Sunday, February 28, 2010

Cute as a...

Marion Dane Bauer (author of On My Honor - one of my favorite read alouds) has written a delightful book called Cutest Critter.  And, when you see this book, you'll find it a hard to decide.  A wobbly fawn, two lynx kittens... the close up pictures make the reader fall in love with them all.  The rhyming text is simple, but fits.  The book ends with a human mother and child (and is there anything cuter than a baby).  Each animal in the book is described with informational text.  I've always liked this author and I think this book will appeal to young readers... who can resist such wonderful photographs of each of the eleven animals in this book.  You can check out the authors website at:

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Peter Brown... Curious.

Just ran across Peter Brown's book The Curious Garden. 
     In the book, Liam discovers a patch of wildflowers that are trying to survive in the city.  Liam discovers the joy of being a gardener and rejuvenates the garden... which goes about exploring the city as it is tended, bringin a new look to the city.  The book brightens as the garden grows stronger; the illustrations are so unique and the style of the illustrations caught my eye.  Liam tends his garden with care and even a song or two and eventually color overtakes the dull, gray drabness of the city.  The city is transformed into a green, colorful place of beauty and bounty.  There's an underlying message in the book of stewardship and care of our surroundings.  I thought this was a perfect cousin text to Eve Bunting's book Secret Place.  It would be interesting to read both during a study of synthesis and see where the reading leads...
     I read an online interview with Peter Brown and he was asked What is your idea of bliss?  His answer:  "My idea of bliss would be a life where almost every day included the following things: two cups of good coffee; reading, writing, and drawing in a big art studio that overlooked a beautiful place; a bulldog; plenty of music; a picnic; NPR; and a dinner party with seven of my best friends."  Isn't that a great question... I'd add "finding a great book like The Curious Garden."  You can see more about Peter Brown and his art on his website, which can be found at:

Friday, February 26, 2010

Need a little Red?

I am amazed by Melissa Sweet's illustrations (A River of Words, Tupelo Rides the Rails, The Boy Who Drew Birds).  I found this book and loved her take on the classic story of Little Red Riding Hood.  In this book, "Red" is named Carmine and she's a painter... who "dawdles" all the way to Grandma's house, looking at colors, light, and noticing the things along the way, stopping to paint and think all the way.  An artistic twist to a classic story.
     It's Carmine's dog that notices trouble "lurking" and tells the wolf where to find Grandma's house.  Sweet takes through an alphabet of rich and wonderful vocabulary with just enough familiarity for us to know where the story is leading.  Visually, it's a beatiful text (as are most of her books).  She's such a great illustrator and I love  Carmine: A Little More Red, the first book she's authored. 
     There's a wonderful blog entry about Melissa Sweet's work, which you can find at:  I also love to visit her informative and colorful website, it's worth a look:

Thursday, February 25, 2010

What Color is Caesar?

What Color is Caesar?  This new book by Maxine Kumin is a sweet one... simple, but sweet!.  Caesar's either black with white spots or white with black spots.  He's on a search for the truth... about who he is and why.  It's the "white with black spots" or "black with white spots" mystery.  Where do you go when you want to learn about yourself?  Your friends.  In this case, he asks different animals their opinions.  I can see emergent readers really enjoying this book.
      Maxine Kumin is a former poet laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner (who was almost killed when her horse bolted in 1998).  She's written several collections of adult poetry and essays.  It's the illustrations by Alison Friend that endear you to this book; they are enchanting and this is her first book. 

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

What is it about small towns?

