Friday, December 31, 2010

Ludie's Life... From My Stacks

Ludie's Life.  I forgot how much I love this book.  In it, Cynthia Rylant takes us back to West Virginia through powerful poetry about a woman named Ludie... walking us through Ludie's life at each stage.  From childhood to old age, we get to know this character well... her heartaches, her loves, her losses, her joys, her laughter.  The images that Rylant evokes through this bit of narrative poetry plants us in the hardscrabble life of a woman living in a coal-mining town.  It's poetry that reads like a novel.  Beautifully written.  Beautiful story.
     In Ludie's Life, Rylant reflects on the lives of the Appalachian people that she so often writes about.  As you read it, you can't help but wonder how much she drew from her own schema.  The stories she's heard.  The stories she's lived.  The stories she imagined.
     Each time I read it, I think about the woman I know who lived similar lives, though in different places and different times.  I can't help but be reminded of the stories I've heard that float through my heart and mind.  Each time I read this book, I place it back on the bookshelf with a heavy sigh.  There's something appealing about it.  
     Perhaps its the simplicity.  Perhaps its the honesty.  But I like to think it's because it's classic Rylant... sincere, simple, sweet.. with just a hint of her secluded life, a life that true Rylant fans want to be a part of so desperately.  She's on my top ten list of people I'd like to meet.  Someday, I just want to chat with her, sit and talk for a bit, bring my own children for a visit, and enjoy a cup of tea.  Don't we all?
     BUT, for now we have her writing.  And for some of us we just can't get enough of writing like that found in Ludie's Life

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Shh... Let's Have Some Quiet

The Quiet Book is exactly what I needed to read after the holidays.  I've been longing for a bit of quiet and this book was the perfect find.  Simple.  Quaint.  Just plain delightful!
      "Sleeping sister quiet," or "First look at your new haircut quiet," or "Pretending you're invisible quiet..."  Quiet comes in many forms.  Deborah Underwood describes quiet found in ordinary things on ordinary days.  And, Renata Lewski, the illustrator, is amazing (she has a lovely little blog called "Pandas and Such").  Together, they've created a little read that deserves a look... no matter what grade level you teach.
     There's something peaceful about this book.  As I was reading it, I thought about using it as a mentor text with young writers.  I can imagine my fourth graders spending some time in their notebooks describing "loud" times, or "peaceful" times, or "filled with laughter" times.  I wonder will happen when I read this book to my students at the start of writer's workshop and then ask them to have a go in their notebooks.   At maybe beyond?  I may have to have a go in my own notebook to see where my thinking takes me.  A good old-fashioned memory write or quick write... a chance to explore language as a writer, trying to use simple text, exploring those times in my own life that give me the "quiet" that we all crave. 
     After the hustle and bustle and running and dashing we've done during the holidays, don't we all deserve a little quiet?  Shhh... what does your quiet sound like?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Sea of Sleep - Another NCTE Find...

I couldn't resist this book, The Sea of Sleep, when I picked it up at NCTE.  There is something mesmerizing about Jim Lamarche's illustrations coupled with Warren Hanson's words.  The cover is as inviting as the rest of the book. 
     Baby Otter is sleepy and cuddles his mother as he gets gently rocked to sleep in the sea.  The stars, the schools of fish, the dolphins... Otter sees them all as they drift through the book.  It's a poetic lullaby.  A breathtaking book. 
     How would I use it?  I think it could be used in a study of writing with a repeating line.  The images it creates would certainly nudge students to evoke sensory images... you can almost close your eyes and be there... Drifting, Floating, Lightly gliding, On the Sea of Sleep.   
     During an illustration study... well, otters are adorable!  I love Jim LaMarche's work.  And, like all the books he's illustrated, he gives readers an open invitation to jump in and explore the author's words (in this case not his own).  
     Can't wait to hear what my students think about this one...

