Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo

Holy unanticipated occurrences!

Kate has done it again. I thought I loved Because of Winn Dixie. I thought I loved The Tale of Despereaux, and The Magician’s Elephant. But, Flora and Ulysses is taking my breath, and we’re only on page 66.

For one thing, Flora is a self-proclaimed cynic. Who uses a word such as “cynic” in a children’s book? Only the most expert of writers such as E. B. White and Kate DiCamillo.

“What does cynic mean?” my class asked, and we had a long discussion about how a cynic is a person who believes that others are motivated more by selfish reasons than honorable ones.

But, it wasn’t as long a discussion as the one we had about “treacherous”.
“Do you mind, Flora Belle?” he said. “Would it trouble you terribly if I put my hand on your shoulder and allowed you to guide me back to Great-Aunt Tootie’s house? The world is a treacherous place when you can’t see.”
Flora didn’t bother pointing out to him that the world was a treacherous place when you could see.” (p. 58)
“What do you think?” I asked. “Is the world a treacherous place?”  The children took out their Reader’s Response Journals and wrote down their thoughts…
“We are reading Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo. Flora says the world is a treacherous place. I think she’s wrong because you can almost trust your family, and your houses are big and stable and you almost never get hurt outside. You can play and the flowers won’t hurt you, and you can trust your very best friend. When it rains it gives you pretty much a free car wash. And that’s a few ways Flora is wrong.” ~Zion
Not everyone agreed. Many children, almost half, felt that the world is a treacherous place. How sad to think that true at only eight years of age.
“It may be a treacherous place, dear children,” I said. “But, however much is in your power, try to make it a trustworthy place. When you give a promise keep it. When you see someone who is sad, try to cheer him up.”
So many lessons from just one book. I know I will have a lot more to say when I have finished it. For now, I can’t recommend it highly enough. 
Advertisements

jennifer, hecate, macbeth, william mckinley, and me, elizabeth

Do you remember this little book from 1968 calling to you from an elementary school’s library shelves? I remember it clearly, but probably more for the cover (which has always appealed to me) than the content.
It’s one of those children’s books which fall into the category I call Adults-Will-Appreciate-This-Book-More-Than-Children.
And now the children at my elementary school won’t even know about it because it was pulled from the shelves several years ago. I suspect one of the main reasons is because it contains the word “witch”. In several places. Even though it’s not about making spells, it’s about making friends.
Lonely Elizabeth walks to school alone, until one day she sees a shoe dangling from a much smaller foot in the tree above her. The girl owning the shoe, and the foot, is Jennifer, a self-proclaimed witch who befriends Elizabeth and initiates her as an apprentice witch.
The story is utterly charming, filled with experiences of my own childhood: mothers leaving beauty parlors with piled up hairdos, shopping at the A & P, feeling lonely but not minding it too much because the popular girl is “two-faced and mean”. Who wouldn’t prefer being alone? Who wouldn’t rather befriend Jennifer and march around a magic chalk circle after spilling a drop of blood (each) and a drop of spit (each) to seal a promise?
I certainly would like to be her friend for the sheer imagination she possesses, let alone indifference to popular opinion. Which has never been a friend of mine.
(E. L. Konigsburg was the only person to win both the Newbery Medal for the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and a Newbery Honor for Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and me, Elizabeth in the same year, 1968.)

The Strange Case of The Origami Yoda

I’m always on the lookout for a new read-aloud for my third graders. Usually, I like to introduce them to classic literature no one else reads them such as Carlo Collodi’s Pinocchio. Or, Edith Nesbit’s Five Children and It. But, knowing my great passion for origami they begged me to read The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger, and I have to admit that I enjoyed it almost as much as they did.

The strange case is that Dwight, an awkward and nerdy middle school boy, has an origami Yoda finger puppet which has a unique ability to give exactly the right advice when needed. So the strange case involves answering the question, “Can Origami Yoda be real?”  Each chapter is a little scenario where Origami Yoda saves the day.

For example, when Kellen accidentally leans across the sink in the bathroom he discovers that only the front of his pants is wet. It looks, unfortunately, as if he has wet himself. But, the Origami Yoda puppet on Dwight’s finger advises him to wet all of his pants before going back to class. Then the one spot is no longer conspicuous. This is the stuff that children love. It is too funny for words. Plus, what if Origami Yoda is real? At the end of the book, after reading many accounts of Origami Yoda giving sage advice, the reader must decide.

I can’t answer that. I can only show you the finger puppets which my third graders made, holding them up in all the appropriate places when Origami Yoda speaks

And, I can leave you with the suggestion that if you have an elementary or middle school child, “Read this book you should.”

(p.s. My favorite Yoda quote? “Do or do not…there is no try.”)

Boo…and I MEAN IT!

