Thursday, October 30, 2008

This Isn't Going to Be as Easy as I Thought

How hard can it be to choose the best ten of sixty-one nonfiction picture books? Hard, as I've discovered after reading the first four and finding them all to be very good books.

It isn't going to be as easy as I thought to be a Cybils panelist.

Sparkles the Fire Safety Dog by Firefighter Dayna Hilton

The first Cybils book to arrive in the mail was this book, Sparkles the
Fire Safety Dog. Initially, I was struck by its amateur appearance; it
arrived as a soft cover book, with simple photographs used as
illustrations. I decided to set aside these reservations and take a look
at the book with fresh eyes, the eyes of a child reader.

Dogs have immediate appeal to children. There is something about
animals that draws the child in. Sparkles benefits from dog appeal.

Children also love to read about firefighters. Firefighters are heroic
figures to children. Sparkles benefits from firefighter appeal.

The text is simple, perfect for its target audience. The author is a
firefighter herself, so she has credibility. She focuses on teaching two
skills that will save children in a real fire and uses her dog,
Sparkles, to reinforce the teaching.

Don't let first appearances stop you from reading this book. It
accomplishes its task in a simple yet appealing way.

Planting the Trees of Kenya: The Story of Wangari Maathai by Claire A.

Sometimes we adults wonder if there are any heroes left in our world,
any people who act not out of self-interest or greed, but out of love
and concern for others. Wangari Maathai is one such hero.

Maathai is a woman born in Kenya who left her beautiful country to go
to college in America. When she returned to Kenya, she was struck by the
destruction that had taken place in Kenya during the short time she was
away. Maathai was determined to do more than complain or seek blame. She
created a program for her countrymen to work together to restore
Kenya's natural beauty by planting trees.

I loved reading this simple story of an honorable person. The details
of the Kenyan world the author presents reveal a world both like my own,
but also fascinatingly different. The illustrations are a perfect
companion to the text. The author's note provides information about
where she obtained her knowledge of Maathai. The appeal to children will be the story of a woman who dared to make the world a better and more beautiful place.

As Good as Anybody: Martin Luther King Jr. and Abraham Joshua Heschel's Amazing March Toward Freedom by Richard Michelson

Simple text...great illustrations...and a compelling story I'd never heard before...These all combined for me to make reading As Good as Anybody a wonderful experience. I ended up reading it again as soon as I got to the end. Amazing to think that the magnificent Martin Luther King Jr. would team up with another such magnificent human, Abraham Joshua Heschel, and work together to improve the world.

The book begins with the early life of Martin Luther King Jr., highlighting the suffering he incurred as a black child in a predominantly prejudiced white culture. The story then moves to the early life of Abraham Joshua Heschel, showing the suffering he incurred as a Jewish boy in a predominantly prejudiced Nazi German culture. The early lives of both men neatly parallel each other. The men come together later in life in their joint effort to march for freedom.

The book ends on a strong note, though it is jarringly unusual; the men take their first step on the march and the reader is left wondering what will happen next. The author discloses in summation form the concluding events of the men's lives. I was unable to find any documentation of sources consulted to write the story, however.

A very powerful book.

Amelia Earhart: The Legend of the Lost Aviator by Shelley Tanaka

This is the kind of nonfiction that I love best: nonfiction that reads like a fiction story. Amelia Earhart covers the entirity of Earhart's life, with little vignettes about this moving incident and that moving incident in Earhart's life. The details the author adds to the story bring the story camera zooming in on each individual scene, making the events come alive.

The story really kicks into high gear when Earhart begins to make her attempts to fly first across the Atlantic and then around the world. For children of today who see a trip in an airplane as routine, the author is able to emphasize the life-threatening dangers that Earhart experienced. Earhart comes across as a heroic and brave figure, a role model for girls and women especially.

The book has lots of text and I must question whether it would be eagerly picked up by most elementary students because of its length. However, the author uses sidebars to break up the text in many places and that might help make a reluctant reader find his way through the entire book.

The index and the bibliography are quite extensive, and they add an air of deep scholarship to the book, a quality not usually found in a children's book.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

"I'm Riding the Frog Bus!"

I have afternoon bus duty at my primary school. Yesterday, we had a new bus rider.

All our buses have animal pictures to go with the bus number, to help the kids remember which bus they ride on. The teacher told the new bus rider, "You will ride on the frog bus."

He broke into a big smile and started singing, over and over, "I'm riding the frog bus! I'm riding the frog bus!"

A teacher said me how much she missed the days when just getting to ride on the frog bus would make her so happy.

The truth is that I feel just like that new bus rider. I feel like singing over and over, "I'm going to the Texas Book Festival! I'm going to the Texas Book Festival!"

It's this weekend. And Saturday is my birthday, too.

Can life get any better?

