Friday, May 30, 2008

Book Review: From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, by E. L. Konigsburg

This is no ordinary running away story. Claudia Kincaid decided to run away, yes. But, she didn't want to run away from somewhere. Rather, she wanted to run to somewhere:

To a large place, a comfortable place, an indoor place, and preferably a beautiful place. And that's why she decided upon the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler is Mrs. Konigsburg's second novel, for which she won a Newbery Medal in 1968. It is the story of Claudia Kincaid and her quest for... something. She starts out thinking she is running away because of what she terms "injustice:" the unequal assignment of chores simply because she is the oldest, and the fact that her life seemed to be one big boring routine without end, and the fact that her allowance was hardly enough to do much of anything with. 

Yes, Claudia was unappreciated, and she intended to call attention to that fact by running away. But by the time her adventure is over, Claudia discovers - with the help of the mysterious "Angel" sculpture in the museum and the eccentricities of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler - that she had a much deeper reason for running away. It was a reason she somehow knew, but yet didn't know, and living in the Metropolitan Museum of Art for a week (and her adventures and experiences there) led her step-by-step to the very conclusion she needed to find.

For Teachers and Librarians:
This book, set in the late 1960's, provides a perfect opportunity for comparison and contrast of life then and now. Math comes into the picture when you develop activities devoted to cost-of-living comparisons, or budget development. Could they repeat Claudia and Jamie's adventure on "twenty-four dollars and forty-three cents" today? What has changed? What has stayed the same? Some library science can be slipped in, too: Claudia and Jamie used a card catalogue. Does your library still have one of those? They typed a letter on a typewriter. Do your students know what a typewriter is, let alone know how to use one? You could incorporate the book in a mystery unit as you delve into the "Angel" statue the kids tried so hard to learn about. How did they try to solve the mystery of who carved the statue? What clues did they find? Where did they look for them? So many possibilities: history, math, socioeconomics, art appreciation, even mystery. What can you pull out of this book to make reading come alive for your students?

For Parents, Grandparents and Caregivers:
Claudia and Jamie's adventure is a loved one's worst nightmare. Missing! For a whole week! This book, while showing kids a little bit about the realities of the world and what it takes to try and live on your own, also gives you the perfect springboard to discuss how your kids are feeling. Is running away the best answer when you're upset? How can you let me (us) know how you feel? It's a great opportunity to let them know you are always there for them, and that you want to know how they feel - whatever that feeling may be - so you can help them through it. It is a wondrous thing for a kid to realize they have someone who cares for them unconditionally. There's a security in that. It's the kind of bond everyone yearns for - especially kids.

For the Kids:
Claudia has a lot of the same feelings you may have. It's always interesting to see how someone else deals with things. Sometimes it helps you deal with your own feelings, even if you solve your problems differently than someone else does. Even though running away is not a good idea, and something you should never try, it is fun reading about Claudia and Jamie's adventures. Imagine, sleeping in a hundreds of years old bed! Taking a bath in a public fountain! Riding on the train! Washing clothes! (OK, so maybe that last one isn't such an adventure.) Claudia learns something about herself during this journey. What do you think it is?

For Everyone Else:
Did you read this book when you were a kid? Try reading it again as an adult. Does it feel different to you now? Does it remind you of your own youthful adventures? Ah, life in the late 60's. Train tickets for less than $2. Imagine...

Wrapping Up:
From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler is a journey of personal discovery. Go discover your copy today!

Title: From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
Author and Illustrator: E. L. Konigsburg
Pages: 162
Reading Level: Ages 8-12
Publisher and Date: Aladdin Paperbacks, September 2007
Edition: Third edition paperback
Language: English
Published In: United States
Price: $9.99
ISBN-10: 1416949755
ISBN-13: 978-1416949756

Author Spotlight: E. L Konigsburg

E. L. Konigsburg never set out to be a writer. Though as a child and throughout her life she loved books, and loved to draw, she did not set out to be a writer. That realization came to her later - following a career in chemistry, then teaching, and during her time as a stay-at-home mom.

The second of three daughters, she was born February 10, 1930, in New York, and grew up in small towns in Pennsylvania. She was an excellent student. After high school graduation, she took a job as a bookkeeper for a wholesale meat plant in order to earn money for college. It was while working there that Elaine Lobl met David Konigsburg.

Elaine Lobl was the first in her family to attend college. She graduated with honors from Carnegie Mellon University, majoring in chemistry, earning scholarships and working her way through in order to stay enrolled continuously. She saw chemistry as a sensible choice, and one that would afford her a solid career with good pay. None of her friends at CMU suspected she wrote, and loved to draw and create, as her chosen field was all about facts and study and experimentation and systematic application of knowledge.

