Friday, September 19, 2014

Wonderful Weirdos of Literature 2014 – Installment #18

If you've been following along with our Fifth Annual Bugs and Bunnies Wonderful Weirdos of Literature Series, we're glad you're back for more. And if you're visiting for the first time, well, we're glad you're here.




If you need a refresher on what this series is all about, clicking on that link up there at the beginning of the post will catch you up quite nicely. Then come on back here to keep the weirdness rolling.

So far in the Picture Book and Poetry Palooza that is this year's sub-theme within the Overall Weirdo Theme, we've frolicked through the following weekly Variations on the Overall Weirdo Themes:


And today, we bring you Installment #18:

Supernatural

Specifically, monsters. Not the dark, blood-curdling, super-scary kind. (We don't do a lot of dark here on Bugs and Bunnies.) Just the quirky ones:



The Monster Trap
Story and pictures by Dean Morrissey
Written by Dean Morrissey and Stephen Krensky
Ages 5 - 10

Paddy has come to stay with his grandfather for a few days. It's his first time there on his own, and Pop's place seems darker than Paddy remembers. That night, they listen to Monster Radio Theater, and when bedtime comes, Paddy is sure he hears the monster from the radio stories. Pop's solution? A monster trap, complete with "sure-fire, high-grade monster bait."

The next morning, the small trap is empty. Pop thinks that means there aren't any monsters. But Paddy thinks they were just too smart for the trap. So Pop and Paddy get to work building a bigger, smarter trap.

And if it works? Well, that could be a whole new problem.




I Need My Monster
Written by Amanda Noll
Illustrated by Howard McWilliam
Ages 5 - 8

When Ethan heads to bed one night, instead of his usual monster under the bed, he finds a note: "Gone fishing. Back in a week. – Gabe" 

Ethan can't sleep without his monster under his bed. And he can't go without sleep for a whole week. So he does the only thing he can think of – interview for a replacement.

But can any of the other monsters measure up to Gabe?

* An added treat: We found this video from SAG Foundation's StoryLineOnline.net, with actress Rita Moreno reading I Need My Monster, including animated illustrations from the book presented as she reads. A bit over 11 minutes, total, and very, very fun!



Professor Wormbog in Search for the Zipperump-a-Zoo
Written and illustrated by Mercer Mayer
Ages 3 - 8

Professor Wormbog's beastie collection is incomplete. Though he has found a beastie for nearly every letter of the alphabet, from the Askinforit to the Yalapappas, there is one last beastie that still eludes him: the one for Z, the Zipperump-a-Zoo.

So the professor sets off, determined to catch one and complete his collection. He digs a pit. He fishes the sea. He tries to lure it out of the air. He climbs a craggy peak. He drops into caves. Each time, he finds something. But each time, it is not the Zipperump-a-Zoo. Finally, the disappointed professor gives up and heads home, empty-handed.

But sometimes? The very thing a person searches for the hardest tends to turn up in the most unexpected of places...




The Mysterious Tadpole
Written and illustrated by Steven Kellogg
Ages 5 - 8

Every year, Uncle McAllister – who lives in Scotland – sends Louis a birthday present for his nature collection. And when this year's gift arrives, Louis proclaims it "the best one yet," and takes it to school the next day. His teacher proclaims it a tadpole, and Louis names it Alphonse.

By summer, Alphonse still looks nothing like a frog, and has outgrown his jar, the kitchen sink, the bathtub, and even the apartment. Louis decides what Alphonse really needs is a swimming pool – which they don't have, and can't afford to build. Though nobody wants to, it looks like the only option is to take Alphonse to the zoo. But that night, Louis remembers the middle school pool, which sits unused all summer. He happily sneaks Alphonse in, and it works...until the swim team shows up for its first practice, and the coach says Alphonse has to be gone by the next day.

Louis is out of options and in despair when he runs into his friend, Miss Seevers, the librarian, on his way home. He tells her his problem, and then takes her to meet Alphonse. And then, Miss Seevers comes up with a plan to help. A plan so far-fetched, it just might work.

* * *

See? Not scary at all. Be sure to come back next Friday, September 26th, for Installment #19 of the Fifth Annual Bugs and Bunnies Wonderful Weirdos of Literature Series, when animals and people show there's more to them than meets the eye.

Until then, we'll leave you with this:


"The possibilities that are suggested in quantum physics tell us that everything that we're looking at may not be in fact there, so the underlying nature of being is weird."

