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!