She married David after graduation and began graduate school at the University of Pittsburg, again pursuing a chemistry degree. Once her husband earned his doctorate, they moved to Florida, where Mrs. Konigsburg taught science at a private girls' school. 

Leaving teaching in 1955 to become a stay-at-home mom, she began to think of new career directions to take in life. She said that she became more interested in what was going on inside her students than in what was going on inside their test tubes. So, she started taking art lessons, and then when the youngest of her three children went off to Kindergarten, she finally began to write. She worked out a system of devoting her mornings to writing, and saving housework and other things for afternoons.

The family moved to New York in 1962, and her daughter's challenges and experiences in dealing with the move inspired her first book, Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth. Her second book, published only months after the first, From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, was inspired by her children's behavior during a family picnic. In fact, most of the 21 books she's written (so far) come from the author's life experiences, and deal with the emotional growth children go through.

E. L. Konigsburg is the only author ever to win both a Newbery Medal (for The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler) and a Newbery Honor (for Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth) in the same year (1968). She made history again 29 years later when she won a Newbery Medal in 1997 for The View From Saturday, because that is the longest span between any two Newberys awarded to one author, ever.

Her advice to children:

Before you can be anything, you have to be yourself. That's the hardest thing to find.

E(laine) L(obl) Konigsburg

*This article was originally posted May 30, 2008. Sadly, I must now in April 2013 add this edit:

E.L. Konigsburg has died: Friday, April 19th, 2013, at age 83.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

A Happy Accident

It's National Grape Popsicle Day! And to think, if not for the forgetfulness of one 11-year-old boy, we wouldn't have anything to celebrate today...

Back in 1905, young Frank Epperson was outside on the porch, enjoying a refreshing fruit-flavored soda. But, it wasn't like the soda we know today. In those days, you poured soda water powder in water, stirred, and viola! Instant tasty drink. So, Frank was enjoying his soda, and for whatever reason, didn't finish it, and forgot to bring it with him when he went inside. There it sat. On the porch. All night. With the stirring stick still in it.

That night brought record low temperatures, and when he found his soda the next morning, the drink was frozen to the stick. Boys will be boys, and instead of taking it inside to clean it up, he tasted it. It was good! The story goes then that he took it to school to show his pals, and made them for his friends. He called them Epsicles.

It didn't occur to him to patent his frozen treat until 1923, as he sold seven flavors of Epsicles at a lemonade stand at an amusement park in Oakland, California. His patent was granted in 1924, and the name was changed to the familiar Popsicle we know today. (It seems his kids gave him the idea, as they were always asking for "Pop's 'sicles.")

There are now over 30 different varieties and flavors of Popsicles, and an estimated 3 million of these frozen treats are sold each year. (My household contributes significantly to this total - in every season!)

Now you're craving one, aren't you? Go ahead - buy yourself a grape Popsicle, go outside, sit on the curb (because, as everyone knows, a Popsicle is best enjoyed while sitting on the curb), and, well... enjoy. 

And if anyone asks why a grown adult would chow down on something that never fails to turn one's lips a brilliant shade of purple, tell them you're celebrating a national holiday. 

Or, you could just say, "Hey! It's hot out here, alright?"

- - -

My Popsicle history sources (in case anyone's interested):

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Memorial Day

Memorial Day is tomorrow, so I thought some history on this most important of days would be appropriate. 

Memorial Day - or Decoration Day, as it was known then - was first nationally observed on May 30, 1868. On that day, flowers were placed on Union and Confederate soldiers' graves. Originally, this day honored only those who fought and died in the Civil War, but after World War I, that stipulation was expanded to honor those who died in all American wars.

Waterloo, New York was officially declared the birthplace of Memorial Day by President Lyndon Johnson in May 1966, though over two dozen cities and towns claim to be the rightful originators of the day. (This includes Pennsylvania's own little village of Boalsburg.) But however it came to be, what is most important is that we have the day. Memorial Day is about coming together to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice for the good of our country.

Now, Memorial Day is celebrated on the last Monday in May. In recent years, the traditional observances of the day - wearing red poppies (an idea first conceived by Ms Moina Michael and later taken up by Madam Guerin of France), observing proper flag etiquette, holding parades, and decorating the graves of the fallen - has gone by the wayside in some places. Memorial Day is seen by many as an extra day off of work, a time for picnics and barbecues and sports events, and a day to honor anyone who has died.

Because of this, and to ensure that the ultimate price paid by fallen American heroes is not forgotten, the President signed into law in 2000 "The National Moment of Remembrance."

So, throughout the weekend, have fun, enjoy your picnics and barbecues and sports events, and relax on your day off. 

But don't forget those heroes whose sacrifices made all of our comforts and freedoms possible...

