Sunday, September 28, 2008

Gems from Junk Mail

All of us are going through our lives searching for answers. How to find friends. How to save money. How to find that perfect job. Et cetera. Well, here's the thing: We already have the answers right under our noses! You heard that right. And to find them, we need only look inside...

...our junk email boxes.

Yep. We don't even have to open the darn things to see the treasure trove of solutions they must each contain.

I can see you're skeptical. OK, let's take a look at the titles from my junk email box over just the last week. Then you can judge for yourself.

First, I can have financial success:
  • Save Big on Paper! Well. What writer doesn't need that?
  • I Found You a New Job! - Hmmm. I didn't even know I was looking for a new one, but this must be just what I (wasn't) looking for.
  • Make Your Debt Disappear - 30 Second App. Thirty seconds. Thirty seconds to total financial freedom! Who knew?
  • Quit Your Boring Job and Be a Google Millionaire! Wow. Nobody told me my job was boring, and I certainly didn't know Google was handing out boucou cash. I'd better get clickin'.
  • Your Underground Cash Invitation. Great! Those underground folks are so much more generous than the ones up top. I never get cash invitations in the land of the light.
  • Future Millionaires Wanted. Really? And they sent the email to me? Yes! They must know something I don't. I love omniscience. Especially when it leans in my favor.

Second, I can improve myself physically:
  • Enlarge Your (HmmmHmmmm). Oh. Ummm...Yeah...See, I don't have one of those...but I must need it.
  • Add Inches to Your (HmmmmmHmmmm) GUARANTEED. Well, this is the second one this week. Do they know something I don't? Maybe I should go check...hold on...nope. Don't have one of those. I guess even junk mail gets the wrong address occasionally.
  • No Botox Facelift. Facelift? I didn't know my face had fallen...I'll have to go find it and pick it up once we're done here.
  • Lose 20 Pounds in 20 Days. Now this one sounds interesting, but I only need to lose five. I wonder if I can pass the loss of the other 15 on to someone else. Let me know if you want 'em...
  • Flat Stomach Pill. Imagine! All this time, all I needed was this one measly pill. Click...

And most importantly, I can improve my social status:
  • Greetings to You From Mr. Chan. Hey! Already I've got a brand new friend just waiting to be contacted.
  • Movie Extras, Actors, Models Needed. Needed! And they sent the invitation to me! Obviously, my reputation precedes me...

See? Was I right, or was I right? Now, what are you waiting for? Go open those junk mail boxes and start improving your

Friday, September 26, 2008

Book Review: The Tale of Despereaux, by Kate DiCamillo

The world is dark, and light is precious.
Come closer, dear reader.
You must trust me.
I am telling you a story.

Summary: Despereaux's story might never have been told except for the request of the author's friend's son. He asked Kate DiCamillo to write a story about an unlikely hero with "exceptionally large ears." And so, The Tale of Despereaux: being the story of a mouse, a princess, some soup, and a spool of thread was born. 

This is the story of Despereaux, a mouse who is not like the other castle mice. He does not love crumbs, and scurrying, and the taste of library paste. He loves music. And reading stories. And then, he falls in love with the human Princess Pea. This is also the story of Miggery Sow, a slow-witted serving girl who dreams of becoming something that surely she cannot. And, it is also the story of the dungeon rat Roscuro, who lives in the dark but longs for the world above his dreary abode, the one bathed in light. Three different characters. Three different quests. Yet all their paths are destined to cross. To what end? 

For Teachers and Librarians:
First and foremost, your little charges - and the not so little ones - will find themselves completely immersed in this tale of love, and castles, and royalty, and quests, and bravery, and fear, and loyalty, and grief, and learning who one is and where one fits in the world. A side-study of medieval castle life would be an interesting avenue to take along with reading The Tale of Despereaux. Have your students create labeled drawings of what they think the castle Despereaux lives in is like. Or how about completing reports of what the life of a medieval knight was like? Let the kids prepare skits acting out a quest they devise for a young knight in a kingdom of their own imaging. You can discuss themes of being different, of not fitting in, and how to deal with that. Or, since soup figures prominently in this story, how about a fun (and nutritional) aside of creating their own classroom soup? Work together to write up the recipe, then actually make it at school and let them sample their efforts. There are loads of references to dark and light. Perhaps a discussion - or whole-class experiment - on what their feelings are when sitting in a dark classroom with all shades drawn and lights off, as opposed to one with all blinds open and lights on? So many possibilities, but unfortunately not enough space here to list them all. What ideas come to you after reading this book?

