Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Happy 40th Birthday, Sesame Street!

Sesame Street turns 40 today. And I can only hope that, someday, any of my 40 years (and counting) on this planet will have been able to touch even one person as deeply as Sesame Street has touched me and our kids and so many countless others in its first 40 years (and counting) on this planet.

I remember watching Sesame Street when I was growing up, and it influenced much in my life. (In fact, Kermit the Frog is singularly responsible for the beginning of my lifelong love for and collection of frogs.) But Sesame Street had never entwined itself fully around my heart until the many days I spent watching it with both of my kiddos when they were teeny little things.

I remember Lovely Girl sitting spellbound whenever she heard or saw someone sing, I'd Like to Visit the Moon. Her toddler self shortened that title to "Moon Song." And she loved the "Moon Song" from the moment she heard it on Sesame Street. That first night, at bedtime, after we cuddled together in the rocking chair to read some of her favorite books, she snuggled down further in my lap and, with thumb firmly planted in her mouth, she demanded, "Moon Song!"

Talk about mild panic. It took some digging - and some major frustration on Lovely Girl's part - but I finally managed to figure out what she was talking about, and to remember the chorus, and that seemed to satisfy her. But when she asked for it again the next night, and the next, and the next, I realized I had better learn all the words to that song.

So I did. I went online, and I searched and searched until I found the entire lyrics. Then I printed them out, and I practiced. (Mind you, I am not a fantastic singer, nor am I a born performer, and I would not sing for you now if you paid me. But there is nothing I would not do for my kiddos.) By bedtime that night, I was ready, and I sang the "Moon Song" for her, and she wiggled contentedly until she found just the right spot to settle in. Then as soon as I finished singing, she asked for it again. And again. Over and over we did this, and each time her request was just a bit sleepier than the last, until finally her breathing deepened, and her head drooped, and her wrinkled thumb quietly slipped from her mouth. The "Moon Song" remained Lovely Girl's bedtime staple for years after that, and was the only song anyone could sing that would calm her down when she was upset.

Then along came Handsome Boy. And whatever Lovely Girl did, Handsome Boy wanted to do too, including watching Sesame Street. Though he was a busy little guy who would frequently wander away during the show to play with his toys, I remember the lightning speed he summoned as he barreled back to the TV whenever he heard the first strains of Elmo's World warble out of the speakers. Then he would plop down right in front of the TV (and I mean right in front - I was always scootching his little self back to a more respectable viewing distance), with his eyes glued to the screen. He would throw his head back and sing, "La-LA, la-LA! La-LA, la-LA! ELmo's WORRRRRLD," at the top of his tiny lungs. Not one to ever sit still for long, throughout that whole segment he would laugh and sing and dance and grab my face and point it back at the screen if I ever looked away, to be sure I saw it, too.

Learning from Lovely Girl's frustration at my lack of lyric knowledge, I paid better attention this time, and learned all the words to Elmo's World - straight from the Muppet's mouth. And just like Lovely Girl's "Moon Song," singing Elmo's World was not relegated merely to whenever we watched Sesame Street. Though it was not Handsome Boy's bedtime song of choice (that honor was reserved for Dumbo's Baby Mine), we did sing Elmo's World practically everywhere else. Loudly. We sang Elmo's World in the car. We sang Elmo's World while playing outside. We sang Elmo's World in the grocery store. We sang Elmo's World at the doctor's office. We even sang Elmo's World at the library - all the while studiously avoiding the rather annoyed gazes of the library's other patrons.

I will never forget those times with my kiddos as long as I live.

From Frogs to Moons to Furry Red Monsters...

...thank you, Sesame Street.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Will All Kitchen-Challenged Gents Kindly Step Up to the Stove?

Gentlemen, tomorrow is your chance to command the kitchen counters, master the mashed potatoes, and prevail over the pâté. Why? Because the first Thursday in November is National Men Make Dinner Day.

