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A blog for kids (and their parents) who love books, words, and dreaming big...
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Saturday, June 30, 2012

A Big Blue Winner!

Today is the final day of our month-long Big Blue Birthday Contest, and this morning my son Ben drew the name of our Grand Prize Winner... drumroll please... Vincenza S.!  You can see a video of the drawing here, at the Blue Sky, Big Dreams Blog Facebook page.  Congratulations, Vincenza!!  Please check out the list of books to pick from here, and then either send me a message on Facebook or reply to this post with your three choices and your address so that I can get your prize sent out to you!  (If you comment here, I will get it in my email, but won't publish the comment so that your address stays private.)

A big THANK YOU to all my readers, for making this birthday month extra special!  Blue Sky, Big Dreams has had more page views this month than any other month in the past year.  Comments here are now double what they were at the beginning of the month. (And that was a year's worth of comments!)  The blog's Facebook page has been busy, as well, with lots of new members and conversations.  I really appreciate all of the support! :)

For anyone wondering about the poem-a-day challenge I made for myself -- I still need to write today's poem, but otherwise, I have met my goal and have written at least one poem every day this month!  I've even submitted a few to some magazines... wish me luck!  Now I need to figure out a good goal for July. :)

Popsicle

Ben, July 2008


Popsicle

P  o  p  s  i  c  l  e
P  o  p  s  i  c  l  e
t    i    c    k    l   e
 t o n g u e      f u n
l  i  c  k  s  i  c  l  e
s  t  i  c  k  s i c l e
p   l    e    a    s    e
d  o  n'  t      r  u  n
d  r  i  p   s  i  c  l  e
s  l  i  p   s  i  c  l  e
m  e  l  t,   m  e  l  t
t    r    i     c    k    y
s  t  o  p   s  i  c  l e
p  l  o  p  s  i  c  l  e
h   a   n   d    a   l   l
s
t
i
c
k
y

~ Joan Bransfield Graham

This is such a fun poem, on so many levels!  I love that it's a concrete poem -- a poem that makes a picture. I love all of the rhymes Graham uses, especially the words she made up, like "dripsickle".  And I love how reading the poem makes me wish that I had a popsicle of my own, right now!

Friday, June 29, 2012

This week's Friday Drawing...

And the winner of today's Big Blue Birthday Contest drawing is... Christine H.!  (You can see the video of the drawing here, on the Blue Sky, Big Dreams Blog Facebook page.) I already have your address, so will be sending out your prize this weekend.  Congratulations, Christine! :)

By the way, if you're reading this and you don't know what the Big Blue Birthday Contest is, you can find out all the information and details on how to enter here.  The grand prize drawing will be held tomorrow, so enter now for a chance to win!

Red, White, and Books: Celebrating the Fourth

Image courtesy of PublicDomainPictures.net

"Every heart beats true
'Neath the Red, White, and Blue..."
~ lyrics from You're a Grand Old Flag,
written by George M. Cohan, 1906

In just a few days it will be time for those here in the United States to celebrate our country's birthday.  Backyard barbecues, patriotic parades, and fireworks are all great ways to say, "Happy Birthday, America!"  Another way to observe this special holiday is to read about it! :)  Here are a few of the Fourth-related books we've been reading at our house recently:

Apple Pie 4th of July,
written by Janet S. Wong and
illustrated by Margaret Chodos-Irvine, 2002

A Chinese-American girl laments the fact that her parents are keeping their store/restaurant open on  America's birthday.  "No one wants Chinese food on the Fourth of July," she thinks.  In fact, she's dreaming of apple pie.  In the end, she discovers that America truly is a combination of different cultures, including Chinese (they invented fireworks, after all)... and she finally gets a slice of that pie, too.

I liked the way that Wong captures the various emotions of the main character.  I was also delighted by Chodos-Irvine's cheerful illustrations.

***

Happy Birthday, America,
written by Mary Pope Osborne and
illustrated by Peter Catalanotto, 2003

Osborne gives her readers a snapshot of an idyllic Fourth of July celebration in small-town America -- from a pet parade to a dance show to a firefighter water battle to a concert under the stars, complete with fireworks and fireflies.

I especially liked the last few pages of this book, where Osborne's prose seems almost poetic.

***

Happy 4th of July, Jenny Sweeney!,
written by Leslie Kimmelman and
illustrated by Nancy Cote, 2003

With rhyming text and bright pictures depicting a multiculturally diverse community (including a family of brand-new citizens from India), this story follows young Jenny and her dog Rags around their town as everyone gets ready to celebrate the Fourth.

