A blog for kids (and their parents) who love books, words, and dreaming big...
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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Marked by magic...

Image courtesy of Clkr.com

"I think the best poems 
are marked by magic; 
they grow through a kind of wizardry 
which even the greatest poets 
cannot completely understand, 
let alone explain.  
I'm not talking about 
the mere tricks of a magician here.  
This is real sorcery.  
There's an element of miracle involved." 

~ Robert Currie, 
in The Place My Words are Looking For

I agree with Currie -- the best poems are magical. When I read them, they often give me goosebumps and always touch my heart. They "put me under a spell" and stick with me long after I've read them....

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Snow Fence

Photo courtesy of PublicDomainPictures.net

Snow Fence

The red fence
takes the cold trail
north; no meat
on its ribs,
but neither has it
much to carry.

~ Ted Kooser

It seems a little strange to be posting this poem on a day when it is 60 degrees outside.  I guess you could say it's wishful thinking -- I am still hoping we get some real snow around here this winter!  I love the image painted by this poem, and I'm guessing I will see skinny ribs whenever I look at a fence from now on....

Sunday, January 27, 2013

In the bleak midwinter...

Photo courtesy of PublicDomainPictures.net

An excerpt:

In the bleak midwinter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter,
Long ago.

~ from In The Bleak Midwinter,
written by Christina Rossetti

I love the images (cold and bleak, though they are) that Rossetti paints with her words.  This poem, written in the 1870's, was set to music about thirty years later; it became a beautiful and beloved Christmas carol.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Time to grow...

Photo courtesy of PublicDomainPictures.net

"Ideas are living things--
have respect for them 
and give them time to grow. 
Let them lead you."

~ Elise Primavera

I think this is good advice for writing.  It certainly helps me when I let my own ideas grow and lead me into (and through) a story....

Friday, January 25, 2013


Photo courtesy of PublicDomainPictures.net



~ Bob Raczka, 
from Lemonade and Other Poems 
Squeezed from a Single Word

In his book, Raczka creates poems from a single word.  He rearranges the letters in that word to make new words, and then uses only those words for his poem.  I really enjoyed his poems, and this was one of my favorites.  I, too, crave art and I like being creative.  While I'm not the best painter in the world, I do think painting is fun, and I enjoy expressing myself through many other art forms, too -- writing (of course!), scrapbooking, photography, and more. How do you like to express yourself?

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Undiscovered lands...

Image courtesy of NYPL Digital Gallery

"How my life 
has been brought to 
undiscovered lands, 
and how much richer it gets - 
all from words 
printed on a page.... 
How a book 
can have 560 pages,
 but in only three pages
 change the reader's life." 

~ Emoke B'Racz

I don't think I could even begin to count all of the undiscovered lands and riches that books have brought to my life.  A book can make all the difference in the world....

Wednesday, January 23, 2013


This week's word is mesmerize [mez-muh-rahyz], a verb that means "to hypnotize; spellbind or fascinate".  It's a fun word to say, with all those "m" and "z" sounds, and I like its meaning, as well.  Here are a few sentences I came up with, using the word and various forms of it:

My favorite authors 
mesmerize me with their words.

When she finally got her first glimpse 
of Niagara Falls, her jaw dropped.  
She stood staring at it, 
mesmerized by the power 
and the majesty of that endless water.

This music is mesmerizing; 
I keep listening to it over and over again.

How would you use the word mesmerize?  What words do you like to say or hear?

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The window panes were covered with frost...

Photo courtesy of PublicDomainPictures.net

An excerpt:

     The snow kept coming till it was drifted and banked against the house.  In the mornings the window panes were covered with frost in beautiful pictures of trees and flowers and fairies.

     Ma said that Jack Frost came in the night and made the pictures, while everyone was asleep. Laura thought that Jack Frost was a little man all snowy white, wearing a glittering white pointed cap and soft white knee-boots made of deer-skin.  His coat was white and his mittens were white, and he did not carry a gun on his back, but in his hands he had shining sharp tools with which he carved the pictures.

~ from Little House in the Big Woods,
written by Laura Ingalls Wilder

One of the things I remember clearly from my own childhood is searching for new pictures from Jack Frost every winter morning.  We lived in an older house, and many of our windows would be covered in frost around the edges on cold, cold mornings.  The image of Jack Frost in my head was similar to that of Laura's above.  I was always impressed by his beautiful artistry!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

Photo courtesy of Wiki Commons

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

A single
And justice

~ J. Patrick Lewis, 
from Countdown to Summer: 
A Poem for Every Day of the School Year

I love this powerful acrostic poem by Lewis.  Notice how the first letter of each word spells out Dr. King's famous line, "I have a dream...."  Things have changed in our society since he gave that speech, but equality and justice still matter, and we still need to work to bring both of them to our world.