I've blogged a few times about my brother-in-law, Curtis 
(  He and my sister, Doris, have been in love for over 45 years.  Theirs was the first wedding I ever attended and one of my favorite childhood pictures is me standing by the cake in the basement of the Methodist church, waiting for a piece (I remember my mom making their wedding cake in her restaurant and I have a sneaking hunch she's standing close by at the reception reminding me not to touch it).  So many of my childhood memories include Doris and Curtis -  summer days on the ranch they managed, riding horses, gathering eggs, celebrating family holidays, branding cattle, watching rodeos, playing in the barns.  Isn't it amazing how your work ethic, your understanding of relationships, your beliefs are somehow grounded in those with whom you spent the most time - watching, observing, wondering?  I think about those days often.
     Eventually, Doris and Curtis moved to my hometown and bought a small plot of land on the border of town.  Now my hometown is more theirs than mine.  Their "Denver-square" sits proudly on the property's edge, 100 years and counting.  Doris and Curtis were the caretakers of my mom and dad in their later years and for that I'll always be grateful (they lived a mile away).  Curtis and Doris were the drivers, the shoppers, the lawn mowers, the nurses, the gentle ears that heard the complaints, the stories, the wonderings, the final contemplations of both mom and dad in their golden years.  Doris and Curtis were the self-appointed decision-makers, the caretakers, the huggers, the hand-holders.  They watched the tears flow down the wrinkled cheeks of the two people we loved the most as they told their life stories, both sad and happy.  They were there when both mom and dad drew their final breaths, with prayers and tears of their own.
     They've taken over the role of "patriarch and matriarch" of our family.  They now the host family gatherings and get-togethers when we venture back to our hometown.  
     Right now they are both being stretched, physically and mentally, as Curtis deals with another bout of cancer.  Trips back and forth to the nearest hospital, 36 miles away.  Treatments that zap energy and challenge faith.  Treatments that cost money and stretch the budget.  Treatments that require one to garner strength and face new unknowns.  Treatments that leave many unanswered questions.
     This Saturday, February 27th, the community is having a spaghetti dinner in the high school commons to benefit Curtis' care and treatment.  Once again, the folks in this small town in southeastern Colorado are coming together (thanks initially to a few church members) to help.  What is it about small towns?  Folks dealing with their own struggles, always seem to gather to help one of their own.  The fliers are handed out and folks are gathering up their hard-earned pennies, nickles, and dimes.  Saturday, they'll meet in the same room that's held these kinds of benefits before and drop their offerings into the basket... but this time it's for someone who holds a special place in my heart.  Barring a blizzard, I plan to be there too.  Sharing a plate of spaghetti... all for the benefit for a great brother-in-law, father, grandfather, and friend!

I found this piece of writing in a file and thought it captures hometown life perfectly:
Small town life is something to be treasured. Some may see it as a nuisance, while others, a joy.
It has its quiet moments, it has it roaring moments.
The seasons resonate with care, wanting to be noticed for what they are, beauty.
People cross paths with smiles and well wishes, for recognition is not an issue.
During the days of summer, doors are left open, with only a screen to protect from the outer elements.
During the days of winter, quiet reigns. In the evening, the gentle fall of snow is all that resonates.
Town meeting places are the local institutions and shopping areas. Conversations often begin at the local post office or grocery store. Rarely is a face unrecognized. Smiles and handshakes are part of the ritual of grocery shopping or mail pick-up.
Children play freely, without the restrictions or worries of city life. The moon and stars are the only light for a child to play by, and oh how bright they are.
Summers are too short in a small town.
Winters are never long enough. Often, the firelight is the only light by which to converse by.
Kids grow up with an all too familiarity. A bond develops that reflects the small town values. And out of that, a camaraderie, an understanding of the shared values of where they're from.
The camaraderie never ends. They know home is the small town.
Even when those children have moved on and grown up, they are still drawn to memories of that small town.
The townspeople celebrate the seasons together, commemorating that which is summer, fall, spring, and winter.
During the winter celebration, carolers are enjoyed for they are acquaintances.
During the summer months, long walks are cherished and enjoyed.
The world is small in such a town. The distance between the school, the store, and other seeming necessities is condensed into a short distance, nothing that can't be negotiated with a walk.
For a child in a small town, life is simple.
The world for a child is the short distance between the school yard and home.
Bike rides home from school are quiet and traffic free for there is one main road that runs through town. This road is avoided. There are numerous side routes to take in order to achieve your goal.
Life in a small town is gentle, serene, cordial, and hospitable.
I'm glad to have a treasure such as those memories of my small town. 