For Parents, Grandparents and Caregivers:
Whether you read this one aloud to your sweeties, or whether they read it on their own, The Tale of Despereaux is a book that just has that certain...something. It's a story that grabs you and pulls you in. Despereaux and Miggery Sow and the Princess Pea and Roscuro and all the other characters are so deftly described and shown, that you feel as if you've known them all your life. Your kids will be totally drawn into the story. Be prepared for calls of, "Just one more chapter? Pleeeeeease?" Especially for those kiddos who might feel a bit "out of the loop," a bit "different," or who feel they're not who or what everyone wants them to be, they will see in Despereaux's story what they've been hoping was true: that it is OK to be different. That everyone is here for a reason, and so are they. And that is a good thing.

For the Kids:
Despereaux knows what he likes. He likes books, and music, and he falls in love with the human princess who lives in his castle. But here's the problem: Despereaux is a mouse. And all the other mice make sure he knows he's different. Miggery Sow is a poor human girl who has lived a hard life. Through a happy accident, she finds herself living in the castle, where she believes her life will change in a wonderful way that most others believe is totally not happening. Roscuro is a dungeon rat who wants to live in the light, but can never seem to get there, and he's made fun of for wanting that. All three of these characters don't know it, but their destinies are all twined together. How? You'll have to read The Tale of Despereaux (or get someone to read it to you) and find out!

For Everyone Else:
Children's book it may be, but The Tale of Despereaux is a story that you will not be able to put down. Who among us hasn't felt at one time or another to be the odd one out, a little bit different, or longing for a different life? Careful - you may love this one so much, you'll start seeking out other kid's novels to read. But then, isn't that a good thing? A great story is a great story, no matter who it's written for.

Wrapping Up:
The Tale of Despereaux is the kind of book that can connect to almost any reader of any age, and will have you so engrossed, you'll quite forget where you are for a minute once you're finished reading. You may even find yourself a little sad that it's over. Find your copy today, and you'll see what I mean.

Title: The Tale of Despereaux
Author: Kate DiCamillo
Illustrator: Timothy Basil Ering
Pages: 272
Reading Level: 7-12 years
Publisher and Date: Candlewick Press, 2003
Edition: 1st
Language: English
Published In: United States
Price: $17.99
ISBN-10: 0763617229
ISBN-13: 978-0763617226

Author Spotlight: Kate DiCamillo

Kate DiCamillo writes for children and adults, and thinks of herself as a storyteller. Born in Philadelphia, PA, but raised from the time she was five years old in Clermont, Florida, she earned a BA in English from the University of Florida.

Ms DiCamillo began writing when she moved to Minneapolis, MN at age 30, and got a job working in a book warehouse on the children's floor. While there, she met a sales representative from Candlewick Books and submitted a draft of a story she had been working on. That draft would later become Because of Winn Dixie - her first novel for children, published in 2000, which won the Newbery Honor in 2001.

Since then, she has gone on to write several more tales for young readers, including novels, early chapter books, and picture books.

Animals feature prominently in her books. Because of Winn Dixie (2000) centers around a stray dog and how it transforms a young girl who takes him in. The Tiger Rising (2001) has an actual caged tiger which figures prominently in a young boy's life as he struggles with the grief of losing his mother and deals with a chronic skin condition. The Tale of Despereaux (published in 2003 and winner of the Newbery Medal in 2004) is the story of a gallant mouse finding his place in his world. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane (published in 2006 and winner of that year's Boston Globe Horn Book Award) chronicles the journey of a china rabbit and how he transforms the lives of the many owners he comes to have. Her Mercy Watson early chapter book series tells the tales of the title character: "a toast loving porcine wonder."

On the topic of writing, Ms DiCamillo had this to say:

"The world, under the microscope of your attention, opens up like a beautiful, strange flower and gives itself back to you in ways you can never imagine. What stories are hiding behind the faces of the people who you walk past everyday? What love? What hopes? What despair?...Writing is seeing. It is paying attention."
Kate DiCamillo currently lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where she is committed to writing "two pages a day, five days a week."

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

All Hail the One-Hit-Wonders! (Or, We Should All Be So Lucky...)

On September 25, we take time to celebrate the One-Hit-Wonders. You know, those talented musical souls who caught the wave of that one mega hit that everybody was either singing or listening to or playing...but then for one reason or another didn't (or couldn't) catch the next wave, and faded into obscurity. Sort of. I mean, if they truly faded away, we wouldn't remember them so fondly, now would we?

Well, let's celebrate these under-celebrated folks, shall we? Come on - humor me? OK, cool! Let's get crackin' with a little 'ol list of a few of those One-Hit-Wonders. (I wonder where they are now? HAAA ha - get it? I wonder... ahh, yeah, well, it makes me giggle, anyway...) And so, on to...

A Partial (and Probably Terribly Subjective) List of One-Hit-Wonders

You will recall, perhaps, Disco Duck? Mmmhmmm. By Rick Dees. But, you know how I remember Rick Dees? Come on, sing it with me: "Rick Dees - and the Weekly Top Fortyyyyyyy!"

