A blog for kids (and their parents) who love books, words, and dreaming big...
I'm so glad you stopped by! Welcome.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Winter Walk

Winter Walk

I like the days in winter
When paths are packed with snow,
And feet make creaky footsteps
Wherevever footsteps go.
And I like days in winter
When snow lies soft and deep,
And footsteps go so quietly
You'd think they were asleep.

~Aileen Fisher

Monday, January 30, 2012

The sheer relief of communication...

An excerpt:

     ...She lay quietly for a minute looking reverently at her notebook and then opened it.  She had had an unreasonable fear that it would be empty, but there was her handwriting, reassuring if not beautiful.  She grabbed up the pen and felt the mercy of her thoughts coming quickly, zooming through her head out the pen onto the paper.  What a relief, she thought to herself; for a moment I thought I had dried up.  She wrote a lot about what she felt, relishing the joy of her fingers gliding across the page, the sheer relief of communication.

~ from Harriet the Spy, by Louise Fitzhugh

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Begin it.

Photo courtesy of PublicDomainPictures.net

"Whatever you can do
or dream you can, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power,
and magic in it."

~ Johann Goethe

Saturday, January 28, 2012

January Thaw

Photo courtesy of PublicDomainPictures.net

January Thaw

The sun came out,
And the snowman cried.
His tears ran down
on every side.
His tears ran down
Till the spot was cleared.
He cried so hard
That he disappeared.

~ Margaret Hillert

Friday, January 27, 2012

The Way Things Were. Maybe.

Historical fiction brings the past to life, using real places and real bits of history... along with healthy amounts of the the author's own imagination.  Authors use historical backdrops to help tell stories that could have happened, even if they didn't actually happen.  I've read several books of historical fiction lately.  I enjoyed them all, and wanted to share them with you:

The Red Necklace,
written by Sally Gardner, 2007...   
This book, for ages 12 and up, is set during the French Revolution of the late 1700's.  Fourteen-year-old Yann Margoza, a Gypsy boy and magician's assistant, witnesses the beginnings of the revolution in Paris -- borne from the ever-widening gap between the starving poor and the self-indulgent aristocracy.  Filled with magic, murder, and mystery, this story takes readers through several years of Yann's life and his encounters with the young, beautiful Sido, an insane marquis, and the evil Count Kalliovski.

My son Nick brought this book home from school earlier this week (a required novel for his Reading class).  I picked it up, read the book cover, and was instantly intrigued.  Nick let me borrow it, and I ended up reading it in two nights, eager to find out what happened to Yann and the other characters.  (I really wanted to keep on reading the first night, but my body insisted on getting some sleep!)  The book does conjure up some grisly images, but considering that it was set during a time when the guillotine was a common sight, that should not be a surprise.

Only Earth and Sky Last Forever,
written by Nathaniel Benchley, 1972...
This is the story of Dark Elk, a Cheyenne boy living near the Black Hills of South Dakota.  It describes his life on the plains, the girl he loves, the unfair treatment of the Native American people by the U.S. government, his relationship with Sioux leader Crazy Horse, and the events leading up to the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876.

My parents gave me this book in 6th grade, just a year after a family trip to the Black Hills (where we saw the Crazy Horse Memorial) and the site of "Custer's last stand" in Montana, where the Battle of the Little Bighorn took place.  I remember reading it and appreciating having seen those areas with my own eyes -- it helped to bring the story to life for me.  I decided to reread the book this week, and once again could vividly imagine the events taking place in those settings.

Counting on Grace,
written by Elizabeth Winthrop, 2007...
The year is 1910, and Grace is a 12-year-old French Canadian girl growing up in Vermont.   She and her friend Arthur, the best readers in their little school, are forced to give up their education in order to work as "doffers" in the cotton mill, a grim and dangerous place, helping their families make a living.  Their teacher, upset at losing them (and many others) from her class, encourages the pair to write a letter to the National Child Labor Committee, telling about all the underage children working in the mill.  In response to the letter, Lewis Hine is sent to photograph the children and the mill, to provide evidence of the mill owner's wrong-doing.

