Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Polls Are Open

No, not those polls. I wanted to try adding a poll to the blog. If you look to the right, you will see one. I am curious if you are more likely to read a book based on a written review or recommendation from someone you know. Vote early and vote often. Actually, I don't think you can vote often. Hopefully I'll know by the time the polls close on October 5.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Scholastic Book Order!

My kids came home from school this week with their first Scholastic book order forms of the year. Can there be any more satisfying retail experience than poring over the choices, filling out the order form, and having a brand new book come home in your backpack a few weeks later? And for parents, it's a win-win. Placing an order gets a book in their children's hands and helps the school or classroom earn books.We looked over the forms, no one has made any final decisions about purchases, but we agree that the best bargain on offer is Barbara Robinson's The Best Halloween Ever for only one dollar! It is a funny chapter book featuring the trouble making Herdman family from Robinson's stellar The Best Christmas Ever. If you haven't read that one, no matter what your age, don't worry; I'll be recommending it again in December, I'm sure. Hopefully Scholastic will have that on offer for a dollar then because it makes a great little gift.

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Benefit of the Doubt

I was probably going to sit down at this keyboard and continue a rant against banning books, but then a series of events coincided to lighten my mood. Chief among them: the season premieres of "The Office" and "ER" last night, followed by a new episode of "The Daily Show" with Bob Schieffer, the cutest man in television news as a guest. I mean cute in the laughing, elfin way, not in the Anderson Cooper way. Then this morning we drove to the school bus stop due to pouring rain and the kids literally rocked the minivan, jumping and dancing to Metro Station's "Shake It." It's difficult to be bitter with 12 hours full of such life-affirming goodness right behind me. So I'm going to give the benefit of the doubt to people who attempt to ban books.

The books most often challenged are those marketed to children, and it is important to bear in mind that people who challenge books usually do so with the good intention to protect children. That said, I love this quote from Clare Booth Luce, "Censorship, like charity, should begin at home; but unlike charity, should end there." Back when I was teaching Shakespeare's Macbeth to high school juniors, I had a student whose parents did not want him to study the play due to all of the witchcraft in it. I remember there was some eyerolling about this in the faculty room. I don't doubt I was among the eyerollers. But when I think about it now, I really admire those parents. They exercised their right to choose what their son was exposed to without denying other students access to that material.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Get Comfortable; I've Got A Lot To Say Here

I wrote about Judy Blume's Superfudge being a banned book, and bang, next week is Banned Books Week. It's like from my fingertips to the American Library Association's ears. Or just a coincidence.

In any event, the ALA will observe Banned Books Week:Celebrating the Freedom to Read from September 27 to October 4. This has been an annual ALA event since 1982. According to the ALA website, Banned Books Week "celebrates the freedom to choose or the freedom to express one's opinion even if that opinion might be considered unorthodox or unpopular and stresses the importance of ensuring the availability of those unorthodox or unpopular viewpoints to all who wish to read them. After all, intellectual freedom can exist only where these two essential conditions are met."

That website also lists the most frequently challenged books of 2007. A challenge is defined as "a formal. written complaint, filed with a library or school requesting that materials be removed because of content or appropriateness." We have four of the top ten challenged books of 2007 on our bookshelves here in the Burt household. It's like we're some kind of hippies. Go, us!

So we're celebrating. I'll celebrate just about any holiday or event, especially if it comes with a signature cocktail (yes, Cinco de Mayo, I'm talking about you), but it does sound strange to talk about celebrating and banned books together. What is there to celebrate? For starters, the fact that most challenges are unsuccessful. I'll raise a Bookatini to that or maybe a Library Libre. Cocktails aside, I have a few other plans for celebrating Banned Books Week.

1. I plan to discuss the First Amendment with my kids.

2. I plan to take them to the library.

3. While there, we'll check out some challenged books that are age appropriate and discuss why some people might want those books removed from libraries and schools. This will not be a chore as some Burt family favorites are also challenged books, including Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are and Dav Pikey's Captain Underpants.