                                    – William Shatner


Thursday, September 18, 2014

Bookish Ways (for the Young-ish Set) to Celebrate International Talk Like a Pirate Day

Avast, me hearties! International Talk Like a Pirate Day be soon upon us. Aye, very soon. Tomorrow, in fact.

If this oh-so-fun little-known holiday, celebrated annually on September 19th, has taken ye by surprise this year, never fear. We scalawags here at Bugs and Bunnies have some fun and bookish ways for teachers an' kids ta celebrate the day.




Since pirates are some of our favorite people, we've reviewed a fair number of fantastic piratical books. Below are summaries of all of 'em to date. If we've done a full review, clicking the titles will take ye to the full review posts for each one:



The Mousehunter 
Written and illustrated by Alex Milway
Ages 10 - 12

Twelve-year-old Emiline Orelia is mousekeeper for Isiah Lovelock, Old Town's most famous mouse collector and one of its wealthiest citizens. Emiline cares for her own Grey Mouse, named Portly, as well as all of the mice in Lovelock's vast collection. It's not a glamorous job, but Emiline is very good at it, and hopes one day to become a mousehunter, so she can go out and discover new and interesting mice.

In Emiline's world, collecting and trading mice is valued above all else - but these are no ordinary field mice. There is the Sharpclaw Mouse: a sneaky, mischievous mouse with huge, dagger-like claws on its front paws that can slice through even wood and metal with ease. Or the Magnetical Mouse: prized by sailors for their bulletlike nose that always points due north. Or the Howling Moon Mouse: best known of all the howler mice, it howls only on nights with a full moon. And this is only to name a few.

When Mousebeard, the most feared pirate on the Seventeen Seas, sinks Lovelock's merchant ship, Lovelock hires Captain Devlin Drewshank to hunt him down and capture him. Emiline overhears the deal and, seeing this as the chance of a lifetime, runs away and boards Drewshank's ship, excited to be on the adventure. The journey is a dangerous one, filled with pirates, and battles, and even sea monsters. And Emiline soon comes to realize that all is not exactly as she thought it was, and that no one she's met is exactly who she thought they were.




Fish
By Gregory Mone

Ages 8 and up

Maurice "Fish" Reidy is eleven years old when Shamrock dies. Without their horse, the family can't afford to feed itself, let alone farm their land. Someone has to go into the city to work and send money home. Since Fish is the worst at farming, it's agreed he should be the one to go.

His father arranges for Fish to work for his uncle as a courier. When Fish is entrusted with a mysterious package of coins, he's robbed before he can make the delivery. He tracks down the thief amongst a bunch of pirates, aboard their ship, the Scurvy Mistress. Determined to get that package back and to its rightful recipient, Fish sneaks aboard and joins the pirate crew. He soon learns the coins are more than what they seem, and some of the crew are not as loyal as they'd have their captain believe.

As the Scurvy Mistress sets sail, Fish finds himself on an adventure he never saw coming, with friends he never imagined making. It's a journey that promises to change his life - and that of his family - forever.




How I Became a Pirate
Written by Melinda Long
Illustrated by David Shannon

Ages 4 - 8

Jeremy Jacob was just a boy building a sandcastle on the beach - until the day the pirates came. The pirates were in need of a digger to help bury their treasure. And the captain couldn't help but notice that "He's a digger, he is, and a good one to boot!" The crew heartily agreed, "A good one to boot!" And that is how Jeremy Jacob became a pirate.



Here Be Monsters! The Ratbridge Chronicles, Volume 1
Written and illustrated by Alan Snow

Ages 9 - 12

Young Arthur is a resident of Ratbridge. Or, rather, a resident under Ratbridge. He's not sure why he lives below ground, except that his inventor grandfather says that they must. They share this underground world with curious creatures: boxtrolls, cabbageheads, rabbit women, and the rather fearsome trotting badgers.

One day, Arthur gets caught above-ground on one of his nightly forays to the surface world to gather food. The rather nasty Snatcher, his grandfather's old nemesis, has stolen the machine Arthur's grandfather built for him to be able to fly about, and he doesn't know how to get back home.

But Arthur is not without friends. He is helped by the kindly retired lawyer Willbury Nibble, and the underlings who live with him: the boxtrolls Fish, Egg, and Shoe, and the shy cabbagehead Titus. Then there's the pirates-turned-laundry-workers, talking rats and crows, and oh! we can't forget The Man in the Iron Socks. They are all determined to get Arthur back home safely.