I found this middle-grade book on top of a library shelf, and Hine's photograph caught my eye.  When I was in 7th grade, I did a History Day project on child labor laws, and I used a copy of this same photo on my display board.  Winthrop's idea of making up a story about the little girl in the picture appealed to me, and I added the novel to the growing pile of books in my arms.  I was not disappointed by the story she came up with.  I really enjoyed Winthrop's bright, spirited main character, and would like to think that the real girl in the photo was much like Grace.

Small Acts of Amazing Courage,
written by Gloria Whelan, 2011...
It is 1918, and Rosalind, a 15-year-old and the daughter of a British Army major, has spent her whole life in India.  Now that her father has returned from war, he is furious to find that she prefers her Indian friends to British high society, and that she's been listening to Gandhi give speeches using non-violent resistance to seek freedom from British rule.  He sends Rosalind "home" to England, to live with two very different aunts.

I spotted a librarian's recommendation for this middle grade book taped to a shelf in the library, and after reading that, decided to check out the book.  Although I took a whole class on Gandhi in college, I was not that familiar with the history of British rule over India, and found the information in this book interesting.  I also got caught up in Rosalind's story -- her life in India, her harrowing voyage at sea, and all she discovers about her family in England.

The Book Thief,
written by Markus Zusak, 2005...
This book for older teens and adults is unusual from the very beginning -- it is narrated by Death.  Set in Germany during World War II, Death tells the story of Liesel, a young book thief who learns about the power of words from her loving foster father.  Her love of books ties Liesel to others, including her friend Rudy, the Jewish refugee Max, and the mayor's reclusive wife.

A friend recommended this book to me a year or so ago, and I am so grateful that she did.  This has become one of my all-time favorites; it is a beautiful, heart-breaking, and haunting tale.

Are you a fan of historical fiction, too?  If you've read any of the books above, what did you think of them?  I'd love to hear your thoughts, as well as any recommendations you may have for other stories set in the past!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

A riddle...

Photo courtesy of PublicDomainPictures.net

"A writer
is someone
who can make a riddle
out of an answer."

~ Karl Kraus

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


According to my Reference Handbook of Grammar & Usage (seen here), an epigram [ep-i-gram] is "a short, pointed, often witty statement of fact or opinion, either in verse or prose.  Such statements are useful for focusing attention on a particular idea, making it easy to remember and to quote."

Here are a few well-known epigrams:

Little strokes
Fell great oaks.
~ Benjamin Franklin
I can resist everything except temptation.
~ Oscar Wilde
What is an Epigram? A dwarfish whole;
Its body brevity, and wit its soul.
~ Samuel Taylor Coleridge
 It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.
~ Eleanor Roosevelt
To be or not to be, that is the question.
~ Shakespeare

It's no wonder that truth is stranger than fiction.
Fiction has to make sense.
~ Mark Twain

Do you have some favorite epigrams?  Maybe you'd like to try writing one?  If you do, please share -- I'd love to see them!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Winter Tree

Photo courtesy of PublicDomainPictures.net

The Winter Tree

The winter tree
Is fast asleep.
She dreams, in reams
Of snow knee-deep,
Of children climbing
Up her trunk,
Of white-tailed deer
And gray chipmunk,
Of picnics,
And short sleeves,
And leaves
  And leaves
    And leaves
      And leaves.

~Douglas Florian, Winter Eyes

Monday, January 23, 2012

A candle burned...

Photo courtesy of PublicDomainPictures.net

An excerpt:

It snowed and snowed, the whole world over, snow swept the world from end to end.  A candle burned on the table; a candle burned.

~ from Dr. Zhivago by Boris Pasternak

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Community treasure chests...

Photo courtesy of PublicDomainPictures.net

"Libraries are
community treasure chests,
loaded with a wealth of information available to everyone equally,
and the key to that treasure chest
is the library card.
I have found
the most valuable thing in my wallet
is my library card."

~ Laura Bush

Saturday, January 21, 2012

In Praise of Penguins

Photo courtesy of PublicDomainPictures.net

In Praise of Penguins

These funny birds in fancy clothes
may waddle in the snow,
but when they reach the icy sea
Just watch how fast they go!
Their song sounds like a donkey's bray,
they cannot soar or fly,
yet penguins manage very well,
and let me tell you why . . .
Their feathers keep out water,
their blubber keeps out cold,
their wings make perfect paddles
because they do not fold!
their tails are good for steering,
they brake with both their feet -
So tell me now, from all you've heard . . .
Aren't penguins NEAT?

