Wednesday, October 21, 2009

October 23rd is National Mole Day

If you are scientifically minded, you know that National Mole Day was created in honor of Avogadro's Number (6.02 x 1023) - a chemistry unit of measure. And if you visit Fayetteville Christian School's Science page on National Mole Day, you'll find a handy list of ways to celebrate.

If you are zoologically minded, National Mole Day probably makes you think of something along the lines of this little guy:

And if you're a comically-minded movie goer (like me), you can't think of or hear or read the word "mole" in any context whatsoever without thinking of the moley scene from Austin Powers in Goldmember. (Note to parents: this is a clean - and funny - clip the kiddos can see):

Friday, October 16, 2009


I had far too many irons in the fire this week: processing what I learned at last week's Fall Philly SCBWI conference, participating all this week in The Muse Online Writer's Conference, and preparing for KitLitCon this weekend. Something had to give, and that something was my book review prep for this week. But never fear: beginning next Friday I'll have reviews up of some great Halloween book faves of mine.

While you're here, though, grab the kiddos and check out this awesome vid:

That alone was worth the click to get here, now, wasn't it?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

It's National Chocolate Covered Insect Day!

Yes, those are chocolate covered crickets, and no, I'm not kidding. Every year, when October 14 rolls around, feel free to sample a chocolate covered insect or two in celebration of National Chocolate Covered Insects Day.

Those of us in the States - well, a large majority of us - typically cringe when faced with the prospect of eating a bug, even if somebody offers to pay us to do it. But there are places where people view bugs as not only a food, but sometimes even a delicacy - Australia, Africa and Asia are three. (Hmmm. I wonder if living on a continent that starts with "A" has anything to do with seeing bugs as cuisine? Something to ponder...)

Anyway, for those who want to immerse themselves in the day, I have just the thing for you. If you live near the Big Easy, you'll want to visit the United States' largest insect museum, The Audubon Insectarium. You can see bugs there. you can touch bugs there. And, via their Bug Appetit cooking show, you can eat bugs there. But if visiting New Orleans isn't in the cards for you, you can always click any of the links above to visit the website for some vicarious fun.

Now that you have some bug background, time to sample the goods. But how? Don't worry, I've got you covered there, too. For those who love to shop, here are some websites where you can order your very own absolutely genuinely real chocolate covered insects:
  • Candy Favorites - This page has some chocolate covered crickets to satisfy your creepily-crawl-ily curious palate.
  • Cool Bug Stuff - Here is a bug lover's online paradise, with an array of all things exoskeletonish, including a link to buy edible bug creations.
  • Candy Warehouse - Lots o' candy here, both traditional and buggy. Plug "chocolate covered insects" into the search box on the left hand side to find them easily.
  • Real Cool Toys - This one not only has edible bugs for sale, but also a bug cookbook. Is that cool, or what?
  • Educational Innovations - The teacher in me loves this one. Who knew you could learn a thing or two while trying to gross yourself out?

For those who are of the Do-It-Yourself persuasion, the following links will take you to sites which walk you through all you need to know to whip up a homemade batch of chocolate covered insects:
  • eHow article - All you need to know to make your own chocolate covered ants, mealworms, crickets and grasshoppers.
  • Raymond's Nest - A recipe for chocolate covered crickets, with some giggle-worthy commentary thrown in, to boot.

Here's another little tidbit for you. Did you know that there is a word to describe folks who eat bugs? Yep. And why not? We have a word for people who eat only veggies. We have a word for people who eat people. (Ewww.) Well, the word for people who eat bugs is entomophagian.

There ya go. Don't you just love learning (and tasting) new things?

Sources: - Happy National Chocolate Covered Insects Day - National Chocolate Covered Insects Day - Get Your Edible Bugs
Blissfully Domestic - Tasty Bugs

Friday, October 9, 2009

Book Review: The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book One), by Rick Riordan

"If you're a normal kid, reading this because you think it's fiction, great. Read on. I envy you for being able to believe that none of this ever happened.

But if you recognize yourself in these pages - if you feel something stirring inside - stop reading immediately. You might be one of us. And once you know that, it's only a matter of time before they sense it too, and they'll come for you.

Don't say I didn't warn you."