Ooh! Oooh! One of my faves when I was a newly minted teenager: Pac Man Fever... Remember? Pac Man Fever! Da-Na--NAH... Do ya know who sang that one? I didn't - but Wikipedia came to my rescue. It was Buckner and Garcia. 

One of my faves as a college chick was No Rain by Blind Melon. "All I can say is that my life is pretty plain. I like watching the puddles gather rain..." I loved that song, and I have the CD. (Yes, CD. I don't have it on my computer yet, but soon...soon.) Does the little bumblebee girl ring a bell for ya?

Here's one that was really fun: Achy Breaky Heart. Though, does Billy Ray Cirus count as a One-Hit-Wonder with the unfathomable success of Hannah Montana and his recent hit Ready, Set, Don't Go?

No One-Hit-Wonder list could be complete without Tainted Love, by Soft Cell. Loved the song...never knew the band's name.

Who Let the Dogs Out? Go ahead, you know you want to...who? Who-who-who-who? It must have been the Baha Men. And I guess they're still out chasing those dogs...

Here is a hit that was a staple at my junior high dances: The Safety Dance by Men Without Hats. Hmmm. Where are their hats, anyway? 

Hee hee hee heee heeeee! I'm putting all these little ditties in your head, and you'll never get them out. Neverrrrrrr! OK, OK, just a few more, and then I'll be done...

M-m-m-m-My Sharona. The Knack sure had a knack for a catchy tune.

Thursday evening happies at The 'Gaff, once upon a time, were not complete without Louie, Louie by The Kingsmen. (There was also Van Morrison's Brown Eyed Girl, and Should I Stay or Should I Go by The Clash, but I don't think those qualify for One-Hit-Wonders.)

Moving on, there's Spirit in the Sky by Norman Greenbaum. Hmmm...perhaps if he'd chosen a more catchy stage name...

And of course, we have to list Funky Town. Lipps Inc. I just love the name, don't you? "Dooo-do-do, Won't you take me to, Dooo-do-do, Funky Towwwwwwn?"

Ice Ice Baby! 'Nuff said. Who doesn't know who sang this?

I loved, loved, loved this one: How Bizarre by OMC.

Here's one: Tubthumping, because I just LOVE the band's name: Chumbawamba, and the song is kickin.' (If you've seen The Evolution of Dance, you'll recognize this tune.)

I can't pass up the chance to list We're Not Gonna Take It by Twisted Sister, because I do love the hair bands...

And here's a groovy video of my final one in the list: Play That Funky Music by Wild Cherry. Gotta love the funk - another of my fave styles. Get up and groove. How can you not?

Go ahead. Get your funk on...

Monday, September 22, 2008

Random Thoughts

Lovely Girl's idea of the best way to change a diaper: "Stand clear of the rear!"

Wii Fit Rhythm Boxing is my favorite video game. (You gotta love a video game that actually helps you drop a few pounds...)

Why is it I always have tons of pencils, but none of them ever have any erasers?

Hooray! Heroes is back!

Adam Sandler's new movie Bedtime Stories is at the top of my "Must See" List.

Why have I still not found Lovely Girl's chocolate stash?

I once got perfect balance during the Wii Fit Body Test.

Last week my Wii Fit age was 30. Today it was 39. Obviously, there was a glitch in the system today.

There was a time when anyone - let alone Wii Fit -  thinking I was 30 would have been mortifying. But now, it's a compliment.

If you could have one superpower, what would it be, and why?

I love a good book, an interesting pen, a fab bag, and when things go according to plan. 'Course, that last one I tend to question when it happens, because...

...I'm a pessimist at heart.

I've been watching the same spindly brown spider cross my basement carpet back and forth for the last half hour. Know what I'm gonna do about it? Keep my feet up on the couch where I pulled them when I first saw it, and hope it's not in my way when it's time to go upstairs.

Oh, crud. It's time to go upstairs.

Wish me luck...

Sunday, September 21, 2008

What's Big, Gray, and Wrinkly...

...and has its very own day of appreciation?

The elephant, of course! (What - or who - were you thinking of??)

Elephant Appreciation Day has been celebrated every year on September 22, ever since the first one was declared back in 1996 by a company called Mission Media. Why elephant appreciation, you might ask. Well, why not? According to the Official Home Page for Elephant Appreciation Day, this most gigantic of days was declared for many reasons (which you may read if you click on the link in this paragraph), and because the company's founder, Wayne Hepburn, has quite a fondness for elephants.

There is no official central celebration - just have fun with it:
  •  If you have preschoolers, let them help you make some baked elephant heads. You can find a recipe at Child Fun Family Website - scroll down until you see "Recipes & Snacks," then "Elephant Heads." This page also has games, crafts, activities and songs for Elephant Appreciation Day. 
  • Teachers and parents can find Elephant Appreciation Day activities, lesson plans, coloring sheets, games and more at
  • Send your family and friends a painting done by a real live elephant - no lie - on elephant dung paper! (Seriously! Check it out: Elephant Dung Paper website.) 
  • Go to a zoo near you and visit the elephants. 
  • Watch Disney's Dumbo, and when it gets to the part about pink elephants, sing out nice and loud - and don't forget to act out your best elephant imitation! (You can find the lyrics and the video clip from the movie at the Disney Lyrics website.)

