Author Archive

15 Jan 2017 Junie B. Meets Pet Club
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Thanks to First Book, my students received a copy of  Junie B. Jones Smells Something Fishy.  We read the book aloud before they took it home.  Junie B. is disappointed that she can’t bring her dog, Tickles, to the class pet fair.  Sure, she can bring a photo, but her friends are bringing real animals–birds, frogs, things in cages.  Julie B. needs a quick, small pet.

As we read, we composed a list of names for a pet earthworm. Worm Washington topped the list.  No, this does not give way the ending.

Every kid had a pet story to share.  As I listened, I thought of Gwendolyn Hooks’ easy reader series, Pet Club.

Next week they’ll read The Pet Club stories on their own or with a partner.

Connections!

10 Jan 2017 Reading the Sequoyah Nominees
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I’ve read 11 of 15 books on the 2017 Sequoyah Master List for Grades 3-5, so far. My friend, Kami, and her granddaughter, Kynzee, have read them all. Kynzee and I may be in agreement on which book we favor to win.

The best literature being written today is for young readers. A good place to start sampling is with prize lists, including state award nominees.

Read and share some good series books, too. Many kids become readers because they fall in love with characters like Junie B. Jones or become fascinated by history and science with the likes of Magic Tree House, I Survived, and the Magic School Bus. These books are well written, funny, exciting, and hold a kid’s attention. Their formulae are comforting for young readers, too.

Reading is about making connections. Students who find things in common between books get more out of those books. Every connection is a new peg, every word a new link.

This year, my students are pairing I Survived the Bombing of Pearl Harbor by Lauren Tarshis with Gaijin by Matt Faulkner and Dash by Kirby Larson. Dash is a Sequoyah nominee. Gaijin is a graphic novel. These three books explore the bombing of Pearl Harbor, its aftermath, and its effects on people. Under the Blood-Red Sun by Graham Salisbury would be another good book here.

Books don’t have to be about the same topic to provide connections. I’ve often paired Keeping Room by Anna Myers with Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson. What they have in common are time and place, the late 1700s and the East Coast of the North American continent.

What are some of your favorite pairings for young people? Why?

What winners have you read lately? What do you recommend?

I can always add another book to my stack.

05 Jan 2017 Reading and Writing and Teaching
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If you want your children to be readers, they need to know that you read. This applies to teachers as well as parents.

Luckily for me, I teach in a school that values literacy for its own sake. We have a true rock-star librarian. Our principal regularly reads with groups of students during winter lunches. Students are allowed to take their food into the library for these events.

Our school participates in the Sequoyah Awards (Oklahoma’s children’s books award), and there are multiple copies of the books on the elementary Sequoyah list in the library. Teachers choose books to read to their classes. Students who read at least half of the 15 or 16 books on the list get to camp out in the library after the votes are cast.

We celebrate Dr. Seuss’s birthday. We read fall stories when we visit the Pumpkin Patch. We invite authors to visit our school, and before they come we read as many of their books as we can. We read for the sheer joy of reading.

As a reading teacher, I read so I know books that my students will love. As a writer, I read to know what’s already been done and to learn the craft of writing.  I read to sink into a good story.

I’ve read dozens of books in the past four years, perhaps hundreds. I was teaching college freshmen at Tulsa Community College when a friend talked me into returning to the public school classroom to teach reading. Full-time teaching didn’t stymie my reading, but it did slow down my blogging about books. What time I had to write was spent on stories, essays, and poetry, not on blogging. But…

I need to discuss books. Surely I can work a little book talk into my schedule. Surely.

04 Aug 2012 Vote for Me
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Those who know me well know I’m an avid political observer. Even if you aren’t as into politics as I am, you should still read Vote for Me by Ben Clanton. This charming picture book rips the veneer off not-so-charming campaigns as Donkey and Elephant, who could be friends if they weren’t running against each other, each try to outdo the other to get your vote. Just wait until the mud begins to fly!
I’ll even predict the winners: kids and old people and all those in between who will come to realize the ridiculousness of most political speech.

23 Jul 2012 Jacob Wonderbar for President of the Universe

I downloaded Nathan Bransford’s first Jacob Wonderbar novel to my Kindle because I followed the former literary agent’s blog. I picked up the second book, Jacob Wonderbar for President of the Universe, because the first book surprised and entertained me. The second book is as good as the first.
Bransford’s space adventures have strangeness, strong female characters, and male characters with enough flaws to keep us reading. This second book doesn’t end as neatly as the first; the last lines tell us just where Wonderbar, that nemesis of substitute teachers, will go next.
I plan to go with him.

