Thursday, December 22, 2011

Changing Directions a Little

Look at how lame I am, not posting anything for months, just letting my poor little blog wither in the dust.

I couldn't decide what to do about this blog because the point was to 'blog' about the books I read by authors coming to the 2011 Illinois Reading Council Conference last March, and now that it's long over ..... should I keep going?

My original goal was to read all of the books by all of the authors coming to the conference, and of course I didn't reach that goal, but I did pretty well!  I haven't counted up all that I read, but one of these days I'm going to.  Meanwhile, I also considered trying to read all of the books by all of the authors coming to the 2012 conference, but to be honest, I had to get some other reading done, more grown-up stuff like about changing my life, blah, blah, blah.  I just wanted to expand a little bit because I'm writing a book about books, and I needed to diversify for a while to get more material.

This is me, looking confused.  I think that's what that look is ....
So I can quit this blog completely and start a new one, or I can change the purpose of the blog and keep going.  I'm still not sure.  I HAVE read some other books in the last several months that are 'outside the box' in their own way, so I don't know whether to discuss them here or to start a new blog where I can discuss any kind of literature that I want.  Still pondering that one.

Meanwhile, I'm continuing to do my research on successful teaching, so I'm going to use this blog post to shamelessly ask readers to take my five minute survey on teaching (for those of you who are elementary teachers) OR to share the link with your friends who are elementary teachers.  I'll be doing more of this later with middle and high school teachers, but for now I'm just looking at what elementary teachers think makes them feel successful about teaching.  Seriously, if it takes more than five minutes, you're thinking way too hard.  And I don't just want people in Illinois to answer this survey, either - I want to know what people from all over the United States think.  Why, you might ask?  Because I teach preservice teachers, and I want to help them feel genuinely successful.  Bill Gates can do all the surveys he wants; that's important data too, of course, but me and my piddly little survey are important, too, as far as I'm concerned.

So here's the link to the survey:  And here's to figuring out what I want to do with the rest of my blogging life.  Any and all suggestions are welcome!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Contest for a free book!

Hey, folks, if any of you are fans of Jodi Picoult's books, you might want to check this out:  Sarah has come out with a debut novel, and Jodi likes it, so it must be good!  Anyway, Sarah has a contest going on - all you have to do is leave a comment about what you are reading this summer, and your name goes in the hat for a drawing for a signed copy of her book along with a box of goodies!  And how easy is that, to just let her know what you're reading this summer?  But no fair making fun of the LONG comment I left!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Elementary Teachers' Survey

Hey, while I'm slacking on my postings (it's berry season!) please feel free to respond to my survey monkey survey, if you're an elementary teacher.  I don't care if you've just finished student teaching or if you're close to retirement, and by all means, share this with others as well.  I promise it won't take you five minutes.  Promise, although the first question might give you pause to think.  Please and thank you!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Thirteen Days to Midnight

Literacy Outside the Box - in Africa!

So it’s the first of June, and I have neglected to post entries about books on this blog since the conference ended.  But as I stated in an interim posting, I have not stopped reading the books!  As a matter of fact, I believe I’ve read five since then, but I may not be counting correctly.  Other things have happened since the 2011 IRC conference besides the birth of my first grandchild (the ASCD conference in San Francisco, the IRA Convention in Orlando, and most recently, my trip with colleagues and student interns to the country of Gambia, in Africa).  It’s been a busy 2 ½ months!  And summer school begins tomorrow on my campus, bringing with it a flurry of other activity. 

Today I had the opportunity to talk to a woman who was a bridesmaid in my brother and sister-in-law’s wedding a LONG time ago.  First of all, it made me reflect on how some friendships last and last while others flutter a little more: she and my sister-in-law have maintained their friendship over the years and miles and are planning on celebrating a big birthday with a trip this summer.  I admire that.  She also had her daughter with her, who is required to read a book this summer and then discuss it with her teacher at the beginning of school in the fall.  Of course we talked about books!  And if I’d had a notepad with me, I would have taken down titles from her.  The good news, of course, is that I know she’s not too far away:  I just need to ask my sister-in-law for her email address or request her as a 'friend' on Facebook and we can be connected.  One of the best wonders of technology. 

So the daughter is going to be a freshman in high school; if anyone reading this blog has a good idea for books for her, please let me know.  Of course I’m recommending some of the ones I reviewed here, but I know there are many other books in the world!  It should be something that is emotionally and cognitively appropriate for someone in her age range and something about which she can be thoughtful and reflective, at least to a point.