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Happy Birthday Freda

Last year, I wrote a little birthday blog tribute to my mom, Freda, on December 11th.  I always get a bit nostalgic when her birthday rolls around.  Still miss her.  
     For years, she ran a little cafe` in my hometown called Freda's Cafe.  The story goes... when my dad went for the business license and was asked what the name was, he said, "Hell, I don't know... she's the one who wants the darn thing, call it Freda's Cafe."  So they did.  Of course, it was also dad (while driving back to Kansas) who stopped to eat in another local restaurant called Mother's Kitchen... Ma Haynes (the owner) had a sign in the window that said "cook wanted" and my dad talked her into hiring my mom, sight unseen (I can only imagine her surprise when he got home and said, "I got you a job, we're moving to a little town in southern Colorado!").
     Freda's Cafe.  It was a typical small town cafe'... but it was extraordinarily good.  Comfort food.  Two homemade specials a day - Ham and Beans, Meatloaf with Mashed Potatoes, Chicken Fried Steak - always fresh and piping hot.  Homemade pies with clouds of meringue and lightly browned tips shining in the display cases (she must have made 20 or more pies a day).  Small tables lining the outer walls with seating for a family of four or a pair of couples out for the evening.  Small, glass jukeboxes dotted the counter with flip cards and push buttons.  Naugahyde stools.  Hot rolls, fresh donuts, hand-cut fries (I liked curlicue) were staples.
     Freda's Cafe.  The waitresses - Velma, Kay, Phyllis, and Norma Jean - all wore starched uniforms (dad was known to ask them to go home and iron if necessary), frilly aprons, and hairnets.  Mom did the same.  Her gray hair was neatly pulled into the mesh net, held in place with thin elastic and the rims of her black glasses.  Since she was the cook, her apron was always white (unless it was a special day and she dressed a bit fancier - then it was embroidered calico or flowered cotton), always a touch of Pink Carnation lipstick from Avon.  The waitresses had their own table in the back corner.  They'd sit down for a break, grab a Pall Mall from their cigarette cases waiting silently on the table (the kind with the fancy silver snaps).  They'd have a quick smoke.  And laugh!  Count their tips.
     Freda's Cafe.  One of the first things I remember learning to read was the menu.  Even when I was little, mom would sometimes let me load the typewriter with two sheets of paper  (purple carbon paper sandwiched between) to type out the daily specials.  Ham and Beans with fresh cornbread ........................................ $2.00 (typing the dots was fun).  Patiently, she taught me to capitalize the letters, put in spaces, etc.  I remember sitting at the counter, flipping through the songs, reading the charts, and begging for a dime to play Big Bad John by Jimmy Dean.  In 1967, I learned sight words like don't, sleep, in, the, subway, darling, it's, such, a, pretty, world, today... simply by reading the hits that were waiting to be played.  I'd make fake tickets on green and white pads of paper.
     Freda's Cafe.  I remember the decorative plates (one from every state) and college banners that lined the high ceilings.  I remember my 9th birthday when mom decorated a table in the restaurant and served my friends hamburger deluxes and all the "Big Red" we could drink.  I remember flicking a piece of bubblegum off my knife and it hitting a customer in the back of her neck (um, mom was NOT happy, I was bored).  I remember playing in the empty apartment upstairs four hours.  I remember going to the basement to fetch vegetables or canned goods for mom (it was scary).  I remember when she'd hear a certain whistle, she knew the "train crew" was stopping the train to run up the street for a quick "whistle stop" meal.  I remember watching her stand at the workstation my dad built and shout out orders as they were ready to serve.  
     Freda's Cafe.  I remember the phone call.  "Your restaurant is on fire!"  And, the fear in mom and dad's eyes as they dashed out the door to go see the devastation.  I think that's when I developed my fear of fire.  But, like the resourceful folks they were, it wasn't long until they had the whole thing remodeled and up and running again.  A fresh start.  The grand "reopening" was a hit!  I think Mom got more flowers that day than she did at her funeral!
     Freda's Cafe.  If I close my eyes right now, I can still picture her there, a small bead of perspiration on her forehead.  Hard working.  Amazing cook.  Steam-covered glasses.  So, Happy Birthday, Freda!  Until next year...