At 3:00 PM your local time, on Memorial Day tomorrow, observe the National Moment of Remembrance. Pause wherever you are for a minute of silence. Remember and honor those who have died in service to our country.

If you have a loved one to honor this day, please leave his or her name in the comments section. Tell us a little about them if you like. I'll list them in a special post tomorrow. Then we can know a little bit more about the people responsible for the freedoms we enjoy today.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Book Review: The Moffats, by Eleanor Estes

"Jane clanked her feet against the hollow hitching post. For the hundredth time she was thinking that the yellow house was the best house to be living in in the whole block because it was the only house from which you could see all the way to both corners. You could see every inch of the way down New Dollar Street to Elm Street, where the trolley ran. ...In the other direction you could see every inch of the way to Wood Street, along which the railroad tracks ran like a river."

The Moffats was first published in 1941. It is a collection of stories about the Moffat family: Jane, Sylvie, Joe, Rufus, Mama and Catherine-the-Cat, who live in the beloved yellow house on New Dollar Street. Set in the fictional town of Cranbury, Connecticut, in the 1910's, the Moffats have many adventures, all while living under the uncertainty brought on by the sudden appearance of a "For Sale" sign nailed to the front of the yellow house. Pen and ink drawings throughout the book add an extra visual perspective to the story, giving an even clearer picture to draw the reader further into the action.

Readers will delight in being along for the ride as Jane and her siblings get into all manner of situations and shenanigans. There's the time Janey ran and hid inside the breadbox outside Mr. Brooney's store, fearful of being arrested for mimicking a most important citizen. Or, there's the time, on his very first day of school, that little Rufus hitched a ride on a freight train, all to convince a friend that school isn't such a bad place to be. Then there is the time all four Moffat children finally give neighborhood nemesis Peter Frost his well-deserved comeuppance, and Mama is none the wiser for their Halloween prank. And there's the time Rufus got Scarlet Fever, and the house was quarantined, and Mama regaled Rufus with stories from her childhood in New York City.

Times are difficult for the Moffats, as Mama is a widow raising four children, making ends meet as a seamstress. The author presents their situation honestly, and from the children's point of view, and always with a little smidgen of hope from Mama that things will turn out OK.

For Teachers and Librarians:
The Moffats offers children of today an intimate window into the life of kids in the early 1900's. A compare/contrast of life then and now could be easily done using things from the book like bicycle style, transportation, electricity use (the yellow house had no electricity), grocery shopping, clothing, school, or economic times, to name only a few. Activities surrounding what kids did for fun back then, how everyone in the household worked together, or how life then is also similar to life now for kids, too, would all be perfect things to spring to from reading this book. It is written to kids, from their point of view, so that even though their time periods are worlds apart from Janey, Sylvie, Joe and Rufus, your students will find much to relate to and enjoy reading about.

For Parents, Grandparents and Caregivers:
Have your kids ever asked you what it was like when you were a kid? If they haven't, they'll start after reading this either with you or on their own. They will love the stories, and comparing the Moffat children's lives to their own. If your charges are reluctant readers, each chapter is a story in itself, so it is easy to break down into manageable chunks. Perhaps reading this book will even inspire you to share your own childhood stories with your kids - tell them all about it or write it down for them to enjoy many times over. Either way, they will truly love hearing or reading all about you!

For the Kids:
This book is a perfect kind of chapter book. It's written just the way a kid talks and thinks, so you'll have no problem getting into the story. Each chapter is its own small story, so you can read it straight through, or jump around a bit, and it will still make sense. The Moffat kids have lots of adventures in the yellow house they love so much, and it is fun to see the kinds of things kids did back in the 1910's, and compare it to the kinds of things you do right now. You may be surprised at how much is just like your life, and just as surprised at the things they do that you've never thought of before. Ask your grandparents or great-grandparents about what their life was like as a kid. It will be fun to see: was their life like the Moffats' lives?

For Everyone Else:
Though the book is written specifically for kids, history buffs can gain an interesting perspective of life in the early 1900's. History books are full of what happened back then, and what life was like in general, but reading about the kids' lives day in and day out in narrative fashion can show you things you'd maybe never realized before. Or it may bring back childhood memories of your own. You never know...

Wrapping Up:
The Moffats is a snapshot in time, a window into the life of kids and families in the early 20th century. You won't want to miss it.

Title: The Moffats
Author: Eleanor Estes
Illustrator: Louis Slobodkin
Pages: 224
Reading Level: Ages 9-12
Publisher and Date: Odyssey Classics, April 2001
Edition: Paperback, Sixtieth Anniversary Edition
Language: English
Published In: United States
Price: $6.95
ISBN-10: 0152025413
ISBN-13: 978-0152025410

Author Spotlight: Eleanor Estes

Eleanor Estes was an award-winning children's author. She first began writing during her recovery from tuberculosis, when, bedridden, she wrote down her own childhood memories as a series of stories for young readers. Before her death in 1988 at the age of 82, Mrs. Estes had written 19 books for children, as well as one novel for adults.