***

A Fourth of July on the Plains,
written by Jean Van Leeuwen and
illustrated by Henri Sorensen, 1997

Based on actual diary accounts and memoirs from people on the Oregon Trail in 1852, this book tells about the holiday celebration of a group of pioneers, through the eyes of Jesse, a lively, creative little boy.  Jesse is too young to go hunting with the men for a 4th of July feast, and can't help the women baking or the older girls sewing a flag.  Eventually, he and his friends come up with their own way to commemorate the day and make it special for everyone.

I appreciated the fact that this story was told from a boy's perspective -- most of the books I've read about this time period were written from a female's viewpoint.  VanLeeuwen does a good job describing life in a wagon train, making readers feel as if they were really there.

***

Summer Beat,
written by Betsy Franco and
illustrated by Charlotte Middleton, 2007

Summer -- particularly the Fourth of July -- is filled with sound, from the shhh shhh of the sprinkler to the sizzle of burgers on the grill to the fwit, fwit of spitting watermelon seeds to the fooooooooosh boom of the fireworks.  This book presents these sounds in a fun, rhyming text as young Em and her friend Joe play through the holiday.

I relished this playful little book, and so did my son, Ben!  It's one that we will read over and over again.

***

America the Beautiful,
written by Katharine Lee Bates and
illustrated by Neil Waldman, 2002

Bates's famous poem (later turned into a song) is paired with Waldman's gorgeous, vibrant paintings of well-known sights around the country, including Niagara Falls, the Grand Canyon, and Mount Rushmore.  This book also contains the music to the America the Beautiful song.  This book is a treat for children and adults alike!

***

I Hear America Singing,
written by Walt Whitman and
illustrated by Robert Sabuda, 1991

Whitman's famous poem from his Leaves of Grass collection (written in the mid-1800's) forms the text for this book, and Sabuda provides rich linoleum-cut illustrations for each line.

***

We Are America: A Tribute From the Heart,
written by Walter Dean Myers and
illustrated by Christopher Myers, 2011

Walter Dean Myers's free verse, his son Christopher's paintings, plus inspirational quotes from Abraham Lincoln, Patrick Henry, Emma Lazarus, and others, combine to create a book celebrating "the freedom dream that is America: our struggles, our ideals, and our hope that we can live up to them".

I enjoyed the stirring poetry and the colorful, detailed artwork in this book.  I think it would be a good resource for teachers to use in their classrooms.

***

Lionel in the Summer,
written by Stephen Krensky and
illustrated by Susanna Natti, 1998

This early reader book provides four short chapters about Lionel, his family, and their summer experiences, including one chapter about the 4th of July.  (The other chapters focus on the first day of summer, running a lemonade stand, and going on a car trip.)  Using typical childhood situations and a dash of humor, Krensky has created an entertaining book for young readers.

***

Independence Day,
written by Nancy I. Sanders,
with photographs by many, 2003

With chapters about the beginnings of our nation, the Revolutionary War, 4th of July celebrations throughout history, and more, this nonfiction book offers quite a bit of interesting information about the USA's Independence Day, using easy-to-understand language for children.  It also contains several large colorful drawings and photographs.

***

Star-Spangled Crafts,
written by Kathy Ross and
illustrated by Sharon Lane Holm, 2003

This book is filled with fun, simple-to-create crafts to make your holiday celebrations even more festive!  The step-by-step instructions are easy to follow, as well.  Some of the craft ideas inside include a popping firecracker puppet (with bubble wrap for sound effects), Betsy Ross's colonial hat, an Uncle Sam tissue box, and a patriotic antenna tassel.

***

If you're looking for a middle grade or young adult selection to read for the Fourth (or for any other time!), try the Seeds of America series, by Laurie Halse Anderson.  I've read the first two books in the series -- Chains (2010) and Forge (2010)-- and am eager to get my hands on a copy of the third book, Ashes (2011).  At our library, these books are shelved in both the middle grade section and the young adult section.  (Personally, I would also put them in the adult section!  I highly recommend them to  historical fiction fans of all ages.)

Chains, 2010
Thirteen-year-old Isabel is a slave, sold (along with her younger sister Ruth) to a well-to-do couple, living in New York, but loyal to King George.  Set against the background of the Revolutionary War and the battle of New York, this is a story about the quest for freedom -- the Patriots' fight for a new land without a king and Isabel's own struggle for independence.

