What's in bloom in your garden?
A cold moon washed the skies as the single, black caterpillar line of the night train to Rudrakot cleaved through the Sukh desert.
That's the first line of the novel The Splendor of Silence. I just snuggled down under the quilt and wiggled with pleasure when I read that. I didn't come up for air until it was hours past my bedtime. I just love a juicy novel about complicated, passionate people living in far distance places having dangerous adventures.
Six days until the nominations open for best books of 2007!!
The Cybils awards are off to a great start in our second year. This is the book award for Best Books of the year nominated and chosen by bloggers. Last year I served on the Non-fiction Picture Book judging committee. This year I am ecstatic to be on the POETRY judging committee! WhooHa!!! Rush over to the Cybils blog and read up on all the categories and committees:
Nominations open on October 1, 2007!
(Many thanks to Wild Rose Reader for gathering these links, which I shamelessly copied and pasted right into this post.)
"Let's put together a compendium of great books that we use to help lift the level of children's writing. Submissions for grades K - 8 are welcome. Be sure to include a grade level, as well as a description of how you use the book to make kids' writing better (i.e., what does the author do that you want your students to do) in your post. I am looking forward to yoursubmissions, which are due by 10/5/07.
Submit a book for a great mentor text to Picture Book Carnival Part III
"Instead of collecting poems we love and putting them in a book, we'll make anThey gather clip boards and search the school for likely places to post poems. Then they choose poems, make posters and stick them up all over the place. I think this is a fabulously exciting exercise for school children to do. It reminds me a lot of bloggers doing Friday Poetry every week. Have you ever printed out a poem and hung it up somewhere? What if we all started doing that In Real Life, in print as well as in blogs? Extend the movement people!
anthology out of the walls and spaces around the school. It will be our jobs to
make sure poetry is all around the building so other students and teachers can
have a chance to read some poetry. in a few minutes, we'll take a tour of the
building to search for good places to put poems. To start with, we'll look for a
place where people wait in line with nothing to do, a place where they could
just as well read a poem that's right there on the wall."
If you could be loud
would you be the sound
of thunder at night
or the howl of a hound
as he bays at the moon
or the pound of the sea?
Tell me, proud loud one,
what would you be?"
I've seen it on a lot of blogs this week: 7-Imp is featuring the art of Trudy White. Her book Could You? Would You? is the prize for a contest. To enter the contest, you have to answer these questions. What would you say to this?
How would someone find you in a crowd?
If my boys are with me it's pretty obvious; we are a transracial family (I and my oldest son are white, the little boys are black) and all three of my boys are gorgeous. We always turn heads. If I am alone, you probably won't find me in a crowd. I'm kinda quiet and average looking. I'm usually off to the side watching everyone else and daydreaming.
If your house had a secret room, what would be in there?
A really nice quilting sewing machine, work table, and shelves full of fabric and yarn. Drawers full of equipment. A comfy couch, a book case half full, and a good lamp. A big window looking out on the garden, the sky and the trees. A bose sounddock for my ipod. No clocks or phones.
Where do you like to walk to from your house?
The library, the post office and several playgrounds.
How will you change as you grow up?
I hope I will have a clearer vision, a more delicate touch and a deeper well.
What sort of animal would you like to be?
A small brown bird with a sweet song.
By Blue Balliet. Scholastic Press, 2006. This is the second book by Balliet featuring Petra and Calder, two twelve year old students in the sixth grade at the University School in Hyde Park, Chicago. Their teacher is the wonderful Ms. Hussey, who Calder's friend Tommy describes as having "long hair and lots of earrings, and yesterday she had worn pajamas. Tommy didn't think she looked like a teacher at all, but to his amazement the class paid close attention to her." Tommy has returned to the neighborhood and the school after briefly moving away with his mother and his new stepdad, who turned out to be a disappointment and was criminally involved in the disappearance of the Vermeer painting in the previous Balliet book Chasing Vermeer. Tommy is a little uncomfortable with the changes in his friend Calder and Calder's new friendship with Petra. As the story progresses the trio work through their difficulties and form an investigating, crime-fighting team.
One of the buildings on in Hyde Park, on the edge of the University of Chicago, is Frank Lloyd Wright's famous 1910 masterpiece the Robie House. The novel setting is based on reality and you can learn more about the Robie House online. One of the major features of Wright's house is the many huge art glass windows lining the walls. To me personally this is the most beautiful and compelling aspect of the house. The windows play a large part in the story as they wink, move and speak to the children in code. This window in particular becomes important in the story.
