Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Happy Birthday Dr. Seuss

Saturday, March 2 is the 109th anniversary of the birth of Theodor Seuss Geisel, known to generations of children as Dr. Seuss. He believed learning to read should be fun and exciting. He respected children and trusted their intelligence. As I have said before, I grew up in a Dick and Jane world. Dr. Seuss changed that.

5 Lessons From Dr Seuss

For some interactive Dr. Seuss fun go to Seussville .

Remember, Read Across America, is Friday, March 1st.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Whatever After Fairest of All

Let me just say at the onset that the second grade me would have loved Whatever After Fairest of All by Sarah Mlynowski. I lived in a very Dick and Jane world. From my point of view, very little about my life was exciting. My Grandmother introduced me to fairy tales when I was four or five. She found beautifully illustrated books with exciting stories that fueled my imagination. I firmly believed that there was a door in my house that would lead me into the land of the Grimm Brothers. Turns out I should have been looking for a mirror that hissed.

Whatever After Fairest of All 

Abby and her brother Jonah have moved with their parents from Chicago to Smithville. Where is Smithville? Not sure, but it is somewhere where pop is called soda and tag is played in a strange way.  Abby is having a bit of a problem adjusting to her new home, so while her brother is pursuing activities like rock climbing, Abby is retreating into books. Her grandmother used to read the two of them fairy tales when they lived in Chicago, so to comfort herself she starts reading a book of fairy tales.

That night, seven year old Jonah wakes her up to tell her that the mirror in the basement is hissing. Abby tries to get her brother back to bed but winds up following him downstairs to show him that the mirror is just a mirror. Sure enough, after Jonah knocks on the mirror, it starts to hiss, then turns purple and then starts to suck the two of them, some furniture and her parents’ law books into the mirror. Very soon they land in a forest. After hearing what sounds like hungry animal noises, they start running.

Very soon they see an old woman carrying a basket. It turns out that it is the wicked queen who is trying to poison Snow White with an apple. Before Abby and Jonah figure this out, they keep Snow from taking the apple and eating it. When Jonah and then Abby figure out that they are in a fairy tale and that they prevented Snow White from eating the poisoned apple thus preventing her “happily ever after”. That would not be fair. So they decide to help Snow achieve her “happily ever after before they try to go home.

There are lots of delicious details in this story. Three of the seven dwarfs are girls. They have names like Bob, Tara, Alan, Francis, Jon, Stan and Enid. With Abby and Jonah’s help, Snow helps arrange her own happily ever after and even saves the prince, whose name is Trevor, with a kiss. Magic mirrors have a network like the paintings in Harry Potter books. The Queen’s mirror is happy to get brother and sister back home before their parents wake up. It is a delightful 21st century rendering of a very old fairy tale.

The Sonoma County Library has a few copies. The second book in the series Whatever After If the Shoe Fits will be available at the Yulupa Scholastic Book Faire March 4-8.

The AR reading level is 2.8.

Your Brain on Books

Open Education Database (OEDb)’s online journal  published an article,Your Brain on Books: 10 Things That Happen to Our Minds When We Read. Each of the ten things that happen to our minds when we read is linked to an article that further explains it.

For example: Item 9 Reading changes your brain structure (in a good way). Carnegie Mellon researchers found that children who were  poor readers increased the volume of white matter in the language area of the brain after following a six month daily reading program. The study proved that brain structure can be improved by helping kids become better readers.

On my end of the age spectrum, a 2009 Mayo clinic study found reading a book and other cognitive activities could decrease the risk of mild cognitive impairment. Whew!!

Hat Tip: What Kids Are Reading

Read Across America

Friday, March 1, is Read Across America Day. Celebrated in conjunction with the March 2 Birthday of Dr. Seuss, The National Education Association (NEA) sponsors the day to help create a nation of readers.

2013 Read Across America

What are you planning to read on Friday?

Roosevelt Elementary in Santa Monica did a great video to inspire you and your kids: It's a Readathon! (Gangnam Style).

Hat Tip: Read Across America on Facebook

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Red Blazer Girls

Last month, I  linked to a post on theroommom blog  That Book Sounds Familiar. She paired up Nancy Drew novels with a new series called The Red Blazer Girls by Michael D. Beil. I promised a review when I finished the first book in the series, The Ring of Rocamadour.

The Red Blazer Girls 

The Red Blazer Girls are four seventh grade students at St. Veronica’s School in Manhattan. Sophie, the narrator and her three friends, Margaret, Rebecca and Leigh Ann are smart girls who like a challenge. The challenge appears in the form of a scavenger hunt found in a twenty year old letter by a woman who found a birthday letter from her father to her then 14 year old daughter. Her father died before he could deliver the letter. The grandfather, an archeologist,  created an elaborate puzzle for his granddaughter to follow to find her birthday present.