Born in 1906, Eleanor Estes grew up in New Haven, Connecticut, and worked at the Free Public Library there - first as an assistant, then eventually as head librarian. In 1931 she was awarded the Caroline M. Hewins scholarship for children's librarians, and used these funds to attend the Pratt Institute Library School. She continued her library career with the New York Public Library, where she stayed until 1940. Her first book, The Moffats, was published in 1941, and launched her full-time writing career.

Eleanor Estes' award-winning books include:
Ginger Pye - Newbery Medal 1952
The Middle Moffat - Newbery Honor Book 1943
Rufus M. - Newbery Honor Book 1944
The Hundred Dresses - Newbery Honor Book 1945

In addition to book awards, Mrs. Estes received the Certificate for Outstanding Contribution to Children's Literature in 1962, and was nominated for the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award.

Responding to a New York Times Book Review query regarding what she was trying to say to children, Eleanor Estes replied:

"I am holding up a mirror, and the scene reflected in the mirror is a true image of childhood, and the mirror, besides reflecting, also speaks and echoes the clear, profound, unpremeditated utterances, thoughts and imageries of children. I like to make children laugh or cry, to be moved in some way by my writing."


Monday, May 19, 2008

Ancient Mysteries That Fascinate Me

I do enjoy a good mystery, and history is full of them. I think what fascinates me most about the following mysterious things/places is the unanswered questions and controversies that surround them:

One of the most famous prehistoric sites in the world, Stonehenge is located in Amesbury, Wiltshire, in southern England. It is believed to have been built in several phases over a period of about 3000 years, with the circle of stones being completed in the final phase. Some sources estimate that it took more than 30 million hours of labor to construct it. Of the more than 900 stone rings dotting England, Stonehenge is the most famous. 

But who built Stonehenge? And why?

The White Horses of England
This picture is the White Horse of Uffington, Oxfordshire, England. It is 360 feet long, and was carved from chalk bedrock about 3000 years ago. Best seen from the air, the White Horse of Uffington is one of seven such horses cut into the chalk downlands of Wiltshire, and is said to be one of the oldest.

Why was it carved? And by whom?

OK, this one admittedly is a stretch, but it tickles my fancy nonetheless.  Atlantis was first referred to by Plato in two of his dialogues: Timaeus and Critias - the only know written record referring specifically to a lost civilization called Atlantis. Legend describes it to be an island in the middle of the Atlantic, which sank "in a single day and night of misfortune" after its people launched a failed attempt to invade Athens. This leads, of course, to the 2000 year old debate:

Was Atlantis real? Or, is it merely fiction?

Easter Island and the Moai
One of the most famous, yet least-visited, archaeological sites in the world, the ancient name of this island is Te Pito o TeHenua: "The Navel of the World." It is the world's most remote inhabited island, sitting in the South Pacific Ocean. The over 800 moai on the island are enormous stone monolithic statues, each in various stages of completion. They are an average 14 feet tall, and weigh an average of 14 tons apiece! Only 7 moai face the sea - the rest face inland - and most were carved between AD 1000 and AD 1650.

But, why were they made? Who carved them? Why do they face the way they do?

Machu Picchu
"The Lost City of the Incas," Machu Picchu was created at the height of the Incan Empire. Situated on a mountain ridge above Urubama Valley in Peru, it was built around 1450, then abandoned about 100 years later and forgotten for centuries. It wasn't until 1911 that it was brought to worldwide attention, by an American historian named Hiram Bingham. Machu Picchu is invisible from below, and completely self-contained. The city is listed as one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World.

Why was this city abandoned? What was its purpose?

The Great Pyramid of Giza
Located outside Cairo, Egypt, the Great Pyramid was completed in approximately 2580 BC, and is the largest of the three pyramids in the Giza Necropolis. Its base is a nearly perfect square. It is the largest pyramid in Egypt, and was the tallest man-made structure in the world for over 3800 years! The Great Pyramid is made of over 2.4 million stone blocks, and is the only remaining member of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

How was the pyramid built with such precision?

The Great Sphinx
Near the Great Pyramid, the Great Sphinx reposes. Measuring 241 feet in length, 20 feet in width, and 65 feet high, it is the largest monolithic statue in the world, and the earliest known monumental sculpture. The Sphinx is believed to have been built in the third millenium BC, but recent studies suggest it may have actually been built thousands of years earlier. After the Giza Necropolis was abandoned, the Great Sphinx became buried up to its neck in sand. Excavation efforts were begun in around 1400 BC, but it wasn't completely released from it's sandy tomb until the period from 1925-1936.