Percy Jackson is 12 years old. He is dyslexic. He has ADHD. He has a rep for getting in trouble. And he's about to be expelled from Yancy Academy - his sixth school in as many years. But this time, with help from his best friend Grover and his favorite teacher Mr. Brunner (who are not what they seem), he finds out that there's a perfectly good explanation for all of it, that he's not a bad kid, and that he comes by everything quite naturally. See, Mom's a mortal, and Dad's an ancient Greek god. That makes him a half-blood: a demigod hardwired for reading Greek and doing hero stuff. That also makes him a target of monsters bent on snuffing him out - him and all the other kids he meets at Camp Half-Blood.

Those monsters are the least of his worries. Zeus' thunderbolt has been stolen, and he thinks Percy is the thief. Zeus threatens a war that will tear apart Mount Olympus and throw the modern world into chaos if it's not returned. Percy's only chance at survival - indeed, everyone's only chance - is to complete the dangerous quest given him by the Oracle. His job is simple, if daunting: find the bolt, return it to Zeus, and expose the thief. In 10 days. But Percy's quest is also personal, and not quite as simple - to win the favor of his Greek god father. And all the while, he wrestles with the Oracle's warning of a friend's betrayal. Grover and Annabeth volunteered to help him on his quest. Surely they wouldn't turn on him?

For Teachers and Librarians:
The Lightning Thief has so much going on, you could revolve your entire curriculum around it for quite some time. Besides being a fantastic story that your kids will immerse themselves in completely, you can pull a ton of educational material and units from here. Explore the themes of heroism, family, friendship, loyalty, and courage. Delve in to Greek mythology, matching it up to what they read about in the book, or use the book as a springboard into further exploration of the Greek myths it touches on. Have your charges write their own story - putting themselves in Percy's place, deciding which god is their parent, including some of their friends in there, coming up with problems and solutions to include, and making sure there is conflict and resolution, and a quest.

The book is full of magic, and mystery, and adventure - have your kids cite examples of each, then branch out: what other books do they know that would fall under these categories, and why? Let them act out favorite scenes. Squeeze in some math - compare and contrast American currency with the golden drachmas used in the book. Compare and contrast modern Greek currency with ancient Greek currency - mixing a bit of social studies into your math lessons. Let them plot on a United States map all the places mentioned in the book, and tag them with what happened at each place. Talk about the modern world's events, and how they could seen as being influenced by the Greek gods - and then have them write up mock news stories about them for the Mount Olympus newspaper. So many ideas, so little space! Drop a comment if you have other ideas!

For Parents, Grandparents and Caregivers:
The Lightning Thief is a book both you and your kiddos will love reading. There's action, and adventure, and magic, and suspense, and some peril, and humor. The story will keep you on your toes - lots of twists and turns, and never a dull moment. And on the serious side, it's a warm look at the great lengths to which people will go for those they love and care for. It shows strong friendships, the value of loyalty - as well as the value of putting your loyalty in the right places, and the good things that come from doing what is right. It shows what kids can do if they trust in themselves, and how much more they can do if they have others who will trust and support them. You can't go wrong here, and you can feel good that you're putting a quality book in their hands, whether you read it together, or whether they go off to read it on their own.

For the Kids:
Have you ever thought that you didn't quite belong? That there was something just a little, well, different about you? Did you ever hope that you had these really awesome powers? Did you ever think it would be cool if things in this world were not what they seemed, but that you found out what they were, and nobody else was the wiser? That happens to Percy Jackson in The Lightning Thief.

It has a little bit of everything: danger, heroes, villians, action, mystery, and adventure. It's a whole new and fun way of looking at the very old Greek myths you may have read, because they seem so much cooler playing out in "real life." Plus, who doesn't love a book with a good quest in it? It's funny sometimes, and scary sometimes, and powerful sometimes, and even sad sometimes, but it's a story that will keep you turning the pages as fast as your eyes can read the words. Be forewarned: once you've read this book, you may never look at your friends and teachers in quite the same way ever again...

For Everyone Else:
The Lightning Thief is a book to be enjoyed by kids and adults alike. The action sweeps you along from one exciting scene to the next, and you'll find it hard to put down.