Friday, September 19, 2008

Book Review: How I Became a Pirate, by Melinda Long

     When they landed, the head pirate climbed out of the boat and yelled, "Ahoy thar, matey! Be this the Spanish Main?"
     "No," I said, "this is North Beach."
     "Shiver me timbers!" the pirate said. "We must have taken a wrong turn at Bora Bora."

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.

For Teachers and Librarians:
Lots of choices here for how to use How I Became a Pirate, so take your pick! The main use is total enjoyment. Your littler guys and gals will delight in all the pirate-speak (so be sure to ham it up), and David Shannon's colorful and funny illustrations will pull them even further into the fun. Even some of the older kids will have a good time with this one. Pair it with a unit on pirates: have them research famous pirates, pirate hangouts and pirate behavior. Let them create a pirate-speak glossary - then let them illustrate it. Give them a big box of props, then let them dress up like pirates and use pirate phrases for a whole day, or act out a pirate skit based on some real pirates they've researched. What else can you come up with?

For Parents, Grandparents and Caregivers:
How I Became a Pirate is just plain fun! This book is perfect to read with the little ones - especially on International Talk Like a Pirate Day. Be sure to really play up the pirate speak, and encourage them to join you! Give your little guys scarves to tie around their heads, pirate style. Hide some little bags of treasure around the yard or house (plastic jewels, little dime store toys, coins, candies, etc.), and turn em' loose to go find their pirate booty! Even the kids who might think they're a bit old for all this foolishness won't be able to keep from cracking a smile and craning their necks to see David Shannon's fantastic illustrations.

For the Kids:
You will have so much fun reading this book, or having someone read it to you. Jeremy finds out all about pirate life when the captain hauls him aboard the ship. There is shouting and saying things like "landlubber" and "scurvy dog." There are no vegetables allowed, and certainly no manners. But there are no bedtime stories and no getting tucked in, either, which is a bit of a bummer. When a storm comes up and the captain and crew worry that there'll be no way to bury their treasure, Jeremy comes up with the perfect solution, and gets a cool souvenir out of the bargain as well.

Wrapping Up:
How I Became a Pirate is a fun, arrrrgh-filled pirate adventure that kids will be asking for over and over. Find your copy, hoist the Jolly Roger, grab a comfy spot to sit, and get reading!

Title: How I Became a Pirate
Author: Melinda Long
Illustrator: David Shannon
Pages: 44
Reading Level: Ages 4-8
Publisher and Date: Harcourt Inc., 2003
Edition: 1st
Language: English
Published In: United States
Price: $16.00
ISBN-10: 0152018484
ISBN-13: 978-0152018481

Author Spotlight: Melinda Long

Melinda Long was a teacher before she became a children's author. She believes her writing career evolved from the combination of a childhood spent burying pirate treasure of one sort and another in her parents' backyard, and an adulthood spent teaching literature.

Her books include: When Papa Snored (2000), Hiccup Snickup (2001), the award winning How I Became a Pirate (2003), and most recently Pirates Don't Change Diapers (2007).

She now lives with her husband and two children in Greenville, South Carolina.


Authors in the Kitchen: Recipes, Stories, and More by Sharron McElmeel and Deborah L. McElmeel. Publisher: Libraries Unlimited, 2005. Page 145. ISBN: 1591582385.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Get Ready - International Talk Like a Pirate Day is Almost Upon Us!

Avast, ye sorry land lubbers! Polish up yer pirate-speak, or come Friday ye'll be walkin' the plank, ye will. 'Cause September 19th be International Talk Like a Pirate Day (or ITLAPD, for short). 

And how, you may ask, did all this foolishness begin? With two guys from the Pacific Northwest playing racquetball (not well, by their own admission) back in June of 1995. Though they may go by Mark Summers and John Baur the other 364 days a year, on International Talk Like a Pirate Day they go by Cap'n Slappy and Ol' Chumbucket.

As they tell it, during this racquetball game, they "called out friendly encouragement" to each other in pirate slang. And on that very day, right on the court, they came up with Talk Like a Pirate Day, joking that Dave Barry should be their official spokesman, and even choosing September 19 as the official celebratory date. For the next seven years, these two friends - and their friend Brian Rhodes - celebrated Talk Like a Pirate Day all on their own...

...until early 2002, when John "chanced upon Dave Barry's email address." Well, to make a long story short, emails were exchanged and the idea was pitched. Then, on September 8 of that year, Dave Barry's weekly column was all about The Pirate Guys.