~ Robin Bernard

Friday, January 20, 2012

A Penguin Obsession

Anyone who's spent a little time with me knows that I have a penguin obsession. :)  It all started when I was in high school, on a choir trip to St. Louis.  One day we went to the zoo there, and some friends and I spent a good chunk of our time watching one very silly, adorable penguin.  Before we headed back to the hotel, I stopped at a gift shop and bought myself a small penguin figurine, a souvenir of that fun day.  I've been collecting penguin-ish items ever since. 

I have over a dozen stuffed animal penguins, probably 50 or more penguin figurines (glass, plastic, ceramic, metal, you name it!), penguin shirts, penguin salt and pepper shakers, penguin flannel sheets -- even a penguin-themed bathroom!  And, of course, I have penguin books.  In case you didn't know, today is Penguin Awareness Day... so I thought it would be the perfect time to share some of my favorite penguin books with you!

Here are a few fictional picture books featuring penguins:

In With a Splash!, written by Karen Sapp and illustrated by Rachel Elliot, 2006...  Little Penguin is scared of the water.  Finally, with some help from his friend Seal Cub, he goes into the water, discovering how much fun it is to swim.

Three Cheers for Tacky, written by Helen Lester and illustrated by Lynn Munsinger, 1994...  There is a whole series of Tacky books, including Tacky the Penguin (1988), Tacky in Trouble (2000), Tacky and the Emperor (2002), Tackylocks and the Three Bears (2004), Tacky and the Winter Games (2006), Tacky Goes to Camp (2009), and Tacky's Christmas (2010). 

Tacky is "an odd bird", not at all prim and proper like the other penguins.  In this particular book, Tacky and the other penguins at his school are invited to participate in a Penguin Cheering Contest.  Not surprisingly, Tacky has difficulty conforming to his classmates and performing the cheer properly.  However, he just may save the day!

And Tango Makes Three, written by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell and illustrated by Henry Cole, 2005... I reviewed this controversial but heart-warming book here a few months ago.

In the mood for some penguin poetry?  Try this one:

Antarctic Antics, written by Judy Sierra and illustrated by Jose Aruego and Ariane Dewey, 2003...  My dad bought this book for me and my kids when it first came out.  Filled with catchy poems like My Father's Feet and Regurgitate, this is a fun read-aloud book!

For those interested in learning about penguins, here are some good non-fiction options:

Penguins!, written and illustrated by Gail Gibbons, 1999...  This book offers information about the 17 different penguin species, from maps showing where they live, to nesting and breeding habits to daily life.

Face to Face With Penguins, written and photographed by Yva Momatiuk and John Eastcott, 2009...  In addition to facts and photos of several different penguin species, this book also contains impressions from the authors of their personal experiences with these incredible birds.  A section at the end of the book offers ideas about how to help fight global warming and protect the penguins of our world.

March of the Penguins, (from the film by Luc Jacquet), written by Jordan Roberts and photographed by Jerome Maison, 2006...  It probably won't come as a surprise to hear that I eagerly attended a showing of the "March of the Penguins" movie when it first came out in 2005, and that I now own a copy of the movie.  The film depicts the annual journey of the Emperor penguins of Antarctica.  It's a beautiful documentary about these birds and the brutal environment they live in.

This book uses pictures and narrative from the film, leaving out the sadder parts of the story.

A Mother's Journey, written by Sandra Markle and illustrated by Alan Marks, 2005... This book also describes the life of Emperor penguins, focusing on one mother's journey.

Penguins, written by Mary Hoff, with photographs by many, 2007...  This book provides photos and interesting facts about the various species of penguins.

Last, but not least, here's a fun classic for middle grade readers:

Mr. Popper's Penguins, written by Richard and Florence Atwater and illustrated by Robert Lawson, 1938...  Mr. Popper is a house painter who dreams of going to the Antarctic, and has always been intrigued by penguins.  He writes to his hero, the explorer Admiral Drake, and unexpectedly receives a real live penguin in return.  It isn't long before Mr. Popper and his family have not just one, but twelve penguins living in their home!  It all turns into quite the adventure!

I read this book aloud to my boys just last week.  (Nick had already read it, but wanted to hear it again.)  We all giggled at the penguins' antics -- and the humans', as well -- and had fun imagining what it might be like to have a penguin (or 12) in the house.