Those of you peered at my Little-Known Holiday sidebar last week probably saw this listed as November 1st. But that was for 2007. (Oops.) The first Thursday in November of 2009 is the 5th. Seriously. But if you celebrated a few days ago, all is not lost. Call it a trial run. And if you saw it too late and thought you missed it...serendipity! Who says there are no second chances?

Wondering whether you qualify?
According to the National Men Make Dinner Day website (yes, there's a website):

"The ideal participant in 'National Men Make Dinner Day' is the man who: helps with household chores; has a sense of humour and is a great all-around guy; loves his wife/girlfriend, kids and pets...BUT NEVER LEARNED HOW TO COOK, and is somewhat afraid of the idea."

Notice it says "the ideal participant," and not "the exclusive participant." As the wife of a man who happens to cook often and well (with an occasional flair for the experimental), might I suggest that those of you who share my husband's More or Less Mastery of Mealtime consider joining the fun, too? After all, one does want to retain one's Sharp Knife in the Drawer kitchen status...

The goal for the day?

"One guaranteed meal cooked by the man of the house one day of the year."

No Experience? No Worries!
The National Men Make Dinner Day website is full of just what you need to make your turn in the kitchen a magnificent culinary success. In addition to a very guy-centric Top Ten list on the main page to motivate you to participate in the day, you'll also find:
  • Easy-to-prepare yet mouthwatering recipes to get you from appetizers all the way through dessert.
  • A list of NoNo foods you cannot use. (Sorry guys - weenies and wings just won't cut it this time.)
  • A smattering of Frequently Asked Questions, useful for both the chefs and their victims diners.
  • A link to contact the day's founder (but just to ask for interviews, not to beg for help)
  • A handy dandy glossary for those who don't know marzipan from a saucepan.
  • And of course, rules. Oh, yes. There are rules. Twelve of 'em. For a challenge as momentous as National Men Make Dinner Day, you can't just throw a hot dog on a plate and call it dinner. There must be appropriate preparatory shopping, proper recipe use, efficient preparation technique, acceptable kitchen decorum, correct table setting, and even pleasant ambience. (And no, bodily noises do not count as ambience. You should have used those back on Bean Day.)
And now, with the first Thursday of November nearly upon us, there's only one thing left to say:

Gentlemen, start your ovens!

(And diners, you may want to may want to steel your stomachs, just in case...)

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Musical Fruit and Overused(?) Phrases...Sharing The Spotlight

Little-Known Holidays are so fun to write about. And when those holidays play right into my own Slightly Warped Sense of Humor, they're even more fun to write about.

Case in point: Did you know that today, November 3, is Bean Day? Even if you have a Fairly Mainstream Sense of Humor, beans make you think of, well...flatulence. (I love it when I can find a way to use that word in everyday conversation.)

Today is also Cliché Day. But I'm not gonna write about clichés, because Zebee and the gang over at Zooprise Party/Fiesta Zoorpresa already covered Cliché Day quite well.

What I am gonna do is quote Ms Martha Brockenbrough, from her Encarta article*, In Defense of the Cliché, where she starts right off with this fabulous bit of wisdom:

"Clichés are a bit like flatulence. Figuratively speaking, they can clear a room."

Ms Brockenbrough goes on to (briefly) discuss a bit more about the gaseous Bean Day by-product: quoting Hippocrates' thoughts on this frequently foul bodily emission, as well as mentioning The Fartiste, Joseph Pujol, who learned to use controlled airy expulsions from his backside to entertain surprisingly appreciative crowds at the Moulin Rouge in his day. To be fair, though the beginning of the article seamlessly weaves words and wind (to my eternal delight), the rest of the article is largely about cliches and their use and origins, and it is an enjoyable and enlightening read.

Clichés and flatulence. Words and toots. Who knew you could put those two together?

Yep. It's a Holiday Two-Fer. And in a nod to that upcoming well-known American holiday of Thanksgiving, my Slightly Warped Sense of Humor is very thankful!


*Note: You'll have to trust me, I guess, on how fabulous Ms Brockenbrough's article was, because from the time I posted this originally, and two and a half hours later, the article is gone, and now all you see is an error message that says, "The MSN Encarta page you are trying to visit has been discontinued." Rats!