The result? The very first International Talk Like a Pirate Day was officially celebrated on September 19, 2002. It was a huge hit, and is now an annual event not to be missed. Cap'n Slappy and Ol' Chumbucket have written a couple of books together all related to pirating. They have appeared on national television, have videos on YouTube, and have performed live across the country.

The Pirate Guys even have The Official Talk Like a Pirate Day website - run by Mad Sally, AKA The Webwench, AKA Ol' Chumbucket's wife. Be aware, it's aimed at adults, mostly of the male persuasion, even though there are links and such that kids would have fun with, so check it out on your own first before you send your kiddos there. It's chock full of ITLAPD history, pirate links, pirate games and quizzes, an English-to-pirate translator, and links to pirate name generators, to name only a few. There's so much to do, it's far too much to list here. (My pirate name came up on various sites as Left Eye Lewie, Grainne O'Malley Mad Stubble, and Slippery Blair Blythe). 

And here's a special treat for anyone living in the Philadelphia, PA area: The Pirate Guys will actually be in Philly from Sept. 17-21. You can catch them at The Franklin Institute for a special Talk Like A Pirate Day appearance on the 19th from 6-8 PM, and then they say they'll be making appearances at other pirate gigs where they can. Too cool!

Aarrr, mateys! Brush up on yer pirate-speak, an' get yerself a good pirate name, 'cause September 19th be only a day or two away, and ye don't want ter be missin' out on International Talk Like a Pirate Day!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

How's This for a Career Choice?

The gentleman on the left is Joseph Pujol. 

The gentleman on the right is Paul Oldfield.

One is deceased, and one is very much alive.

One was a Frenchman, and one is from England.

Yet, they both have one quite peculiar thing in common: they are what are known as flatulists, farteurs, or fartistes.

That's right. They're professional farters. I kid you not. Wikipedia defines a flatulist as "a performer who receives payment for farting in an amusing and/or musical manner."

Joseph Pujol's stage name was Le Pétomane - combining the French verb péter, "to fart," and the -mane suffix, "maniac." That translates roughly to: "The Fart Maniac." Le Pétomane, who performed from 1887 until 1914, was famous for his "remarkable control of the abdominal muscles." And, of course, one who can control one's abdominal muscles well is able to fart at will. 

Yep. You read that right: Fart. At. Will. 

More recently, we have "The World's Only Performing Flatulist:" Paul Oldfield - AKA Mr. Methane, who says on his website that he employs the same technique as the famed Frenchman mentioned above. He performs his musical farting ability in live shows around the world - and even on television! This is how he makes his living. With musical, on-cue, farting.

But wait! It gets better: flatulists are not solely a modern phenomenon. There were ancient medieval flatulists, as evidenced by Saint Augustine's mention of them in City of God. Then there is 13th century England's Roland the Farter. Medieval Ireland's professional farters were called braigetori. Courts of European nobility delighted in flatulist performances, too. Even Japan, during the Kamakura period (1185-1333), has a recorded story of "a professional performer of fart dances."

Not only do we have professional farters in our histories, we have them in our folklore and fiction and mythology. There's Canada's Innu mythological Matshishkapeu (literal translation: "Fart Man") - the most powerful spirit, who could send one into either gastrointestinal pain...or relief. Scotland has the fictional Ross McPharter - an apparent expert in the the farting arts. And if anyone out there watches Johnny Test on Cartoon Network, you know that when Johnny transforms into superhero Johnny X, one of his superpowers is "Power Poots." They're powerful, and they're flaming.

Can you believe it?? There are people out there who actually get paid to fart

All I can say is...I hope Handsome Boy doesn't get wind of this. 


Monday, September 15, 2008

It's a Glamorous Life...Isn't It?

Here's something fun for all the multi-tasking moms and wives out there. Marcy over at The Glamorous Life Association is hosting The Ultimate G.I.R.L. Party, and everyone is invited!

The purpose? To show everyone out there in cyberspace what Your Glamorous Life really looks like. As Marcy says:

You know…the real glamour of being a wife/mother/maid. Photo of you cleaning toilets? Perfect. Kids spilled an entire box of Cheerios on the floor? Excellent. A story about how the PTA has it out for you and yet you continue to volunteer? Right on……you see, from the outside this gig we have looks ’so darn glamorous’, but we know the truth don’t we?

So, click on the bold link above to get all the deets, and find out how to enter yourself in the fun. But hurry! She's posting the party tomorrow (Tuesday, September 16, 2008).

Hope to see you there!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Book Review: The Higher Power of Lucky, by Susan Patron

     But she still had doubts and anxious questions in all the crevices of her brain, especially about how to find her Higher Power.
     If she could only find it, Lucky was pretty sure she'd be able to figure out the difference between the things she could change and the things she couldn't, like in the little prayer of the anonymous people. Because sometimes Lucky wanted to change everything, all the bad things that had happened, and sometimes she wanted everything to stay the same forever.