I absolutely loved this book, and could NOT put it down!  I've enjoyed other works I've read by Anderson, but this one is my favorite by far.  Before reading it, I don't think I'd ever heard or thought much about the history of slaves in the 1700's, especially not in the northern colonies.  (Most of the books I've read about slavery took place in the South, around the time of the Civil War.) While I was certainly aware that there were slaves during colonial times, I don't remember reading about it before.  Anderson paints a gripping, poignant picture of this history, blending factual events with Isabel's heartbreaking story.

Forge, 2010
This book is told from the perspective of runaway slave Curzon, Isabel's friend.  (It can be read on its own, but readers will gain more insight into Curzon's and Isabel's struggles if they've read Chains first.) Curzon joins the Patriot Army, making his way to Valley Forge.  There, Curzon battles for America's freedom and his own, while all of the soldiers fight to survive the desperate conditions.

Though I preferred Isabel's story in Chains, Curzon's tale is also captivating.  (And in both, I learned more about the Revolutionary War than I ever did in any history class!) Anderson's writing really brings the bleak situation at Valley Forge -- and that of the slaves -- to life.

***

Have you read any of the books mentioned above?  If so, what did you think of them?  Do you have any other suggestions for good books to read for the Fourth?  I'd love to hear them, if you do!

(Psst... if you haven't read about the Big Blue Birthday Contest yet, please check out this post.  The grand prize drawing will be held tomorrow, so enter now for a chance to win!)

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Something worth reading...

Image courtesy of NYPL Digital Gallery

"It is not enough to simply 
teach children to read; 
we have to give them 
something worth reading. 
Something that will 
stretch their imaginations -- 
something that will help them 
make sense of their own lives 
and encourage them to reach out
 toward people whose lives 
are quite different from their own."

~ Katherine Paterson

It is probably not a surprise that I strongly agree with this quote from author Katherine Paterson.  Yes, it is very important to teach children how to read.  It is equally important to give them things that are worth reading -- to help cultivate a love of reading, to help children learn more about themselves and others, and to open wide that door of imagination.

On a side note, you will notice that I am using an image from the New York Public Library's digital gallery today.  I read about the gallery in a magazine I was flipping through the other day, when my boys were getting their hair cut, and I wrote down the address so I could check it out when I got home. I'm so glad I did!  The NYPL digital gallery provides free access to thousands and thousands of images from their vast collections.  It's an amazing site to look through!  (There's a link to the site in the image caption above, if you're interested.)  Anyway, you'll be seeing more images from their digital gallery here in the future....

(Psst... if you haven't read about the Big Blue Birthday Contest yet, please check out this post.)

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Skulduggery


The word skulduggery [skuhl-duhg-uh-ree], a noun meaning dishonest or deceitful trickery, is a fun one to say.  It makes me think of pirates, probably because "skul" is similar to skull (as in skull and crossbones) and "dug" reminds me of buried treasure.  When I looked the word up on Dictionary.com,  I noticed that skulduggery has several synonyms that are also fun-to-say words, including hanky panky, hocus-pocus, and jiggery-pokery.

"Arrrgh!" growled the raggedy old pirate.  "This is the life--
 ridin' me ship on th' sea, countin' me treasure, 
and plottin' countless acts of skulduggery with me friends!"

The villain in that book commits thievery and various
 other skulduggery before finally having to pay 
for his crimes.

How would you use skulduggery in a sentence?

(Psst... if you haven't read about the Big Blue Birthday Contest yet, please check out this post.)

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

At the Playground

Ben, June 2012

At the Playground

Away down deep and away up high,
a swing drops you into the sky.
Back, it draws you away down deep,
forth, it flings you in a sweep
all the way to the stars and back
-- Goodby, Jill; Goodby, Jack:
shuddering climb wild and steep,
away up high, away down deep.

~ William Stafford

Every time I read this poem, I smile.  I've always loved to swing, and even as an adult, I still can't resist hopping on an empty swing whenever I spy one.  I like how this poem describes the feeling of swinging, "away down deep and away up high". 

When I was little, I would spend all of my recesses on the swings, if I could.  (If there weren't other kids waiting for a turn, that is.)  My friends and I used to walk over to the school playground in the summertime, just so we could swing and swing.  We would try to time it so that we were swinging in unison.  And I especially liked the swings at one park in my hometown -- the top of the swing set was quite tall, with long, long chains coming down to the seat of the swing.  My dad would push me higher and higher, till I felt like I was flying up to the stars, just as Stafford says in his poem.

