Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Go, Go America

Wouldn’t you know it? As soon as I turn in my handbook to BER for printing, I find another wonderful book for boys! I just finished Go, Go America by Dan Yaccarino. It has been on my “to do” list for awhile, but as I was trying to round out my recommended list for SDUSD, I discovered a need for books for grades 3-6. There it was with a red dot, waiting to be savored.

Go, Go is full of interesting tidbits about all 50 states. Following the Fabulous Farley Family, readers travel across the US discovering all kinds of wacky facts. Some are laws that are still on the books. For example on Market Street in San Francisco, elephants must be kept on a leash. In Atlanta, it is illegal to tie a giraffe to a telephone pole or a streetlight. That means that someone actually did it!

Fairbanks, Alaska hosts the Ice Art Championships of the world. I know, because I saw it last March with my own two eyes! (That's me on the left, hiding in Mary/Barbara's wonderful coat.) It’s also against the law to wake a sleeping bear in order to photograph it- at least in Alaska.

Items like these gems are just the tip of the iceberg. Rounding out the book, Yaccarino includes an alphabetical listing of the standard facts about states. Go, Go America is a book that upper elementary students- and probably a few adults- will turn to again and again.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Bear's Picture

Learn something new every day. That should be a rule. Maybe not something that becomes a chore, but we should slow down enough to appreciate things that we see and do. For example, sometimes I read so fast that I forget to slow down and just enjoy the reading of a book. Zooming through, you may really miss something you could have seen for yourself.

Last night I spoke at USD about new picture books for 2008. One of the books was the new version of Bear’s Picture by Daniel Pinkwater, illustrated by D.B. Johnson. It first came out in 1972. Pinkwater wrote and illustrated the first book. Johnson adds his own twist to the story in the latest version. There is something in that book that I completely missed, even with several readings under my belt. To find out more about it, check out the NPR slide show, but be sure you have the book with you. It’s a moment for you to slow down and learn something new.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Real John Henry

When reading a nonfiction book in bed keeps you interested after 11 hours at work and cooking dinner in a summer apartment with no air conditioning, it would appear you have a winner. Such is the case in Ain’t Nothing But a Man by Scott Reynolds Nelson with Marc Aronson. A picture book for older readers, 57 pages in length with excellent back matter, Nelson tells the story of how history is discovered. As Aronson says in the appendix, when you read a secondary source, not only do you get facts, you also get the author’s opinions and conclusions as well. By searching primary sources and actually visiting related sites, researchers find clues that lead you to draw your own conclusions. The work of a historian is very much like being a detective.

Nothing But a Man is the search to find the real John Henry. You know the songs; you have probably sung them yourself. We have all read Lester and Pinkney’s award winning picture book of the legend of John Henry. The author used versions of the song to find clues to discover the identity of John Henry. He learned that there were 40,000 men, mostly African American, working on the railroads in the South as trackliners. One of those was an inmate from a penitentiary in Virginia. His name was John Henry.

How did he find out? He was persistent in his requests of a librarian until one finally gave him access to the “big ledger.” He visited places that were mentioned in the songs. He read other works. He studied pictures. Eventually the clues led him to Lewis Tunnel and a conclusion that the songs, as many songs are, were sending a message- the hammer that killed John Henry “can’t kill me.”

Read it today. Read it more than once. Then remember what you read as you do your own research. Question what you read. Compare information. Answers don’t always come easily. Be a detective and find your own answers.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Sleeping Animals

I hadn’t intended to write about picture books today, but as I am readying a new workshop on picture books, I came across two books. Ironically both are about animals who have found a safe haven. One sleeps through storm and gale, while the other is soon startled awake. The Searcher and the Old Tree by David McPhail tells the story of a raccoon who settles down to sleep in the arms of an old tree. When seemingly gale force winds rock the tree, the Searcher sleeps on. (Oh! if only I could do that.) Scoot! By Cathryn Falwell tells the story of busy pond animals while six silent turtles slumber away.

Both stories are beautifully illustrated. McPhail’s lovely watercolor illustrations are peaceful and comforting until the storm hits. Even then, the branches of the old tree curl around, protecting its inhabitant. Falwell’s are paper cut collages, using- in fact, some of the things she found in nature to write about. Both are perfect for a Storytime. Add Scoot! to your science lessons on habitats. Use The Searcher in a lesson about animals or allegories. Where is your safe haven?