Wrapping Up:
Find your copy of The Lightning Thief, and get reading. It's a book you don't want to miss. Once you've finished it, though, don't be sad - there are four more books after this one, so you can continue the adventure!

Title: The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson & the Olympians, Book One)
Author: Rick Riordan
Jacket Design: Christine Kettner
Pages: 377
Reading Level: Ages 9-12
Publisher and Date: Miramax, 2005
Edition: 1st, Hardcover, reinforced binding
Language: English
Published In: United States
Price: $17.99
ISBN-10: 0786856297
ISBN-13: 9780786856299

*The Lightning Thief, by Rick Riordan, was purchased by Kim Wheedleton for her personal use and enjoyment. She was not contacted by any person or company requesting that she write this review. No payment in any form has been requested, offered or received for her review of this book.

Author Spotlight: Rick Riordan

Rick Riordan knew from the time he was young that he wanted to grow up to be both a teacher and a writer, but he credits his ninth grade English teacher, Mrs. Seaholm, with sparking a strong interest in reading and writing, and his "fascination with literature that combines humor and darkness."

In fact, he ended up realizing one goal while living out another. Mr. Riordan taught English and history at middle schools both private and public in the San Francisco Bay Area and in Texas for 15 years. During that time, he began taking writing seriously, and started writing mystery novels for adults. His first book, Big Red Tequila, was published in 1997, and became the first in his Tres Navarre series. It was a great success, and soon his students began to ask, when would he write for kids? That made him think.

It was his son Haley who finally pushed it further. One night, when Haley was in second grade, he requested that his dad tell him a bedtime story - one with Greek gods and heroes in it. Since that was a subject upon which Mr. Riordan frequently taught, he had plenty of stories to retell. But, he says,
"When I ran out of myths, (Haley) was disappointed and asked me if I could make up something new with the same characters."
After three nights of telling this new tale to his son, Haley suggested that Mr. Riordan write it all down as a book. The result was The Lightning Thief, published in 2005 - the first of five titles in his Percy Jackson & the Olympians series.

Mr. Riordan has won many prestigious awards for his work in both children's and adults' books. In addition to his Tres Navarre mystery series for adults, and his Percy Jackson series for kids, he has also penned short fiction pieces for magazines, and is the is the creator of the popular The 39 Clues series for kids (and author of its first book, The Maze of Bones). He has two other kids' series in the works: one based on the ancient Egyptians, and a Half-Blood Camp series.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Book Review: Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson

It is my first morning of high school. I have seven new notebooks, a skirt I hate, and a stomachache.

The first two lines of Speak sound like they could come from just about any 14-year-old on her first day of ninth grade. But Melinda Sordino is not just any high school newbie. Her parents don't know what to do with her, her friends have turned against her, and she is an outcast to everyone else before she even boards the school bus - all because of what happened one night in August, shortly before school started. But her parents don't know what happened at all, and her friends and the other kids only know part of what happened. And the part they don't know - the secret Melinda harbors deep inside herself, the secret she is afraid to voice - is the part she desperately needs to tell. If only someone would listen.

For Teachers and Librarians:
Speak is one of those books. You know - a book with a story that truly "gets" what it's like to be a teenager, and to wade through that confusing place known as high school, and to figure out that confusing time known as the teen years. It is also a book about sexual assault, and depression; those are very hard things to deal with for adults, let alone teens. But, it is also about being true to yourself, about learning to trust those who deserve to be trusted, and about digging deep within yourself - with the help of someone you trust - to discover the strength to overcome, and to heal, and most not be silent when you are wronged. It gives a voice to the voiceless, a ray of light to those trapped in darkness, a measure of hope to those who see none. It will open many, many doors - a welcome thing for so many teens who have been unable to open them on their own.

For Parents, Grandparents and Caregivers:
Speak shows both the dangers that come from keeping things hidden, as well as the positive results that come from speaking out. It shows the undeserved power given to those who hurt us when we remain silent, and the rightful shift of power back to us when we stand up for ourselves. It shows that trust comes in small steps, but the more steps we take, the stronger that bond becomes. It shows the profound effect even one caring teacher can have on a teen. It shows that while families may be broken, with even a little bit of effort on all sides, those families can heal. It is a story of hurt, and of healing; of sorrow, and of joy. It can be just the thing to coax your teen to talk to you. It can be just the thing for you to start to make some sense of behaviors you may be seeing in your teen. It is a journey - one that you and your teen won't want to miss.