Are you a fan of penguins, too?  If so, what are some of your favorite penguin books?  I'd love to hear about them!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Castles in the air...

Photo courtesy of PublicDomainPictures.net

"If you have built
castles in the air,
your work need not be lost;
there is where they should be. 
Now put foundations under them."

~ Henry David Thoreau

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


From Penguins! by Gail Gibbons, 1998

What do you call a colony or the breeding place of certain animals like penguins and seals?  A rookery [rook-uh-ree].  I should have known that, as much as I love penguins, and as much as we hear about animal facts at our house from my son Nick.   I didn't learn the word until recently, though, and thought I would share it with you!

The penguin waddled across the rookery
toward his mate and their egg.

The crowded dance floor was like a rookery,
 filled with noise, commotion, and courting couples.

How would you use the word rookery?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Consider the Penguin

Photo courtesy of PublicDomainPictures.net

Consider the Penguin

Consider the penguin.
He's smart as can be -
Dressed in his dinner clothes
You never can tell
When you see him about,
If he's just coming in
Or just going out!

~ Lucy W. Rhu

Monday, January 16, 2012

Only love...

Photo courtesy of PublicDomainPictures.net

"Darkness cannot drive out darkness;
only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate;
only love can do that."

~ Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Strength to Love

Wishing you all a peaceful, love-filled day as we honor Dr. King....

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Delightful society...

Photo courtesy of PublicDomainPictures.net

"Books are delightful society. 
If you go into a room
and find it full of books --
 even without taking them
from the shelves
they seem to speak to you,
to bid you welcome." 

~ William Ewart Gladstone

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Let There Be Pizza On Earth

Photo courtesy of PublicDomainPictures.net

Let There Be Pizza on Earth

Let there be pizza on earth,
and let it be eaten by me,
Let there be pizza on earth,
as far as the eye can see,
With ham and pepperoni,
mozzarella cheese,
Add some mushrooms and olives,
But hold the anchovies please!

Let pizza be eaten by me,
Let this be the moment now,
With every bite I take,
Let this be my solemn vow:
To take each pizza
and eat each pizza,
in perfect ecstasy,
Oh, let there be pizza on earth,
And let it be eaten by me!

~ David Canzoneri and Bill Martin, Jr.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Happy Birthday to You

Photo courtesy of PublicDomainPictures.net

In honor of my son Nick's 13th birthday, an excerpt:

If we didn’t have birthdays, you wouldn’t be you.
If you’d never been born, well then what would you do?
If you’d never been born, well then what would you be?
You might be a fish! Or a toad in a tree!
You might be a doorknob! Or three baked potatoes!
You might be a bag full of hard green tomatoes.
Or worse than all that… Why you might be a WASN’T!
A Wasn’t has no fun at all. No, he doesn’t.
A Wasn’t just isn’t. He just isn’t present.
But you… You ARE YOU! And, now isn’t that pleasant!

So we’ll go to the top of the toppest blue space,
The Official Katroo Birthday Sounding-Off Place!
Come on! Open your mouth and sound off at the sky!
Shout loud at the top of your voice, “I AM I!
I am I!
And I may not know why
But I know that I like it.
Three cheers! I AM I!

~ from Happy Birthday to You by Dr. Seuss

Thursday, January 12, 2012

There's No Books Like Snow Books

Photo courtesy of PublicDomainPictures.net

Except for three brief months when I was five, I've lived my entire life in the midwest.  For me, winter means snow.  So far this winter, our weather has been unusually warm.  We've had very little of the white stuff here, much to our whole family's disappointment.  I've still been reading some of our favorite wintery books to Ben, though, and thought I'd share some of them with you.  (And, as luck would have it, we're actually getting some snow here today!)

The Biggest, Best Snowman, written by Margery Cuyler and illustrated by Will Hillenbrand, 1998...  Big Mama, Big Sarah, and Big Lizzie tell Little Nell she's too small to be of any help, so she goes out into the woods to play.  While there, she decides to build a snowman with the help of her friends, Reindeer, Hare, and Bear Cub -- the biggest, best snowman ever.  When her family sees it, they finally realize that she's not so small and helpless after all.  With its silly pictures and fun prose, this is an amusing book.