4. Finally, I plan to thank our town and school librarians for all the good work they do.

However you plan to celebrate, I wish you good reading!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

More on Judy Blume

Yesterday I joyously posted that my nine year old couldn't wait to go back to school for more of his teacher reading Judy Blume's Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing. The dinnertime conversation about that book inspired my daughter to read Double Fudge again. In case you didn't read them yourself or don't live with second through fifth graders, let me tell you a little about the Fudge books. In 1972, Judy Blume published Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing about fourth grader Peter Warren Hatcher and his hilariously annoying little brother Farley Drexel who prefers to be called Fudge. I remember loving that book as a kid and am so happy my own kids enjoy it too. You might think that it would seem dated, and there are some situations which might not occur in 2008, such as when Fudge throws a temper tantrum in a shoe store because he wants loafers like Peter not saddle shoes. 1972 was clearly pre-Crocs. However, the trials of living with a younger sibling will resonate in any year. Judy Blume published a sequel, Superfudge, in 1980. This was followed by my family's favorites in the series, Fudge-A-Mania and Double Fudge. They have reread them each several times, giggling out loud as they do so. So, I was surprised and saddened to read that Superfudge has been banned in some school districts in this country, not as many as Blume's other books Blubber and Forever, and not in Wasilla, Alaska (in case you were wondering), but in some districts. I'm glad, and clearly so is my nine year old, that our school district and public library have plenty of copies available.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Tales of a Fourth Grade Success

My nine year old son Aaron does not like going to school. He has friends, he likes lunch and recess, he just finds school boring. For several years now, he has told me that school is a waste of six hours a day. He has told me, "I could make much better use of that time at home." Aaron is sad to see the end of August and never wants the weekends to end. Therefore, I was stunned, gobsmacked really, to hear him say this last night at dinner, "I can't wait to get back to school tomorrow." When my husband and I asked why, Aaron told us it's because his teacher is reading Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing to the class. Rock on, ladies! And by ladies, I'm referring to Aaron's fourth grade teacher and Judy Blume.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Example of a Book Report

The book was The Daring Book for Girls The assignment was to follow how-to directions from a book and rewrite the directions in their own words. Making this peg board game , following the directions on page 222, was tailor made for Hayden and my husband- power tools were involved!

Why My Husband is Sighing in Relief

It is September 20, and so far no notices have come home from my kids' elementary school about book reports. No, that's not a wind gust sweeping through the northeast; it is my husband sighing in relief. Two years ago, when our oldest son entered second grade, he came home with a sheaf of vaguely written papers detailing the monthly book reports he would be required to complete. As my husband works long hours from Monday to Friday, I oversee (aka wheedling, cajoling, and shrieking like a harpy) homework during the week. Book reports can be done on weekends. That year, I dubbed my husband "Mr. Book Report 2006-2007." He kept the title for 2007-2008 while my daughter was in second grade.
These are not the book reports I grew up with where you colored a cover with crayons on construction paper, then listed the title, author, setting, and a summary on notebook paper. These book reports appeal to all types of learners and types of intelligences. I have a degree in education; I get that, but they are still a hassle. Over the past two years, my husband and kids have created an alligator out of green construction paper, tested a cranberry bread recipe, wrote and drew a comic strip, created a diorama in a shoebox of the Vietnamese celebration of Tet, used another shoebox to make a miniature parade float of the story of Rapunzel, made Poppleton the pig from a coffee can, and created a character from The Spiderwick Chronicles using a wire hanger, pantyhose, and art supplies. Previous to being named Mr. Book Report 2006-2007, my husband could not have told you where our art supplies were located unless the contents of our refrigerator, his guitar, the lawnmower, or his sock drawer count as art supplies. And actually, I think one month they were required to make some sort of sock puppet based on a book. There was a lot of whining and procrastinating on book report weekends, and it wasn't all from the kids. Even I whined about donating household items and good pantyhose to the cause, but our family got a lot out of it. I'm not sure my kids understand the characters, conflicts or plots of the books they read any better as a result of the book reports. However, they solved problems, laughed, and spent some really important time with their Dad. That said, he's still sighing in relief and keeping his fingers crossed that no notices come home.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