Monday, February 22, 2010

George Washington - A Biography

Three hundred years ago, there was no United States of America. Instead, there were thirteen English colonies in North America. In the one called Virginia, a tall boy loved to get on his horse and gallop through the woods alone. He wasn't afraid of bears, or wolves, or the native hunters with bows and arrows who shared those woods. George Washington wasn't afraid of anything, except making conversation. He was shy.
      So begins Anne Rockwell's Big George:  How a Shy Boy Became President.  This is a personal story of our first president written in Anne Rockwell style, with precision and wonderful language, painting a wonderful portrait of a man we've come to know as the father of our country.  In her version we see him grow from a boy of 13 to a man... a boy who tames his temper, a natural leader (digging trenches with his troops), and with a destain for the horrors of the battlefield.  We learn a bit about his family and his love of country as well as his bravery and skillled leadership... leadership that eventually leads him to the presidency.  You can learn more about her on her website at:
     I am becoming a Matt Phelan fan.  His subtle illustrations fit this story well (I blogged about his book The Storm in the Barn in November).  There's a sense of mystery in his drawings of George Washington and his journey.  Matt Phelan has a great blog (which explores his work):  Take a look at the illustrator's website also, it's well worth a visit:
     This is a perfect tribute to George Washington, the perfect entry to mention today.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Dogs and Cats? Cats and Dogs?

You just can't go wrong with Steve Jenkins.  I was in the library with my third graders this week and I ran across this gem.  I'm adding a copy to my Steve Jenkins collection. 
     I'm always looking for great mentor text for my students, especially well-written nonfiction text.  In this collection, the author's writing is fabulous... especially the short chunks of text that show readers how well-organized paragraphs should be written.  Paragraphs that are not phony or contrived (no pink, yellow, or green strips of paper required... no fake five-paragraph voiceless essays), but serve as examples of real-world writing.  Paragraphs that have one purpose, to alert the reader to move into a new thought, a new idea, a new topic.  Ah, paragraphs that are real.
     Why do we write in paragraphs anyway?  Katie Wood Ray reminds us that, "The flow of your text should determine the length of your paragraph."  And, if we want students to write under the influence of great writing, Steve Jenkins provides rich, well-written pieces about interesting subjects.  Thoughtfully.  A great text to teach from without suspending what we know about good writing.  
     And, if you like dogs... perfect choice.  If you like cats... perfect choice.  This is a terrific (although not new) book with the paper-cut illustrations the author is famous for... combined with well-researched writing.  Thanks once more, Mr. Jenkins!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Birthdays Anyone?

Well, today's the day!  50 years ago, I was born in Pioneer Memorial Hospital in Rocky Ford, Colorado (yep, home of the famous Rocky Ford cantaloupes -  Glenn and Freda were probably more than a bit surprised... dad was 55 and mom was 43, but I arrived!  The youngest of ten children--girl, girl, boy, girl, girl, boy, boy, girl, boy, boy (My mom only gave birth to the last five, the first five were from my father's previous marriage.  And, by the way, my oldest sister, Joy, turned 81 on February 13th).  
     So what's more fitting to celebrate a 50th birthday, than to list my favorite birthday books... of course, I'm only listing 15 books!  I'm hoping that the rest of you will add the remaining 35 to help me celebrate my 50th!  Happy searching, can't wait to hear your favorites...