The Mitten, written and illustrated by Jan Brett, 1989... Nicki asks Baba to make him a pair of white mittens.  She does so, and almost immediately afterwards, he loses one in the snow.  Soon, a little mole finds it and climbs in, to keep warm.  Then a rabbit comes along... and then a hedgehog.... 

Children (and adults!) will enjoy the absurdity of the story as each new animal comes along and squeezes into the mitten.  Brett keeps with her usual illustrative style, featuring one main picture on each page with two smaller pictures on each side that show us what the words don't tell us -- one side shows Nicki playing in the snow (unaware that he's lost his mitten) and the other shows the latest animal to spy the mitten.

Sadie and the Snowman, written by Allen Morgan and illustrated by Brenda Clark, 1987...  Sadie makes a really good snowman, using cookies for the eyes, an apple for the nose, and a great big banana for the smile.  He lasts for a long time, but then some birds eat the cookies, a squirrel eats the apple, and a large raccoon steals the banana... and the snowman begins to melt.  Sadie is sad, but then it snows again and she reuses what was left of her snowman (along with some new snow) to make another.  She keeps rebuilding the snowman like this all winter long.  When the days start getting warmer, Sadie comes up with an idea to keep her snowman throughout the year so that she can build him again next winter. 

As someone who is always saddened when my snowmen melt, I love this cute story and Sadie's ingenuity!

Stranger in the Woods, written and photographed by Carl R. Sams II and Jean Stoick, 2000... Filled with beautiful wintery photographs, this story is told from the perspective of woodland creatures.  A stranger is in the forest, but he is a friendly stranger -- quiet, still, and full of good things to eat!  At the end of the book is a "recipe" for making a snowman that humans and animals can appreciate.

The Snowy Day, written and illustrated by Ezra Jack Keats, 1962... Back in June, when I first started this blog, I listed this book as one of my all-time favorite picture books.   I remember our elementary school librarian reading it to our class when I was little, and I've been a fan ever since!   I love to read it any time of year, but especially in the winter.  Like Peter, the little boy in the book, I love to go out into the deep, deep snow.  The joy and excitement of a snowy day are reflected on every page, in Keats' pictures and his words. 

Copy Me, Copycub, written by Richard Edwards and illustrated by Susan Winter, 2001...  Copycub imitates everything his mother bear does.  Then it begins to snow, and Copycub wants to lie down right where he is and go to sleep.  His mother encourages him to copy her once more, leading him to a cave where he'll be safe and dry all through the long winter.  This is a sweet, gentle story for little ones.

The Missing Mitten Mystery, written and illustrated by Steven Kellogg, 2002...  My son Nick's first grade teacher gave a copy of this book to him and each of her other students for Christmas many years ago.  He read it back then, but I never read it myself until my son Ben discovered it on the shelf last year and wanted to hear the story. 

Annie has lost another mitten, her fifth one of the season, and she knows she'll be in trouble if she can't find it.  While she and her dog Oscar look for it, readers are treated to Annie's creative imagination, through Kellogg's words and illustrations.  Ben and I laughed out loud as she imagines her mitten being used as a sleeping bag for a mouse or being buried in a garden where a mitten tree will grow.  At last, Annie finds her mitten in another unlikely (but more probable) place.

Snowmen at Night, written by Caralyn Beuhner and illustrated by Mark Beuhner, 2002... What do snowmen do at night, when everyone else is asleep?  Beuhner offers an inventive explanation for what may be happening, and why snowmen might not look the same in the morning as they did the day before.  In addition to showing the story, each illustration also contains hidden pictures -- my kids love searching for them!

The Snowman, illustrated by Raymond Briggs, 1978...  We only own this tiny board book version (which does have some words), but we've checked out the original version from the library many times.  It is a true PICTURE book, telling the story through illustrations only -- no words.  A little boy builds a snowman which comes to life one night, taking the boy on a magical journey.

When Will It Snow? (also published as Totally Polar), written by Marty Crisp and illustrated by Viv Eisner, 2001...  Peter Petrosky MacGregor O'Toole loves snow more than anything, and can't wait to go play in it.  Too bad it's summertime!

I especially love Eisner's charming illustrations.  With our lack of snow, this has been a perfect book to read this winter as we dream of sledding, building snowmen, and making snow angels.

What are your favorite wintertime books?  I'd love to hear about them!