This Post is Off the Hinges

Ever since I left teaching high school and became a stay at home mom, I've fallen woefully behind on my knowledge of slang. Apparently, "bling bling" is out as is "phat." Even that business of adding "shizzle" or "foshizzle" inside of words, which I never got the hang of, is so yesterday. This morning, one of my friends picked me up in her awesome new Ford Flex. Thinking myself pretty cool, I called it a "sweet ride." That shows you how much of a dinosaur I am. It is, according to the middle schoolers on my friend's nephew's football team, a "fresh whip." A fresh whip? Come on! Doesn't that sound more like something you'd order from Starbucks?
What is a suburban housewife facing going back to teaching teenagers and raising her own in the near future to do? How will I know what the foshizzle they're talking about? I can't go back to watching MTV or hanging out at Abercrombie and Fitch. What I need is some sort of Internet subscription service that updates me weekly on the latest lingo so I know if a home is still a crib and sneakers are still kicks. Listen, I'm smart enough not to try to speak it myself, I just want to crack the code. If you know of such a service, let me know. I'm jonesing for it (Can I still say that?) For now, peace out. (How about that one?)

Monday, September 15, 2008

Reading T-shirts

When my sister-in-law was diagnosed with breast cancer this past April, it came as a shock and with much sadness and fear. I've said it a thousand times- my kids have the greatest set of aunts and uncles ever. My sister-in-law, their Aunt Jane, is the perfect example. She's smart, successful, fun, funny, loving, generous, glamorous, and reads comics. What more could a niece or nephew ask for? Needless to say, it was a difficult task explaining to my kids that their aunt had cancer. I, of course, went to my go-to, the library, and also searched for books about the topic online. I couldn't find anything that seemed like it would help. Yes, I did find some useful articles, mostly to answer the inevitable scientific questions my oldest son would have: What exactly is a tumor? How does it start? How does the chemotherapy treat it? Unfortunately, I didn't find much reading material that addressed the emotional situation the kids were now in. There were no books out there that could explain or remedy the powerlessness I know the older two especially feel.

Well, we found our helpful reading material yesterday. We read T-shirts and posters and they gave us so much to think about and discuss. Yesterday, along with my sister-in-law, her husband, and many of their friends, my daughter and I walked in the Susan G. Komen Foundation's Race for the Cure 5K in New York City's Central Park. My husband and sons enthusiastically cheered us on. Boy, did the T-shirts we saw give us lots to talk about as we walked, starting with the official event shirt on my back which read, "The greatest risk factors for breast cancer are being female and growing older." We talked about how that explains why so many women participate to make a difference. We read many sobering shirt backs that listed who the walkers and runners were doing it in memory of. I explained that phrase "in memory of." When we saw one shirt that told us its wearer was walking in memory of a mother, grandmother, and sister, Hayden literally stopped walking for a minute to digest that. We talked about how that woman might have felt good about remembering those family members and good that she was doing something to help other families. We discussed the shirts that say, "I walk in celebration of___________." We talked about how we were celebrating her aunt and how special she is. Speaking of celebrating, we especially enjoyed all of the shirts that said "Survivor," "Joyous Survivor of 5 Years" and the like. That is the kind of reading material I had been looking for back in April and May. And, of course we talked about boobs. Leave it to a few thousand women not just to walk for a cause but to have saucy fun doing it. For her eight years of life, I think my daughter has only heard me refer to the area between my neck and rib cage as my chest. Yesterday I got to be a walking breast thesaurus as we saw shirts that said "Save the ta ta's," "Nic's Knockers" and more. Hayden could now tell you that boobs, boobies, bosom, the girls, the sisters, and second base all refer to breasts. I kind of cheated on the second base one and told her it's because some people think they look like baseballs. There was lots to read and discuss from signs as well. Some had quotes from the great poets ee cummings and John Lennon. Others had witty encouragements on them. Our favorite, however, was composed by my five year old son, and it said, "Go Everybody." It made us all feel a bit less powerless at least for the day.