Arthur and his friends soon discover that something stinks in Ratbridge, and it isn't just the cheese: Someone has begun hunting Wild English Cheeses again - an outlawed sport. And mysterious goings-on are afoot at the old Cheese Hall. And all the entrances to the underground world have been sealed up. And the boxtrolls and cabbageheads are all disappearing. And the underlings' tunnels are starting to flood. Grandfather is worried, and they all know Snatcher is the root of this mystery. Somehow. Whatever will they do?




Another Whole Nother Story
As told by (The Incomparable) Dr. Cuthbert Soup
Ages 8 and up 


Mr. Ethan Cheeseman and his three smart, polite, and relatively odor-free children are back in another adventure - with all-new names, of course. Now that they've got the LVR working (the supposedly secret, yet relentlessly sought-after time machine introduced in A Whole Nother Story), the family is all set to travel back in time to just before their beloved wife and mother Olivia Cheeseman meets her unfortunate end at the hands of those seeking to "acquire" the LVR.

But all does not go according to plan. First, they wind up not in the relatively recent past, as they'd planned, but way back in 1668. Worse, their crash landing has damaged the LVR, and unless they can find the proper parts to repair it, the family has no way to return to their own time in the 21st century. As if that weren't trouble enough, the family finds themselves facing suspicion of witchcraft, battling pirates, and navigating a haunted castle. Add to that their tangle with a dangerous nemesis from their present whom they believed they'd seen the last of, and things don't look good.

Despite these odds, the likeable Cheesemans are not without friends, meeting several helpful souls along the way. But is it enough to help them get out of the distant past, and into the nearer past, so they can save their beloved Olivia Cheeseman, and get back to their own time?



* * *


Well, land lubbers, that's all we got, and we ain't got no more. But keep a weather eye on the Bugs and Bunnies horizon – we've got our eyes on more'n a few other fantastic pirate-y books we'd love ta be postin' about in future.

But for now, mateys, we hope you enjoy what we've presented here today, and have a most fabulous International Talk Like a Pirate Day on September 19th.

 

Friday, September 12, 2014

Wonderful Weirdos of Literature Series 2014 – Installment #17

Today marks the second of four posts this month in the Fifth Annual Bugs and Bunnies Wonderful Weirdos of Literature Series.




Wondering what this is all about? Click on the link up there in that first sentence, and you'll be caught up nicely. Then come back here to continue the festivities.

* * *

Back now? Great! Let's get to it, shall we?

You'll recall (if you've been here before) or you now know (if you're new but clicked that link up there) that for our Fifth Anniversary of the Bugs and Bunnies Wonderful Weirdos of Literature Series, we've focused our weird-detecting magnifying glass on picture books and poetry anthologies.

Last week's post had all picture books, with the Variation on the Overall Weirdo Theme of Weirdly True.

Well, fans of verse, rejoice! Because today is the day we're:


Waxing Poetic 


That's right! Today is all about the rhymes. The weirder and the funnier, the better – and one collection is even set to music:



A Light in the Attic
Poems and drawings by Shel Silverstein
Ages 6 - 8

Readers of this collection of Shel Silverstein's poems and drawings will have lots to ponder, lots to smile about, and lots to laugh through.

With poems about stars needing a polish, and a bee who may want to consider a career in tattoo artistry, and a camel wearing a quite unusual piece of clothing, kids will have lots to giggle over.

With poems about a bridge that will only take you halfway there, and a difference in perspective between two friends: a tree and a rose, and someone who shoots an arrow into the sky, kids will have plenty to think about.

And with illustrations like the boy with the hot dog for a pet, and the anteater (or rather, aunt-eater), and the polar bear in the refrigerator, kids will have that little bit of extra fun to go with the poems they're enjoying.

It is a collection not to be missed.



The Frogs Wore Red Suspenders
Rhymes by Jack Pretutsky
Pictures by Petra Mathers
Ages 4 - 8

Here is a beautifully illustrated collection of children's verse by Jack Prelutsky. Readers will chortle through poems about a disastrous shopping trip, and a partying group of farm animals in Tuscaloosa, and pigs and frogs performing onstage for a swooning audience of chickens and ducks. They'll smile through rhymes about a gardener's unconventional crops, and a little brown toad's chronicle of his carefree life, and a description of a smiley, giggly baby. They'll take time to let their eyes and hearts explore the rich, full-page illustrations. 

An afternoon spent with the verse and pictures in this book is an afternoon well-spent.