Thursday, December 9, 2010

It's Two, Two... Two GIfts in One (Well, Three Actually)

Another great find at NCTE (thank you again, Candlewick Press) was Switching on the Moon by Jane Yolen and Andrew Fusek Peters.  It's a wonderful collection of "bedtime poems," but really is so much more.  60 poems, old and new, in one place... poems rich in warmth, peace, and hope that only "bedtime" poems can bring.  And an added bonus, it's illustrated by G. Brian Karas, who is on my top ten list of illustrators (oh... that could be a future blog... watch for it)!
     When I picked this book up at NCTE, I just knew I had to have it... and my friends at Candlewick Press made it happen!  The cover art is absolutely delightful and inviting.  I could spend a week with my students just writing from the cover.  But open it up and the delight continues.  Some of my favorites are "Naughty Soap Song" by Dorthy Aldis, "Mama Bird's Lullaby" by Rebecca Kai Dotlich, and "Snuggles" by Penny Kent.  Of course, there are many others by some of our favorite poets.  I love "Who Sings in the Night?" and "Night Noises in the City" by Jane Yolen.  I love Andrew Fusek Peters's poems "Rain Song" and "Wonder."  Such simple and delightful poetry. 
     I wish I was Jane Yolen or Andrew Fusek Peters and could just ring up a few close "poet" friends and say, "I'm collecting bedtime poems... and I'd love your suggestions," or "Hi Lee, I need a bedtime poem, search your notebooks!"  Or perhaps this is the perfect book to nudge the writers in my care to "collect" poems on a favorite topic and to write a few of their own.  For now, I'm going to savor it with my students... let the words float through our minds and fill the air for a bit... like incense... and let the beauty of their simple words linger in our hearts and minds for a bit."

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Where Does a Month Go?

I just noticed that it's been exactly one month since I've added a blog post... unbelievable!  I think that I may have to do a little blogging about TIME. 

Snook Alone

When I attend NCTE (or any other convention) and I walk into the exhibit hall, I always tend to avoid the "glitzy," "come-and-try our program," or "free (but really not worth carrying home) teaching ideas" booths.  I tend to hit my favorite exhibitors, one of which is Candlewick Press.  I tend to spend a lot of time in the booths that sell real literature without the hype.  And, I always leave Candlewick with new titles I can't wait to share with my students and family. 
     One of the books I chose this year was Snook Alone by Marilyn Nelson.  The reason?  It is illustrated by Timothy Basil Ering and he is one of my favorite artists and illustrators.  I find something magical and inviting about his illustrations.  They are so captivating!  He's not only an amazing illustrator, but a fine artist (check out his website and look at his oil of Moby Dick... wow!).  There is something that draws me to his illustrations and when I saw the dog on the cover of Snook Alone, I knew I had to add it to my collection (and the salespeople at Candlewick Press are always gracious in their commitment to putting fine books into the hands of teachers and children).
     Written by poet Marilyn Nelson, Snook Alone was the book I used to begin a study of Asking Questions last week.  It was the perfect book to use as a think aloud to get children's minds thinking about asking questions as we read.  In the book, a monk named Abba Jacob lives on an island with his loyal terrier, Snook.  All day and into the night, Snook and Abba work together, until they are separated by a devastating storm.  When they are separated, Snook longs to hear the voice of his friend Abba again.  It's a wonderful and thought-provoking tale of friendship, loss, and endurance.  It makes for a great think aloud!  It's provocative and beautifully written.  It's lyrical and challenging.  It's emotional and poetic.  The line, "In the morning there were only faint sips of his friend's scent left for Snook to drink in  here and there," blew me away!  It's a wonderful story of friendship. 
     Snook Alone was such a lovely NCTE surprise for me to find! 

By the way... 
     I used Timothy Basil Ering's book (you just have to type out his full name) Necks Out for Adventure to begin our school year.  Not only is he a wonderful illustrator, but a superb writer as well.  We read this book the first week of school and several times since... it focused our year on risk-taking, endurance, problem solving, and wise decision making.  Now my students and I talk a lot about "Are you sticking your neck out?"  It's almost become a moniker for our work together this year... a wonderful tale as well!