I wish you could be in my classroom today. We’ve been laughing our heads off at Boo…and I MEAN IT!, by Barbara Park, with its “5 scary secrets that Paulie Allen Puffer told me by Junie B. Jones”:
1.) Real monsters and witches go trick or treating on halloween. Only they don’t even wear costumes. On account of everybody thinks they’re already dressed up.
BUT THEY’RE NOT! THEY ARE WEARING THEIR REAL ACTUAL FACE AND CLOTHES!
2.) Do not carve pointy sharp teeth in your pumpkin. Or it will roll into your room while you are sleeping and eat your feet.
3.) Bats like to land on your head and live in your hair.
4.) Black witch cats can claw you into shreddle.
5.) Candy corn isn’t really corn.
.
But, that’s not all. The Great Pumpkin, of Linus fame, has visited us every day this week. Into our Boo Boxes he has deposited a glow-in-the-dark spider ring, an origami bookmark, a Halloween eraser, and later today he will bring those little tubs of Play-Doh which come in orange, green, white or black. (You get what you get, and you don’t have a fit.)
So, have a very Happy Halloween. And if you see the Great Pumpkin, have him save some m&m’s for me. Preferrably peanut.

And if one read along in May isn’t enough, how about The Secret Garden?

In my blogging travels today I came upon a read-along invitation for The Secret Garden hosted by Book Journey. The idea is to read this lovely children’s book and post on it May 31 with a garden party of sorts at Sheila’s. Doesn’t that sound like the most wonderful antidote to heavy novels? Gray-ish days? Finishing up the odd bits and pieces of one’s school year?
My son, now 21 years of age, has long loved this film. A man-child with a beard, who against my deepest pleas continues to smoke Marlboros, will probably watch it with me when I’ve finished reading. Already, I’m looking forward to getting started.

The Lightning Thief: With Thoughts From My Class

The kids in my third grade class begged me to read me The Lightning Thief. One of the mothers actually bought it for me this Christmas. Reading for the Read-a-Myth Challenge and the Once Upon a Time Challenge 5 pushed me over the edge to read it aloud.

You’ve got to love Percy Jackson, our middle-school aged hero. He’s got ADD, the typical angst of adolescence, and untypical parentage by having a human mother and Poseidon for his father. He’s also got a quest:

You shall go west, and face the god who has turned.
You shall find what was stolen, and see it safely returned.
You shall be betrayed by one who calls you a friend.
And you shall fail to save what matters most, in the end.

I enjoyed his story. But what I most enjoyed about the story where the elements of mythology I was able to teach my class, from the famous brothers Poseidon, Zeus and Hades who descended from their father Cronus, to the war god Ares and Hade’s Helm of Darkness. The kids were entranced, as you can from a few of their reviews below:

  • I liked The Lightning Thief a lot because I learned a lot of mythology, and it was a mixture of sad and happy. My favorite characters are Perseus Jackson, Marybeth, and Grover. I like these friends because they all worked together on their quest. My favorite event was when Percy went to Olympus and saw his dad. I liked this event because Perseus finally saw his dad when he was looking for him. I learned that mythology is not real, and there are a lot of gods. ~Riya
  • I loved The Lightning Thief because it was both action packed and funny. It was a great book. My favorite part was when he fought Ares. It was very cool when Ares and Percy were fighting. I liked the book better than the movie because it was original. ~Adrian
  • I liked The Lightning Thief a lot. My favorite character was Percy Jackson because he is the son of a the sea god, and I like water. My favorite event was when Percy Jackson went to Olympus. I learned about not Greek mythology, but friendship and how it works. I really learned a lot, but that was the best thing I learned. ~Karthik

However, not everyone in my class liked it. Here’s one more:

  • I hated The Lightning Thief because it was really, really boring. I don’t have a favorite character. And it made no sense to me. I don’t like it because I don’t like Greek mythology. Greek mythology and I don’t go together. So this book is just not for me.  How could there be a son of the sea? There is only ONE True God. ~Angelin

So, I guess you’ll have to read it yourself to find your own verdict. And after you do, there’s a trivia game with ten questions to play and test your reading skills.

I know that most of my class will be reading the rest of the series over the summer, and that’s a good thing.

An Evening With Jon Scieszka

I’ve just returned from listening to Jon Scieszka, America’s first National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. However, you might know him better as the author of The Stinky Cheese Man.

Or, Math Curse.

Or, Knucklehead.  It was, he explained, the term his father called him or his five other brothers, depending on how frustrated he was. And all this time, I thought my good buddy Joe coined the term.

He’s written many other books, including The Time Warp Trio and Spaceheads which is written partly as a book and partly as an interactive media experience.

I loved listening to him talk, while showing slides of his life which I tried to capture above. There’s a picture of him with George and Laura Bush when he won his medal for being the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. There’s a photograph of a cheeseburger illustrated by Lane Smith from The Stinky Cheese Man. (“I got so tired of reading my daughter The Gingerbread Man,” he said, “I just sort of snapped.”)

And, there’s a photograph of his website Guys Read. Love this site dedicated to helping boys learn the love of literature.