(Psst... if you haven't read about the Big Blue Birthday Contest yet, please check out this post.)

Monday, June 25, 2012

When fishing was best...

Sea Gull Lake, BWCA, MN, Aug. 2009

An excerpt:

The lake slowed its thrashing to a soft, even beat.  The mosquitoes dipped low to the water and the water bugs skittered on top.  The moon glowed on one side of the lake while the sun shimmered on the other.  This was the time when fishing was best.

~ from I Love You the Purplest
written by Barbara M. Joosse

This passage reminds me of evenings in the Boundary Waters, where our family goes camping (and fishing, too).  I can hear the sound of the water on the rocks.  I can picture the bugs skittering about as the sun shimmers and sets.  I can feel the tug of a fish on my line.  It makes me wish I was there right now.  What books have you read that take you back to a special place as you read them?

(Psst... if you haven't read about the Big Blue Birthday Contest yet, please check out this post.)

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Write as if...

My son Ben loves to dance -- and doesn't
care who's watching!  June 2012

"Just as 
we must dance 
as if no one is watching, 
we must write 
as if no one is reading."

~ Robin LaFevers

I try to remind myself of this quote whenever I'm writing -- I need to write for the pure enjoyment of it, without worrying about what anyone else is going to think of the words I've jotted down.  They are my words, my poems, my stories.  They come from my head, my heart, my experiences.  I write them first and foremost for myself, when the words come bubbling out of my brain, begging to be put down on paper.  Yes, my goal is for them to be read by others someday, and yes, I hope those who read them will like my words.  But when I'm in the process of writing, I need to let the words flow, and write as if no one is reading.

(Psst... if you haven't read about the Big Blue Birthday Contest yet, please check out this post.)

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Polliwogs


Pond at Reiman Gardens, Ames, IA, May 2008


Polliwogs

   Come see
   What I found:
   Chubby commas,
   Mouths round,
   Plump babies,
   Stubby as toes.
   Polliwogs!
   Tadpoles!

    Come see
   What I found!
   Frogs-in-waiting
   Huddled in puddles,
   Snuggled in mud. 

~ Kristine O'Connell George

This is such a fun poem!  Polliwogs (or tadpoles, as I usually call them) really do look like chubby commas.  And I love how Kristine O'Connell George calls them "frogs-in-waiting", because, of course, that's what they are.  The picture above isn't the best, I know, but I remember how delighted everyone in our family was when we first spotted the pond full of polliwogs!  There were hundreds of them, wiggling around and snuggling in the mud.  There are so many wonderful and amazing things in the world around us, so many poem and story ideas just waiting for someone to take notice.  What have you seen recently that could be turned into a poem or a story?

(Psst... if you haven't read about the Big Blue Birthday Contest yet, please check out this post.)

Friday, June 22, 2012

This week's winner...

Drumroll please...  The winner of today's Big Blue Birthday Contest Friday Drawing is Tara W.!  Yay!  Congratulations, Tara!  I already have your address, so will be sending your prize out soon.

The video of the drawing can be seen on the Blue Sky, Big Dreams Blog Facebook page.

By the way, if you're reading this and you don't know what the Big Blue Birthday Contest is, you can find out all the information and details on how to enter here.

Boredom Busters

Photo courtesy of PublicDomainPictures.net

Personally, I could read and write all day long -- and never get bored -- but I know some kids and adults like to take a break from reading and writing once in awhile. :)  If you're looking for something fun to do this summer, maybe when it's raining or it's just too hot to play outside,  I listed several word-related games that our family enjoys on a previous post (here), and thought I'd share a few more of them today:

Scrabble Crossword Cubes Game...
Listed for ages 10 and up, this game can be played as solitaire or competitively, by any number of players.  It doesn't look like Crossword Cubes Game is still manufactured or sold in stores, but I checked, and it can be found for sale online.  (I picked up our well-worn game box at a garage sale one time.)

Consisting of 14 cubes (with a letter on each side), a cup, and a timer, this game is simple -- shake the cubes in the cup, toss, then form words with the letters on top of the cubes before the time is up, across and down, crossword-style.  Each letter used has a score; just add them up to see who wins the round!


Bananagrams...
Two to seven players (ages 7 and up) can play this game.  (There is also a single player version.)  Drawing from 144 letter tiles, players make their own connecting and intersecting words until all the tiles have been used.  Players do not take turns, but play independently and at the same time.  Words can be rearranged as desired.  There are other rules as well (specific times to call out "Split!" or "Peel!", among other things), but this is the basic game, in a nutshell (er... banana peel).