One of the books I recommend is one of Patrick Carman’s books:  Thirteen Days to Midnight.  It happens to be the one I’m reading at the moment.  Here’s what it’s done to me: I usually look forward to reading every night before I go to bed, but I’m so emotionally invested in this one and fearful for the main character that I almost dread opening it back up!  Don’t get me wrong – it’s a fabulous story.  The main character, Jacob, has received a power of indestructibility that he’s discovered he can pass around when it’s needed.  He and his best friend (Milo) and a relatively mysterious girl (Ophelia - who ends up being his girlfriend) work together to figure out how best to use the power to benefit others.  At least that’s what’s going on so far, and I’m about 2/3 through the book.  It’s the kind of story that raises all sorts of questions and opinions without even realizing it: “What if the power gets more comfortable in someone else’s body – will he be able to get it back?  What’s the deal with Ophelia: is she good, or is she really bad?  What is in the elusive box that his foster father left behind?  What if he had never shared the power in the first place?  Should he have kept it to himself?” 

While I’m reading, I feel a lot like I do when I’m watching a movie and see something happening that the main character can’t see … you know the feeling … when you just want to jump into the scene and tell him or her what to do or what not to do.  “Do NOT go into that room without a flashlight!”  It’s chilling without being horrifying and it bring up all sorts of questions of ethics without being preachy or even without being obvious. 

It’s a book for a bit older crowd than many of Carman’s other books, so while I love his other work, this is definitely one that’s appropriate for high school students.  True to Carman’s form, there is technology involved with the book: there is a website devoted to it where you can read an overview of the book and listen to the first chapter.  I hope this book is made into a film because it would be a huge success.

I’m worried about what Ophelia’s all about – that’s been gnawing at me all day - and I’m worried for Jacob and Milo’s friendship, and I think he’s going to be able to get into that box pretty soon, so if you’ll please excuse me, I think I’ll put my fears aside and go read …..

Friday, April 22, 2011


I'm so sorry - I know this has nothing to do with the topics addressed by this blog, but our first grandchild arrived last night, and I had to show him off!  He's gorgeous!  His mom worked really hard to get him here, and his dad did too!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

STILL Reading!

Okay, I know there are people who think this blog must be defunct because I've been so 'quiet' since the IRC conference, but nothing could be further from the truth.  I'm just busy, busy, busy, and I take a long time (believe it or not) on most of these posts, so I haven't been able to find a big enough slice of time to write a fulsome entry.  But since the last post, I've finished Burger Wuss (another M.T. Anderson book) and have read a big chunk of the second Octavian Nothing book as well.  I also discovered (duh) that I had already read one more of Jane Yolen's books (Girl in a Cage), so I'll need to tell you about that as well.  I might actually be able to get that done this weekend - I'm keeping my fingers crossed!

Anyway, I do want to encourage you to go the the IRC website ( and get on the ning.  You can share information with people, discuss specific topics, and share pictures as well.

Speaking of pictures, please don't be shy about posting conference pictures, and also please don't be shy about sending them to me as attachments to email.  You can do that right through the web site (email me from there), or you could send them to my mac email address, which is  I'd appreciate any visual mementos you wouldn't mind sharing!

Hope the weather where you are is not as gloomy as it is where I am, but if it is, well, that's just good reading weather!  Enjoy your weekend ...

Friday, March 25, 2011

Fun with Barry Lane at the IRC Conference

Okay, I just can't help myself:  I have to post this tongue-in-cheek video that Barry Lane and Christine Boardman-Moen put together at the conference with the help of some other teachers who are good sports.  It's a hoot, and very well acted, I might add!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

IRC Conference

Well, well, well --- wasn't that fun?  I sincerely hope that everyone at the conference enjoyed themselves as much as I did, learned a lot, and got a chance to recharge and get some new ideas to take back to the classroom.  A huge thank you to the volunteers, the conference committee chairs and members, the office staff, the executive board, the past presidents, the featured speakers, the attendees, and everyone at both of the hotels and the convention center who worked so tirelessly to make the conference run so smoothly and provide such high quality  professional development for everyone attending.

Over the next several days, I hope to post pictures here from the conference and perhaps some video, along with more information, like the fact that 25 IRC local and special interest councils brought Hall of Council displays to the conference - I believe that's got to be a record!  Good for them, and good for Karen Ringas, Director of Membership Development, who engineers the whole Hall of Councils event.

I personally had such an incredible time at the conference that it could only have been better if I could have cloned myself and gotten to more sessions.  AND if I had remembered to get the rest of my books signed.

Literacy Experts Get Down with Barry Lane!
Today (the Sunday after) has been spent in a fog.  I had four hours of sleep each of four nights in a row, and I am not allowed to have caffeine (medically), so I had to rely on vitamins.  They didn't do enough on that last day, but meeting and hearing the incredibly talented Marc Brown made the day a truly special one.  What a sweet and kind person!

The car is almost all unloaded, and most of the laundry is done, but my feet are still swollen and sore from the Literacy Cabaret and the last day.  Note to self: new black sandals must be on my horizon!

So what's up with this blog, now that the conference is over?  Honestly, I'm going to continue my quest to read books and write about them here; I see no reason to stop now!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Tomorrow! IRC Conference!