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?

Slashfood.com - Happy National Chocolate Covered Insects Day
DigitalCity.com - 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 importantly...to 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.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Read-a-Palooza Recap

We here at Chez Wheedleton embarked on a most wonderful Read-a-Palooza Weekend, and I have some great pics to share and tales to tell:

So, our book-loving household set off way too early on a non-school day, bleary-eyed but excited, as we drove down Saturday morning for the National Book Festival in Washington, DC. Our first stop was the Children's Tent, where we managed to snare front row seats to hear and see something special: the first installment of The Exquisite Corpse Adventure, which can only be found exclusively on the Read.gov website, with new installments posted every two weeks.

Wait a minute: Corpse? For kids? Yep! From Read.gov:
Ever heard of an Exquisite Corpse? It's not what you might think. An Exquisite Corpse is an old game in which people write a phrase on a sheet of paper, fold it over to conceal part of it and pass it on to the next player to do the same. The game ends when someone finishes the story, which is then read aloud.
Intrigued? Click here to read the very first installment. (But don't forget to come back here - I'm not done yet!)

The event was MC'd by Mary Brigid Barrett (Our White House: Looking In, Looking Out), though I didn't get a good picture of her. But here is the panel that was with her (left to right): Jon Scieszka (Stinky Cheese Man), Megan McDonald (Judy Moody series, Stink series), Steven Kellogg (The Day Jimmy's Boa Ate the Wash, The Mysterious Tadpole), Nikki Grimes (Barack Obama: Son of Promise, Child of Hope), Kate DiCamillo (The Tale of Despereaux, The Tiger Rising), and Shannon Hale (Princess Academy):

Megan McDonald tells part of the tale, as Steven Kellogg illustrates (live onstage!):

From there, I stood in line with Lovely Girl and Handsome Boy for over an hour so Kate DiCamillo could sign their copies of The Tale of Despereaux. (She stayed later than scheduled, to try to get to as many kids as she could.) They were so excited to meet her:

Then my husband C got in another line with the kiddos to wait for Jeff Kinney (Wimpy Kid series) to sign their books, while I wandered the grounds on my own a bit.

Look who I found: Lois Lowry! Speaking! As you can see, I was way way in the back (and this photo is cropped, even), but I could at least hear her, and it was wonderful:

When Ms Lowry finished her talk, I wandered back to the kiddos and C, and still got there in time to see them meet Jeff Kinney. He even took the time to read some of Handsome Boy's writings in Diary of a Wimpy Kid Do-It-Yourself Book, before he signed it:

I was hoping to catch Lois Lowry's signing line (and brought my copy of The Giver - one of my favorite Lois Lowry books), but by then the kiddos were pretty well festivaled-out, and it had started to rain (books + rain = oh, crud!), so we called it a day. Besides, we knew she would be in Baltimore on Sunday.

So, Sunday came (yay!) but we got to the Baltimore Book Fest too late and missed seeing Lois Lowry by one teeny hour (boo!) but her website says I can still send my book to her to get it signed (yay!).

And, we did get there in time to hear Liz Kessler speak (yay!) and she signed two of Lovely Girl's Emily Windsnap books (yay!) and she is a very delightful woman:

After that, we walked around, and ate some ice cream, and Handsome Boy met Lyle Crocodile, and Lovely Girl sculpted a wolf out of clay...

...and oh! It was a wonderfully fabulous book-festive weekend.

Friday, September 25, 2009

It's a Read-a-Palooza Weekend!

My usual Friday Book Review will not be posted today, because I have stumbled upon a veritable Cornucopia of Book Stuff. A Literary Treasure Trove. A Book Lover's Dream Come True. It's too great not to share, and it's all crammed into this very weekend. Not only does it kick off Banned Books Week and its many accompanying celebrations, but there are a couple of awesome - and free! - book fests that I found.