Rory's Story Cubes...
Our family received this game just a few months ago, and I took the photo above the day we got it.  It has since been opened and played many times! :)  For one or more players, this game is listed for ages 8 and above -- but my 6-year-old loves to play it as well.  According to the creators, Rory's Story Cubes consists of "9 cubes, 54 images, 10 million combinations, and unlimited stories."  Just roll the dice, then use the images to inspire a creative story, either told individually or through group effort.  There are no winners or losers in this game, just lots of imagination and fun!


Mad Libs...
Mad Libs are tablets of short stories, with key words replaced by blanks (and a label telling what kind of word should go there: adjective, noun, exclamation, verb, etc.)  There are many different versions available, including Christmas Mad Libs, Vacation Mad Libs, Star Wars Mad Libs, and Sports Mad Libs... just to name a few!

To play a game, one person looks through the tablet, picks a story, then tells the other players what kinds of words are needed for the blanks, writing each one down in its spot. Any number of people can play, of any age (though younger kids may need explanations about the various parts of speech). When the story is completely filled in, the writer reads the story aloud.  Generally, lots and lots of laughter will ensue! :)

My friends and I used to play Mad Libs in elementary school, especially when it was raining or really cold outside and we had recess indoors.  This is also a perfect game for the car -- we take at least one tablet along on all of our family trips!  You can also play online at the website, It's a Mad Libs World!


The creators of Mad Libs also made this:
Mad Libs Card Game...
This card game is for two to six players, ages 8 and up.  Players draw 10 cards, each with a word on it, either a noun, a verb, an adjective, an adverb, or a "wild card".  Players then use their cards and try to create grammatically correct (though probably silly!) sentences.


If you want to play a game, but don't have anyone else around to play with, some of the games above do have solitaire versions.  There are also many books with one-player word games inside them.  I checked these two middle-grade books out from the library, and there was a whole shelf of others besides (as well as word game books for young adult and adult readers):

Word Teasers
written by Dympna Hayes and Melanie Lehmann 
and illustrated by Jeff Dickson, Shane Doyle, 
and Jodi Shuster, 1987

This book is filled with a wide variety of games and activities -- words to unscramble, finding the word that doesn't belong in a list of words, secret codes to solve, silly riddles, and tongue twisters.


Too Hot to Hoot:
Funny Palindrome Riddles,
written by Marvin Terban 
and illustrated by Giulio Maestro, 1985

If you are amused by palindromes and other word play, this book is for you!  It is filled with palindrome riddles (starting out easy, but then getting longer and harder), phrases, sentences, and even palindromic numbers.  In one section of the book, Terban also explains the stories behind three famous palindromes.

You may recall that I issued myself a challenge at the beginning of the month, to write at least one new poem each day in June.  I've met my goal so far -- yay!  One of the poems I wrote earlier this week was about playing a board game; I thought it would be appropriate to share it here:

Fun and Games

You say you’re bored?
Let’s play a game!
Entertainment:
Our goal and aim.

Pick one from the
Game closet there –
I like them all
So I don’t care

Which one we play.
Oh, that one’s good!
Lay the board flat,
Please, if you would.

Choose your marker;
I’ll take this one.
You can go first.
Let's have some fun!

Taking turns now,
Spin the spinner.
Move the pieces –
Who’s the winner?

Now all around
The board we’ve been.
Our game’s over –
Let’s play again!

~ Janelle H.



What are your favorite word-related games?  I'm always looking for new games to add to our family's collection, and would love to hear suggestions!

(Psst... if you haven't read about the Big Blue Birthday Contest yet, please check out this post.)

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Powers inside of you...


Photo courtesy of PublicDomainPictures.net


"There are powers inside of you that, 
if you could discover and use them, 
would make of you everything 
you ever dreamed or imagined 
you could become."

~ Orison Swett Marden 

This quote reminds me that I can be whatever and whomever I want, I just have to keep looking for those powers inside myself and then use those gifts to help make my dreams come true.  Among other things, I want to be a published author.  What big dreams do you have?

(Psst... if you haven't read about the Big Blue Birthday Contest yet, please check out this post.)

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Lazy Hazy Summer Day

Photo courtesy of PublicDomainPictures.net

In honor of the first day of summer, 
a poem from my friend, Thena:

Lazy Hazy Summer Day

Lazy, hazy summer day
Come and take my cares away
I'm tired of work
And want to play!
Summer breezes and summer fun
Summer clothes and summer shoes
Farewell blahs and winter blues!
Summer, hurry and come to stay...
Oh how I love a summer day
Lazy, hazy summer day!