Is the Sphinx really thousands of years older than we thought? Who was the real-life model for its face? And what really happened to the nose?

- - -

Well, all this talk of ancient mysteries has got me thinking of a few modern ones. I won't need to Google these - they're all sprung straight from my (sometimes) crooked brain! Check back tomorrow for a post all about some Modern Mysteries That Fascinate Me...

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Get Out the Paper Plates...

...because today is NO DIRTY DISHES DAY!!!!  

Be sure to tell all of your family and friends, and enjoy the reprieve!

Friday, May 16, 2008

Book Review: The Eleventh Hour: A Curious Mystery, by Graeme Base

A book is read, a story ends, a telling tale is told. 
But who can say what mysteries a single page mayhold?
A maze of hidden codes and clues, a clock at every turn,
And only time will tell what other secrets you may learn...

The Eleventh Hour: A Curious Mystery is an irresistible invitation to try your hand at solving a most fantastic conundrum. Horace the Elephant is turning eleven, and has invited 11 friends to celebrate with a grand costume gala filled with 11 games and tons of fun. Everything is set to begin at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. But, when the friends all gather at the appointed hour for the feast after a day full of fun and frolicking, a curious mystery is revealed, and the culprit remains afoot. Can you figure out who?

This oversized, beautifully illustrated picture book is written entirely in verse. It is 32 glossy, high-color, insanely detailed pages jam-packed with clues, codes, cyphers, and hidden objects to be taken in through picture and poetry and ingenuity. But be careful! The author has thrown in a fair helping of red herrings to keep things interesting.

Whether you're an expert mystery solver, or a novice starting out, take heart! Graeme Base has purposely designed the book so that everyone - tall to small, right-brained to left-brained, detail person to big picture thinker, and everything in between - can find a way to solve this riddle. The journey to find the culprit is the real fun here, as the reader searches for clues amongst the chaos. Even so, if the things just aren't adding up, and you're at your wit's end, and you just gotta know whodunnit, a built-in safety net is included so you won't be left hanging.

For Teachers and Librarians:
Where to begin? This book has so many possibilities for use in the classroom or library. The mystery unit is most obvious, but you could also launch into a lesson on Roman Centurions or the Fall of Rome; discuss what a "red herring" is, as well as the origin of the term; use it as a springboard for teaching your charges to look for clues both in pictures and text; culminate your unit on nutrition with a grand feast of your own. There are references to math, history, games, literature, crime solving... truly endless possibilities. Try it out - how many ways can you find to use this book in your classroom?

For Parents, Grandparents and Caregivers: 
You will love this book! Your kids will love this book! Pull it out on a rainy day, a sunny day, a there's-nothing-to-do-today day, really any day, and you are guaranteed to begin a journey that you may find it hard to tear yourself away from. The pictures alone are a veritable feast for the eyes, and you and your child could spend hours just searching for all the hidden and not-so-hidden gems the author has packed into each illustration. Even without the pictures, the story is enchanting and fun. Work together to find those clues, but don't be surprised if you find yourself searching for this book to do some solo sleuthing when the kiddos aren't around...

For the Kids:
Do you love searching for clues? Do you think it's fun to solve mysteries, look at really cool pictures to find all the hidden ones mixed in, read a really awesome story full of fun and parties and costumes and talking pigs? Would you think it's funny to see lions, giraffes, tigers, mice, pigs, cats, zebras, elephants, swans and crocodiles all charging along trying to win a potato sack race? Then The Eleventh Hour is the book for you. The story is great, and the author has written it so everyone from kids to adults can solve the mystery. Just in case, there's a section included to help - but try not to peek unless you really, really just have to! Trying to find the answer on your own is so much fun!

For Everyone Else:
Mystery lovers, puzzle fans, clue solvers, cypher fans, and all those who enjoy a rollicking story full of twists and turns will simply not be able to put this book down. You could spend literally hours scouring these pages for clue after clue, solving puzzles and brain-busters, getting side-tracked by several red herrings, guessing and second-guessing to try to get to the bottom of this mystery. The real clincher? This can be as easy or as hard as you care to make it, be you a kid, a kid-at-heart, or somewhere in between, or even well beyond. Take a crack at this romp of a mystery. You won't be disappointed.

Wrapping Up:
The Eleventh Hour: A Curious Mystery is a book that appeals to all ages and all kinds of people on all kinds of levels. Grab a pencil and some paper, grab the book, find some clues, solve some riddles, and have a great time.