The first clue is in the school library tucked into  book, but first they have to figure out which book. The title and author’s name were in an anagram in the grandfather’s letter. To help them, they recruited their English teacher, Mr. Elliot. When they find the first clue they also find a note that will lead them to the second clue. Once they solve the anagram, they discover the book is The School for Scandal by Richard Brinsley Sheridan. It is no longer in the library but in storage. With Mr. Elliot’s help, they find the book and the second letter. The puzzle has two equations, each numeral in the equation corresponds to a clue. The solution to the two equations is the location of the present. Most of the clues are in or on St Veronica’s Church which is located next to the school. He tells his granddaughter she will need her knowledge of religion, classical languages, mathematics, literature, philosophy and art to solve the puzzle.

The Red Blazer Girls do need to use all of this knowledge to solve the puzzle. Along the way they initially mistake  a friend as a foe and find that an adult who they thought was their ally, was not. In the end, a family that was fractured is reunited with their help.

As a young girl, I was a huge fan of Nancy Drew, she was smart, she had a roadster and she held out the promise of an interesting life. This series is every bit as interesting and you get a chance to solve some of the clues on your own.

This is the first of four novels, so far. The Sonoma County Library has several copies of the book, an audio recording on CD and  an e-book.

The AR reading level is 4.4.





The Sonoma County Library has many copies.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Weird But True!

You haven’t lived until you have been followed around by a kid carrying a Weird But True book asking repeatedly, “did you know …?” The books are based on the National Geographic Kids feature of the same name. Did you know that an ostrich can run as fast a race horse? Or that a 300 year old hurricane on Jupiter is still going strong? Or that cold water weighs more than hot water? Did you know that Antarctica is a desert? Or that you breathe in 2,000 gallons of air each day? If you don’t, prepare to be enlightened!

Weird But True Weird but true 2

Ultimate Weird but true

There are five books in this series and an Ultimate Weird But True with a thousand outrageous facts. The Sonoma County Library has a few copies of the Ultimate Weird But True. The iTunes store has a free app called Weird But True for the  iPad, iPod touch and iPhone. If you want to see more than the dozen free facts, you will have to pay $.99 each for the first three packs  or $1.99 for the mega pack.

Yulupa School will be having a Scholastic Book Fair March 4 thru 8. There are usually Weird But True books available at the book fair.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Sleep Like A Tiger

 Sleep Like A Tiger by Mary Logue and illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski was awarded a 2013 Caldecott Honor on Jan 28, 2013 by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association. This is not your usual bedtime story. “Once there was a little girl who didn’t want to go to sleep even though the sun had gone away” begins the book. In the illustration, the sun goes away on the back of a crown wearing tiger. The words and the pictures tell a rich story filled with symbolism.

Sleep Like A Tiger

The little girl tells her parents she is not tired. Her parents said she did not have to go to sleep but she did have to put on her pajamas. She was still wide awake. They asked her to brush her teeth and wash her face. Though still not sleepy, she loved her bed, so she climbed in. She asked her parents, “Does everything in the world go to sleep?”. Yes, they replied. Their dog was sleeping now on the couch where he didn’t belong and the cat was fast asleep by the fire. Do bats sleep? Not at night, but during the day, folding their wings and sleeping upside down in the barn. What about whales? And tiny snail? And even grizzly bears? The little girl knows another animal that sleeps a lot, the tiger, who sleeps so he can stay strong. Her parents kiss her goodnight and she tells them that she is still not sleepy. They tell her she can stay awake all night. The girl slowly falls asleep as she copies the sleeping habits of the animals she and her parents discussed.

There has been some questions from kids  about the crowns on the characters in this book. There are wheels all over every page, some of the moons have William Blake’s poem Tyger, Tyger faintly printed on them. There teacups and tea pots  on many pages. This is a devise the illustrator, Pamela Zagarenski, used in her previous Caldecott Honor book, Sings Red from Treetops: A Year in Colors written by Joyce Sidman. She tells us on her website that she wants us to make up stories and reasons for ourselves about her imagery to discover a secret key within us that unlocks a mysterious door. Whether or not you are looking to unlock any mysterious doors, this book has lyrical prose and beautiful illustrations. That is enough for me.

The Sonoma County Library has several copies.