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Sunday Salon: Houston Puppetry Festival

The Houston Puppetry Festival was yesterday and everywhere there were puppets, puppets, puppets. Shark puppets. Clown puppets. Sandwich puppets. Sock puppets. Spoon puppets. Wolf puppets. An enormous full body puppet you wear as a costume. King puppets. Vampire puppets. Puppets, puppets, puppets.

I carried LaToya along with me and got lots of help from master puppeteers. LaToya behaved herself pretty well.

Great day.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Sunday Salon: Read-a-Thon Wrapup

My second read-a-thon, but this time I didn't make the whole marathon. That's okay. I thought it unlikely I would make it this time. I'm just not a late night girl. And I knew I'd be like the cat and spend most of today snoozing if I did stay up and I knew I had a lot of work to get done today...impossible. The librarian conference was also an obstacle I knew I'd have a hard time working around.

Okay, what did I achieve?

I finished five books. That's fantastic. I read three books about books: Down Cut Shin Creek about the pack horse librarians who hand delivered books during the Great Depression; In a Blue Velvet Dress about an avid reader who forgets her suitcase of books and has nothing to read on her trip but is saved by a ghost who brings her books at night; Miss Zukas and the Library Murders about a librarian who solves a murder in her library. I listened to one book, a play actually, on the way to and from the librarian meeting. And I finally finished Treasure Island, which I decided to read because my new school is named after its author.

And I'm good to go for the day....Loved the Read-a-Thon and hope to do it again in the spring....

Read-a-Thon: Hour 23

I just couldn't stay awake this time. I fell asleep at nine and slept until 6:30 this morning.

That leaves time for a little more reading....

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Read-a-Thon: Hour 11

A beautiful afternoon for reading on the front porch.

Then a short break. My husband and I went down to our local Mexican food restaurant and had fajita nachos and a Margarita.

We're going to watch a mystery movie, so I'll be back in a couple of hours....

Gotta entertain the esposo....

Read-a-Thon: Hour 10

What a beautiful day for reading outside!

I'm on the front porch, with fifteen pages to go in a murder mystery set in a library.

Yeah, right, happens all the time....

Read-a-Thon: Hour 9

Let me add up my total reading:

1 hr. 15 min. listening to Midsummer Night's Dream (going to conference)
30 min. reading before conference began
45 min. reading while one TLA leader spoke
45 min. reading while legislator spoke
1 hr. 15 min. listening to Midsummer Night's Dream (coming home from conference)
30 min. reading after arriving home.

Total so far: 5 hours
Total books completed: 3 1/2

Not bad.

Read-a-Thon: Back and Reading!

I'm not sure if this is totally kosher, but since it is rather difficult to read while driving to a library conference, I decided to spend the first hour and sixth hour of the Read-a-Thon (while I was commuting) listening to A Midsummer Night's Dream. And I listened to the entire play. Excellent.

I squeezed in two short children's books during the conference (I'm sure some were wondering why I was reading while the state legislator was speaking....I hope I was not discourteous, but I had to get some read time in).

I've donated 1,000 grains of rice and now I'm headed back to the delightful front porch for some more pages of Miss Zukas and the Library Murders.

Read-a-Thon: Late Start

Can you believe it? They scheduled our district librarian conference the same day as the 24 Hour Read-a-Thon?!

I will try to get some reading in this morning during the meeting (hey, it's a conference for people who are trying to encourage others to READ, right?)

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Sunday Salon: Coming!

In the next few weeks, I'm looking forward to...

24-Hour Read-a-Thon

Texas Library Association District 8 Meeting

Barnes and Noble Educator's Week

Houston Puppetry Festival

Author Visit at My School

Texas Book Festival

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

I Never Win Anything...Except...

Last night I treated myself to a double dose of author readings with Ann Patchett and Anne Enright through the Inprint Reading Series in Houston. I was happy to discover there are no parking fees after six pm. When I arrived at Kilkha Hall in the Hobby Center in Houston, I was approached by a man asking if I needed a ticket for the readings. I told him yes and he gave me an extra ticket he'd purchased for his wife who wasn't able to come. I was delighted.

I handed my ticket to the usher and he said, "Oh, you have a gold ticket. You may sit in the special reserved seating up front!"

Where did I end up sitting? In the FRONT ROW! And who was I sitting next to? ANN PATCHETT AND ANNE ENRIGHT! I got to listen to two brilliant writers quietly comment as the other presented little pieces of her writing. Amazing!

Then, when I got home, I was thrilled to see I had an e-mail from Dewey. I am the winner of her contest sponsored by Hatchett Books this week. And what do I win? Not one book, but ELEVEN! Dewey and Hatchett are giving away more, so check out her site.

I am walking on air.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Sunday Salon: Nonfiction...or Not?

Fiction? Or Nonfiction?

I was very happy to be selected to serve on a panel to help select the Cybils winner for nonfiction picture books this year.

Little did I know how complicated the task would be. I thought I knew what nonfiction was. I think I do know what nonfiction is. But I need an official definition or clear guidelines so that I can easily differentiate between fiction and nonfiction.

I need help.