Title: The Eleventh Hour: A Curious Mystery
Author and Illustrator: Graeme Base
Pages: 32
Reading Level: Ages 9-12
Publisher and Date: Harry N. Abrams, September 1, 1989
Edition: 1st
Language: English
Published In: United States
Price: $18.95
ISBN-10: 0810908514
ISBN-13: 978-0810908512

Author Spotlight: Graeme Base

Graeme Base is an illustrator, author and musician, who knew even at the tender age of twelve that he wanted to be an artist. Born in England on April 6, 1958, Mr. Base moved with his family to Australia in 1966. He lives there, still, with his wife, Robyn, and their three children.

He grew up in Melbourne, and studied graphic design at Swinburne Institute of Technology for three years. From there, he went into advertising, but found it unfulfilling. During this time, he also did freelance work for book publishers on projects such as book covers. After two years, Mr. Base struck out on his own to do freelancing full time, showing his portfolio to various publishers. This ultimately led to the many children's books he has written, beloved by people of all ages, tall to small.

Though his books are viewed as children's books, he never intended to write for children. He has said that he writes and draws first for his own creative needs, then makes it fit the project at hand. He uses a variety of mediums to create his illustrations: airbrush, gouache, watercolors, transparent inks, watercolor pencils, lead pencils - in short, whatever will produce the effect he wants to achieve.

Graeme Base's first book, My Grandma Lives in Gooligulch, was published in 1983. It is written in verse, and has six illustrations. 

It was not until his second book, Animalia, was published (1986), that he received international acclaim. Animalia is an alliterative alphabet book whose illustrations set it apart from all the others through their incredible depth, with 1500 images hidden and embedded in each one. This second book took three years to complete, and has sold over 2 million copies worldwide. 

The Eleventh Hour, published in 1989, is perhaps equally as well known. It is a mystery in pictures. The author wrote and illustrated it with the intent that it can be enjoyed and solved by all ages, through many means. This book took two years to complete, and Mr. Base shares that he had the title idea first, and wrote the rest of the book to match that title.

Building on the phenomenal success of these early books, Graeme Base has written and illustrated many more books, each with the beautiful, intricate illustrations and creative verse his fans have come to love. 

Graeme Base Teacher Resource File* Link no longer works as of April 2013
An Interview With Graeme Base* Link no longer works as of April 2013
(The above link was not used during the writing of the original post. I just found it, and am adding it here since two of the four links I originally used are no longer working. I hope this new link provides some further information you may find useful.)

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

What Are You Afraid Of?

I read somewhere that to prevent yourself from having trouble getting to sleep, you should keep lights low in the evening, and keep them off after you turn in for the night. So, I have learned to navigate my house in the dark. I'm pretty good at it these days, and have found there's usually enough light to maneuver from either an Indi-Glo night light, or outdoor lights that filter through my blinds.

My kids, however, have not inherited this ease with the night. Ask them to retrieve a favorite toy after lights-out, and they will - without fail - flip on every single light switch they pass on their journey. Guess who has to go back down and flip them back off? Though, in all fairness, I remember way back when: leaping from light switch to bed at night, then pulling the covers over my head, waiting for my heart to stop pounding... and then I turned twenty-seven...

That got me thinking about fears, so I did a little research to find some of the more... unusual... phobias out there. Here's a representative sample:

Anatidaephobia - the fear that wherever you are, a duck is watching you (I kid you not...)

Arachibutyrophobia - the fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of your mouth (fairly valid, all things considered...)

Amathophobia - fear of dust (Don't come to my house if you suffer from this one!)

Walloonphobia - fear of Walloons (Now, this one I looked into a little more - Walloon is a Romance language spoken as a second language by some in Wallonia, Belgium. Who knew?)

Zemmiphobia - fear of the great mole rat (Guess anyone who suffers from this one shouldn't watch Kim Possible - A Sitch in Time...)

Mageirocophobia - the fear of cooking (hmmm... the kitchen does creep me out a little, but maybe it's just that skillet that hasn't come clean for two days, now...) 

Alektophobia - fear of chickens (Oooh!  All you alektophobics out there may not want to visit Kathi's I Think We're All Bozos on This Bus blog- but everyone else should... she's a riot!)

Alliumphobia - fear of garlic (Think of all the poor alliumphobics out there mislabeled as vampires...)

Eosophobia - fear of daylight (Yes, well, if you're alliumphobic and eosophobic, you may have some 'splainin' to do...)

Pentheraphobia - fear of one's mother-in-law ('fess up now people, you know who you are...)

Vestiophobia - fear of clothes (Is this why so many toddlers delight in disrobing at the most inappropriate times?)

Gymnophobia - fear of nudity (So, if you put a vestiophobe and a gymnophobe in the same room together, do they cancel each other out??)

Ataxophobia - fear of disorder or untidiness (Definitely not me - but if this is you, well, again, maybe you won't want to visit my humble abode...)

Samhainophobia - fear of Halloween (movie: yes! holiday: not!)

Syngenesophobia - fear of relatives (hmmm... well, not all of them...)