Lucky Trimble never goes anywhere without her survival-kit backpack, to try and be prepared for anything. Having lost her mom in a freak accident, she has been abandoned by her dad, who left her in the care of his French ex-wife, Brigitte. They live in three aluminum trailers, connected by soldered passageways, in the hardscrabble town of Hard Pan, California: population 43. Life is not easy there, and money is scarce.

Lucky worries that Brigitte will tire of her and of life in Hard Pan and move back to France, making Lucky have to move to a foster home, because "The difference between a Guardian and an actual mom is that a mom can't resign." To ward off this situation, Lucky spends her time eavesdropping on the 12-step meetings of the "anonymous people" at the Found Objects Wind Chime Museum and Visitor Center, hoping to discover the key to finding her Higher Power, so she could take control over her life.

For Teachers and Librarians:
Not every kid has a "typical family," and many of your students may live in less-than-desirable situations. Some cope better than others. For those who are having a hard time figuring it all out, maybe The Higher Power of Lucky will give them some hope that they are not alone in their struggles to figure out where they belong, and that there are people out there who really do care for and love them. Themes of survival and the importance of community in helping us along in the journey through life are strong. Lucky worries that her guardian does not care enough for her to stick around. Though she tries her best to be self-reliant, she finds she needs the help of several people in town, including one of her best friends, and even an annoying little boy who pesters her incessantly, to help her find the Higher Power she so ardently seeks. She's looking for stability and security in her life, and eventually finds that it was there all along - but she was too worried to see it. There's not so much an academic use for your students as there is an emotional one, but it is a story that will grab hold of them and stay with them for a long time to come.

For Parents, Grandparents and Caregivers:
All kids worry about something at some time in their lives. Kids with uncertain family connections may worry a bit more than others, just like Lucky does in The Higher Power of Lucky. She has been raised by a guardian, her father's ex-wife, since she was 8 years old, and now that she's 10, she worries that Brigitte will decide one day that she's done with her, and move back to France. Kids living in uncertain circumstances may find this book helps them feel a little more secure. It may cause them to open up about fears or worries that they haven't expressed before. Lucky learns something about herself - that she's stronger than she thinks, and that there are people out there who care about her. That's a powerful message to kids in any situation. And for kids already in a secure home, they may come to appreciate just how good they've got it, and be a little more compassionate and understanding toward peers and classmates living in situations like Lucky's.

For the Kids:
Lucky is a ten-year-old girl with a lot on her mind. She misses her mom, who died in an accident at home. She worries that her guardian, Brigitte, will get tired of life in Hard Pan, California, and go back to France and leave her behind. She worries that if Brigitte leaves, Lucky will have to live in a foster home, and that scares her. So, Lucky starts trying to figure out how to find her Higher Power. She eavesdrops on grown-up's twelve-step meetings. She talks to people in her little town who've had hard times, but kept going. But she still can't find her Higher Power. So one day, she makes a bold decision, but her plans go terribly wrong. What did she do? What went wrong? Did she come out OK? I know, but you don't, and I'm not telling! Go get The Higher Power of Lucky and find out yourself - it's so much more interesting that way!

For Everyone Else:
Adults will quickly get pulled into this story, whether they have kids, or not. Whether you've been in a guardian situation, or you've known someone who was, or you've never had experience with guardianship at all. Because Lucky is a girl you can't help but want to see find that elusive Higher Power. You want her to know everything will be OK. Will it? Read The Higher Power of Lucky, and find out.

Wrapping Up:
The Higher Power of Lucky is a book that will grab your attention, and your heart, and keep it from beginning word to ending sentence. Lucky is a girl you can't help but like, and feel for, and worry over. Don't miss your chance to get pulled so totally into this emotional, heart-wrenching, but ultimately touching story.

Title: The Higher Power of Lucky
Author: Susan Patron
Illustrator: Matt Phelan
Pages: 144
Reading Level: Ages 9-12
Publisher and Date: Atheneum/Richard Jackson Books, 2006
Edition: 1st
Language: English
Published In: United States
Price: $16.95
ISBN-10: 1416901949
ISBN-13: 978-1416901945

Author Spotlight: Susan Patron

Susan Patron's initial career plan was "to be a struggling writer renting a maid's room in a Paris attic." 

Instead, after earning her BA in English Literature and her Master's in Library and Informational Sciences, she began a career as a children's librarian at the Los Angeles Public Library in 1972. Then in 1980, she accepted a position there as the Juvenile Materials Collection Development Manager. 

But, being a librarian was not Susan Patron's only ambition. She reviewed children's literature. She taught and lectured on children's literature. She served on boards and committees in the children's literature field. 