Where, oh where has the last year gone?  I don't know, but I know it wasn't enough time for me to read 546 books!  I still need to count up how many I actually did read, and maybe I will do that tonight before I go to bed.  I KNOW there will be people asking me at the conference!  And there are still lots of other details to still attend to tonight, including packing my clothes / shoes / electronics / schedule / etc.

My husband is in the next room helping me out with some little goodies that I'm giving to the Executive Board and the Office Staff as a thank you, and I am typing up my schedule for the conference.  I've found over the last several years that it helps tremendously for me to have a written chart for each day of where I need to be when and what I'm supposed to be doing there.  If you decide you'd like to run for VP and be the Conference Chair, you will need to plan out your time in great detail as well.  It's one of the reasons I'm not worried about anything going awry over the course of the next few days; the whole conference is planned in much more detail than most people can imagine.  We are so lucky to have the office staff that we do and the great volunteers that plan and execute in such great detail as well!  Thank you to everyone who has worked so hard to make this conference another wonderful one.

And I have to say that hard work has paid off: as of today we have 2,857 people registered for the conference!  I remember last year, when schools started cutting professional development money, I thought the only people who would get to come to the conference were the featured speakers and the executive board - and some of them weren't sure they could even make it until just recently.  So this is huge!  The teachers of Illinois have spoken, and they are saying clearly that they know what kind of professional development they want and they know where they can get it.  I am so proud to be from this state!

Check out the forecast for the Springfield area, too: it's going to be really nice, but we might get some rain on Thursday, so bring an umbrella!

If your travel plans allow, please plan on stopping by the Welcome Reception Wednesday night from 6:30 - 8:30 in the Abraham Lincoln Hotel Ballroom. There will be snacks and a cash bar, and the President of the International Reading Association will be there to say hello to you all!  We will also give away our awards to legislators, so you will get to spend some time with the folks who are fighting the good fight for the children of Illinois right along with you.

Don't forget - if you come up to me at the conference and tell me something you learned from reading this blog, you'll get a free door prize!  But also remember that it has to be something that someone else has not yet told me, so come with a couple of tidbits.  I hope I've provided you with enough information so far - and that you come grab me early on!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Reading Challenge

Well, just how far into my reading challenge am I?  I don't actually know, though I'm going to try to total up the books I've read before the conference starts next Wednesday evening.  I read 18 books at the Lincoln Library today and finished one of T.A. Barron's books in my car as well (The Great Tree of Avalon:  Child of the Dark Prophecy).

I've learned a couple of things about myself as a reader by listening to this book, and also about my car and what my next one will be like.  As a reader, listening to a book on tape reminds me of the strategy of rereading because yes, my mind does occasionally wander when I read and I need to back up and reread.  So you can imagine, while I'm driving, that I'm focused on more than the book at hand!  Mostly I listened to this book on the stretch of interstate between here and work; that's nearly half an hour each way.  But it was frustrating running errands in town or driving to the gym because I kept wanting to find out what was happening in the story, and I knew I shouldn't listen while I was navigating traffic lights and other vehicles!  So I'd have to occasionally back up the cd to 'reread,' and then I finally got smart and stopped listening altogether while I was in town.  As a listener, I found myself wondering about the spelling of words that are new to me, which in this case were primarily names of people / creatures, and places.  It was comforting to remember that I have copy of the book, so I can look up these words and see them spelled eventually rather than just wonder about it forever.

What I learned about my car is that, unlike my last one, this one doesn't let run the cd back; I can skip back to the previous track, but that's it.  That means that if I'm listening to a track of the book and about 2 1/2 minutes into it realize I've missed something, I can't just run it back a tad; I have to skip back to the beginning of the track, which means repeating the entire 2 1/2 minutes to get to the last little bit that I missed.  Not that the wandering actually happened often with this book: it's action packed and full of amazing descriptions of wild, new places.  I've decided Tom Barron just really likes to make things up, and he does an extraordinary job of doing it!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

IRC Conference - Just Around the Corner!

Let's see, wasn't I going to post a new blog entry every day for the first month before the conference?  And wasn't I going to try to do a vlog entry?  Well, the first would have gotten done if I'd had more .... what's that stuff called?  Time?  And the second would have gotten done if I had better make-up.  Maybe I’ll still try.

As for the reading goal, I'm somewhere between 100 and 200 books out of over 500, and the conference begins in a week and a half.  Think I'll make it?  Me neither!  But am I going to stop trying?  Heck no!  As a matter of fact, I plan on hitting the Lincoln Library again tomorrow to knock out around 20 more books.  At the same time, I'm listening to T. A. Barron's Child of the Dark Prophecy (Book One of The Great Tree of Avalon trilogy) in my car while I drive to and fro, and I’m reading my first “Pals in Peril” book (M.T. Anderson):  The Clue of the Linoleum Lederhosen in the extra elusive snippets of time that show up, usually before I turn out the light before bed.  Mind you, I’m reading that one out of order.  The first one is Whales on Stilts, but I have neglected somehow to purchase that one; while I really abhor reading books out of sequence, I’m taking one for the cause this time and will just plan on confusing myself later.  