For the Older Kids:
If you're looking for a book that gets it right - one that gets what it's really like to be a teen - then Speak is a book you've gotta read. Whether you're someone who feels lost, or alone, or hurt, or angry, or doesn't feel like anyone understands you, or if you just know someone who seems like something's not quite right, and you're looking for ways to figure out how to help them, Speak is a good place to start. It is a story that will stick with you. It will make you laugh sometimes, and cry sometimes. Sometimes it will make you angry, and sometimes it will make you think, and sometimes it will make you cheer, and sometimes you'll see yourself in there, and sometimes you'll see someone you know in there. It is a book you will never, ever forget, and you will be glad you read it.

For Everyone Else:
Speak. Find it. Read it. 'Nuff said.

Wrapping Up:
Speak has meant many things to many people, from teens to adults. Below is a video of the author, reading her poem, "Listen," which was inspired by the emails and letters she has received from those who have read Speak. ***Note: Not something for the little kiddos to view. Teens and adults only:

Title: Speak (10th Anniversary Edition)
Author: Laurie Halse Anderson
Cover Illustration: Michael Morgenstern
Pages: 240
Reading Level: Young adult
Publisher and Date: Penguin Group, 2009
Edition: 10th Anniversary paperback
Language: English
Published In: United States
Price: $11.99
ISBN-10: 0142414735
ISBN-13: 978-0142414736

Author Spotlight: Laurie Halse Anderson

Laurie Halse Anderson was introduced to how fun writing could be through a haiku lesson from her second grade teacher. Even though she enjoyed it, she thought she would grow up to be a doctor, not a writer. Happily, for the many folks who've read her books, she was wrong.

Growing up, Ms Anderson read all the time - historical fiction was a favorite when she was a child, and science fiction and fantasy overtook that favorite spot in her teen years. She also had a love of foreign cultures and languages, which eventually led her to spend her senior year as an exchange student in Denmark, where she lived on a pig farm. When she returned to the States, she tried working in retail for a while, then enrolled in Onondaga Community College. She worked on a dairy farm milking cows while at OCC, and graduated with an AA degree in 1981. She then transferred to Georgetown University, where she earned a BSLL in Language and Linguistics in 1984. She married Greg Anderson in 1983, and the couple had two daughters.

Though, for years, she had loved to write, Ms Anderson saw it as little more than a hobby, until finding work as a freelance reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer. She also began writing books...and receiving lots of rejections. After joining the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), and finding a critique group, things began looking up: her first book, Ndito Runs, was published in 1996, followed thereafter by several more. She also wrote non-fiction.

Then, during the time she had been writing Fever 1793, she took a break from that story to write Speak, which was published in 1999 and is the book for which she is most well-known. Fever 1793 was then published in 2000. The success of Speak garnered her the full attention of the writing world, and of agents. Though she published her first seven books on her own, she now is represented by agent Amy Berkower of Writer's House.

From 2000- 2006, in addition to writing, Ms Anderson traveled the country, speaking to conferences and schools and universities, doing workshops, and critiquing manuscripts. Since then, demands on her writing time have limited her appearances to just conferences and book tours.

Ms Anderson has written a variety of work: freelance reporting, non-fiction, picture books, historical fiction, young adult novels, and a chapter book series. Now, she alternates between contemporary young adult and historical fiction, as well as some picture books, and possibly a book about the writing process. She has won numerous awards for her work - too numerous to mention in this article, in fact. But here is a link to a curriculum vitae of Laurie Halse Anderson - complete with honors and awards her work has received.

In addition to changes in her professional life, there have been some in her personal life, as well. She and first husband Greg have divorced, but remain friends. Both are now remarried: Greg to pediatrician Dr. Susan Kressly, and Laurie to childhood sweetheart Scott Larrabee.

In her non-writing time, she enjoys running, hiking, and gardening. She and husband Scott live in New York state, where she writes in her newly completed and much anticipated writing cottage, situated just steps from her home.