And she wrote. She loved being a librarian, but she wanted to be a writer, too. So she worked on writing children's books during weekends and over vacations. Her first book, Burgoo Stew, was published in 1991. She followed that with three more picture books, and then wrote a chapter book - Maybe Yes, Maybe No, Maybe Maybe - which won the 1993 Parent's Choice Award.

Then came The Higher Power of Lucky. It was published in 2006, and won the Newbery Medal in 2007. Says Mrs. Patron:

"I wrote The Higher Power of Lucky for the 10-year-old girl that lives inside me. That girl was curious about everything and sometimes went to great lengths to get information about the world and how it works."

Susan Patron was born in 1948 in San Gabriel, California. She grew up the middle of three sisters, in Hollywood, California. She now lives with her husband, Rene, in Los Angeles, and in a small cabin in the high desert of the Eastern Sierras - where she does most of her writing.


Thursday, September 11, 2008

Did Somebody Say "Chocolate?"

I would just like to point out that September 12 is National Chocolate Milkshake Day. So, all you people out there in Cyber World, go on out into the Real World and get you a chocolate milkshake on September 12, and do your civic duty. 

If you don't want to go out - or can't go out - to get one, drag out the ol' cookbook and jus' make you one. No cookbook? Then here's a Google search for "chocolate milkshake recipes." It pulls up about 94,500 results! That's a lotta chocolate milkshakes! Now, if that number makes your head spin, just check out and search "chocolate milkshake." That will pull up a smaller slew of chocolate milkshake recipes to try: chocolate mint, chocolate banana, chocolate peanut butter, mocha milkshake...

Ooooh! I do love mocha. I wonder if a mocha frappe freeze counts toward the celebration? Hmmm.... I'd better get the frappe AND the milkshake. Just in case.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Holy Carats!

Oh my stars! Would you look at this lovely award! Thank you, thank you, thank you to Beth at This Crazy Thing Called Motherhood for honoring me with this!

And now, to share the loveliness with some other bloggers I love to read:

MommyC at The Barn's on Fire, the Horses are Out, and Someone Has a Stinky Bum. Now, how can you not want to check out her blog, with a title like that? Here is a woman who is by turns rugged, witty, contemplative, and a total doting mommy. She tells it like it is, and is not afraid to do so.

Ms. Froggie over at thefrogblog is an illustrator extraordinaire. Her paintings are so full of life, so full of perspective, and so true-to-the-child. She can tell the most wonderful stories with just one picture. Hers is a blog you can't help but linger over.

Megan's blog, FriedOKRA, is a joy. She has such a fresh style, writing in a Southern drawl that makes you just hear her in your head as you read! Her ability to pull you right on into her life as she tells it is uncanny. It is an experience not to be missed.

Go on! Check 'em out! It will be a treat...

Sunday, September 7, 2008

International Literacy Day

International Literacy Day is observed annually on September 8. Created by UNESCO on November 17, 1965, it was first celebrated on September 8, 1966. Its aim is "to highlight the importance of literacy to individuals, communities, and societies."

Why call attention to literacy? Is it really that big of an issue? Check out these statistics:

* Some 774 million adults worldwide lack minimum literacy skills, and two-thirds of them are women.

* 75 million children are out of school, and many more attend sporadically or drop out.

* Between 94 and 115 million children lack access to education altogether.

But wait! There has been progress: there are now close to four billion literate people worldwide! And the people of UNESCO and other supporting organizations believe we can push that number ever higher. In fact, in 2003, the UN General Assembly launched what they have dubbed The Literacy Decade, set to run from January 1, 2003 and continue through the end of 2012. Their goal: "increasing literacy levels by 50% by the year 2015."

The theme of this year's International Literacy Day is "Literacy is the Best Remedy," putting special focus on the important connection between literacy and health. Celebrations are planned worldwide - too many for me to list here. But you can find information on several of them by visiting UNESCO's web page.

Here in the United States, the International Reading Association plans a celebration on Monday, September 8, 2008 at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Public Library in Washington, DC. This year's special guest is author and former National Teacher of the Year, Sharon Draper. For more details, check out the IRA's International Literacy Day web page.

There are many, many resources out there with ideas for celebrating International Literacy Day with children. Parents and teachers may want to check out's ILD web page - full of activities, printables and lesson plans tailored to this most important day. Teachers will want to visit for lesson plans, web links and more to use in the classroom to explore literacy in a variety of interactive ways.

Hold on, though. This party isn't only for the kids! has a very informative PDF file full of statistics, history, and activities for adults to celebrate International Literacy Day. You can also check out the Global Development Research Center's web page for some great ideas. The National Institute for Literacy has a web page full of links, resources, information, and ways for adults to get involved.

Those of us who are literate tend to take that ability for granted. It's up to us as parents and teachers and concerned adults to help children see how powerful literacy is, and to realize what wonderful things they can do as a literate person. It's also our responsibility to help those who are not literate, but would dearly love to be. Visit any of the links within this post, or the Sources list at the end of this post, for websites to point you in the right direction or for more information.