Friday, February 19, 2010

Elephant and Piggie

If you were in Powell's in January, you probably heard my friend Mimi laughing outloud as she was showing me Mo William's Elephant and Piggie books.  They are hilarious.  Even as an adult, you can't help but giggle when you read one of these books.  Watch Me Throw! is one of my favorites... but there are so many others.
     I love reading Mo Williams' blog.  It's personal, child-oriented and full of his best thinking: 
     In Mo's latest Elephant and Piggie book, Gerald is careful.  But Piggie is not.  Piggie disrupts a perfectly day by telling Gerald he is going... but who will Gerald play ping-pong with and wear silly hats with?
     Such simple text creates an amazingly complex story line in each and every one of these books.  Elephant and Piggie have turned me into a Mo Williams fan.  And, I have to be honest, that's something that Knuffle Bunny couldn't do!   But, Elephant and Piggie are so endearing... I can't wait to add them all to my collection.  
     My students will love them (yes, I know they are third graders, but c'mon aren't they perfect to use during a study of drawing inferences?).  And even if they don't, I'll have a good laugh or two!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Put Thinking to the Test

It's that time again... state testing in Colorado.  And third grade readers are the first children tested in our state.  After two days of testing, I'm reminded again of a Dave Barry quote my coauthors and I used in Put Thinking to the Test (Stenhouse, April 2008), "At one time, the purpose of public schools, at least theoretically was to educate children; now it is to produce higher FCAT scores, by whatever means necessary.  If school officials believed that ingesting lizard meat improved FCAT performance, the cafeterias would be serving gecko nuggets."  The quote is followed by a wonderful essay by my friend and colleague Cheryl Zimmerman, called, "Education, Fear Factor Style."  
     Have you read it?  It's a courageous essay (we all miss Fear Factor, don't we?), filled with humor, sincerity, and truth.  Something we're reminded of this time of year.  Take a gander if you missed it (you can read Cheryl's essay online at  So many of the lessons we learned during our inquiry and while writing the book come to light at this time of year (and as we found interspersed throughout the year).   
     If you haven't read the book, consider taking a look.  It focuses "test prep" through a different lens without solely relying on mundane test preparation packets (I heard a teacher call them recently "study guides"... but they are still packets).  My coauthors and I look closely at the types of strategies students use on a regular basis and how to encourage students to use the same strategies as they become once-a-year test-takers.  We look closely at thinking strategies and their role in testing. 
     Through our inquiry we learned that "we must remain true to what we believe, true to our sense of professional integrity."  We ended the book by saying, "We are hopeful that those of you who are trying to change the testing situation in our country won't give up.  We are hopeful that those of you who are under administrative pressure to increase scores won't abandon everything you know about your students and their learning.  We are hopeful that those of you who have ignored high-stakes testing will become more test savvy.  We are hopeful that you won't give in to pressure."  So true. 

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Dogs... a Keeper

I have a daughter who loves dogs.... Big dogs, small dogs, stripy dogs, spotty dogs.  There are so many different kinds of dogs.  How can anyone pick one type of dog to love the most?  I think it's a question she asks herself every day.  Emily Gravett's new book is the perfect book for the dog lovers you know.  The illustrations are absolutely wonderful.  The text is simple, but intriguing.  It's the perfect mentor text for young writers.  Every page leaves you with a smile!  I'm sure my daughter will love this one... she's in 5th grade, but she loves a wonderful picture book.  This one is a gem... with a little twist at the end!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Forever Young? Really?

I remember this song when I was about 14 (1974)... and perhaps the fact that I'm turning 50 this week brings about a certain nostalgia (albeit not necessarily for Bob Dylan's music)!  I picked this text up at CCIRA.
     My wife and I have given this book to our friends who love Dylan and who lived in his era.  The illustrations are amazing and a trip down memory lane for many friends who grew up listening to Dylan's music (trip, interesting word choice).  I love the illustrations of Paul Rogers... he's captured the 1960s well (like a "Where's Waldo" for the Dylan set).  Can you find the references to Lay, Lady, Lay or Blowin' in the Wind or Woody Guthrie?  Brilliant.
     Musically, I love Audra Mae's version.  My own children like Rod Stewart's version.  But this book holds itself to true Dylan style.  Students will look at it as a lovely poem with a repeating line... I look at it as a great piece of text with words that speak volumes.  You can even see it animated at:
     My friends want to make #50 a big deal and, frankly, I'm not in the mood.  They don't realize that I sincerely want this birthday to pass along smoothly, with perhaps a hug and a bit of reminiscing, maybe a quiet cup of coffee after work or perhaps dinner together in the coming weeks.  I want to reflect and have a peaceful day... no confetti, no balloons, no black arm bands or "Over the Hill" decor.  I hope they'll understand...