~ Thena Smith, 
Where is Thena?  I Need a Poem About...


Hooray for summer!  Hooray for lazy days, floating in the pool... for vacations... for camping trips... for days on the beach -- reading books on a towel in the warm sand, collecting pebbles and shells, building sand castles, and romping in the waves... for nature hikes... for homemade ice cream... for cookouts and picnics... and so much more!  What do you like best about summertime?

(Psst... if you haven't read about the Big Blue Birthday Contest yet, please check out this post.)

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Portmanteau


About a month ago, I came across the term "portmanteau", in reference to a word.  I wasn't sure what it meant, so I looked it up on Dictionary.com.  A portmanteau [pawrt-man-toh] word is one that is "composed of parts of two or more words, such as 'chortle'  from chuckle and snort and 'motel' from motor and hotel.  The term was first used by Lewis Carroll to describe many of the unusual words in his Through the Looking-Glass (1871), particularly in the poem Jabberwocky."


'Twas brillig and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

~ from Jabberwocky, by Lewis Carroll*


Not long after learning the word I noticed it again, this time on a friend's blog.  She was talking about a room in her house that is a portmanteau, meaning that the room has more than one use.  We have one of those in our own house, and we actually use a portmanteau word for the room when talking about it.  (I guess I was using portmanteaus before I even knew what they were!)  Our room holds my scrapbooking desk and supplies on one side and another desk with the family computer, scanner, and printer on the other.  For years now, we've referred to it as the scraputer room.  (scrapbook + computer = scraputer)

I decided to try making up a few more portmanteau words.  Here's what I came up with:


skip + jump = skump

The little girl went skumping down the sidewalk, 
her pigtails bouncing in rhythm.

mumble + whisper = mumper

The elderly man spoke in a mumper 
and I could barely hear his words.

orange + yellow = oralow

We drove past a parking lot filled with 
oralow school buses and I was reminded of fall.

Have you ever made up your own portmanteau word?  If not, give it a try!  It's fun! :)


*Note: To watch an entertaining recitation of Jabberwocky, check out this one from author and editor Renee LaTulippe on her blog, No Water River: The Picture Book and Poetry Place.  (You will find many videos of other poem recitations, by LaTulippe and several other poets, on her blog as well.  I highly recommend taking a look!)  And then there's my favorite rendition of the famous poem -- performed by the Muppets -- seen here on YouTube.

(Psst... if you haven't read about the Big Blue Birthday Contest yet, please check out this post.)

Monday, June 18, 2012

In early summer...

Photo courtesy of PublicDomainPictures.net

An excerpt:

     In early summer the trees stood still under the blue sky, held their limbs outstretched and received the direct rays of the sun.  On the shrubs and bushes in the undergrowth, the flowers unfolded their red, white, and yellow stars.  On some the seed pods had begun to appear again.  They perched innumerable on the fine tips of the branches, tender and firm and resolute, and seemed like small, clenched fists.  Out of the earth came whole troops of flowers, like motley stars, so that the soil of the twilit forest floor shone with a silent, ardent, colorful gladness.  Everything smelled of fresh leaves, of blossoms, of moist clods and green wood.  When morning broke, or when the sun went down, the whole woods resounded with a thousand voices, and from morning till night, the bees hummed, the wasps droned, and filled the fragrant stillness with their murmur.

~ from Bambi
written by Felix Salten

As the daughter of a forestry professor, I've spent a lot of time in the woods over the years.  I appreciate how, in just one paragraph, Salten describes the sights, sounds, and smells of the forest in early summer so well that I feel like I'm standing there, experiencing it all in person.

(Psst... if you haven't read about the Big Blue Birthday Contest yet, please check out this post.)

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Happy Birthday!

Photo courtesy of PublicDomainPictures.net

All month long we've been celebrating this blog's 1st birthday, but today is its actual birthday! In honor of that, I decided to have a special prize drawing this morning. Ben drew a name out of all our contest entries -- see the video here, on the Blue Sky, Big Dreams Blog Facebook page.  Congratulations to our winner, Tracy D. W.! (I already have your address, so will put your prize in the mail tomorrow.)

By the way, if you're reading this and you don't know what the Big Blue Birthday Contest is, you can find out all the information and details on how to enter here.