A Bad Case of the Giggles: Kids' Favorite Funny Poems
Selected by Bruce Lansky
Illustrated by Stephen Carpenter
Ages 6 - 12

This is a collection of funny poems written for kids, and chosen for inclusion by editor Bruce Lansky – with the help of a panel of 800 elementary school kids!

Readers will laugh over poems about the joy (or not) of having a baby sibling, the indignities of being a boy who must wear hand-me-downs...from his family full of sisters, a girl with questionable hygiene habits, the olfactory downside of living in a shoe, the classic about the old man from Peru, and many, many more.

Written by an ecclectic mix of poets both well-known (like Judith Viorst) and well-known-but-kind-of-not (like Anonymous), the poems in this collection are the laugh-out-loud type that kids just love to read, and read, and read. Often out loud. Expect guffaws.



Frog Trouble and Eleven Other Pretty Serious Songs
Songs and Illustrations by Sandra Boynton
For Ages One to Older Than Dirt

Fans of Ms Boynton's previous musical collaborations (Philadelphia Chickens, Blue Moo, Dog Train, Rhinoceros Tap, and GRUNT Pigorian Chant) will revel in this newest venture. Frog Trouble is a CD and songbook full of country songs written by Ms Boynton, produced by Ms Boynton and Michael Ford, and sung by some of the biggest names in country music today.

Listeners will enjoy reading along in Part One as they enjoy songs with lines like, "It's a beautiful thing – When Pigs Fly," and "I really don't like it when you Copycat," and "...I don't need shoes 'cause I've got alligator feet," and of course, "I've got two words to say: Frog Trouble."

Part Two is a Sing and Play Along complete with melodies and lyrics for each song from Part One. Part Three introduces readers to the performers, and there's even a cut-and-fold activity sheet at the end to make a puppet. (But we won't tell you what the puppet is. You'll have to guess...)


* * *

And that's that for this time. Be sure to come back next Friday, September 19th, for Installment #18 of the Fifth Annual Bugs and Bunnies Wonderful Weirdos of Literature Series. It should be a monstrously good time.

Until then, we'll leave you with this:


"Creativity is more than just being different. Anybody can plan weird; that's easy. What's hard is to be as simple as Bach. Making the simple, awesomely simple, that's creativity."

                                              – Charles Mingus


  

Friday, September 5, 2014

Wonderful Weirdos of Literature Series 2014 – Installment #16

Welcome to the Fifth Annual Bugs and Bunnies Wonderful Weirdos of Literature Series!


If you've been here before, you already know what's up. But for new readers, or for those who need a refresher, here's how this works:

In honor of Wonderful Weirdos Day, celebrated each year on September 9th, we here at Bugs and Bunnies present a few books each Friday in September that we just love: Fantastic stories that celebrate the unusual, with characters who are, well, characters. You know: the misunderstood, the eccentric, the quirky, the unique, the weird, the wacky. These books might be picture books, or chapter books, or middle grade books, or young adult books.

As usual, each week will have a Variation on the Overall Weirdo Theme. But, new for this Fifth Anniversary of the Bugs and Bunnies Wonderful Weirdos of Literature Series is the addition of one big, overarching theme for the whole month (besides weirdness, of course):




That's right – we're hovering our weirdo-loving magnifying glass over picture books and poetry anthologies this year. (Well, that's not entirely true. There is one novel. But it works, right? What would a celebration of the weird be, without at least one thing that doesn't fit the mold?)


* * *

Let's get started with Installment #16, shall we? Today's Variation on the Overall Weirdo Theme is:
Weirdly True

True Stuff. Just presented in totally weird (and fun) ways:



Pigs Over Colorado
Written and Illustrated by Kerry Lee MacLean
Ages 4 - 8

A personal quirky favorite of Chez Wheedleton's own Lovely Girl, who has graciously provided this summary:

Sand dunes, dinosaur fossils, roller coasters, mountain climbing, ghost towns, and skiing? You might say that a vacation that cool could only ever come around when pigs fly...

Good thing the flying family of Sky Piggies is here to lead you on a tour across the weird and wonderful state of Colorado!



If Dinosaurs Came to Town
Written and Illustrated by Dom Mansell
Ages 1 - 8

Another personal fave of Lovely Girl, who couldn't resist writing this summary, too:

Everyone knows something about the dinosaurs. Some were big, some were small, some were fierce, some were gentle. They lived MILLIONS and MILLIONS and MILLIONS of years ago, though, so we should be safe now, right?