The Robie House is owned by the University of Chicago and in this story it has not been kept up. It hasn't been occupied for many years and the cost of restoration is prohibitive. The University has decided to sell the house in pieces to four museums. Ms. Hussey, her students and many other people are greatly disturbed by this idea and they decide to save this historic work of architecture.
This book is full of mysterious puzzles, codes and hidden treasure. Just as in Chasing Vermeer, the illustrations by Brett Helquist are full of hidden clues in a surprising pattern. Calder is fascinated with pentominoes and in this book he is playing with a three dimensional set. He finds an eerie similarity between the small structures he builds with his puzzle pieces and the shapes embedded in the Robie House. When the children hear that Wright is said to have included a secret image of himself in the house they are determined to get inside the closed building and investigate. What they uncover in the dead of night, racing up and down the open spaces filled with patterns of moonlight and shadow will ultimately affect the fate of the house and their own lives.
I think kids in grades four through six will love this book. It would be a great follow up read aloud to Chasing Vermeer, or can stand alone, especially if you and your kids are particularly interested in Frank Lloyd Wright and architecture. The puzzles, the mysterious voices coming from the house and the intensity of the character's interest in spooky coincidences, unexplained "accidental" injuries and ghostly movements of the house itself will appeal to young readers that like a touch of paranormal in their reading. It is an enjoyable book that invites critical thinking on a deeper level to those who are alert.
at the height of summer;
jewels come autumn
I have decided to start posting my daily photos for Project 365 in a photo blog. Last January I thought it would be too difficult to keep up with another blog, but I have discovered that it is really quite easy to post directly from Flickr. I like how other bloggers display their daily photos in dedicated blogs so I set up Sandy Cove 365 for that purpose, starting with September. I know, the year's three quarters over, but better late than never! I'd love to get some traffic over there... and please comment so I know you're visiting!
"I have success just hauling out sticks of rosemary and thrusting them in the ground in autumn or spring. They mostly grow. Rosemary is slow growing at first, then it seems to leap away. A good bush will last for thirty years."The final section of the book is a collection of poetry for rosemary. My favorite comes from Shakespeare's Winter's Tale:
"For you there's rosemary and rue; these keep
Seeming and savor all the winter long."
By now, you have probably read the very sad news of the death of Robert Mercer, Grace Lin’s husband, at the end of last month, due to cancer.Jules is organizing a blog blitz tour featuring the children's book illustrators and their snowflakes. I am hoping to join the tour so look for more to come in the coming months. If you would like to join in by featuring children's book illustrators on your blog in the tour just contact Jules at 7Imp. Everyone's welcome! For now, go visit 7Imp and read the rest of her post and visit the Robert's Snow site to learn more. Cancer affects all of us and here is something we can do about it. My greatest sympathy and prayers go out to Grace and her family.
You may remember from our May ’07 interview with Grace that she was the driving force behind the Robert’s Snow: for Cancer’s Cure fundraising effort after Robert was initially diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma and after writing Robert’s Snow (Viking Books; 2004) soon after that diagnosis. The fundraising effort entailed the auctioning off of special snowflakes, created by children’s book illustrators, whom Grace had gathered together in the name of raising money for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute (DFCI). The auction raised a great deal of money in its first year after the publication of this book, which features these illustrators, many of them award-winning, and their creatively and uniquely designed wood snowflakes for the cause. One hundred percent of the royalties from the book’s sale went to the DFCI to support sarcoma research. Robert’s Snow is in its third year and has already raised more than $200,000 for Dana-Farber. (You can see the 2005 snowflakes here).
This year, more than 200 well-known children’s book illustrators from around the world have been given a five-inch wooden snowflake to decorate at will. Like actual snowflakes, each design is unique. The 2007 online auctions for bidding on these hand-painted snowflakes will take place in three separate auctions, open to everyone, from November 19 to 23, November 26-30, and December 3-7. You can read here for more information (the image above is a publicity image for the upcoming auctions, used with permission from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. You may click on the image itself to launch the Robert’s Snow site).
by Blue Balliett, illustrated by Brett Helquist. Scholastic Press, 2004. I read this book in the last few weeks of summer vacation, after having it recommended by several students and teacher friends. I was looking forward to it and it lived up to all the anticipation. The main characters, Calder and Petra, are two sixth graders living in Chicago and attending the University School in Hyde Park. The school was begun by John Dewey, who "believed in doing, in working on relevant projects in order to learn how to think", as the author describes him.