Rabbit and Robot The Sleepover

Rabbit has a plan for his sleepover with his friend Robot: make pizza,  watch TV,  play Go Fish and then go to bed. Simple? Not so much. Rabbit likes to be in control. He  has a hard time dealing with bumps in the road, but easy going Robot usually has the answers. Author, Cece Bell, has written a humorous story about two very different friends in Robot & Rabbit The Sleepover, a 2013 Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor book.

rabbit and Robot The sleepover 

Rabbit has all the fixings for pizza: carrots, lettuce and snow peas. Turns out Robot prefers nuts, bolts and screws. Did Rabbit have any? No, he did not. Using his magnetic hands, Robot searches for some hardware and finds it in the kitchen table and chairs. He disassembles the table and chairs for the nuts, bolts and screws to put on his pizza. Rabbit is alarmed. Where are we to eat our pizza? Rabbit runs around yelling and throwing things, while Robot prepared the pizzas and put them in the oven. He turned up his volume and got Rabbit’s attention. He asked for a blanket and they had a pizza picnic and Rabbit crossed “make pizza” off his list.

Each  item on Rabbit’s list has its own chapter.  How hard is watching TV? Pretty hard if you can’t find the remote. Again, Rabbit sort of freaks out and robot has the solution. They enjoy their program and then go to item three on Rabbit’s list. Robot reluctantly agrees to play Go Fish but he’d rather play Old Maid or Crazy Eights. Soon Robot is tired, very tired. It is not time to go to bed, they haven’t played Go Fish yet. Rabbit tries to wake his friend, but nothing works. He finally sees a thin strip of paper coming from a small slot on Robot’s front, it said BATTERIES LOW. Rabbit knew what to do. He replaced the old batteries in Robot with the new batteries from the remote. They played Go Fish and even  Old Maid. Soon it was time to go to bed, but Robot forgot his pajamas. Rabbit lent him a pair and they went to bed. Rabbit was sleepy but newly energized Robot was not. Now it was Robot’s turn to make a list of the fun things they DID that night. They both agreed it was a good day. And maybe, just maybe, Robot can plan the next day’s activities.

There seemed to a bit of a theme in the books that were honored by the Theodor Seuss Geisel committee this year: don’t sweat the small stuff! Rabbit and Robot have a great sleepover even though nothing went as Rabbit planned it. Gerald and Piggie gather all the items they might need to take a drive except for the one essential for a drive: a car. They change plans and use all the gear to play Pirates instead. Does Pete the Cat cry when he loses each of his four groovy buttons? Goodness, no!

The Sonoma County Library has several copies.

Books Every Geek Should Read to Their Kids

An easy way to increase your child’s vocabulary and help insure success in school is to read to them. The GeekDads’ blog at Wired has done the work of putting together a list of books that appeal to kids and to the parents who read to them. All you have to do is pick up a book and start reading. You can find the list and a short review of each book (or series) here.

hat tip: Jump Into a Book

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Let’s Go for a Drive!

Another Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor book for 2013 is Let’s Go for a Drive! by Mo Willems. Gerald and Piggie are the best of friends. Gerald is a little OCD, Piggie is not.  They decide to go for a drive. Gerald says you cannot go for a drive without a map. Piggie has a map, so they do their happy drive-map song and dance. Then Gerald thinks that it might be sunny on the drive, so they need sunglasses. Piggie has sunglasses, so they do their drive –sunglasses song and dance. Gerald keeps thinking of things they might need on a drive and Piggie has all of them, except for the most important thing when you are going on a drive. But quickly they change plans and use all their gear to play Pirate.

Let's go for a Drive 

This is the latest Elephant and Piggie book, a series that has won the author Mo Willems two Theodor Seuss Geisel Medals and two previous honor awards. There are over a dozen books in this humorous series; they are great fun for beginning readers.

The Sonoma County Library has many copies.

Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons

Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons was awarded a 2013 Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor for one of the most distinguished beginning reader books from last year. The book is created and illustrated by James Dean and the story is written by Eric Litwin. Pete’s a cool cat with four groovy buttons on his shirt. He loves his groovy buttons so much, he sings a song about them. But one pops off and rolls away. “Did Pete cry? Goodness no! Buttons come and buttons go.” And he just keeps singing his song. One by one, the buttons are lost but he still keeps singing his song until he has zero buttons left. But looking down at his button less shirt, what do you think he saw? He just keeps singing his slightly amended song. The morale of this story? Don’t sweat the small stuff.Pete the Cat and his Four groovey buttons

An added bonus to this story are the equations after each button is lost i.e.. 4-1=3. You get a little math with your reading! You can also download a free reading of the book here. 