And now, the book stuff:

Banned Books Week begins this year on Saturday, Sept. 26th. All week long, libraries and bookstores and other book-minded places are drawing attention to this issue in their own ways.
  • Banned Books Week Read-Out* - Held in historic Bughouse Square in Chicago, Illinois, on Saturday, Sept. 26, 2009. Authors of six of the ten most challenged books of 2008 will be there to read their books, and "share their experiences as targets of censors." And of course, there will be booksignings afterward.
  • Ninth Street Book Shop - Located in Wilmington, Delaware, this bookstore will once again have a banned books display in their front window. Why? Here's what they have to say:
    "Starting in September and running through October, our store will feature a large front window display of recently banned books, which we've presented annually since Banned Books Week was instituted. Always a very popular and provocative exhibit, it draws many into our store to question "Why is my favorite book of all time being banned?" which is precisely the point of our display."
  • Page after page* - This Lewisburg, Pennsylvania bookshop will also have their own Banned Books Week display.
  • La Grange Association Library* - You can find this library in Poughkeepsie, New York, where they'll have a banned books display, and will hold a Banned Books Challenge: asking participants to match book descriptions with their titles and authors.
  • McNally Jackson Books - Located in New York, New York, this bookstore plans to have a Banned Books Week display, too.
Except for the Banned Books Week Read-Out, the above events are Near My Neck of the Woods. To find out what folks are doing elsewhere, click here. If you find that there aren't any events near you, Banned Books Week has you covered with a list of all kinds of ways to participate in the festivities, whether you're a librarian, a teacher, a bookseller, a parent, a kid, or a Book Lover In General.

And finally - book festivals! Both of these a quick and convenient road trip apart from each other. But there are a ton of other book festivals out there, in all kinds of places, on various dates. A quick Google search for "book festivals" will point you in the right direction.

14th Annual Baltimore Book Fest - Going on all weekend: today (12 pm - 8 PM), Saturday, Sept. 26, (12 PM - 8 PM) and Sunday, Sept. 27 (12 PM - 7 PM). You'll find it at Mount Vernon Place, 600 block of North Charles Street, in Baltimore, Maryland. Food, music, presentations, author readings and booksignings, events, Literary Walking Tours, hands-on activities for kids, and more to keep the whole family busy, fed, and full of fun!

2009 National Book Festival - You'll find it on the National Mall, in Washington DC. Saturday, September 26, from 10 AM until 5:30 PM. Free and open to the public. Pavillions all up and down the Mall, full of more than 70 authors and illustrators - reading their books, presenting, and doing booksignings. Check out the official website for a list of authors, as well as signing and reading schedules. Can't get there? No worries - the official site also will point you to podcasts, and you can follow updates through Twitter (@librarycongress) and Facebook (become a fan of Library of Congress).

So, my weekend plans are all set. How about yours?

Edited Sept. 23, 2013:
*Banned Books Week Read-Out original link no longer works. However, you can visit the Banned Books Week site's Banned Books Virtual Read-Out instead, which seems to be a similar concept, only virtual.

*Page After Page no longer appears to be in business.

*Here is a link to the LaGrange Association Library's calendar page. For 2013, they are holding children's activities all week for Banned Books Week.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Celebrating the Freedom to Read

I have to admit - I swiped my title from the theme for a very important celebration going on all next week, all across America: Banned Books Week. This year's celebration takes place from September 26 through October 3, 2009, and is the United States' only national celebration of the freedom to read.

Banned Books Week is an event held annually the last week in September, and was first launched in 1982 as a response to a sudden increase in the number of books being challenged in libraries, bookstores, and schools. In fact, more than 1000 books have been challenged since 1982 - in every state. And just in 2008, the American Library Association says, there were about 513 book challenges, though they believe that number to be much higher in reality - since between 70-80% of challenges are never reported.

So, why is a book challenged, banned, or restricted? The reasons vary: too sexual, too violent, use of profanity and slang, or a protest against an offensive portrayal of groups - both racial and religious...more or less, because somehow, in some fashion, the contents of the book will be harmful to the reader. The problem is, when a book is banned, the Reader isn't free to determine that for herself. Because someone else has taken that freedom - that choice - away from her.