I do have to share two things with you about The Clue of the Linoleum Lederhosen.  First of all, here’s a summary of the book from the front flap:  “Looking forward to a vacation, Katie, Lily, and Jasper attach their flying Gyroscopic Sky Suite to the Moose Tongue Lodge and Resort, where they mingle with other child heroes found in books, and where they become embroiled in a mystery involving lederhosen-clothed quintuplets and a screaming ventriloquist.”  Sound wild?  Classic Anderson.  I’m telling you, if you have not read his work, you are missing out big time.  To illustrate my point further, last night I was sitting there reading, and I came across the following passage that made me laugh out loud:

“Also, keep your eyes open for things that might make people look suspicious.  Sometimes a little subtle detail that might escape you at first turns out to be the thing that really matters most.  For example, does a particular character carry a sword?  Does a particular character walk on all fours, bobbing his head up and down?  Does a character suspend you over a pit of lava and say, ‘Soon it will be mine!  Mine!  Mine, I tell you!’?  In the difficult world of police detection, it’s often little clues like this that give the game away.”  (page 31)

And back to Barron.  As I have come to expect, Barron’s book is rich in description, both of the setting and the action.  He has created a cast of characters, major and minor, that are unlike any other, and they are all about to come crashing together (at the point where I’m listening).  It’s this kind of book that makes me wonder about how it is some people are so creative that they can dream up these incredible worlds and creatures while others can’t even imagine putting grape jelly on their toast in the morning instead of strawberry.  Anyway, I thought about bringing the CD in to the house tonight and listening to it with my headphones, but then I wouldn’t get any reading done on the Anderson book, and I wouldn’t get my work done for the conference – which reminds me, I’d better get busy! 

For those of you who are entertaining the idea of possibly running for Vice-President and so planning one of these conferences, it’s a week and a half before the conference, and here is a partial list of what I have been doing this past weekend and some of what I still need to do:

*Figure out what to wear, and buy normal people clothes so that I don’t look the way I usually do (and if you know me well, you know how much I hate to shop – really.  I did NOT get that gene.)  I also have to figure out whether I’m going to need the pink boa or the red boa for Friday night … (almost partially half-way done)

*Get to Pier One Imports to buy the director’s chairs – yes, we’re going to have the featured speakers autograph them again this year and give one away!  Got this one done today.

*Write my thank-you’s to the featured speakers and committee chairs – I have one done and one to go, and these are due tomorrow.

*Write thank you’s to the kind folks who sent us promotional materials to give away.  I consider myself half done with this because I have the cards, envelopes, and addresses.  (Okay, so I am delusional.)

*Check in with the Veep (Pat Braun) to see if she has all of the introductions written and help her finish up what she doesn’t have done.  (They’re supposed to go out in the mail tomorrow – I suspect she has these all finished because if you know her at all, you know what a ball of energy she is!)

*Check in with the tech guy at the University on when I should pick up the laptops for the Internet Café.

*Oh yeah, clean out the rest of my car so there’s somewhere to PUT the computers.

*Ask the University folks who they use for recycling to see if the Convention Center can get recycling bins from the same folks.

*Get back to Staples because when I was there today I forgot to get lamination pockets.

*Try to find some different white foam board so that I can fix my big, beautiful, blue display.

*Finish cd’s for the meals.

*Call to make an appointment to get my teeth cleaned.  (We ALL want me to do that.)

*Make a list of what happens at each meal (awards, etc.)

*Finalize the dinner seating so Pat can get the place cards in the right places.

*Create my own lists of where I have to be when and what I have to do when I’m there.

So there are some deadlines that need to be met for the sake of the office personnel who are doing all the putting-together of things, and there are some self-imposed deadlines as well.  And a host of other things that I can’t tell you about here …..

And then there’s my job!  There’s so much going on there it’s not funny.  So yes, the last weeks before the conference begins are full, full, full, but I’m not worried about it getting done.  I talked to someone today who said “Are you getting freaked out yet?” and I honestly have to say that no, I’m not.  I don’t really expect to be, either.  I’m excited as all get out, but I don’t believe there’s anything to worry about.  It is going to be a blast, and I hope everyone enjoys themselves! 

As for deadlines, I read a great quote today by the inimitable Douglas Adams:  “I love deadlines.  I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.”  No disrespect intended for the IRC office – I really don’t like to miss deadlines, but I really like Douglas Adams and thought that was a fun quote.

Normally I would have all sorts of links and pictures in this blog posting, but apparently my computer has worms tonight or something and is not cooperating.  I’ll add links later, but for now, I have to finish up some conference items and go find out what’s up with Jasper Dash, Boy Technonaut!

Monday, February 28, 2011

M.T. Anderson, the Singer!

Okay, I just found this youtube video doing a search for something else: let's see if the link will work on this blog, and let's hope that he regales us in a few weeks as well!

Just 16 days til the Illinois Reading Council Conference!