Wait, is that a diplodocus holding up traffic? Did a quetzalcoatl just fly by overhead? What's an eryops doing in the bathtub? And who is that outside the window? AAAAGH! A T-Rex!

It looks like dinosaurs aren't so extinct, after all. At least we can learn about them up close now! (Not TOO close, though...)



Twenty-Odd Ducks: Why Every Punctuation Mark Counts!
By Lynne Truss
Illustrated by Bonnie Timmons
Ages 6 - 8

From the author of Eats, Shoots and Leaves: Why Commas Really Do Make a Difference, comes this giggle-worthy illustrated treatise that shows the young (and not-so-young) exactly why punctuation matters. Swapping a period for a comma, and some differently-placed quotation marks, could be the difference between a visit to you from Santa, and a visit to Santa from his mom. Or, your history teacher could be one hyphen-placement away from being either a teacher of old history, or an old teacher of history. Want to read (and see) more? Find the book, and check it out.



How Much is a Million?
By David M. Schwartz
Pictures by Steven Kellogg
Ages 4 - 8

When a kid wants to know how much a big number is, they don't want you to tell. They want you to show. If that number is, say, 100, there are lots of easy was to do that: lay out 100 pennies, or line up 100 pebbles, or stack up 100 blocks.

But, what if that kid is really ambitious? What if what that kid wants to know is: How much is a million? A million! Even most adults struggle with picturing what that looks like. 

Never fear, help is here! Enter Marvelosissimo the Mathematical Magician, who takes curious kids on a journey to show them exactly how much a million is, in ways the non-magical just can't – stacking a tower of kids that stretches up past the sky, conjuring up an enormous goldfish bowl, taking an impossible hot air balloon ride through pages and pages of tiny tiny stars, and even traveling through time.

Of course, when one question is answered, however fabulously, others are sure to follow. What does a billion look like? the kids want to know. A trillion? And Marvelosissimo responds each time, in spectacularly large and dazzling fashion.

And for those readers who want the hard numbers and calculations behind Marvelosissimo's enormous examples, the author includes detailed explanations at the end of the book for each one.



The Truth About Poop
By Susan E. Goodman
Illustrated by Elwood H. Smith
Ages 7 and up

You can do so many more things with poop than flush it away. Useful things. Who knew?

Though there is certainly much in this book that will elicit giggles – both from the young, and from the young-at-heart – The Truth About Poop is full of interesting, surprising, and quite useful aspects of the oft-avoided and much discouraged subject of poop.

Covering a variety of living creatures, from insects to land animals to creatures of the sea to people, this book explains how poop is used for defense, attack, fuel, building material, identification – even entertainment.

There is a history of the toilet in two parts, and a history of toilet paper. There is a description of where poop goes once flushed. There's even a section devoted to "Waste in Space."

And if, after reading all of that, you aren't totally pooped out, the author includes resources for further reading on the subject. Where you choose to sit and read? That's up to you.


* * *

That wraps things up for today. Be sure to come back next Friday, September 12th, for Installment #17 of the Fifth Annual Bugs and Bunnies Wonderful Weirdos of Literature Series, when we'll wax weirdly poetic.

Until then, we'll leave you with this:


"To be nobody-but-yourself – in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else – means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting."
                                                   
                                                  – e.e. cummings

Friday, July 11, 2014

Book Review: Walter: The Story of a Rat, by Barbara Wersba, illustrated by Donna Diamond

Words swam through Walter's mind like bright fish, darting back and forth. He did not always understand what he was reading, but the experience excited him. All those images, all those thoughts and ideas!

Summary:
Walter is an unusual rat. For one thing, he has known how to read since birth. For another, he has a name – one he gave himself when he was very young. But now, Walter is quite old. For the last six months, he's shared a home with a writer named Miss Pomeroy, who is also old and, from Walter's observations, lonely. Though he wants to reach out to her, he's experienced enough unpleasant treatment in his past to know humans do not look kindly on his kind. And so, he keeps himself out of sight.

But then one day, as he's exploring the bookshelves of Miss Pomeroy's personal library, he discovers the children's book section – and the children's books she writes. And he's shocked to find that the vast number of books there, including her own, are full of stories about...mice. Why not rats, Walter wonders? He assumes it's because humans like mice and hate rats. It troubles him, to the point that he feels he must confront her on this, even though it means revealing himself. So one day Walter takes a chance, and he leaves her a note:

My name is Walter.
I live here too. 