I would also like to share this book that I noticed on our library's display table the other day:

Martin's Big Words:
The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,
written by Doreen Rappaport
and illustrated by Bryan Collier, 2001

This biographical picture book introduces Dr. King to young children, telling of his life and his dream for our nation and world.  Rappaport weaves quotes ("big words") from Dr. King's speeches and writings into her text while Collier uses collage to create his striking illustrations.  Whether used in a classroom or at home, this book is a great tool to help teach kids about this important, influential man.

Wishing you all a happy, peaceful MLK Day!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

A Passion for Penguins

Just a few of my stuffed penguins, Jan. 2013

At last, that special day we've all been waiting for is finally here, the day we celebrate those amazing (and dapper!) flightless birds that everyone loves -- hooray for Penguin Awareness Day!

(Okay, so maybe you didn't have this day marked on your calendar.  Maybe you didn't have a penguin party planned. Maybe you've never even heard of Penguin Awareness Day. That's all right.  I've got enough penguin passion for the both of us, and I'm perfectly happy to share....)

I mentioned my penguin obsession last year and posted a few penguin-related books for you then.  Today I'm back with even more picture books, fiction and nonfiction... and all about penguins. :)

First, some fiction:

Tony Baloney,
written by Pam Munoz Ryan
and illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham, 2011

"Tony Baloney is a macaroni... penguin."  So begins this wacky little story about Tony, the middle child in his penguin family.  Tony's big sister bosses him around and his two baby sisters are bothersome.  Luckily, his stuffed toy Dandelion is a loyal friend he can count on.

This isn't really a penguin story -- Tony could be a tiger or a bunny or a little boy and the story would remain the same -- but the pictures of this penguin family are so cheerful and silly, they just make me grin from ear to ear.  I love the story, too.  I think it will resonate with children -- especially middle children -- everywhere.


If You Were a Penguin,
written by Florence Minor
and illustrated by Wendell Minor, 2009

What kinds of things would you do if you were a penguin? This book will tell you!  Minor offers several fun facts about penguins, using light verse.  A page at the end provides more in-depth information and also a guide to various kinds of penguins.

I love the artwork in this book and all the rhymes.  It's a great read-aloud book for little ones.


written and illustrated by Polly Dunbar, 2007

Ben opens a gift and finds a penguin inside.  He talks to it, but Penguin says nothing.  Ben tries everything -- dancing, singing, tickling, and more -- but Penguin remains silent. What will it take to get Penguin to talk?

This is a cute story with bright, expressive illustrations.  My own Ben liked this offbeat tale just as much as I did.


One Cool Friend,
written by Tony Buzzeo
and illustrated by David Small, 2012

Elliot doesn't seem too thrilled about heading to the aquarium with his father, but he politely goes along.  Once there, however, he is captivated by the Magellanic penguins -- Elliot even sneaks one home with him.  Elliot and the penguin have a grand time together.  (Elliot's father, on the other hand, doesn't even seem to notice the messes they make or the new family member.) A surprise ending will leave readers laughing... and wanting to read the story over again!

Ben and I both got a big kick out of this book.  We loved the entertaining story and the whimsical pictures.


365 Penguins,
written by Jean-Luc Fromental
and illustrated by Joelle Jolivet, 2006

I wrote about this fun "math with penguins" book in a previous post.


My Penguin Osbert,
written by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel
and illustrated by H. B. Lewis, 2004

File this one under "be careful what you wish for".  Joe writes a letter to Santa Claus every year, telling him what he'd like for Christmas, but there have been a few misunderstandings. For example, when Joe asked for a racecar, Santa did give him one -- but it was only 3 inches long, not one Joe could actually drive.  This year, Joe has been very specific in his letter.  He wants a real penguin from Antarctica.  

Santa grants Joe's wish, and Joe loves his new penguin Osbert... but he might be just a bit harder to care for than Joe expected.  In the end, Joe decides that maybe his friend would be happier living in the zoo's Antarctic World exhibit.

Ben and I loved the tongue-in-cheek humor of this story, and the illustrations made us giggle.


My Penguin Osbert in Love,
written by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel
and illustrated by H. B. "Buck" Lewis, 2009

In this sequel to the book above, Osbert and several of his friends from the zoo come to visit Joe at his house.  They show Joe an invitation they've received to a South Pole Extravaganza, hoping he can help them get there.  Luckily, Joe has a helicopter (from Santa, of course).  He flies the birds to the South Pole, which takes a little longer than he'd expected.  After they finally arrive, Osbert meets a female penguin and falls in love.  Joe needs to get back home, but what will he do about Osbert?

While I liked the first Osbert book better, this one is also a funny, charming story.