Wow, tomorrow is March 1st, and the conference is only 16 days away – where did this last year go?  I’ve had so much fun with the planning and the details, and the READING that I fear the anticlimactic letdown that is sure to follow the end of the conference.  But I am SO looking forward to this!

A couple of updates and important notes for conference-goers:  please make sure you do not keep your room key next to your cell phone.  Doing so may demagnetize your room key and you will end up going back to the front desk to get it rekeyed.  Not fun, especially late at night when all you want to do is crawl into your motel room and drop.

BIG NEWS:  Our own Steven Layne and Bill Teale, both from Illinois, were elected to the International Reading Association Board of Directors!  We are so proud of them, and they will represent Illinois as the wonderful hotbed of cutting-edge literacy instruction that we all know it to be.  Congratulations to them both!

PLEASE check out the schedule of events for the conference – I’ve changed a few things around this year so that there will be fewer conflicts with the afternoon and evening events.  I realized this after talking with someone yesterday who had already made her choice between the Poetry Coffeehouse and the Literacy Cabaret.  She had not checked the Preliminary Program, but instead just assumed that certain events would be held at the same time that they had been held in previous years.  Glad we had that talk, so she now knows she can come to both!

I went to the Lincoln Library in Springfield today and read 13 more books.  I didn’t get there last week but the week before I did, and I read 18 books that day and 28 books on a day prior to that.  So that’s 59 more books I knocked out, and I believe that’s on top of 56 others I had already done, but I have to do a closer count to be sure.  I’m learning some new words, too!  I’ll write about a few of the books later in the week, hopefully tomorrow.  

Monday, February 21, 2011

More Press for the IRC Conference!

Well, I'm really trying to get the word out about the upcoming Illinois Reading Council Conference, and last week Blake Wood from the University of Illinois, where I work, came down to the Lincoln Library in Springfield and did a little video interview of me reading books.  If you're interested in watching it, you can  check out this link, or just go to the UIS web site ( and look under 'Hot Topics' or 'Newsroom' and you can find it.  I don't know how long they keep those links active, but it's there for now!  Or you could just try this link and see if that takes you there.  I only stayed and read for about an hour that day; I found out after reading for 2 1/2 hours the time before that that my eyes really can take only so much!  I read several of Jane Yolen's books (the library has quite the collection!) and some of Robert Burleigh's books.  Today Channel 3 news was going to do some kind of interview as well, but thank heavens bigger news came up!  I wasn't prepared for that!  Plus the library was closed today, so that all worked out.  But believe me, I'll be wearing make-up to work for the next few weeks, just in case!

The stack of books Nancy Huntley from the Lincoln Library in Springfield put together for me
The 28 books on the table are the ones I read in 2 1/2 hours the first day that I was at the library.  The ones on the cart are books I still have to read, and it just barely touches the total! 
Tonight I'm going to create a thank-you card for T.A. Barron for sending me a whole box of his books - what a good guy!  And for the next blog entry, I'm going to try to do a 'vlog' entry - a video blog entry.  My goal is to try to do at least one entry every other day before the conference; we'll have to see if that works out!  There are so many fabulous speakers coming that I haven't even mentioned on this blog.  Of course they're on the Preliminary Program, but I've been focusing on the authors because those are the books I'm trying to read, but I would encourage anyone reading this to go to the IRC web site and read through the program.  And remember - while we have fabulous featured speakers, we also have troves of other fabulous speakers coming - teachers and other educational professionals who will blow you away with their great ideas!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Walk-Through Before Conference

Okay, so this is just one more of the important steps that happens before the conference itself happens, and it's just one more reason why I'm not worried about everything happening the way it's supposed to.  About a month before the conference, the Conference Chair and the Executive Director go to Springfield to double check last minute details with both hotels (Abraham Lincoln and Hilton) and the convention center (Prairie Capital Convention Center).  On a year when all of the stars align, the Vice-President gets to go as well so s/he sees what will happen the following year.  It's a great cyclical process.  Tomorrow is the day for this year's walk-through.

We'll go over the menus for meals, the bus schedule, the time for setting up special events, the placement of signs, and seemingly minor details as well, like the fact that the servers for meals need to be reminded that they serve the speakers' tables first.  Even though this might not seem overly important, it's a special time for two reasons: one, everyone is excited, including personnel from the venues, and two, it's a reality check - the event that the conference chair has dreamt about for two years and the office has managed to plot out in such detail is really coming to fruition!  The most important thing for me to do tonight is to get a good night's sleep so that I can be sharp tomorrow and make sure I ask all the right questions and attend to the important details.  I have to say, though, that I am so unconcerned: these folks have been doing this for so long they are pros.  And I mean not only the hotels and convention center, but the head IRC office.  What a thrill it is to be working with such wonderful people!