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Chicken Cheeks

What sold me on this book?  Frankly it's not high on my list of recommendations, but I love the illustrations... Kevin Hawkes' artwork had me laughing out loud when I picked this book up at CCIRA.  Now... the storyline probably isn't the most appropriate (unless you want to learn a list of names for your "cheeks").  My favorites:  Polar Bear Derriere, Penguin Patootie, Gnu Wazoo, Kangaroo Keister, Duck-billed Platypus Gluteus Maximus...
     Of course, the story is really about a bear who's got a hankering for some honey and will do anything to get it... including stacking animals "end over end" to reach it.  
     Not a deep book, but I laughed when I read it and my daughter has loved reading it aloud... simple, but fun (and another on the bargain table).  This is the author (recognize him?) reading the book:

Monday, February 8, 2010

A Book About My Favorite Food...

I picked up a copy of Penelope Stowell's book The Greatest Potatoes on the bargain table at The Boulder Book at CCIRA.  Why?  I admit it, potato chips are my favorite food (I don't eat them often, but I certainly could... ) and this book cracked me up!
     It's about George Crum who created this thin, crispy delicacy at Moon's Lake House Restaurant in Saratoga Springs, New York.  His goal?  To please millionaire Cornelius Vanderbilt, Crum (after several unsuccessful attempts) decides to make the most unappetizing, overcooked potatoes he can... the result, potato chips!  The rest, as they say, is history... deep fried, crispy, slightly salty, and deliciously unhealthy history!  Saratoga Chips!
     The book has both an author's note and a recipe in the back that I think students will find interesting.  And, if you're a fellow potato chip lover, you just might try it yourself.  The best part... it was on the bargain table!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Barbara Kerley

It was great to pick up Barbara Kerley's book, The Extraordinary Mark Twain (According to Suzy) at CCIRA this weekIn the book, we hear the story of Mark Twain, told in the most unique way.  Interspersed through the text are snippets of Twain's daughter's own "biography" of her father taken from her manuscripts.  They add a personal touch to a book about one of American's most unique storytellers.
     When I picked up this book up and saw Barbara Kerley's name, I knew I would love it.  It's inventive, thoughtful, and beautifully illustrated.  Edwin Fotheringham's unique style capture's the mystery of Mark Twain's life perfectly.
    What I love most about this book is the addition of Suzy's words... and, as the book plate says, "This is a frank biographer and an honest one; she uses no sandpaper on me!"  Check it out, you won't be disappointed.
     You know Barbara Kerley, I'm sure.  If not, here are some of my other favorites:

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Is it a problem?