And the next night, when Walter excitedly goes upstairs to the library to see if she'd received his note, he finds she's left him a note in reply, which says simply,


I know.

Walter is emotional. She knows! Yet she's never tried to get rid of him. What could this mean? There is only one way to find out: Walter writes back. And so begins the connection between a reader and a writer, a rat and a person. But will this tenuous beginning blossom into friendship?
 

For Teachers and Librarians:
Walter: The Story of a Rat is a quiet story, yet full of ways for you to integrate the book into your classroom. Here are a few examples:
  • Walter is well-read, even if he doesn't always understand everything he's read. He references titles and quotes from classic literature for both adults and children throughout the story, but the quotes are all unattributed. Help your students discover which quotes came from which books, then discuss why they think the books and quotes have stood the test of time. Another idea: discuss each quote, what the quote means to Walter, and how your students can apply the wisdom Walter gleans from the quotes to their own lives, followed by a poster project where each student depicts one quote he or she finds meaningful, with an appropriate illustration that connects the quote to their own lives.
  • A unit centered around writers and how they work would be appropriate. How does Miss Pomeroy get her writing work done? Have your students research current children's authors online, and compare their work habits with Miss Pomeroy's. Another fun discussion would be how each of your students conducts their own writing, and compare their writing habits to those of Miss Pomeroy.
  • How about an art unit? Have your students closely examine Donna Diamond's illustrations. How do they add to the story? How do they help the reader visualize what they've just read? Would their connection to the story be different if the illustrations were in color, or used a different artistic medium? What about if the artist used a student's own favorite artistic style - would that change how closely they connected to the story? As an activity, have your students re-create favorite scenes from the story, first using the same or similar medium the illustrator used, and then re-create that same scene using their own favorite medium. Post each students' two pieces side-by-side around your room or the hall, then let students browse each others' work. Afterwards, ask them to discuss their thoughts and feelings about the different interpretations each student had.
  • Of course, a letter-writing unit would be lots of fun, combined with and centered around starting and building a new friendship. Finding another classroom in another school willing to become pen-pals is a great way to have your charges learn about both letter-writing and building new friendships.
  • Walter finds Miss Pomeroy's library organization confusing. Compare Miss Pomeroy's system to the school's library system, and the public library system, and even their own home libraries if they're fortunate enough to have one. Discuss pro's and con's of each organization system, why they are the way they are, and how each system benefits or hinders its particular users. As an activity, have your students (in small groups) create a new organization system (charts, maybe, or labeled room diagrams, or maybe a small 3D model) for Miss Pomeroy's library, in a way Walter would find it to make the most sense. Display their work in your room or the school library, then have them explain their choices.
  • Walter is dismayed and even a touch angry that humans hate rats, a belief he holds in part due to the proliferation of mouse stories in Miss Pomeroy's library, and in part due to his own previous treatment at the hands of humans. A related science unit could explore why humans have a negative view of rats, and whether their reasons are valid or based on myth or misinformation. Stretch this unit out to explore other animal species humans view with disdain or fear or loathing, in a similar manner.
  • How about a social studies unit? Walter feels humans' views of rats to be unfair and based on untruths. Have your students break into groups to come up with campaigns to change human's negative views of rats. Make sure they do the research to find scientific and historic reasons why those negative views are unfounded or unfair - or not, in some cases. Later, you can branch into a discussion of how humans unfortunately have throughout history given similar unfair treatment to other humans viewed as different than themselves.
  • Get some geography in there with a unit on maps. Let half of your students create maps of the house as Walter sees and uses it, and the other half as Miss Pomeroy sees and uses it. Or perhaps create a map of the places Walter and Miss Pomeroy have been in the town of Sag Harbor, where they live. Compare this to a map of the actual town of Sag Harbor, New York.  Perhaps do some research and then have your students create tourist brochures of the town - either as Walter and Miss Pomeroy live in it, or as it actually exists in real life.
  • The author, Barbara Wersba, lives in Sag Harbor, New York, in real life. The illustrator, Donna Diamond, is a life-long New York resident. Perhaps an aside of how authors and illustrators sometimes infuse things from their own lives into their work would be a fun discussion. Connect this idea to your students and their own writing. Do they use settings or events from their own lives when they write? Why? Why not?
  • This book is the story of two unlikely souls and the process of their becoming friends. But it is also the story of the relationship between a reader and a writer. If you can, find the address or email of this author or illustrator, or perhaps of whomever your students' individual favorite authors or illustrators are, and have your students write and send letters or emails to these people. Discuss their feelings after they've sent them off. How do their feelings compare to those Walter felt when he wrote that first note to Miss Pomeroy? If anyone is lucky enough to receive responses from the authors or illustrators, encourage them to share how it made them feel to hear back from someone they don't know but admire.