I say that I need to get a good night's sleep, but I am deep into book five of the Percy Jackson series (The Last Olympian), and again, I want to stress that I'm not reading this book because Riordan is coming to the conference, because he's not - I'm reading this series because John Rocco, the illustrator, is coming to the conference.  (He's one of three illustrators this year:  he is joined by Marc Brown and Mordicai Gerstein.) So I am going to read for at least a good 45 minutes before I turn the light out tonight.

Tomorrow (Tuesday) is the walk-through, but when we finish, I will be going to the Lincoln Library in downtown Springfield to read, read, read!  Nancy Huntley has been so kind as to gather together as many of the remaining books for me as she can get her hands on.  I've been a reading fool the past year, trying to make it through the novels written by the authors coming to IRC, but if I'm on my game, I should be able to knock out at least 100 children's books tomorrow.  They go much more quickly. Am I nuts?  Probably!  Wish me luck, and I hope to see you in March!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Woefully Behind!

Okay, I've done a rough counting of how many books I've read and how many I have to go, and it looks like I've read around 56 of 564 books!  So I'm at 10 percent.  Most of the books I've read so far, though, have been the larger novels.  Next Tuesday I'll be settling in at the Lincoln Library in Springfield with a stack of books provided to me by Nancy Huntley.  I'm hoping to get a couple hundred books read, if she's got that many for me.  Those picture books go pretty fast; I think Arthur's life is going to pass before MY eyes!

"Press" for the Illinois Reading Council Conference!

Hey, check this out!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

National Book Month

As National Book Month comes to a close, I hope you and all of your reader-friends will take the time to get together for some great conversation about the wonderful books you've had a chance to read - whether that's just this month, the past year, or your whole lives.  What a wonderful opportunity to get more titles on your 'to-read' list, and also an opportunity to catch up with friends.  I hope you can find the time because I know you are all busy, busy, busy.

I also want to remind you that early registration for the Illinois Reading Council Conference will be over February 1st, and after that the fee goes up slightly.  It's still the best bang for the buck for professional development!  Hope to see you all in March!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Door Prizes and More M.T. Anderson!

Okay, folks, I have some great door prizes to give away at the  conference - mostly books, which should not come as too much of a shock.  Here's how you can get one:  When you see me at the conference, come up to me and tell me something you learned by reading this blog.  If you do, I'll hand you a ticket good for a door prize that you can pick up at the registration desk.  That's all it takes!  Oh wait - there's one little glitch: what you tell me has to be something that no one else has told me yet.  And how in the world are you going to know that?  I don't know.  That's up to you.  You might want to jot down several items to carry with you on an index card.  I'll give out tickets until the door prizes are all gone, but there are quite a few of them.

I also want to share with you a couple of links that M. T. Anderson sent to me to put on the blog.  The first one is a mini-movie that he made to accompany The Suburb Beyond the Stars, which you'll see reviewed below:

And here's a link to what he calls "...a complete, entirely erroneous tourist's guide to Delaware..." that he created to accompany another of his series - the Pals in Peril.  These books have incredibly creative, fun titles, like Whales on Stilts, The Clue of the Linoleum Lederhosen, and Jasper Dash and the Flame Pits of Delaware.


I've finished reading Suburb Beyond the Stars, and loved it just as much as Anderson's The Game of Sunken Places.  If you click on the title, it will take you to another blogger's review of the book, and I have to say, she is a much finer blogger / writer than I, so please check it out.  I had posted a brief comment on her blog back in November, and she responded that we will enjoy him because he's a terrific speaker.  I am SO looking forward to this conference!  But wait, there's more:  If you click on that link and go to her blog, read it, yes, but toward the bottom there is a link to "the tie-in interactive web site that Scholastic has put together" for The Game of Sunken Places.  (Of course, I just linked the phrase to that web site as well, so you don't really have to go to her blog.  But I recommend it.  I think I included her review as a link on this blog last November as well.)  If you've read The Game of Sunken Places or are planning to, this will be a fun addition.  Oh yeah, your students might like it, too.  

But even though the other blogger is a better writer than I am and does such a marvelous job of reviewing this book, I do need to talk about The Suburb Beyond the Stars anyway because .... because ... because I just have to!

This one is, of course, a sequel to The Game of Sunken Places, so it has some of the same characters.  The two main characters, Gregory and Brian, get themselves into a heap of trouble again.  It concerns the Thussers and the Norumbegans, the same races of creatures who we were introduced to in The Game of Sunken Places.  This time, the Thussers are just being aggressive, nasty babies because they want what they want, and they want it now.  They want Earth.  They figure they can begin their takeover by assimilating themselves into a remote suburb, and they do so by building the suburb themselves and stocking it with unwitting humans.

Okay.  Gregory and Brian, while planning the next 'game,' run into some problems.  Brian is being followed by some creepy guy with a red face - a violent bloody red.  Not good.  On top of that, he and Gregory realize that Cousin Prudence seems to be M.I.A. and they go to Vermont to see what's wrong.  They soon figure out, through their keen observation, that something is rotten in Denmark, or at least in the suburb that has been built up around Prudence's house, on the side of the mountain where Gregory and Brian had their first great adventure with the game.  Fortunately for them, even though they don't find Prudence right away, they do stumble upon their old friend, Kalgrash the troll, who has undergone a transformation of sorts and now has a little more heft and strength to him.