I would have had a photograph taken of Jon and myself, but I got busted standing in line. My number was 141. Never one to trust in the system, I just stood at the back of the line I found by the door. Until some wicked teacher pulled the ticket out of my book saying, “What number do you have?” Like a nine year old kid in my class, I stood there open-mouthed.

But, I left with what I came for: a great night out and two autographed books. Jon understood. He was once a teacher, too.

The Voyage of The Dawn Treader (novel, not film)

Although the third film in the Narnia series was released on Friday night, I have yet to see it. Perhaps I’m a bit reluctant to do so because I wonder how Disney can truly convey all that C. S. Lewis does in this novel for children adults.

I began reading it to my class about three weeks ago because I wanted them to know of the story from literature before the movie. I wanted them to hear what C. S. Lewis said fresh from his words rather than images filtered through the vision of Hollywood.

It was slow going at first. The vocabulary was a bit advanced for third graders, not used to sophisticated language such as I was when I read C. S. Lewis and E. B. White in my childhood. But, I explained it to them as we went along, and by the time sulky cousin Eustace was turned into a dragon my class was entranced.

We had such an interesting discussion about Eustace’s transformation. Before he became a dragon, they described Eustace as a whiner, baby, pain, complainer, crybaby and mean, selfish, or greedy boy. When he was a dragon they saw him as sad, hurt, confused, scared and lonely. After being de-scaled by Aslan, they noticed that he was happy, out of pain, and grateful. What brilliant children to see the changes that He brings to our human nature.

I loved Lucy going to the magician’s book in Chapter 10. Bravely, she crosses the corridor, ventures into the room where the big book is held, and lays her hand upon its pages.

It was written, not printed; written in a clear, even hand, with thick downstrokes and thin upstrokes, very large, easier than print, and so beautiful that Lucy stared at it for a whole minute and forgot about reading it. The paper was crisp and smooth and a nice smell came from it; and in the margins, and round the big coloured capital letters at the beginning of each spell, there were pictures.

As if that wasn’t enough, Lucy is tempted by the spells the book contains. First, there is an infallible spell to make beautiful her that uttereth it beyond the lot of mortals. And later, after seeing Aslan’s face staring into hers from the page, she turns to a spell which would let you know what your friends thought about you…

What would you do, when confronted with the knowledge of secrets? Or, of knowing the future? What an awful temptation to fall under these spells, with awful consequences which could never be erased.

“Child,” said Aslan, “Did I not explain to you once before that no one is ever told what would have happened?

There are so many lessons in the books of Narnia, so much on faith…

My favorite character in this book is Reepicheep because he is small, but brave.He never fails to address his fears and draw his sword, undaunted by his stature. May I possess the courage of that valiant mouse, while remembering the lesson from Lucy: trust the outcome without knowing what it will be for certain.

Clementine, Friend of The Week

When I read the book Clementine, Friend of the Week aloud to my class this month it was the first time I’d read a book by Sara Pennypacker. Reminding me of Junie B. Jones (by Barbara Park) and Beezus (of Beverly Cleary fame), Clementine can stand on her own as a precocious little heroine. I was a bit embarrassed when I read that she named the cat Flomax (explain that to eight year olds and hope their parents don’t call you later on), but her antics were ingenious and her sorrow over the (temporary) disappearance of her kitten heartfelt.

Perhaps it would be most helpful to hear the opinions on this children’s book from children themselves. Here are the good, and the bad, reviews from a few of my third graders:

We read Clementine, Friend Of The Week. I thought this book wasn’t that good. I did not like Clementine’s ideas because they were kind of boring. I felt that the pictures were not that creative. I didn’t like that Margaret was acting so weird. I would recommend this book to a friend, but I would rather read Thumbalina. ~Riya

     This book was very funny! I thought this book was funny because Clementine comes up with the best bathroom names for her pets, like Flomax. “Moisturizer” (her cat) sounds like a sanitizer. And, I thought the funniest part was the picture that she drew of Moisturizer. I’m looking forward to another Clementine book. ~Vismay

     I loved Clementine, Friend of the Week! I liked how she was so funny. I also liked how she was nice and offered decorations to her friends. But I really loved how she never gave up looking for Moisturizer. This book is thrilling. ~Kimberly

     We read Clementine, Friend of The Week. I didn’t like the book because it was not interesting, it was not mysterious, or any genre that I like, and it was really boring. ~Karthik

     I liked this book! I like the part when she called brother names like Turnip and other vegetable names. I like when her father said, “You are also a friend of the strong.” The last part I liked was when she asked her friends if they would like to use her father’s decorations for the bike rally. I think this book was sensational! ~Aimee

    We read Clementine, Friend of The Week. I  love this book. I like Clementine because she has whacky ideas. She is very weird because she calls her brother vegetable names. She comes up with names from the bathroom for her pets. She is also very funny. This is a great book. ~Chloe

It appears that the general consensus is in Clementine’s favor. It was a fun book to read and seemed the most popular with the girls in my class. As you might expect.

Special thanks to Disney-Hyperion for the advanced copy to review.