And, of course, I came home with a book recommendation. Jane's friend Laurie, an enthusiastic and smart third grade teacher also walking with us, highly recommends Julie Andrews Edwards' The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles for a family read aloud. It's supposed to be good, fun fiction, and we all need some of that too.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Capital Mysteries

It was not my intention to keep blogging about kids' books that have to do with politics. Then again, it was never my intention to drive a minivan, carry a purse filled with snacks and tissues for other people, or get gray hair. Things happen. I've decided just to go with it. After I wrote about Duck for President, MadLibs for President, and the picture books about Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John McCain, an acquaintance strongly suggested that I check out Ron Roy's Capital Mysteries series. Roy is the author behind the popular A to Z mysteries series. Like the A to Z books, the Capital mysteries (the Capital being Washington, DC) are written on about a second grade reading level. On a recent trip to the bookstore, I looked at Who Cloned the President?, the first in the series. As my older children had enjoyed a few of the A to Z books and they like mysteries, I was willing to give it a try. I showed it to them. Nobody showed any interest in reading it. So for now, our family's big Capital mystery is who will be moving into the White House in January.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

More Political Reading

Or, go low brow, which we often do, and have fun with Mad Libs for President. Remember Mad Libs? These are especially fun with second to fifth graders, as long as you can handle some silliness. Mad Libs for President isn't strictly about the presidential election, but it will get you talking (and laughing) about American politics and history while practicing your parts of speech. I personally like to use "fuzzy" as an adjective and "dreamily" as my adverb. See how they work in Mad Libs about the Gettysburg address or the White House!

Friday, September 5, 2008

In No Particular Order (In Order to Appear Impartial)

My husband and I have been watching the national conventions and discussing the historic impact of this year's election with our children. I've always taken my kids with me into the election booth, and am especially excited to do so this year. We want them to understand the electoral process and the importance of participating in our democracy. We want them to know who the candidates are and what they stand for. At the same time, we don't want to brainwash our children. I'm trying to be impartial in my presentation. I've recently found a few books to help me in this task. I think I need the help since my five year old saw John McCain's picture on a magazine and asked, "Is that the Black American or the one with the first lady vice president?" I had to laugh. He's been listening to me stress the historical significance of the election, but doesn't quite "get" it. That's cool; he's not biased either, I guess.
Luckily Simon and Schuster have recently come out with three well written picture books that give inspiring introductions to Hillary Rodham Clinton, Barack Obama, and John McCain. They seem to have been hedging their bets with the first one. Even though Obama and McCain earned their respective party nomination, all three books are worthy reads for children. Each book tells the story of a unique and inspiring American who faced great (and diverse) challenges and committed to serving his or her country. Each book is nicely illustrated and presents its particular politician's life story without going into platforms or ideology. I highly recommend all three books (in no particular order- although maybe if I did order them, I'd finally get some comments on the blog from my relatives).
Hillary Rodham Clinton: Dreams Taking Flight by Kathleen Krull
Barack Obama: Son of Promise, Child of Hope by Nikki Grimes
My Dad, John McCain by Meghan McCain