There are points in this book, as in with the first one, where I almost felt I shouldn't be laughing, but I had to.  When the Thussers start practicing mind control on the humans, I saw them (meaning the humans) as a combination of creepy / Stepford Wives / silly that just made me giggle at times.  I am a very visual reader, so I picture everything while I'm reading.  And I'm a bit warped, so there's that.

Humor aside, I have to tell you that once again, M.T. Anderson uses his tremendous command of the language to create a landscape of characters, setting, and plot that suck the reader right into this make-believe world, one that obviously is a part of the northeastern United States but is populated by creatures that only a hugely creative mind can develop and then describe in such as way as to make the reader tremble in spite of him / herself.  Wow, that was a long sentence.  I apologize, but I meant every word. Here’s an example of quintessential M.T. Anderson writing:

“Many centuries ago, when the people of Europe still dressed in pelts and scavenged like animals, back when queens pulled birds apart with their teeth, and kings lived in wooden shacks they called feasting halls, a race of sublime, elfin creatures dwelled in the hills. These creatures held court in gemmed ballrooms and delighted themselves with subtle games and whispery fantasias played on instruments of silver. They were reasonably fond of the human animal, though the humans tended to smell bad, eat too much, cry about angels, and leave their droppings on the floor.  When the human beasts started to multiply, however, many of the elfin race felt there was no longer enough room for their airy castles and subterranean cities in the hills of Europe, and so a party of them set out for the New World, having read that the human population there was more scarce and not so given to delving in the ground and knocking down sacred groves.

They crossed the Atlantic Ocean in their hovering coracles and galleons.  In the mountains of what is now Vermont, they founded a fabled kingdom called Norumbega.  Beneath the hills they built palaces and cathedrals and the City of Gargoyles, with stone streets and squares where they held their weird games and rituals for many centuries.  They lived there happily – practicing falconry in the forests, holding sub-aquatic jousts in mountain lakes, playing golf with greens and holes in other worlds –until one day when another eldritch race, the Thusser, came to challenge them.”  (from pages 13 – 14)

Now, lest you worry, (who uses words like ‘lest,’ unless they’ve been reading M.T. Anderson?) the entire book is not written with this rich language.  If you read my entry on November 22, you’ll see the kind of banter that goes on between Gregory and Brian, along with some other excerpts from the book.  And here’s another excerpt from Suburb Beyond the Stars that’s a little more … common:

“The cat box was full.  It sat by the front door, the turds old, dry, and frosted white.  That explained the smell.”  (from page 39)

See?  Normal.

So yes, it’s another fabulous book, and it makes me more anxious to read the next one.  I’m going to try to put a picture of the book cover in this blog, as I’ve been doing all along, but it’s becoming harder and harder to find images that will actually allow me to save them and insert them.  I apologize for all of the text, text, text in the blog.  I know that most people like a few pictures along with their words.  Since we can’t have everything, though, for now you'll just have to do what I do: settle with the pictures that M.T. Anderson creates in your own head.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Ten More Down!

bob.jpgI had a chance to spend a little time at the Lincoln Public Library today, and I spent 36 minutes reading children's books by Robert Burleigh and Jane Yolen.  I read two of Burleigh's:  Abraham Lincoln Comes Home, and It's Funny Where Ben's Train Takes Him.  The first one narrates a boy's description of how he and his father take a horse and buggy ride to watch Lincoln's funeral train go by on its way home to Springfield after his assassination.  Burleigh likes to include historical facts with his books while creating the story from a point of immediacy.  What I appreciated with this book are the extras included at the end: the "Afterword" and "Interesting Facts."  For example, did you know that ask Lincoln's train travelled across the nation back to Springfield, 12 separate funerals were held for him?  The second book I read today is completely different.  It is a lighthearted bedtime story about a boy who draws a train and track that then take him to marvelous places, ending with the station called "In-My-Bed."

yolen_jane.jpg I also made a slight dent in Jane Yolen's 300 books: I read eight of them today.  Let's see ... with the other eight Jane Yolen books I've read, that means I've read roughly ..... 5% of them!  Yee-hah!  Well, I have to try!  So today I read these books by Jane Yolen:

1.  Elsie's Bird - an explanation as to why some people might have moved west for a new start, but primarily encouraging to kids who might have had to move away from the homes they are accustomed to that there are things to appreciate about a new place

2.  Dimity Duck - a lovely story that will get young readers interested in the sounds words can make

3.  Come to the Fairies' Ball - stunningly illustrated by Gary Lippincott - good way to introduce nonsense words and also some rarely used words, such as 'garb,' 'forlorn,' and 'hue.'  Akin to a Cinderella story without the nastiness.  Beautiful.