09 Jul 2012 Fleischman and Henkes
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In an interview on NPR, Paul Fleischman talked about how his father did research for his historical fiction. That’s how the Fleischman family came to keep chickens, Paul said. It sounded like my kind of book.
Father and son, Sid and Paul Fleischman are two of my favorite authors. My classes perform from Paul’s Joyful Noise every year, and Seedfolk is one of my best tools for teaching characterization. I have an entire shelf reserved for the elder Fleischman, but I didn’t have the chicken book, Humbug Mountain. It’s out of print. Lucky for me, my excellent library has it. Humbug Mountain has Sid’s trademark humor, quirky characters, and adventure. What a treat!
While I was at the library, I picked up a book by another favorite author, Kevin Henkes. Return to Sender is Henkes first novel, and it’s less simply written than his later books. For example, when he describes the main character’s front porch, Henkes says, “Ivy leaves, like musical notes, sang their way up and down and around the railings.”
While kids may not appreciate the poetry as much as I do, the story is pure Henkes. Two treats in one library visit!
It’s important to keep up with new authors and to buy new books so authors can afford to keep writing. But sometimes, we need to go back and see where the masters started. I hope your library, like mine, yields its share of old treasure.

28 May 2012 Home of the Brave

I grew up in rural southeastern Oklahoma, but I traveled widely…by reading every book about other cultures and distant places I could find. Because my father was a minister, my life choice for travel was to become a missionary. But who am I to tell other people how to live?
My life took a different direction, and I hope the students I taught to love books are grateful. Wait, maybe I did become a missionary!
Mark Twain said, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness…” To help your young person understand people from other cultures, I could like to recommend a book:
Katherine Applegate’s Home of the Brave will break your heart with its eloquence. This novel in verse follows Kek, an African refugee, to cold Minnesota, as he misses what remains of his family and his homeland despite the war that rages there.

13 May 2012 Freaky Fast Frankie Joe

Freaky Fast Frankie Joe is Lutricia Clifton’s first novel, and I can’t wait for more from her. In fact, I’m adding this middle grade novel to my Recommended List for Children’s Writers. Its characters are as richly drawn and likeable as those in Clementine, and its subject matter is relevant—the parent/child relationship, what makes a family, the value of friends, responsibility—and it does it all without preaching or descending into preciousness.

13 May 2012 Focal Point

I used to think I couldn’t focus, but now I know it’s just that I try to focus on too many things. So, this past year, I narrowed my writing focus to two things. Okay, three–I’m completing a YA novel, I write a weekly column for Drumright Gusher and Oklahoma Observer, and I’m a poet–I jot lines at dinner, at school, and in line at the store.

I didn’t stop reading quality literature for young people, however.  I read, at least for a few minutes, almost every night. My reading material is a mix of youth lit and nonfiction books about farming, politics, and economics.  See, more of that focus.

Because I’ve never quit reading quality children’s literature, the focus of my blog, I’ve decided to change my blogging habits. I can address books I believe worthy of comment in a few lines. Starting now.

It’s good to be back.

28 Feb 2011 Picture Book Marathon
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I’ve been missing in action for the past two months. Even my family was looking for me. If they had just looked behind my laptop, they would have found me.
January is always a busy month in Oklahoma. I use the Oklahoma Writers’ Federation (OWFI) writing contest as a deadline to polish my poetry, a picture book, and a middle grade or young adult novel. I put together the first ten pages of my latest manuscript, along with a synopsis for longer works, for a critique offered by our Regional SCBWI chapter. And this year, when I had met those deadlines, I signed up for the picture book marathon. The goal of the marathon is to write and/or illustrate 26 picture book drafts in the 28 days of February.
Congratulate me. I just finished my 26th rough draft. And I do mean rough! I learned a valuable lesson, too. I need to start my tickler (idea) file for next year’s marathon tomorrow. If I have eleven months to brainstorm, next February will go much more smoothly.
And I will be back for the marathon next year. The exercise made me realize once again that writing short doesn’t mean writing easy. In poetry and in picture books, every word counts. Every scene must carry its full weight. On top of that, the author must make the work meaningful or beautiful or outrageous enough that readers want to read it again and again. It’s hard work. It’s my work.
I’ll be here next week with another book review. Hint: It’s Newbery and Caldecott time.  And for my long-suffering family, look for dinner to be hot and home-cooked again.