Dromophobia - fear of crossing the road (Crud! All this time, we've been asking the wrong question. That chicken never crossed the road at all...)

Ombrophobia - fear of rain or being rained on (So, I guess visiting Seattle would be out of the question...)

Kathisophobia - fear of sitting down (Hey! Is this why Hemmingway is said to have written while standing up, with his typewriter propped on a bookcase? He- What? What's a typewr- You know, typewriter?? Tap-tap-tappatiy-tap, zzzzip, tingggg?  Those things writers used to- Oh, never mind...)

Monday, May 12, 2008

It's Limerick Day!

To celebrate, here is my own original limerick:

Feel free to post a comment with your own original limerick (make it clean, please - my kids read this blog!!!) and join the fun!

Friday, May 9, 2008

Book Review: The Sorcerer's Letterbox, by Simon Rose

The Sorcerer's Letterbox begins with a mysterious encounter in England, in 1740, between the queen, and a monk known only as Brother William.  The queen fears for the safety of her son, and has a vision that this monk - who has a reputation as a sorcerer - has something for her that will protect him from harm. He does indeed, and hands her what appears to be an ordinary box before she hurries away.

Who is Brother William?  What was the queen's vision?  And how is an ordinary box going to save her son?

The story jumps forward hundreds of years, to a boy named Jack. Jack's father owns an antique shop, and had long ago given him an antique wooden box that had been in his family for generations.  One day, a small drawer in the box popped open, revealing a scroll, containing a letter written in Middle English.  Later, at his father's shop, a mysterious visitor reveals to Jack - who is the spitting image of the boy king, Edward V - that he is the only one who can respond to the scroll.  "Lives are at stake!"

Thus begins a time-traveling thrill ride that pits Jack and Edward against the king's nefarious uncle, who intends to kill Edward and his brother in order to keep the throne for himself.  The two boys are aided in their adventure by a girl named Meg, who knows her way around the hidden passages in the castle where the boy king is imprisoned with his brother.  Together, Jack and Meg work to try and save Edward and his brother from certain doom.

This book is a spine-tingling journey through space and time, filled with danger, evil plots, and seemingly impossible situations, with lots of plot twists, turns and surprises to keep the reader on the edge of their seat!

For Teachers and Librarians:
This book is based on the historical story known as The Princes in the Tower, where King Edward IV of England died, leaving his young son to be crowned King Edward V at 12 years old.  But, Edward IV's brother Richard took the throne for his own by exploiting a technicality, and imprisoned Edward V and his brother in the the Tower of London. They were gradually seen less and less until no one saw them out at all.  The suspicion was that Richard killed his nephews, but it was never proven, and conspiracy theories abound.  This book would be a perfect accompaniment to an English history unit.  Or a unit on the English monarchy.  Or a mystery unit.  The possibilities are endless!  

For Parents, Grandparents and Caregivers:
This is a great book to get reluctant readers excited about reading.  Full of action, adventure, mystery, and a hint of rebelliousness, they can't help but get pulled into the story, either by reading it themselves, or having it read to them.  It is a good way to get them interested in history, as well as mystery books.  Once they've read this, it would be so easy to help them go online or to the library and find out the real details of The Princes in the Tower, and perhaps find more mystery books, to keep them reading.

For Kids:
The Sorcerer's Letterbox has it all: mystery, adventure, kids in charge, time travel...  Imagine, four kids are the only ones who can save the true King of England!  They have to battle evil uncles, wiggle through secret tunnels underneath a moat, sneak through hidden passages in castle walls, escape from peasants hoping to turn them in and collect a reward, all while trying to be sure each of them ends up in their right time without losing their lives in the process.  Do the princes survive?  Does Jack ever get back to his own time?  And how does Meg figure into all of this?  Curious?  Then go pick up the book and get started... you won't be disappointed.

For Everyone Else:
This is a great book for the history buff - history from a kid's perspective is quite different from The Establishment's point of view.  No one really knows what happened to The Princes in the Tower, but the author provides an interesting possibility.  Those who love a good adventure or mystery book will find it equally interesting.  Though written for the 9-12 set, there is a lot here to keep the 12+ set coming back for more, too.

Wrapping Up:
The Sorcerer's Letterbox is the perfect combination of history and fantasy.  Hurry to the store or the library, find it, and start reading!

Title: The Sorcerer's Letterbox
Author: Simon Rose
Cover Illustration: George Juhasz
Pages: 114
Reading Level: Ages 9-12
Publisher and Date: Tradewinds, March 2006
Edition: paperback
Language: English
Published in: Canada and the United Kingdom
Price: $7.95
ISBN-10: 1896580521
ISBN-13: 978-1896580524

Author Spotlight: Simon Rose

Simon Rose has written several novels for young people, beginning with The Alchemist's Portrait, published in 2003.  Since then, he has had four additional novels published, with a fifth coming out in Spring 2009: The Doomsday Mask.