For those who enjoy nonfiction, I recommend the following books:

The Emperor Lays an Egg,
written by Brenda Z. Guiberson
and illustrated by Joan Paley, 2001

Following a family of emperor penguins through an entire year, this book offers quite a bit of information about these birds' life cycle in just a few pages.  

Guiberson writes in a way that will hold a young reader's interest, and her text is complemented by Paley's beautiful collage artwork.


Penguin Chick,
written by Betty Tatham
and illustrated by Helen K. Davie, 2002

This book also describes the amazing life cycle of the emperor penguin.  (At the end, it provides a few facts about other penguins, as well.)

Tatham shares many interesting emperor penguin facts, and Davie's realistic illustrations show off the beauty of these creatures.


Born to be Wild:
Little Penguins,
written by Anne Jonas,
with photographs by many, 2006

This book, geared more for middle grade readers, supplies many basic facts about penguins (mostly emperor penguins, once again).  It poses several questions for the reader to think about, with the answers given on the following page.

My favorite part of this book is all the photographs of the adorable chicks and their majestic parents.


Are you passionate about penguins, too?  I'd love to hear what you think of the books in this post, and I'm always looking for new penguin books to read.  What are some of your favorites?

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Emperor Penguins

Photo courtesy of Free-Desktop-Backgrounds.net

Emperor Penguins 

Huddled close together
Against the snow and sleet,
Penguins at the pole
Pool their body heat.

They gather in a circle,
Steadfast, disciplined,
Turning toward the center,
Fighting off the wind.

Sharing warmth and comfort
On cold and icy floes,
Balancing their future
Gently, on their toes.

~ Barry Louis Polisar

I like how Polisar uses rhymes to share facts in this penguin poem.  And that last stanza makes me smile. :)

Friday, January 18, 2013

It was a penguin.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.com

An excerpt:

     There was not the slightest doubt about it. It was a penguin.

     Mr. Popper was speechless with delight.

     But the penguin was not speechless. "Ork," it said again, and this time it held out its flippers and jumped over the packing debris.

     It was a stout little fellow about two and a half feet high. Although it was the size of a small child, it looked much more like a little gentleman, with its smooth white waistcoat in front and its long black tailcoat dragging a little behind. Its eyes were set in two white circles in its black head. It turned its head from one side to the other, as first with one eye and then with the other, it examined Mr. Popper.

~ from Mr. Popper's Penguins,
written by Richard and Florence Atwater

I love this description of the penguin. It makes me wish I had one of my own.... :)

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Never too old...

Photo courtesy of PublicDomainPictures.net

"You are never too old 
to set another goal 
or dream another dream."

~ C. S. Lewis

Keep on dreaming... and keep on working to make those dreams come true!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013


The word for this week is wordsmith [wurd-smith], a noun that can mean either "an expert in the use of words" or "a person (journalist, novelist, etc.) whose vocation is writing". I don't think I'd ever heard the word until maybe two years ago or so... and now I hear (and see) it all the time. I like the word. It reminds me of "blacksmith" -- I picture someone forging several glowing words together,  creating a shiny new story or poem.

I loved listening to the professor, 
a brilliant wordsmith whose entertaining lectures 
always attracted crowds of students.

I would love to be a real wordsmith 
some day, getting paid to write.

After reading a selection 
of her cleverly crafted poetry, 
I knew she was worthy of the title "wordsmith".

Do you know any wordsmiths?  Would you like to be one?

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Snowy Benches

Photo courtesy of PublicDomainPictures.net

Snowy Benches

Do parks get lonely
in winter, perhaps,
when benches have only
snow on their laps?

~ Aileen Fisher

I'd never thought about it before, but I bet parks do get lonely!

Monday, January 14, 2013

Books for People Who Love Stories, Writing, and Words

Photo courtesy of PublicDomainPictures.net

In case you hadn't noticed, I love books. :)  I love to read them and I love to write them.  Since you're here, on a blog about books, writing, and words, I'm going to guess that you love them, too.  If you do, this post should be right up your alley!  Recently I've read several books about the writing and reading of words.  Today I want to share the ones I liked best with you.

For starters, a few picture books:

Miss Brooks Loves Books!
(and I don't),
written by Barbara Bottner
and illustrated by Michael Emberley, 2010

Miss Brooks is a creative, enthusiastic librarian who loves to dress up in costumes that reflect the books she reads aloud to students.  One little girl in the group thinks she doesn't like books.  They are either "too flowery" or "too furry" or "too pink".  Miss Brooks, however, is determined to find a book that will win over the little girl's heart.  She finally succeeds with a book about a smelly ogre, Shrek. :)

Both the story and the pictures kept my seven-year-old Ben and I laughing throughout!


