All the Way to America with the Second Grade

9780375866425 I learn so much by reading aloud to second graders.* One lesson this week was about asking rhetorical questions. Second graders will want to answer them.

Holding up a copy of Dan Yaccarino's new picture book, All the Way to America, I asked, "How many of you know the TV show 'Oswald'?" ("Oswald" is a cartoon on Nick  Jr.)

A smattering of hands went up, but Matthew said, "I've never seen it." 

"Me neither," someone else chimed in.

"That's okay if you haven't," I said. "Dan Yaccarino, the creator of 'Oswald,' wrote and illustrated this—

"I've never seen that show," Matthew continued.

I reassured the ones who hadn't seen the cartoon that it didn't matter, and we went ahead. Later I realized that my intro was unnecessary and that I just needed to trust that the class would be interested in the book itself. Because they were.

All the Way to America, subtitled "The Story of a Big Italian Family and a Little Shovel," is about leaving one country and making a success of yourself in another. The Yaccarino family values of working hard, enjoying life, and staying in touch with your family, no matter where you live, resonated with the second graders, whose roots are in Brazil, Nigeria, Haiti, Peru, Vietnam, and Florida ("I came by car and not in a ship!"), among other places.

"It was a long journey.

And how different New York was from his [the author's great-grandfather's] tiny village in Italy!"

Even if we're only seven, we've all had a long journey to get to where we are. I pondered that as I drove home.

All the Way to America
written and illustrated by Dan Yaccarino
Knopf, 2011
40 pages; for ages 4-8

Image from Powell's Books. This blog is not an affiliate of the Portland, Oregon, store, but my experience ordering from there has always been positive.

*This is my second year as a volunteer reader in a city public school.


From "The Anti-Romantic Child"

"One day that winter, as [5 year old] Benjamin and [his father] Richard were standing in the parking lot of his nursery school listening to the fire alarm from a distance, Benj cried, 'Daddy, I am not afraid! Just like Frog and Toad!'—a reference to a story called 'Dragons and Giants,' in which Frog and Toad face down some scary experiences by telling themselves that 'they are not afraid.' "

from The Anti-Romantic Child: A Story of Unexpected Joy, by Priscilla Gilman (Harper, 2011)

This is a moving book written by a literary agent and former English professor and Wordsworth scholar. Gilman's older son, Benj, read early. By the time he was two and a half, he could fluently read a page from her dissertation. The precocity was unusual, but accepted as evidence of the boy's intelligence and the family's devotion to the written word; Gilman's husband, mother, and father also had careers concerned with literature. But Benj's sensitivities and intolerance to other stimuli worried Gilman, and eventually he was diagnosed with hyperlexia, defined by Merriam-Webster as "precocious reading ability accompanied by difficulties in acquiring language and social skills" and sometimes associated with autism.

I was curious if Gilman's work on The Anti-Romantic Child affected her interactions with her son's various schools and teachers over the years. She doesn't say. No matter. Her hopeful and well-written story, about Benj's struggles and triumphs—and the gradual shift of her own expectations—ought to appeal to parents and teachers of children of all abilities, not to mention anyone interested in reading. A number of poems by Wordsworth, to which Gilman turns for solace, are woven into the fabric of the book.

Books for One Seventh Grade Boy

9780802798176 Our seventh grader does not jump up and down with wild abandon when we hand him a book and say, "You'd like this." However, leaving intriguing-looking titles lying around to be "discovered" often works like a charm. Author Melissa Wiley once called this "strategic strewing." 

Here a few books that happen to have been left out on the couch and in someone's favorite chair last spring and summer. I go by J.'s interests more than reading levels. Levels, schmevels. 

Amulet #4: The Last Council, by Kazu Kibuishi (Graphix, 2011) The latest in a popular series of graphic novels. J. actually turned off the computer to read it.

How They Croaked: The Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous, written by Georgia Bragg and illustrated by Kevin O'Malley (Walker, 2011)

Impressed by kids who substitute blog for their parents, I asked J. how he'd describe this book for people who hadn't read it. 

"It's about how some famous people died," he said.

"Anything you want to add?" I asked.


Moving right along...

Darth Paper Strikes Back: An Origami Yoda Book, by Tom Angleberger (Amulet Books, 2011) Like its predecessor, The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, this is a funny book with a middle-school setting.