Quite a Hero

Me and my daddy, circa 1971

Quite a Hero

My Hero is the quiet type,
No marching bands, no media hype,
But through my eyes it's plain to see,
A hero, God has sent to me.

With gentle strength and quiet pride,
All self concern is set aside,
To reach out to our fellow man,
And be there with a helping hand.

Heroes are a rarity,
With all they give and all they do,
I'll bet the thing you never knew,
My quiet hero has always been you.

~ Author Unknown

I don't know if this poem was originally written about the author's father, but when I read it, I think of my dad.  I've always felt extremely fortunate to have such a special, wonderful man for my dad.  He is my hero, the one I've always looked up to and tried to emulate.  Wishing him and all the fathers out there a very happy Father's Day!

(Psst... if you haven't read about the Big Blue Birthday Contest yet, please check out this post.)

Saturday, June 16, 2012

The New Moon


Photo courtesy of Public-Domain-Image.com


The New Moon

Hold on to me.
We will slip carefully carefully
don't tip it over
into this canoe
pale as birch bark

and with the stars
over our shoulders
paddle
down the dark river
of the sky.

Do not delay.
By next week
the canoe will be bulging with cargo,
there will be no room
inside for us.

Tonight is the time.
Step carefully.
Hold on to me.

~ Eve Merriam

The first time I read this poem, the words "canoe" and "paddle" jumped right out at me.  Paddling a canoe is one of my very favorite things in the world to do.  I guess that's why Merriam's metaphor of the new moon as a pale canoe speaks to me.  I love imagining that I'm stepping carefully into that glowing birch bark, then paddling across the dark sky river.

(Psst... if you haven't read about the Big Blue Birthday Contest yet, please check out this post.)

Friday, June 15, 2012

Another Winner!

My family and I are currently on vacation, but I brought all the contest entries along with us. This morning in our hotel room, Ben drew a winner for our 2nd Big Blue Birthday Contest Friday Drawing.  (You can watch the video on the Blue Sky, Big Dreams Blog Facebook page.) Congratulations to Abby S.! (If you leave a comment with your address, I will get it in my email, but I won't publish it, and your address will stay private.) I did take video of the drawing, but will have to wait till later to post it. Congratulations, again, Abby!

By the way, if you're reading this and you don't know what the Big Blue Birthday Contest is, you can find out all the information and details on how to enter here.

Celebrating Dads


Photo courtesy of
PublicDomainPictures.net

"A father is neither an anchor 
To hold us back 
Nor a sail to take us there 
But a guiding light 
Whose love shows us the way." 

~ Author Unknown

Father's Day is coming up this Sunday, and I wanted to celebrate by sharing some books about dads.  I had some difficulty coming up with new titles of stories that have positive father figures in them, however.  Sure, there's Pa in the Little House books, and Mr. Murray in A Wrinkle in Time and the Time Quintet, John Arable in Charlotte's Web, and Big Nutbrown Hare in Guess How Much I Love You... but I've already shared those books in other posts.

After some searching at the library, I managed to find several picture books about dads, all of which I'd never read before.  Below are the ones I liked the best:

Higher!  Higher!,
written and illustrated by Leslie Patricelli, 2009

Using only a few words and her vivid, expressive illustrations, Patricelli paints a whimsical portrait of a little girl on a swing and her obliging father.

Just like the girl in this book, I used to spend a lot of time on swings, asking my daddy to push me higher! higher!  Even though the father in the story doesn’t have any lines, you can tell from the pictures that he’s enjoying spending time with his daughter.

***

My Daddy and Me,
written by Jerry Spinelli
and illustrated by Seymour  Chwast, 2003

This is a simple, heart-warming story about a pup and his dad, and all the different things they do together -- make cookies, wrestle, plant tomatoes, and more.

I really liked this sweet story. I thought the illustrations were cute, though I would’ve preferred human characters for this one.  (The text itself doesn’t have anything to do with dogs, just a boy and his father.  In my opinion, the book would have even more of an impact if it featured pictures of a human boy and his loving dad.)

***

Daddy Is a Doodlebug,
written and illustrated by Bruce Degen, 2000

A story about a bug and his dad, this fun book is filled with clever wordplay and visual humor.  Degen entertains readers with his rhyming text, new words he’s created -- like “potoodle chips” and “canoedlebugs” -- and visual puns, like ant lions and rhinoceros beetles in the zoo that father and son visit.

When I spotted this book in the library last week, and saw that it was from the same author-illustrator who made Jamberry (reviewed here), I knew I had to bring it home.  I wasn’t a bit disappointed with it, either; I was delighted!  In addition to the features mentioned above, this story also showcases the special connection between parent and child.