Max's Words,
written by Kate Banks
and illustrated by Boris Kulikov, 2006

Max's big brother Benjamin collects stamps.  His big brother Karl collects coins.  Neither one will share with Max. Then Max decides to collect words.  A thousand stamps is just a bunch of stamps.  Five hundred coins is just a pile of money. But a collection of words can become a story!  Max has such fun creating with his words that his brothers want to join in, too....

I fell in love with this book when I brought it home from the library.  It is now on my "to buy" list.  I love the clever story by Banks and also Kulikov's rich, imaginative illustrations. This book helps teach kids just how wonderful words can be.


Clever Jack Takes the Cake,
written by Candace Fleming
and illustrated by G. Brian Karas, 2010

Jack, a poor peasant boy, accidentally receives an invitation to the princess's tenth birthday party.  With no money for a gift, he decides to bake her a cake.  On the way to the party, the cake is ruined by a flock of crows, a troll, a spooky forest, and more, leaving Jack with nothing by the time he reaches the castle.  Nothing but a story of his adventure to tell, that is.  This gift is much more interesting than any of the boring gems and other items brought by the richer guests, earning Jack the honor of cutting the royal cake.

Ben and I really enjoyed this book.  As we read it, Ben became more and more concerned for Jack, wondering what he was going to do now that his cake gift was ruined.  He actually clapped when we got to the part about Jack's gift of a story!


A Book,
written and illustrated by Mordicai Gerstein, 2009

This unique story is about a family of characters who live in a book.  (When the book is open, it is their daytime.  When it's closed, they sleep.)  The family members all have stories they belong to (fighting fires, clowning around at a circus, exploring space) -- all except for the youngest, a little girl who sets out to find her story. As she travels through different stories, she realizes that what she really wants to do is write her own story.

Gerstein's illustrations offer an unusual perspective, looking down on the family in the book.  Characters help tell the tale through their speech bubbles.  This is a fun book that even my teens enjoyed reading.


Poetry for middle grade readers:

Please Bury Me in the Library,
written by J. Patrick Lewis
and illustrated by Kyle M. Stone, 1980

Sixteen poems (many of them humorous) make up this book, each one celebrating libraries, books, or language.  I enjoyed all of the poems (and the pictures, too), but my favorite is the title poem.


Poems About Books,
written by Laura Purdie Salas
and illustrated by Josee Bisaillon, 2011

This book is a collection of 21 wonderful poems and whimsical artwork, all about books.  Poems include "A Character Pleads for His Life", "On the Shelf and Under the Bed", "Book Plate", and "The End".

I've gotten to know author Laura Purdie Salas a little bit through her blog over the past few months.  (I highly recommend checking it out, especially on Thursdays when she and her readers -- including me! -- share poems that are 15 words or less.)  I had heard about this book there, and I'd seen many positive reviews of it.  My library does not yet carry the book, however.  In the end, I decided to buy my own copy. I'm so glad I did. I absolutely love this delightful book! (Later on, I even bought a second copy and gave it to Ben's teacher, to use in her classroom.)  This is my favorite of all the books in this post.


Middle grade fiction:

written by Andrew Clements
and illustrated by Brian Selznick, 1996
I wrote about this entertaining book in a previous post.


A Beginning, a Muddle, and an End:
The Right Way to Write Writing,
written by Avi
and illustrated by Tricia Tusa, 2008
Avon the snail wants to be a writer and his friend Edward the ant wants to help him.  This silly book is jam-packed with puns and other wordplay, with some seriously good advice thrown in, as well.  As one reviewer on Amazon said, much of the dialogue is reminiscent of Abbott and Costello's "Who's on First?" routine.  I ended up reading this short story twice, and giggled throughout both times!


Middle grade nonfiction:

Eats, Shoots & Leaves:
Why, Commas Really Do Make a Difference!,
written by Lynne Truss
and illustrated by Bonnie Timmons, 2006

This droll picture book version of Truss's adult bestseller illustrates just how commas can change a sentence. Each two-page spread shows two vastly distinct sentences that use the exact same wording -- only the comma placement is different.

Ben, a first grader, hasn't learned too much about commas yet, but he got quite a kick out of this book! (I did, too!) It also helped him start to understand how to use commas in his writing.


Last, but not least, a nonfiction book for young adults:

How Writers Work:
Finding a Process That Works for You,
written by Ralph Fletcher, 2000
There is not one certain way to go about writing a story or a poem; rather, there are many different processes that various writers use.  Fletcher and other professional writers share the processes that work for them in this book. Topics include finding ideas, brainstorming, rough drafts, proofreading, and publishing.  Filled with useful advice, this book is great for students or anyone else interested in writing.


Have you read any of the books above?  If so, I'd love to hear what you thought of them.  What are your favorite books about books and/or writing?  I'm always looking for new ones to read!