The Sonoma County Library has many copies.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Up, Tall and High

Up, Tall and High written and illustrated by Ethan Long is the 2013 recipient of the Theodor Seuss Geisel Award for the best beginning reader.

Up, Tall and High Three short stories are told about the meanings of the words tall, high and up. They  are  acted out by a colorful group of birds. Using less than 30 different words, the text combines with the pictures to tell the humorous stories with fun fold-outs. The reading level is kindergarten to early first grade but this would be a great book to read to preschoolers and even babies.

The Sonoma County Library has many copies.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Five Finger Rule and Just Right Books

How do you tell if a book is just the right level for a child? An easy way is to have the child read a page (chapter book) or two (picture book). Hold up a finger for each word she misses. Zero fingers means the book is easy, one to five fingers means it is “just right” and more than six mean it is challenging or for some readers, frustrating. Our goal is to create life long readers. Some kids like the challenge and some kids feel defeated by missing too many words. Know your reader!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Schools of Hope Tutor Resources

Welcome to the new Yulupa Schools of Hope volunteers. You have chosen a great way to contribute to the future of the child(ren) you will be tutoring. You have also chosen a way to get almost immediate satisfaction for your efforts. Most of the kids we see just need a little boost. Thank you for helping a child learn to read.

Yulupa uses the PALS (Peer-Assisted Learning Strategies) from Vanderbilt University. To read about the program, click here.

We also review letter sounds. Since many of us (at least those of us who were in elementary school before the late sixties)  learned to read by the Whole Word method, you can review the letter sounds here.

Spring Creek Elementary produced a 17 minute video of of a tutor/student session. You can find the link here.

If you would like to read more about strategies for motivating reluctant readers and some ideas for good beginning reader books and early chapter books, click here.

And finally, check back later this week for a review of Melissa Taylor’s new book, Book Love. She breaks down reading issues into four categories: too boring, too blurry, too tricky and too sitty; with strategies to deal with each of them.

Monday, February 4, 2013

The Water Cycle

The U.S. Geological Survey and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations teamed up to produce this water cycle diagram for kids. It can be downloaded and printed in several sizes and can even be ordered as a placemat in an artistically simpler version.




You can find the printable versions  here. Thanks to The Children’s Museum of Sonoma County for the link.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Creepy Carrots

Creepy Carrots by Aaron Reynolds and illustrated by Peter Brown was awarded a 2013 Caldecott Honor. Jasper Rabbit loves carrots. He takes the fattest and crispest carrots from Crackenhopper Field on his way to school,  to Little League practice and  home at night. Until one day the carrots started following him. He saw them in the mirror while brushing his teeth, on his way home from school and in his bedroom at night. Mom and Dad could not find any creepy carrots, but they were there… Pretty soon, Jasper was seeing them EVERYWHERE! His parents were wrong, the creepy carrots were coming for him.

Jasper got  an idea, they couldn’t get him if they couldn’t get out. He gathered his tools and headed to Crackenhopper Field. He measured, he excavated, he cut and he nailed until he had built a sturdy fence around the carrot patch. For extra protection, he built a moat and filled it with alligators. Jasper was happy and it turns out the carrots were happy too. Their creepy plan had worked, that rabbit wouldn’t be getting into their patch again. Win-win for everybody!


I watched a video interview with illustrator, Peter Brown. He said when he got the story the first thing he thought of was The Twilight Zone. He watched lots of old episodes looking for things to incorporate into a children’s book. I think he was successful in getting the “look” and obviously, the Caldecott committee thought so, too.

The Yulupa Library has one copy and the  Sonoma County Library has several copies of this book.

Reading level 2.3

This Is Not My Hat

This Is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen was awarded the 2013 Caldecott Medal on January 28. Jon Klassen was also the illustrator on the Honor medal winning Extra Yarn, something that has only happened once before in the 75 year history of the Caldecott Awards.This is not my hatA little fish has stolen a hat from a big, sleeping fish. After a couple of pages, it is clear that the little fish (the text) does not match the pictures, the big fish part of the story. The little fish is headed towards a place “where the plants are big and tall and close together”. He is sure he will never be found. The ending is more ambiguous that Klassen’s previous book, I Want My Hat Back. The big fish gets his hat back but the fate of the little fish is not known. I test drove this story with a few first and second graders this week. They are pretty sure they know how it ends. They also liked the disconnect between the words and the pictures. It made for a more careful reading of the book. The AR level for the book is 2.0 but with a little help with a few “bigger” words, a mid year first grader who knows his or her sight words can read it and obey the "five finger" rule.

The Yulupa Library has one copy and the Sonoma County Library has many copies of this book.

Reading level: 2.0