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Interview with a Reader

The most voracious reader I've ever met is my eight year old daughter Hayden. Rarely is she without a book on her person. One evening this past spring, our family was in a minor car accident. We pulled over to the side of the road to await the police to take an accident report. While my sons were excited and anxious and full of questions, Hayden's only comment was, "Could you turn on the interior light? It's getting too dark to read." Hayden is curious about my blog, and we decided to post an interview about a book she recently read, Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers. Hayden had many thoughts on the novel throughout her reading, as she had previously seen the Disney movie and Broadway production.
Me: Did you enjoy reading Mary Poppins?
Hayden: Yes.
Me: Why did you decide to read Mary Poppins?
Hayden: Because I really liked the movie.
Me: Which do you prefer?
Hayden: Well, I like them both. The movie is much cheerier. The book, I think, is more interesting.
Me: Who is your favorite character in the book?
Hayden: Mary Poppins
Me: Why?
Hayden: Because she thinks of many things to do and then acts as if they didn't happen.
Me: Do you have a favorite part or chapter?
Hayden: Chapter 10, Full Moon, because during the night they go to the zoo and celebrate Mary Poppins' birthday, and it's all opposite. The animals get out, and the people are locked up, and feeding the people is the big ceremony. The snake sheds off his golden skin and gives it to Mary Poppins. She was the snake's cousin by second marriage. It was funny.
Me: Was it difficult reading?
Hayden: No.
Me: To whom would you recommend this book?
Hayden: I think that eight, nine, and ten year olds, boys or girls, would like it.
Me: Was it how you imagined it would be?
Hayden: I expected it to be different from the movie and it was. Most movies are different from the book.
Me: Thank you.
Hayden: You're welcome.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Duck for President

In this season of national conventions, gearing up for the Presidential election in November, there are a number of books you could read to your young children to teach them about the electoral process. If you want to have fun at the same time, Duck for President written by Doreen Cronin and illustrated by Betsy Lewin is the clear choice. Duck, who you may remember from Cronin and Lewin's Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type and Giggle, Giggle, Quack, has chores to do on Farmer Brown's farm. Specifically, he is supposed to take out the trash, mow the lawn, and grind the coffee beans. Duck does not like doing chores and decides to hold an election to replace Farmer Brown. He wins handily, but soon realizes that "Running a farm is very hard work." So he decides to run for governor and hits the campaign trail. Lewin's illustrations of Duck at small town diners, having a police escort, and speaking at town meetings manage to be both funny and charming. Duck becomes governor, but he gets a headache from running a state, and as the title intimated, runs for President. You can guess who wins the election.The illustration of Duck, alone, standing on a footstool in the Oval Office, makes me laugh every time. Spoiler alert: he leaves the vice president in charge and returns to the the farm to write his memoirs. I especially like the way Cronin deals with the fact that Duck cannot verbally communicate with humans. Just as in her previous books, she makes clever use of Duck's writing skills. For instance, he carries a sign reading,"VOTE FOR ME! A DUCK! NOT A POLITICIAN!" It is a great political run, and readers learn a fair bit about campaigning, ballots, and election coverage along the way. As it is a picture book, Duck for President is best suited for preschoolers through about second graders, but I think teachers of older students could find many ways to use this satirical and silly book in their classrooms this November.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The Water Horse Makes A Splash

Dick King-Smith's The Water Horse was a big hit as our most recent family read aloud book. Often it's a challenge finding a book that will keep the interest of all my three children, ages five to nine. This one was perfect. It had humor which appealed to the youngest, fantasy elements for my eight year old daughter, and the mystery of the water horse (Loch Ness monster) for my nine year old son. Last school year, looking up the Yeti, ghosts, the Loch Ness monster, UFOs and other sightings on the Internet was very popular with his group of friends. The Water Horse presents a back story for Crusoe who grows to be the Loch Ness monster.
Recently, I was cleaning my daughter's room and found a book her second grade teacher gave her as an end of the year present back in June. It is The School Mouse, and I remember that she zipped through it in just a few days. As it turns out, that was also written by Dick King-Smith, as was Babe: The Gallant Pig, inspiration for the fantastic family film Babe. If you've got a reader who is interested in animals and animal stories, it's worth checking out one of King-Smith's many books.