For Parents, Grandparents and Caregivers:
You will enjoy Walter: The Story of a Rat just as much as your kids. The many classic books mentioned throughout the story – both those for adults, and those for kids – will prod your own memories, even as they pique the curiosity of your kids. And the story is full of themes that mirror real life and the experiences we all face as we grow and learn and live and love. It's a great way for your kids to find they're not alone in things they may be facing or feeling, and that sometimes, life really does have happy endings, even when the journey may be hard, or confusing:
  • Walter and Miss Pomeroy's journey to friendship may mirror your kids' own attempts at forming fledgling friendships: small steps, occasional missteps, attempts to right unintended wrongs, little joys and triumphs, pangs of worry that their gestures of friendships may not be equally returned, or worse - not taken as a welcome gesture at all. But once that friendship takes root and starts to grow, each person finds themselves making little changes for the other one, such as when the usually untidy Miss Pomeroy begins to spruce the place up a bit more when Walter mentions how nice things are starting to look, or when Walter becomes more careful in his treatment of Miss Pomeroy's belongings and more respectful to follow her wishes regarding his conduct in the kitchen at night.
  • Walter moved several times before finally ending up living with Miss Pomeroy, and faced different homes in different places, loss of loved ones, a feeling of insecurity, but also finding new and wonderful people and better situations, and hope for a happy life. Change can be scary, but it can also bring you to something better.
  • As Walter and Miss Pomeroy get to know each other and share their living space, several things become clear. It's important to respect the property of others, to clean up after yourself in order to be respectful of the others you lives with, to return things borrowed to build good faith and trust, and to show appreciation for those you share your life with.
  • At first, Walter judges Miss Pomeroy, sometimes unfairly, based solely on what he sees/observes/discovers. But once he actually makes a connection with her, he soon realizes not everything he assumed about her was true, and that getting to know a person before making judgments is a better – and more accurate – way to interpret what you think you know about a person.
  • Walter is lonely. But he notices that Miss Pomeroy is lonely, too. And instead of wallowing in his own loneliness and sinking into misery, he sets about trying to alleviate Miss Pomeroy's loneliness and help her be happy. In the process he finds he is able to defeat his own loneliness, too. Sometimes, focusing on helping others is a good way to help ourselves.
  • Miss Pomeroy and Walter exchange gifts for Christmas which they made themselves, from things they have at hand, that were custom made with much thought. The gifts cost them nothing, but were invaluable and very much appreciated by the recipients. It's an empowering idea for kids – small gestures that cost nothing, yet are big on thoughtfulness, can have a huge and lasting impact on those we care about, making both giver and receiver feel very loved, indeed.


For the Kids:
Walter: The Story of a Rat is about a reader and a writer. It's also about loneliness. And, it's about friendship. So far, so normal, right? Almost. See, the writer is a human. But the reader? He's a rat. (Yes, really.) But that's not the only thing that sets him apart from other rats: When he was very young, he decided he wasn't happy with the usual rat way of having no name, so he gave himself one. (Yep. He named himself. Walter. After a very famous writer, naturally.) Anyway, after moving around a few times, as rats are wont to do, Walter finds himself living in the house of Miss Pomeroy, who he soon finds out is a writer. Can you imagine the thrill of being a reader who discovers they're living with a real, live, honest-to-goodness writer?

Walter would love to get to know Miss Pomeroy, but he's a rat, and she's a person, and... Well, those two things just don't usually go together, even if they are a reader and a writer. So Walter stays hidden, sneaking food from the kitchen, and borrowing books to read from Miss Pomeroy's library up on the second floor. But then one day, Walter discovers that all the books Miss Pomeroy has written are about mice. Mice! Doesn't she know how wonderful rats are? Walter feels betrayed. And a teensy bit angry. So what does he do? He writes her a note, hoping to start a discussion: My name is Walter. I live here too. And to his shock, he finds she's left a note for him the next night. It says, simply: I know.

What happens next? What are you asking me for? So much better to find out for yourself, don't you think? Go get the book, and get reading!