Most challenges made are against children's and young adult books, and of course parents and others have a responsibility - as well as a great and burning desire (and rightly so) - to protect and care for their children. And yes, that responsibility and desire does extend to guiding their children's reading choices toward what they are developmentally ready to read. Yet when one person, or a group of people, decide that a book's content is inappropriate - at any developmental level - not only for their own child, but also for everyone else's child, that crosses a line.

Here's something else to consider when looking at what we each decide is appropriate reading material for our own children: Do we decide for our kids what they are allowed to read, for fear of what they will be exposed to? Or, do we raise our children in the best way we know how, and be involved in their lives (but not too involved), and teach them to think for themselves, so that when they choose their own books, we can encourage them to ask questions if they don't understand what they've read, and then have open and meaningful discussions with them about what they encounter in those books, and about how all of that makes them feel, and about how all of that relates to them in their own lives?

It's all about making an informed decision. And if we as adults have done our job well, then our kids will be able to do just that.


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Party Time for People With a Penchant for Proper Punctuation

Move over, Grammar Gurus, 'cause tomorrow...is not your day. Tomorrow is reserved for those folks fascinated and maybe even a wee bit obsessive about all things curvy, slashy, or otherwise dotty.

That's right - September 24th, 2009 is the sixth annual National Punctuation Day! According to the official NPD website, this most auspicious day is:
"A celebration of the lowly comma, correctly used quotes, and other proper uses of periods, semicolons, and the ever-mysterious ellipsis."

NPD has all the trappings of a first-rate holiday right there on their website for your perusal, but let's start with my personal favorite - food. NPD has its very own Official Meatloaf of National Punctuation Day. (Seriously. You can check out a picture of one, and even nab a PDF of the recipe.) But if you're not much of a follower, you can flex your creative oven mitts by entering the National Punctuation Day Baking Contest. Oh, yes. And, there's still time to enter! But the deadline - September 30, 2009 - is fast approaching, so check out the official rules for all the important deets.

Let's move on to the next celebratory staple, shall we? Christmas has Santa, Easter has the Bunny, and those momentous days of tiny lost teeth have the Tooth Fairy. Not to be outdone, NPD has its very own (dah-dah-dah-daaaaahhhh!) superhero! Who is this epitome of proper punctuation? Well, just think: there you are, writing away, when you have to write one little three letter word. Just one, tiny little pronoun. But, which version should you use: its, its', or it's? Who ya gonna call? Punctuation Man, of course, who swoops in to give you just the guidance you need.

So, ya got your food. Ya got your holiday figure. Now, how will you celebrate the day? The NPD website has you covered there, too, with a link to all kinds of relaxing and punctuating things you can do. Some examples: read a newspaper, circling all the punctuation mistakes you find; take a walk and note the signs you see with punctuation errors; and write a mistake-free letter to a friend. For the more leisurely among us, the site also lists some less strenuous and decidedly more relaxing - if questionably related - options.

There's lots more to explore on the NPD site: photos sent in of poorly punctuated signs, info on a program for kids to help them develop great communication skills, and letters from folks from all over with questions and/or praise. There's even a page dedicated to punctuation resources. And for the shopaholics among us - you guessed it - stuff to buy!

Who knew there were so many ways to celebrate punctuation? Choose a few from the site, or make up some of your own, but any way you punctuate it, have a fabulously fun National Punctuation Day!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Book Review: The Wump World, by Bill Peet

One morning the Wumps were awakened by a far-off humming sound. It seemed to be coming from somewhere above, and as the humming grew into a heavy roar, the sleepy-eyed Wumps crept through the trees for a peek at the sky.
Zooming straight for the earth came a great flock of potbellied monsters, with tails and fins, spitting fire and shooting out streaks of black smoke.

