notice how these images are black and white. I thought this was an accurate way to represent both a) the ghosts, and their inbetween state (between The World of the Living and The World of the Dead) and also b) Olivia’s bleak outlook on her life at the beginning of the novel.


The primary setting of The Year of Shadows is Emerson Hall, the symphony hall in Olivia’s city. Her father works here, conducting the City Philharmonic. At the beginning of the story, Olivia and her family move into the backstage rooms of the Hall because they have sold their home and most of their belongings—all in an attempt to save the failing orchestra. Olivia has fond memories of this place—she’s spent much of her life there—but can’t recall these happy thoughts at the beginning of the story. She is too horrified at having to live there, in a drab room with old instruments and broken music stands. Emerson Hall was once beautiful, but it has fallen into disrepair, especially after the recent financial crisis (Olivia, who doesn’t understand much about that, calls it simply “The Economy”). The Hall is heavy with age and memories and former grandeur—and, as Olivia will soon find out, with ghosts.
The above image is of the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center in Dallas, Texas, home of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. I grew up not far outside of Dallas and have attended many concerts at the Meyerson. As you can see, it’s a gorgeous space—a bit more modern than Emerson Hall in The Year of Shadows, but invoking a similar sense of awe. It was in this space that, while attending a concert, I imagined a girl and her cat crawling around backstage, searching for ghosts. Thus, The Year of Shadows was born.
The above photo is of a symphony hall in Paris. The lobby of Emerson Hall in The Year of Shadows would have looked something like this in its heyday—ornate ceilings, chandeliers dripping with lights, grand pillars. Of course, during The Year of Shadows, the murals on the ceiling have faded, the carpet is worn through, mirrors are cracked, and fountains no longer function. Emerson Hall is a ghost of its former self.

I love pipe organs, and I imagine Emerson Hall’s pipe organ would look something like this—ornate, spilling over with extravagant detail. The angel perched on the top of it would echo the stone angels on Emerson Hall’s exterior fa├žade:
The above photo is of the Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth, Texas—another concert hall I frequented when I still lived in Texas. In The Year of Shadows, Emerson Hall boasts a similar pair of angels guarding its entrance, but they have been vandalized, spray-painted garish colors.


The above image looks something like what I imagine Olivia’s city to look like near the location of Emerson Hall.


From the above images and their accompanying explanations, you might think that The Year of Shadows is completely depressing. But there is a lot of hope to be found in Olivia’s story—new friendships, mending families, beautiful music. The below images are more hopeful, capturing The Year of Shadows’ lighter, more tender side:

I love the above image. Olivia spends a lot of time doing just this: Imagining worlds—some beautiful, some terrible—through the drawings in her sketchbook, all while Igor rests comfortably in her lap.

And, above, the perfect portrait of Olivia—full of curiosity, wistfulness, longing.


And that’s it! I hope you enjoyed this visual tour of The Year of Shadows. Don’t forget to enter the giveaway below for a chance to win a beautiful hardcover copy of the book! (Seriously, it’s beautiful. Simon & Schuster really outdid themselves with this one. I mean, I’m biased, but still. ;)

Thank you to Claire for sharing her inspiration for The Year of Shadows! 
Claire is offering a giveaway of a hardcover copy of the book!
Claire Legrand used to be a musician until she realized she couldn't stop thinking about the stories in her head. Now a writer, Ms. Legrand can often be found typing with purpose at her keyboard, losing herself in the stacks at her local library, or embarking upon spontaneous adventures to lands unknown. Her first novel is THE CAVENDISH HOME FOR BOYS AND GIRLS, a New York Public Library Best Book for Children in 2012. Her second novel, THE YEAR OF SHADOWS, releases August 27, 2013, with her third novel, WINTERSPELL, to follow in fall 2014. She is one of the four authors behind THE CABINET OF CURIOSITIES, an anthology of dark middle grade fiction due out in July 2014 from Greenwillow Books/HarperCollins. Claire lives in New Jersey with a dragon and two cats. Visit her at and at

amazon | barnes & noble | the book depository | indiebound | books-a-million | itunes

Title: The Year of Shadows 
Author: Claire Legrand   
Publisher: Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers 
Publication Date: August 27th, 2013 
Genre/Format: Paranormal/Novel 
GoodReads Summary: Olivia Stellatella is having a rough year.

Her mother left, her neglectful father -- the maestro of a failing orchestra -- has moved her and her grandmother into his dark, broken-down concert hall to save money, and her only friend is Igor, an ornery stray cat.

Just when she thinks life couldn’t get any weirder, she meets four ghosts who haunt the hall. They need Olivia’s help -- if the hall is torn down, they’ll be stuck as ghosts forever, never able to move on. 
Olivia has to do the impossible for her shadowy new friends: Save the concert hall. But helping the dead has powerful consequences for the living . . . and soon it’s not just the concert hall that needs saving. 
What I Think: There seem to be more and more paranormal middle grade books popping up and generally, paranormal or spooky and creepy isn't my thing but I'm starting to expand my understanding and idea of paranormal novels and realizing that there are paranormal books that I enjoy. The Year of Shadows is definitely a book I wholeheartedly recommend. There were definitely some dark and scary parts of this book but I really enjoyed Olivia and her friend, Henry. I felt connected with Olivia from the beginning as she faced difficult circumstances and tried her best to manage her emotions.
     In looking at The Year of Shadows as a mentor text, I really admired Claire's ability develop the characters, especially Olivia. She's definitely the epitome of a young adolescent and Claire's does a great job of capturing that. In looking back through the book, I think a lot of that comes through with the dialogue between the characters and Olivia's inner dialogue. After taking a course on young adolescent develop over the summer and reading two novels where characters were exhibiting elements of certain stages of young adolescent development, I found that I was recognizing similar aspects in Olivia and Henry, too. I think because the characters do seem to be dealing with typical young adolescent feelings and thoughts and behaviors, it added to the believability of the characters.
     She is also able to weave in elements of the story and by the end, when she takes the storyline to a totally different level, it didn't feel unnatural or unexpected but at the same time it surprised me. I don't know if every author is able to do this. It really struck me about this book because I had an inkling she was headed a certain direction with the book and then when it happened and it was intense, I was really impressed and emotional as I read. It's really hard to talk about the book without giving it away! I don't want to give anything away! This book is definitely worth reading and savoring though.
Read Together: Grades 6 - 8  
Read Alone: Grades 6 - 9 
Read With: Doll Bones by Holly Black, Wonder Light by R.R. Russell, Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool, Anya's Ghost by Vera Brosgol, Friends with Boys by Faith Erin Hicks   
Snatch of Text: 
"'What do you want?' I said.
'What are you doing up?'
'Nothing.' I shifted my burn arm behind me. 'Getting some water.'
'Are you - ?' He cleared his throat, slicked down his hair. 'Did you have a bad dream?'
'My life's a bad dream.' (p. 36)

"'Don't ever wish you hadn't met them, Olivia - or anyone, for that matter. It's who we meet that makes us us.'" (p. 325) 
Reading Strategies to Practice: Activating Background Knowledge, Making Connections, Making Predictions, Making Inferences  
Writing Strategies to Practice: Dialogue, Characterization, Foreshadowing, Description, Personal Narrative  
Writing Prompts: Describe a time in your life when you  had to deal with strong emotions. What did you do to calm yourself or deal with those emotions?  
Topics Covered: Family, Friendship, Loss, Relationships, Belief, Determination, Help, Goodwill, Ghosts, Integration - Arts - Drawing, Integration - Arts - Music 
I *heart* It:
*Thank you to Simon Schuster for providing a copy of The Year of Shadows to review*

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