For Everyone Else:
Walter: The Story of a Rat is the sweet story of the slow-but-steadily-blossoming friendship between two seemingly unlikely souls: a human and a rat. And yet, they are also a pair of kindred spirits: a writer and a reader. Though written for the younger set, the story is timeless and heartwarming, and something that readers of all ages can connect to and enjoy. 


Wrapping Up:
Walter: The Story of a Rat is quiet, heartwarming, subtle, and sweet. A lovely story that's not to be missed.


Title: Walter: The Story of a Rat
Author: Barbara Wersba
Illustrator: Donna Diamond
Pages: 64
Reading Level: Ages 9-11
Publisher and Date: Boyds Mills Press, November 1, 2005
Edition: First
Language: English
Published In: United States
Price: $16.95
ISBN-10: 1923245411
ISBN-13: 978-1932425413

Author Spotlight: Barbara Wersba

Barbara Wersba is the only child of a Russian-Jewish father and a Kentucky Baptist mother. Growing up, she wanted to be a musician, or a dancer, or a poet, thinking that becoming any of these would take her out of what she believed to be a sad life.
 
"I grew up in almost total solitude," she once said. "I thought I was lonely when I was simply a loner--and spent much of my childhood daydreaming, writing poems, and creating dramas for my dolls."


When she was 11 years old, in answer to a family friend's inquiry, she impulsively declared her intent to be an actress one day. Soon after, Ms Wersba landed a part in a local play. Though she came to decide she didn't actually like acting, she stuck with it because it gave her purpose, and helped her not to feel alone.

She continued as an actress through college and then professionally, until she fell ill in 1960 and was forced into a lengthy recovery. On the advice of a friend, she turned to writing to pass the time. The result was her first book for children, The Boy Who Loved the Sea, which was published in 1961. From then on, she continued as a writer.

Her breakthrough novel came in 1968, with the publication of The Dream Watcher. She went on to adapt this novel into a script when her childhood acting idol, Eva Le Gallienne, had read Ms Wersba's book and wished to play the role of the elderly woman from the story. The play opened at the White Barn Theatre in Connecticut in 1975.

Two of her most popular novels are Tunes for a Small Harmonica: A Novel (1976) - which was a National Book Award nominee, and The Carnival of My Mind (1982).

Ms Wersba has written more than two dozen novels for both children and teens/young adults. She has also reviewed children's literature for the New York Times, written play and television scripts, and taught writing. In 1994, she founded her own small publishing company, The Bookman Press.

Born in Chicago on August 19, 1932, Barbara Wersba later moved with her family to California. After her parents' divorce, she moved with her mother to New York City. She now lives in Sag Harbor, New York.


Sources:
Barbara Wersba - Goodreads
Barbara Wersba Biography - Bookrags
Barbara Wersba Biography - Bookrags 
Dreaming of Broadway - Collecting Children's Books
Barbara Wersba - Answers.com
Barbara Wersba - Alibris
The Dream Watcher - Amazon.com


Illustrator Spotlight: Donna Diamond

Donna Diamond graduated from Boston University of Art with a BFA in Sculpture, and has attended the Robert Blackburn Printmaking Workshop. She works as an artist, focusing on drawing, painting, printmaking, and book art:

"...I am currently working in my studio on images that synthesize my recent work with light and my work as a printmaker. The challenge of exploring the character of light and creating processes that integrate multiple disciplines is incredibly compelling to me. When I am making art, I feel like I am home."

Her artwork is exhibited in galleries and museums in her native New York, across the United States, and internationally. She has also illustrated over 50 books for young readers, some of which have won prestigious awards, including Bridge to Terabithia, by Katherine Paterson, which won the Newbery Medal in 1978; and Mustard, by Charlotte Graebner, which won the Irma Simonton Black Award in 1982.

Ms Diamond has won the Bronx Council on the Arts BRIO (Bronx Recognizes Its Own) Award three times: in 2008 for Book Art and Illustration, in 2011 for Printmaking, and in 2013 for Drawing.

Born and raised in New York City, Donna Diamond lives in Riverdale, NY.


Sources:
Donna Diamond - HarperCollins
Donna Diamond - Scholastic
The Art of Donna Diamond, official blog of the artist
Donna Diamond - Making a "Mark" of Her Own - bronxarts.org
Meet the 2013 BRIO Awardees - bronxarts.org
Artist's Experience: Donna Diamond
Ann deVere and SPARC present visiting artist Donna Diamond