Furry and cute, the Wumps live in a wonderful world. They spend their days contentedly munching the soft green grass, cooling off in the clear rivers and lakes, and resting beneath the shady bumbershoot trees. Until one day, when the noisy Pollutians shatter the silence, roaring into the Wump World aboard their smoke-belching ships, and the Wumps go running for safety in caves deep underground. Meanwhile, the tiny Pollutians - who have fled their old world in order to start again on a new one - bring out their giant, noisy machines as they "improve" the Wump World. The Wumps grow more and more despondent in their underground hiding places, fearfully listening to the rumbles, roars and screeches coming from above. Will they have to live in the caves forever? What are the Pollutians doing up there? Will the Wump World ever be the same?

For Teachers and Librarians:
The Wump World is a very simple yet powerful story, with a very planet-friendly message that is subtly yet clearly delivered. It is a great book to use in conjunction with a unit on the environment, pollution, or any other type of eco-educational study, and you can mix reading skills right in there to knock out two (or more) subjects at once. (That's my favorite part of theme-based learning!)

Have your students compare and contrast the Wumps and the Pollutians: how each group lives, what each group feels it needs to survive, how each group's behavior affects the worlds they live in, etc. It is a great prompt for discussing "green" alternatives for energy, transportation, and lifestyle. Ask your kiddos to tell you how the Pollutians' lifestyle affects their health, and how the Wumps' lifestyle affects theirs, and chart their responses. Ask them how they feel about living where they do (city? 'burbs? country?): Does pollution affect them more or less than what they've read about in the book? How?

Let them create an alternative ending where the Pollutians learn how to clean up the mess they made of the Wump World, and live peacefully together with the Wumps. Create a sequel where the Pollutians go back to their home world and fix it, using what they've learned while repairing the damage they've done in the Wump World. Have them act out the stories. Let them brainstorm ways they can be more "green" while at school and at home, and ways they can persuade their parents to live a more "green" lifestyle. So many ideas, and so little space to list them all here. What else will you come up with?

For Parents, Caregivers and Grandparents:
The Wump World is an easy-to-understand story about a complex subject that is still as relevant today as it was back when it was first published. It clearly yet non-threateningly shows your kiddos how what we do affects our world - for better, or for worse. Your kiddos may find themselves more interested in their environment, and how their choices affect the world in which they live.

Ask them: What is one little change they can make to help the world be a cleaner, healthier place? Turn off the lights when they leave a room? Close the main door when the air or heat are running? Decide what they want from the refrigerator before they open it, instead of leaving the door hanging open while they peruse the contents? You could stop with just the discussion, or you could go further: Create a contract between you and the kiddos of what you each pledge to do - big or small - to make the world a healthier place. Donate to a worthy organization that's working to educate people on how to be more "green." Volunteer - anywhere, with anything you feel helps someone else. Where will you let this story take you and your kiddos?

For the Kids:
Who lives in The Wump World? Furry, cuddly little Wumps. They're happy in their comfy world - the grass is green, the water is clear and cool, and the bumbershoot trees give them a nice place to sleep beneath at night. Everyone is happy and healthy. But their nice quiet world is suddenly invaded by the noisy, sneezy, tiny Pollutians, who have left their worn-out world behind to take over the Wump World. The Wumps are afraid, and run to the safety of underground caves, where they listen to all the noise above, and worry about what is becoming of their world. What have the Pollutians done to the Wump World? Will the Wumps have to live underground forever? Find the book, and find out!

For Everyone Else:
The Wump World is a wake-up call that's been hanging on the line for much longer than "being green" has become an oft-quoted catch-phrase. Read this simple yet powerful story to remind yourself of where we could be headed, and what we still have time to do to fix things. After all, we want to keep this big, beautiful, world of ours healthy and vibrant and, yes, "green," for generations to come. Don't we?

Wrapping Up:
The Wump World. It's one of those books that just sticks with you. And for this book, that's a very good thing.

Title: The Wump World
Author and Illustrator: Bill Peet
Pages: 48
Reading Level: Ages 5-8, Grades K-3
Publisher and Date: Sandpiper, 1981
Edition: Paperback
Language: English
Published In: United States
Price: $5.95
ISBN-10: 0395311292
ISBN-13: 978-0395311295