Their teacher is named Ms. Hussey, and she stands tall with all the other Cool Teachers of Children's Literature in A Year of Reading's List. She is introduced thus: "It was a strange thing for a teacher to say. By the sixth week of sixth grade, Ms. Hussey still wasn't a disappointment. She had announced on the first day of school that she had no idea what they were going to work on that year, or how. "It all depends on what we get interested in – or what gets interested in us," she had added, as if this was obvious. Calder Pillay was all ears. He had never heard a teacher admit that she didn't know what she was doing. Even better, she was excited about it."
Calder and Petra live on the same street a few blocks from school, but they haven't been friends up until now. They are a bit awkward with each other at first but eventually discover that they are similar and complimentary in their individual strangeness. Petra is a bookish girl who wants to be a famous published writer and Calder is a boy who loves puzzles and carries a set of pentominoes in his pocket at all times. They are both described as "hybrid kids", meaning their parents come from different ethnicities and cultures. Calder's dad is from India and his mom is Canadian and Caucasian. Petra is a "club sandwich of cultures". Her father has relatives from North Africa and northern Europe and her mother is from the Middle East. She has a bunch of little brothers and sisters, making her home a "tornado where life swirled in noisy circles." The story is not about their ethnicities but it is nice to see it mentioned as part of their normal family life.
The story revolves around Petra and Calder's preoccupation with the artist Vermeer. Calder has a wooden box with a painting titled The Geographer on the top of it and Petra dreams of the lady in the painting A Lady Writing a Letter. Ms. Hussey is assigning homework around the theme of investigating "communication" in letters and in art. The two kids keep stumbling across coincidences that bring them back to Vermeer's work. When the Lady painting gets stolen in transit from the National Gallery in Washington D.C. to the Chicago Institute of Art they become intent on finding the painting and solving the mystery.
As well as information about art, artists, mathematical patterns, puzzle solving, and codes, the author frequently refers to language arts skills. Petra finds an intriguing book in a second hand shop and she struggles to comprehend what she is reading. Her reading strategies are identified and explained in a natural way in the course of her seeking to enjoy her book. The author quotes a confusing passage from the book Petra is reading and says, "Petra read this twice and turned a few pages. [more confusing quotes from her book] Petra struggled with this language and had to look up the words "credulity" and "premises." Rereading each sentence in pieces, she began to get a grip on what Fort was saying…" Petra pauses to think over the implications of what she is reading, comes up with questions of her own in response to the text, and then turns to her notebook to write out her thoughts. Her reading spurs her thinking, inspires her writing, and leads her into conversations with her friends, parents and teachers that come together in the solving of the mystery. It is a language art's teachers dream to see such a beautiful example of an active reader making meaning from the text and using reading and writing to investigate the world, build relationships and bring together a wide range of thoughts and experiences. It is lovely to see how Balliet has created such a fascinating story with living characters that exemplify vibrant learners.
What I like most about the book is the way the characters are drawn. They have strong personalities with quirks and talents that set them apart. They are kind and genuine, with insecurities, fears and wishes that are expressed in their friendship. Art and literacy are deftly woven into the story of solving an enticing mystery. The author has sprinkled clues throughout the book in codes and hints, which alert readers will be collecting and sifting. The illustrator has joined the game by hiding hints in some of the frequent drawings scattered throughout the book. I was not as interested in decoding the secret messages sent between Calder and his other friend Tommy but I got caught up in searching for the clues hidden in the illustrations. I think kids who are intrigued by mysteries will love this book and those who are looking for personable characters struggling with the familiar developmental issues of preteens will be drawn into the story as well. The book is beautifully crafted and a pleasure to read. I think it would make an excellent read aloud for a fourth or fifth grade classroom. There is another book with the same characters solving an equally interesting mystery, called Wright 3, which I will review next. Blue Balliett's books are highly recommended.
..."the writing is so beautiful it won me over quickly. The dialog and the descriptions of the landscape roll like a song. The characters are clear and tender. The truths here run deep and powerful. The author lays out a part of the heartbreaking, gut wrenching reality of America’s history. You will come away from this book a different person."Here's what the publisher says on the cover:
“At its heart is the story of Cass and Allie, two young women – one white, one black – sharing a friendship amid the divisive and violent racism of rural 1913 Texas. But when a murder turns the town of Copper Crown into an inferno of lynching and riots, Cass and Allie make a startling decision – to strike out on their own in search of a life where a person’s heart, not race, is what counts.”