So check out the websites. Read up. Find out how to get involved. Even though September 8 is already upon us, even if you're just finding out about this most important day, don't let that stop you from learning more and finding ways to help. Because working to provide literacy to all is much more than a one-day job... 


Friday, September 5, 2008

Book Review: Fly By Night, by Frances Hardinge

     "Purely out of interest," Eponymous Clent asked, "what so bewitches you about the idea of the traveling life?"...
     ...Mosca raised her head and stared up the hillside toward the ragged treeline. The sky was warmed by a gentle redness suggesting a soft but radiant dawn. The true dawn was still some three hours away.
   "Very soon," Mosca said quietly, "my uncle will wake up. An' when he does...he's likely to notice that I've burned down his mill."

Summary: Mosca Mye - a girl who can read in a time when girls were permitted to do no such thing - lives in Chough, a curious place - wet all the time, swampy, and if you leave anything in the water for any length of time, it petrifies to a chalky white. Chough is situated on the fringes of what her father dubbed "The Fractured Realm," where it was commonly believed that "books were dangerous." The Realm has a long, twisted, fear-infused and politically charged history. For years, no one has been able to agree on who should rule the land, though many have tried and failed, and everyone had someone different in mind to do the leading.

One night Mosca runs away from the mill house where her aunt and uncle force her to stay. But she accidentally drops her lamp in the straw during her escape. Realizing as she watches the small flame begin to grow that she can never come back, she sets off with her formidable goose, Saracen, to find a new life. Along the way she acquires the company of a loquacious, opportunistic, and not altogether law-abiding writer named Eponymous Clent. And then, the adventure truly begins...

For Teachers and Librarians:
There are so many avenues to pursue here. You've got political issues with ruling factions, kings and other royalty, and behind-the-scenes dealings and manipulations, which merge quite nicely with a unit on the current presidential elections, or a comparison of various systems of government - with plusses and minuses to each. With Banned Books Week coming up at the end of this month, this book fits rather well in that subject, as books and printed matter are fiercely controlled in Mosca's world. How does this affect Mosca's society? How do banned books affect our society? There are educational issues to explore, as girls aren't permitted to learn to read, and schools are controlled by the same group that controls books and printed matter. You could go with a more personal theme: trust issues, right vs wrong (and all the gray areas in between), anger, fear, family relationships. You could even go with the travel angle, creating a map of "The Fractured Realm," and mark the path of Mosca's journey throughout the book, noting significant events along the way. Really, it is a gold mine just waiting to be found as far as educational possibilities go, and a gold mine as far as just plain great story goes. Fly By Night is a fantastically resourceful addition to your classroom however you choose to use it.

For Parents, Grandparents and Caregivers:
If you're looking for a book that will grab the attention of both your boys and girls, this is the one! It will be hard for them to put down, as each chapter raises more questions than it answers, and will leave them madly turning pages to see how everything turns out. If you're looking to provide your kiddos with a book with a good message, here's how the author sees things in Fly By Night:

"If there is a moral it's probably something along the lines of 'read everything, question everyone, write what you like and let others do the same.'"
This is a book that works great as an independent read, and will keep them leaning closer and closer if you read it aloud. Even better, you will enjoy the story every bit as much as your kids.

For the Kids:
Mosca is a 12 year-old girl who knows what she wants. And what she wants is to have a life where people can't tell her what she can and can't do. Her dad taught her to read, even though it wasn't allowed, and he taught her how to think for herself, which was frowned upon. One day, she finds herself on her own and searching for that new life, with just her menacing pet goose for company. Soon, she meets Eponymous Clent. They travel together, with Eponymous agreeing to take her on as his secretary. They wind up in very dangerous situations, and Mosca finds herself having to make a lot of decisions all on her own. How do things turn out? There's only one way to know - ask your parents for a trip to the library or bookstore, and find Fly By Night, and read it. It's the kind of book you'll keep reading long after bedtime, under the covers, with a flashlight. Yeah, it's that good!

For Everyone Else:
This may be a children's novel, but all you teens and adults out there won't be able to resist being pulled into this story. It's so full of plot twists, danger, mystery, and even humor, you will not be able to put it down. Fly By Night is definitely a must-read for ages 9 to 99. Go ahead and give it a try. You won't be disappointed.

Wrapping Up:
Fly By Night has all the trappings of a great novel - a main character you care about, villains you want to be vanquished, injustice you hope is righted, mystery that keeps you turning pages, plot twists that keep you guessing, and a story that's just plain fun to read.

Title: Fly By Night
Author: Frances Hardinge
Pages: 512
Reading Level: Ages 9-12
Publisher and Date: Harper Trophy, February 19, 2008
Edition: 1st paperback
Language: English
Published In: United States
Price: $7.99
ISBN-10: 0060876301
ISBN-13: 978-0060876302