***

Dad's Bald Head,
written by Paul Many
and illustrated by Kevin O'Malley, 2007

Pete likes watching his father shave every morning, and imitating him by putting shaving cream on his own face.  Then one day, Dad unexpectedly shaves off not only his beard, but the sparse hair on the top of his head as well.  At first, Pete’s not too sure about his father’s change in appearance, but in the end, he decides Dad should keep it.

This is an amusing book that deals with hair loss in a light-hearted way.

***

Owl Moon,
written by Jane Yolen
and illustrated by John Schoenherr, 1987

This book, which won the 1988 Caldecott Medal, tells of a father who takes his child out in the woods one winter night, hoping to spy an owl.  

Filled with wonder and Yolen’s poetic story-telling, this book reminds me of excursions I’ve been on with my own dad.  (We’ve never been owling, however.)  I enjoyed the language of the book as well as the crisp pictures -- both made me feel like I was there in the woods, too.

***

The Best Father's Day Present Ever,
written by Christine Loomis
and illustrated by Pam Paparone, 2007

Langley Snail wants to give his dad something special for Father’s Day, but he’s not very crafty, and the store where he planned to buy a gift is closed.  On the way home he comes up with an idea, and it turns out to be the best gift ever.

I liked the light humor of the story, and also the message that kids (and grownups!) can give very meaningful gifts, even without money or great skill.

***

How Many Stars in the Sky?,
written by Lenny Hort
and illustrated by James E. Ransome, 1991

A young boy is missing his mother (she's away on a trip), and he can’t sleep.  He tries to count the stars in the sky, and heads outside for a better look.  His father joins him, and they go for a ride, first to the city and then into the country, searching for a good place to count the stars.  Finally, exhausted, they sleep under the stars in the back of the pick-up truck.

This book, with its lyrical text and rich paintings, conveys a strong sense of family.  The story reminded me of going out in the wee hours of the night with my dad back in 1986, hoping to see Halley’s Comet.  (Unfortunately, we had about as much luck as the characters in this story do in their quest to count all the stars.)

***

Tell Me One Thing, Dad,
written by Tom Pow
and illustrated by Ian Andrew, 

It’s Molly’s bedtime, but she’s not sleepy.  Instead, she asks her father questions like: What’s the most important thing you know about a polar bear?  Dad knows all kinds of things about each animal she lists, but the most important is always the same, it loves its babies.  When Dad asks Molly what important thing she knows about him, Molly knows that he loves his baby, too!

This is an endearing story with fanciful artwork!  I can imagine that children would ask to hear this one over and over again.

***

When trying to think of books featuring dads, I did remember the following middle-grade story from my childhood.  I found my old copy of it and reread it this week:

The Mouse and His Child,

written by Russell Hoban
and illustrated by Lillian Hoban, 1967
This story, considered by many to be one of the great works of children's literature of the 20th century, features toy wind-up mice, father and son, on a quest to become self-winding.  The pair also seek a home of their own and a family to share it with.  Pursued by the evil Manny Rat, their journey takes them from the toy shop to the dump to the swamp, and back again.

I remember really liking this book as a child (I was probably ten or eleven when I first read it), and I appreciated Hoban's magical story-telling even more as an adult.  Much of the book has a dark undertone, but there's also plenty of humor, as well as a sense of hope and perseverance throughout.

***

Last but definitely not least is this young adult/adult novel, a classic that is often required reading in schools, and one of my favorite books of all time:

To Kill a Mockingbird,
written by Harper Lee, 1960
This Pulitzer Prize-winning novel is told by Scout, the young daughter of lawyer Atticus Finch.  When Atticus must defend a black man accused of raping a white girl, Scout and her brother Jem learn all about prejudice and justice.  The trust that Scout and Jem have in their father is evident throughout, as is his immense love for his children.

I first read this book when it was assigned for a literature class in high school.  (We also watched the 1962 To Kill a Mockingbird movie, which I highly recommend, as well.)  I've read it many, many times since.  Beautifully written, this is an important book that I feel every young adult should read.  (Every adult, too!)  My daughter Emmalie read it for a class in middle school, and she loved it as much as I do.


Have you read any of the books shown above?  If so, what did you think of them?  Do you have any other suggestions for stories featuring positive father figure characters?

(Psst... if you haven't read about the Big Blue Birthday Contest yet, please check out this post.)