Garter Snakes, by Heather L. Montgomery (Capstone, 2011). From a series called Wild About Snakes. 

Oil Spill! Disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, by Elaine Landau (Millbrook, 2011)

What to Expect When You're Expecting Larvae: A Guide for Insect Parents (and Curious Kids), written by Bridget Heos and illustrated by Stephane Jorisch. "Whether your babies are wriggly maggots, fat grubs, or fuzzy caterpillars, your larvae will look different from you." Geared to elementary-school-age children but the almost-12 J. still read it with appreciation. I think the title of the informational picture book is hilarious.

Can I See Your I.D.? True Stories of False Identities, by Chris Barton. Like How They Croaked and the next book, it was one of the great suggestions on the Westport (CT) Library's 6th grade summer reading lists.

Queen of the Falls, by Chris Van Allsburgh (Houghton Mifflin, 2011). I picked up my own strewn book and read it out loud. Fantastic! A widow in need of money decides to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel. Dude, that's crazy. And it's true.

Books I plan to "strategically strew" (but haven't yet seen)

Wonderstruck, by Brian Selznick (Scholastic, 2011). Great writeup at Brain Pickings. J. enjoyed Selznick's Caldecott-winning Invention of Hugo Cabret.

America Is Under Attack: September 11, 2001: The Day the Towers Fell, by Don Brown (Flash Point/Roaring Brook, 2011) Reviewed at The Nonfiction Detectives

Trapped: How the World Rescued 33 Miners from 2,000 Feet Below the Chilean Desert, by Marc Aronson (Atheneum, Simon & Schuster, 2011) Reviewed by Betsy Bird at School Library Journal's A Fuse #8 Production.

The Elephant Scientist, by Donna M. Jackson, Caitlin O'Connell Rodwell, and Timothy Rodwell. A new book in Houghton Mifflin's Scientists in the Field series. Another one that sounds good, Loree Griffin Burns' Citizen Scientists, is due out early next year.  

International Rock Flipping Day 2011, or...

a good excuse to celebrate nature! 

Green Frog

My 11 year old and I participated in the fifth annual event organized by some adventurous nature bloggers, and found plenty under rocks and logs, in ponds, and on the trails. I'm going to post the official Rock Flip Find on Flickr, as the frog above is much photogenic. Click over, and you'll see what I mean.  J. found several kinds of amphibians yesterday. I was surprised at the nice variety. The National Audubon Society Field Guide to New England, by Peter Alden, et al. (Knopf, 1998) came in handy when making the i.d.s.

Continue reading "International Rock Flipping Day 2011, or..." »

September 10-11, 2011

Remembering ten years ago, I want to highlight a prose poem I love, Linsey Abrams' "The New Century," which can be found online here.

An excerpt from "The New Century":

Not that a human chain is the best metaphor for a policeman leading a whole floor of people by
hand down 95 flights of a pitch black stairwell, albeit with a better than average flashlight. 
Maybe picture DNA, so unfathomable as to be beautiful.  Or something ordinary but almost
crazy, like a conga line.

Meanwhile, I read an excellent book recently: The Hare with Amber Eyes, by Edmund de Waal. It's about art, architecture, family history, great sorrow, and survival. De Waal's descriptions of the Nazi takeover of Vienna, where his wealthy Jewish grandparents lived, broke my heart, leaving me with an echo of the why? why? why? feeling of 9/11.

Tomorrow my family plans to be out and about, savoring the end of summer. There's an Internet nature project happening—International Rock Flipping Day—and we're hoping to participate. The blog Wanderin' Weeta has the details. Check it out and join in if you'd like! I'd be remiss if I didn't mention a kids' book that fits the theme well:  Compost Critters, a picture-book photo-essay by National Geographic photographer Bianca Lavies (Dutton, 1993).

  Rockflipping b



Amelia Lost: The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart

Amelia Lost: The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart
by Candace Fleming
Schwartz & Wade/Random House Children’s Books, 2011
118 pages
for ages 8-12, according to publisher (I’d put it more at 10-14.)