Born in 1961 in Derbyshire, England, Mr. Rose grew up in Chesterfield.  He was a big comic book fan, and was rather partial to Marvel comics.  He first began writing as a teenager - when he began an epic sci-fi and fantasy novel.  He still works on it from time to time, and hopes one day to see it published.  Also during his teen years, he developed a love of history, and graduated from university in 1982 with a history degree. 

In addition to writing novels for young readers, Simon Rose does readings, presentations and author-in-residence programs for schools and libraries worldwide.  He serves as an instructor with the National Writing for Children Center, offers many services for aspiring writers of all ages, and does copywriting for the business world.

This author, writer and presenter enjoys reading sci-fi, fantasy, ancient mysteries, and "anything mysterious and unexplained."

Having moved to Canada in 1990, Mr. Rose resides in Calgary with his two children, and a dog, and a cat.


Thursday, May 8, 2008

Today is No Socks Day...

...and so, the kiddos and I decided to celebrate in high style!

Hope your day was as footloose and fancy free (and fun!) as ours was...

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Book Review: Dirty Dog Boogie, by Loris Lesynski

Right from the get-go, Loris Lesynski invites the reader to join in the fun, feel the beat, and get set to be silly, in Dirty Dog Boogie, a poetry collection which she both wrote and illustrated.

Slightly smaller than a standard sheet of paper, this slim volume is 32 pages packed with rhythm and fun.  The pages are smooth, and of a nice weight - so they will hold up well to repeated page-turns by excited little hands.  They have just enough of a sheen so that when pint-sized readers burst out laughing, the little bits of juice (from the juicebox they were sipping) that escape their mouths can be easily wiped off the pages, with little harm done.

The illustrations are bold, colorful, cartoonish, and definitely add to the silliness - a perfect complement to the poetry.  The rhymes have a jazzy, swingy feel to them that makes you want to tap your toes and get up and wiggle.  Kid-centric topics are the subject of each poem, and to aid in getting the right rhythm, the author has at times used strategic bold print.

The bulk of the poems are written in first person, from a kid's point of view, which makes it easy for kids to put themselves in the action.  Other poems encourage the reader to have fun with rhymes and feel the beat.  But, they are presented in a "Come join the fun" type of way, and not a "Do this so you can learn something" kind of way.  The author uses lots of word play, and shows the silly side of being a kid.  

All of the poems speak directly to kids, giving voice to their feelings, and especially to their goofiest of thoughts!  There is the quasi-philosophical discussion on sock fluff, for instance.  One can also read about puddles of sun, which is written so descriptively you can just picture it - even if the author professes to be unable to illustrate it.  There's more than one poem that tells all about how it feels to be fidgety.  (Something many grown-ups seem to have forgotten the feel of!)  So much fun and hilarity is jammed into these pages, that a child will be hard-pressed not to find something to his or her liking.

For Teachers and Librarians:
This book presents a wealth of opportunities for teaching a poetry unit - rhyme, rhythm, different types of poetic forms, different ways to read poetry aloud, etc.  The kids will have a blast both reading these poems, and listening to them.  The poems lend themselves well as frameworks from which your students can create their own poems.  In fact, the author encourages this - which you can see for yourself if you visit her website.  This is a welcome accompaniment to the book, as Ms Lesynski provides a ton of activity ideas, printables, and ways to have fun reading her poems aloud.  It's all there in pages she's created especially for you.

For Parents, Grandparents and Caregivers:
Ms Lesynski's poems are a delightful romp through the ridiculous and the silly, and your kids will have a great time reading these either with you or on their own.  Use it to turn their sour moods back to sweet, or pull it out to brighten up a rainy day.  Also, check the author's website for ways to increase the fun with printable coloring pages, and ideas for fun things to do together using the poems from this book.

For the Kids:
These poems will make you want to tap your toes, wiggle your nose, and get up and dance!  Be silly!  Have fun!  Read them all, and you'll want to read them again and again.  And then, you can make up your own poems, using the ones in this book as a guide.  The author's website has lots of other fun stuff you can do using the poems in this book, but be sure to ask your parents for permission and help, first.  

Wrapping up:
Dirty Dog Boogie has some great rhymes, and lots of opportunities for fun and giggles in a jazzy, swing-beat kind of way.

Title: Dirty Dog Boogie
Author/Illustrator: Loris Lesynski
Pages: 32
Ages: 4-8 years
Publisher and date: Annick Press (U.S.) Ltd., 1999
Edition: Second printing, April 2005 paperback
Language: English
Published in: United States
Price: $6.95
ISBN-10: 1550375725
ISBN-13: 978-1550375725