Inkheart by Cornelia Funke (for German Lit Month 2018)

The magic comes out of the books themselves, and I have no more idea than you or any of your men how it works. (p. 170)

“Magic comes out of the books themselves…” and I have always known this to be true. Cornelia Funke gives us a world of magic, a world of books, suitable for adults as well as the children for whom it is written. Any good children’s book is worthy of an adult as well.

What is the best part of this story? Is it the way that each chapter begins with an enticing quote from another book, helping us to predict what that chapter may hold (or luring us to reread the book from which it came)?

Is it the way that she has captured the bibliophile’s love of literature, with homes which are stacked with books in the hallways, stairs, and on every available surface?

Or, perhaps it is the adventure story itself, with such captivating characters as Silvertongue, who is able to read people out of, and into, books; perhaps it is Meggie, who longs for the return of her father who has been captured by Capricorn.

I know that for me, this fantasy novel has far more impact than any Harry Potter book. It’s surrealism hovers on the brink of reality for how well it brings the meaning of literature to life.

The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper, a Midwinter Read-along Which I’m Eagerly Joining

It was purely by chance I discovered an invitation, put forth by Julia Bird, on Twitter this evening.

Apparently there is an organized reading of Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising, a children’s book published in 1973 which I have long seen on school library shelves but never read myself.

The read-along begins on Midwinter Eve (December 20) and runs through the Twelfth Night (January 5) with discussion happening on Twitter using the hashtag: #TheDarkisReading.

Perhaps you will join in, as well. It sounds too delectable to pass.

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. 

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.
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.