Anyone who read Candace Fleming’s The  Great and Only P.T. Barnum (2009) knows that the author writes an exciting biography, well-paced and full of fascinating information. Her new book is even better! The photo-filled Amelia Lost opens on July 2, 1937, the day Earhart and her navigator are due on a remote Pacific Island to refuel on a historic around-the-world flight. Fleming alternates chapters between that time and the events leading up to it: Earhart’s early years in Kansas and peripatetic childhood, her first flight, and her savvy collaboration with George Putnam, the publicist who eventually became her husband. It was the Lindbergh era, when the public was smitten with stories of stunt flying and world records, and Earhart was the leading female pilot of the day.

Readers glean enough clues to guess a couple of things that may have gone wrong on that final flight, and the author adds mystery by including reports of far-flung adults and children who claim to have heard Earhart’s distress calls over the shortwave radio.

Earhart’s role as a feminist icon is clear, though the book is far from didactic. Fleming writes, “It is impossible to gauge how much Amelia’s life inspired the generations of women who came after her. At a time when women felt limited to the roles of wife and mother she encouraged them to challenge themselves and seize their dreams. And she did it with zest, boldness, and courage.”

For more posts on nonfiction books for children, check the Nonfiction Monday round up at Capstone Connect.

Many thanks to the Westport Library for providing the power for this blog post! 

Best Australian Children's Books 2011

The Midnight Zoo, a novel by Sonya Hartnett due out here next month, took the top honors in the "older readers" category when the Children's Book Council of Australia announced its 2011 books of the year last Friday. The Eve Pownall nonfiction award went to Ursula Dubosarsky's Return of the Word Spy, illustrated by Tohby Riddle. Jeannie Baker's Mirror, also published to acclaim here in the States, was one of two picture books of the year. For all the winners and honorees, click on the above link.

A Girl After My Own Heart

"And just look at these books!" said Hermione excitedly, running a finger along the spines of the large leather-bound tomes. "A Compendium of Common Curses and Their Counter-Actions...The Dark Arts Outsmarted... Self-Defensive" She looked around at Harry, her face glowing, and he saw that the presence of hundreds of books had finally convinced Hermione that what they were doing was right.

from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, by J.K. Rowling

When I heard Hermione proclaiming on the audiobook we were listening to, I was reminded of Katharine Hepburn (as Jo) in the 1933 movie "Little Women" on her first visit to the Laurences' home next door. "What richness!" she sings out in joy.

I understand completely.

Poetry Friday: Poets' Letters and Memoirs

Over the years I've enjoyed many poets' autobiographies and books of letters. So why not make a list of favorites! The following titles are for adults, but some teenagers might like them, too, particularly the ones by Eileen Simpson, Jackie Kay, Mary Karr, and Natasha Trethewey.

Poets in Their Youth, by Eileen B. Simpson (Random House, 1982) Berryman, Lowell, Schwartz, et al.

Red Dust Road: An Autobiographical Journey, by Jackie Kay (Atlas, 2010). Kay's search for her biological parents, one in Scotland, the other in Nigeria.

Lit, by Mary Karr (Harper, 2009). Karr's road to sobriety.

Beyond Katrina: A Meditation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, by Natasha Trethewey (University of Georgia Press, 2010) Trethewey returns to her hometown, where her mother was killed and her brother incarcerated.

The Virgin of Bennington (Riverhead, 2001) and Dakota: A Spiritual Geography (Ticknor & Fields, 1993), by Kathleen Norris

Randall Jarrell's Letters (Houghton Mifflin, 1982). Mary Jarrell, editor.

One Art: Letters, by Elizabeth Bishop. Robert Giroux, editor. (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1994)

Words in Air: The Complete Correspondence Between Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009)

Heaven's Coast, by Mark Doty (Harper Collins, 1996)

The Triggering Town: Letters and Essays on Poetry and Writing, by Richard Hugo (Norton, 1979)

A Wild Perfection: The Selected Letters of James Wright. Anne Wright and Saundra Rose Maley, editors. (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005). I read half of this one and got overwhelmed several years ago, but want to return to this book and finish it. 

I may have to revise as I remember more. What are your favorites?

Today is Poetry Friday on many of the children's literature blogs. Karen Edmisten is rounding up the posts at Karen Edmisten: The Blog With The Shockingly Clever Title. For an explanation of Poetry Friday, check here