This week's CCIRA Conference (Colorado Council of the International Reading Association) was another success.  It's always run perfectly, attended well, and the line-up is always rich!  Although the crowds were a little smaller this year, the energy was there.  It's a wonderful conference.  Teachers, coaches, consultants, parents, administrators, students... all there for a purpose--to reflect and grow and revision their practices.  I was thinking that I've been to CCIRA for probably twenty of the last twenty-five years...
     But, after my last trip to The Boulder Book Store's booth this morning, it's time to come clean. I think I just may have a problem... and perhaps, it's time for an intervention!  I should just admit it.  I am a Bookoholic.  Yes, it's time to say, "Hi, I'm Patrick and I'm a Bookocholic!"  I think that there are twelve sure signs that you're in the same boat:
  1. You would rather buy books than food.  But you end up buying both, because... well, the two go hand-in-hand!
  2. You convince your friends that have willpower that they need a book too, just to relieve the guilt you are carrying because you have three in your hand.  And you feel better when you both say, "I shouldn't have done that!" in unison after you leave the cashier.
  3. You have to look through the entire pile to find the book that has the most perfect book jacket.  I never choose the book on top of the pile!
  4. You silently think, "I better buy this now... Lord knows, it might go out of print tomorrow!"  AND, you pay full price (even though you know you can get a discount at your local bookstore).
  5. You hide books in your bag and when you get home, you sneak them onto the shelf without your wife noticing.  And when she says, "Where'd this come from?" you play stupid!
  6. Or better yet... You take your wife with you to the conference and convince her that SHE needs a book or two (so you can borrow them later)... being in a two teacher family has it's perks (my wife and I both went this year--a CCIRA date of sorts).
  7. You stand in line for an hour just to have the author sign your purchase.  And then you try to convince the author to be your new best friend and tell them some story like, "The same thing happened to my son when..." and they look at you with that You and every third person that I have talked to today look!
  8. You meet your friends for coffee at the hotel's Starbucks and you compare titles... only to find there's one that they may have purchased that you passed over (and as soon as you've finished your coffee, you nonchalantly excuse yourself and run to the table to buy one).  It's actually worse when you BOTH bump into each other later and say, "Oh, I was just looking to see if they had..."
  9. You say to yourself, "I don't think I have this one!"  But when you get home you discover you have three copies, but you don't really care because now you have one for your house, one for your classroom, and one to regift.
  10. You read and reread and reread your purchases when you get home and start thinking about strategies and units of study... and say, "I could use this for..."  You self-convince yourself that the money was well spent!
  11. You debate... cash or credit card, cash or credit card, cash or credit card, cash or credit card... and it doesn't really matter because you're going to buy it no matter what!
  12. You feel book guilt and start to say... "I'm only going to buy this one book..."  "I can stop any time I want..."  "My friends do it, why can't I?"  "It's better than spending money on golf or alcohol!" "It's just a small book, one more won't hurt me."   
     Now, there are worse things.  Being a bookoholic isn't the worst habit a soon-to-be, 50-year-old man can have... (that's a hint just in case you want to regift your third copies on February 20th).  As I read The Sunsets of Miss Olivia Wiggins to my daughter tonight at bedtime and then told her the stories Lester Laminack told us about it this morning in his session, I felt better.  Suddenly, the guilt slipped away!
     So, as the week goes on, I'll share a bit of my addiction with you... I found some great titles!  You just have to promise me something... that you'll go out and buy one or two of them!  C'mon.  I need your support!  "Hello, Patrick..."

Monday, February 1, 2010

Bass Pro Shops? Books? Who knew?

You'll never guess where I picked this book up... Bass Pro Shop.  Yep, that Bass Pro Shop.  Last year, while visiting Santa (he's the best in town), I happened over to the book table and picked up this book (which my wife gave to me for Christmas).  Having several outdoors-loving people in the family, we can spend hours wandering through the store; it was a pleasure finding a new find that didn't involve velcro, hooks, or wool (I did pick up a bottle of extreme hot sauce to use as a white elephant).
     I love The Sunset Switch for several reasons.  It's written in second person (which I think is a great study for young writers to discover and attempt).  The illustrations by Lindy Burnett are the most vibrant oranges, reds, browns, purples, and greens (the borders are amazing).  The language is rich and descriptive.  The circular nature of the text lends itself to further study. 
     Listen to the first lines... "Slowly the sun slips from the sky.  Day animals grow sleepy.  Night animals start to stir and wake.  Come and watch them trade places.  The sunset switch is beginning."  Kathleen Kudlinski takes the reader on a nocturnal journey with words and images.  It's poetic and lovely.   Here are a few more tidbits:
     "Good night, Goshawk.  Your daytime turn is over.  You searched the meadows for mice all day.  Fluff your fine feathers, and sleep."
     "Night-night, weary Butterfly.  You sipped sweet nectar all day.  Tongue coiled, wings folded, you should be sleeping."
     The language lends itself to the kind of writing that perhaps students can do during a content study.  The images from the text and the pictures blend so well.  It's just an appealing book.
     I just ordered The Seaside Switch used.  I hope it's as good at this one.
     So next time you're in the Bass Pro Shop look around... even book lovers can find something!