4.  Child of Faerie - good to illustrate unusual rhyme scheme to students interested in writing poetry.  Also beautiful.  

5.  Before the Storm - highly evocative description of three children on a blistering hot day, what they do to cool down, and how they miss the heat once they get cooled off

6.  Baby Bear's Books - illustrates different times of day when it's possible and enjoyable to read or listen to a good book

7.  An Invitation to the Butterfly Ball - counting book that includes lots of repetition so young readers can participate. 

8.  All Those Secrets of the World - told from the perspective of four-year-old Jane (Yolen) about her father going off to war and one of the 'secrets of the world' that her brother tells her (about another kind of perspective)

Got an Amazon order in the mail today, and I'm hoping it's one of the books I ordered for my conference reading instead of my husband's late Christmas gift - don't tell him!

Holy Cow!

Ten more weeks til the conference, and HOW many books do I have left to read?

On a better note, I finished The Ancient One this morning - wow, does Barron know how to create action and excitement with a cast of amazingly creative characters!  My description in the previous post doesn't even begin to do it justice.  He has woven an incredible plot and brought his characters to life in ways that make the reader expect (and want) to see them in our everyday surroundings.  Kandeldandel and Arc would be great friends to have along, no matter what your personal adventure holds, and to hear Fanona sing would be an otherworldly treat, I'm sure. And even though the Tinnani are a creation of Barron's vivid writer's imagination, I refuse to believe that they don't actually exist somewhere.  Now I'm even more excited about reading the third book in this particular series, The Merlin Effect.

Today I'm going to contact one of the local libraries to see how many of the children's books I can get together all in one place for a day of reading.  Hopefully I can knock a couple of dozen books off my reading list all at once.  Thank heavens for picture books!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

What a Season!

Wow, I've never had such a busy holiday season / end of the semester!  And wouldn't it be supremely wonderful if the end of the semester (for those of us involved in school of some kind, and I'd venture that's most of us) did NOT coincide with the holiday season?  Or in the spring - with planting season?  And if the beginning of the fall semester did not coincide with the harvesting season for gardeners?  Well, no such luck!  Anyway, while I continue to read, read, read books written by the authors who are coming to the 2011 conference, I have not been posting about them in this blog.  Sorry!  Later this week I'll write about some of those books that I've completed since the last posting here, but right now I'll just let you know that I'm in the middle of reading one of T.A. Barron's books:  The Ancient One.  This book is the second in the "Kate" trilogy.  We first met Kate in Heartlight, in which she and her astrophysicist  grandfather did no less than save the world!  Anyway, The Ancient One is set in the state of Oregon in a fictional town.  As far as I know (since I have yet to visit that part of the country), the setting is true to the raininess and lush, verdant flora associated with that environment.
0812536541.jpgKate is visiting her Aunt Melanie, who serves her spiced tea by the fireplace and teaches her the chants of the extinct Halami Native American tribe (also fictional, but very believable).  Aunt Melanie is also a former teacher and has become very involved with the local cause of saving a redwood forest that was found in a nearby, highly inaccessible volcanic crater.   Kate and Aunt Melanie are in the crater trying to stop loggers from decimating the ancient redwood forest.  Aunt Melanie uses an interesting 'walking' stick, but at one point accidentally leaves it behind.  Kate volunteers to retrieve it, and in the process, the stick throws her back several hundred years in time.  Thus we have the conflict of the logging of ancient redwoods complicated by the fact that Kate would really like to get back to contemporary times, especially so she can help her Aunt Melanie with the logging issue.

imgres.jpgOnce again, I'm truly enjoying the story that Barron has created with his characters, and in this case I count the setting as one of those characters because it plays such a vital role in the conflict and how the others interact.  He also uses language as lush as the setting, interspersed with his signature similes.  If you are a teacher with readers who have a hard time visualizing, this would be an excellent novel to hand to them.  Boys might be reluctant to read a book with two strong female characters, but there are several characteristics of this book that might appeal to them: the outdoors setting, the primarily masculine industry of logging, Kate's oft-referenced skills as a shortstop, the supporting male character of Jody, the quest and subsequent action required on Kate's part, and the environmental theme.

TAB_Jane_Feb2010c.preview.jpgTeachers: you should definitely scope out the T.A. Barron web site:  there is a place for you to order a free teachers' gift box!  You should also investigate The Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes  I know there are students in Illinois who would qualify as 'outstanding young leaders;' all it takes is someone to nominate them.  I've written previously in this blog about Barron's focus on heroes, but I want to emphasize that again.Please do check it out and consider nominating some special young person who might be deserving of the recognition.  And while you're at it, you might go ahead and listen to Jane Goodall, Barron's own hero, talking about enjoying his books and also talking about his Prize for Young Heroes.

I know I've put an awful lot of links in this posting, but they're so worth it!  Please take a few moments to check them out.  And don't forget to register for the 2011 Illinois Reading Council Conference!  Hint: you don't have to be from Illinois to attend and enjoy!