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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clementine, Friend of The Week

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Wind In The Willows

The Toad saw at once how wrongly and foolishly he had acted. He admitted his errors and wrong headedness and made a full apology to Rat for losing his boat and spoiling his clothes. And he wound up by saying with that frank self-surrender which always disarmed his friend’s criticism and won them back to his side, “Ratty! I see that I have been a headstrong and a wilful Toad! Henceforth believe me, I will be humble and submissive, and will take no action without your kind advice and full approval!”

“If that is really so,” said the good-natured Rat, already appeased, “then my advice to you is, considering the lateness of the hour, to sit down and have your supper, which will be on the table in a minute, and be very patient. For I am convinced that we can do nothing until we have seen the Mole and the Badger, and heard their latest news, and held conference and taken their advice in this difficult matter.”

I was first given this book as a child and, as with so many children’s books, it was ill-suited to me at the time. What does a child know of irony and sagacity, or, on a more concrete basis, motor-cars and rivers? To a child, animals already possess human qualities, so it isn’t until we’re adults and out of touch with our child’s side that we can truly appreciate what Kenneth Grahame has done with Rat, Mole, Badger and Toad.

He has made them completely endearing! From their clothing to their tea-time, their abilities with boats and establishing cozy homes, we become enchanted with these four. The Badger is my favorite, a very mature and wise creature is he who inhabits the Wild Wood. Completely opposite is the conceited Toad, who is possessed with driving motor-cars and living on the edge. Rat and Mole are two friends in between, just your average kind of guys, who will love you and save you and stand by you in a scrape.

The British language is absolutely charming, as are the escapades of these creatures. Reading this book makes me feel like going and preparing a nice, proper tea right now, complete with china cups and buttered toast. No wonder it was one of A.A. Milne’s favorite books. It is now one of mine as well.

The Name of This Book Is Secret

When I saw this book on Jorge’s desk, I had to pick it up to see what he was reading.  From the very first page I knew it was a book I, too, would have to read:

Warning! Do not read beyond this page.

The next page read:

Good. Now I know I can trust you. You’re curious. You’re brave. And you’re not afraid to lead a life of crime.

I love books like this! Give me all your sarcasm, give me all your wit, give me all the intrigue I can find within the first ten lines. The kids in my class loved it, too.

Never mind the mystery. Never mind the backflashes to the Bergamo Brothers, two Italian boys who joined the circus. Never mind the concept of synesthesia. They were so absorbed in the story that none of this was too complicated for them to follow.

It is a book for any age. It is marvelous as a read-aloud, or, if you want to read it faster, for your own silent reading.

Two more books conclude the trilogy:
This Book Is Not Good For You and If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late.

Hate That Cat

Love This Book:

I could tell you that it’s a novel written as a series of poems.

I could tell you that it touches the teacher in me, the mother in me, the student in me, and the newly discovered cat lover (or poet!) in me.

I could tell you that it describes the way a boy learns to love his cat and his teacher and poetry and his deaf mother.

But, I’ll just let you read some for yourself:

a kitten


out of the basket

and wobbling over to me

and crawling up on my lap

and licking my pajamas

and I forgot that I hate cats

as it crawled up onto my chest

and purrrrrred

and I was smiiiiiling

all over



which is the end of the poem about receiving his kitten for Christmas, and then we come to this:

The black kitten

is a poet

               L  E  A  P  I  N  G





sometimes runningrapidly

somtimes s o o t h i n g l y  s l o w l y

here and there





   o                                     UP

      w                       UP

         n          UP


in a silent steady rhythm









which is, of course, how the kitten moves.

I hardly have the room to tell you how he signs for his mother who comes to hear the poetry recitation, or the treasure of words he has in his room because of his teacher, who cares:

Thank you thank you thank you

for showing me all the books

of cat poems

and all the books that tell a story

in poems.

I never knew a writer could do that—

tell a whole story

in poems.

I already read the one by Mr. Robert Cromier


and next by my bed is

that dust book by

Ms. Karen Hesse


and underneath that one

is the Essie and Amber one

by Ms. Vera B. Williams


and on my bulletin board is a list you gave me

of so many poets

whose books I can read

and also on my bulletin board

is the funny poem-picture

of the cat chair

by Mr. Chris Raschka


and that poem

by Mr. Lee Bennett Hopkins


about growing up





I now have

a treasure of words




poetry speaks who i am

It is only just now in my life that a passion for poetry is awakening in me.

I would memorize it in school, feeling an occasional spark (when reading Poe’s The Raven, Sandburg’s Fog, Frost’s Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening), but mostly confusion when faced with poets such as Walt Whitman or Tennyson. I wanted to like them, but I didn’t understand them and so I left well enough alone.

If I had had in my possession a book such as this collection, I am certain that my appreciation would have been deeper, and reading poetry would have become a regular part of my reading life.

This is a spectacular book of poems. When Sourcebooks asked me to review them, I was wary until I saw the poets which had been included. Poets such as:

  • Maya Angelou
  • Edgar Allen Poe
  • Langston Hughes
  • Billy Collins
  • Sylvia Plath
  • Gwendolyn Brooks
  • John Keats
  • Emily Dickenson
  • Robert Frost, and yes, even
  • Walt Whitman

Those are the big names which immediately pop out at me. But there are others, less familiar to me by name, but incredibly touching to me in their power with words. Specifically for ages 12-14, “this anthology features both classic and contemporary selections and includes an audio CD with poets reading their own work.” I popped it into my Beetle’s stereo this morning on my way to work and was immediately mesmerized by the words and the voices which spoke them. Listening to poems such as this made me not want to stop when I arrived at school:


molly peacock

Hold up the universe, good girl. Hold up
the tent that is the sky of your world at which
you are the narrow center pole, good girl. Rup-
ture is the enemy. Keep all whole. The itch
to be yourself, plump and bending, below a sky
unending, help up by God forever
is denied by you as Central Control. Server
yourself, poor false Atlas, poor “Atless,” lie
recumbent below the sky. Nothing falls down,
except you, luscious and limited on the ground.
Holding everything up, always on your own,
creates a loneliness so profound
you are nothing but a column, good girl,
a temple ruin against a sky help up
by forces beyond you. Let yourself curl
up: a fleshy foetal figure cupped
about its own vibrant soul. You are
the universe about its pole. God’s not far.


I have a hard copy to give away; only tell me how poetry affects you to enter into the drawing.

Congratulations to the winner: JoAnn of Lakeside Musing! Email your address, please, so I can have it sent to you.

Winter Eyes

I love this book of poems for children and winter. As it ends, one last tribute to the season I most cherish:

Winter Eyes

Look at winter
With winter eyes,
As smoke curls from rooftops
To clear cobalt skies.

Breathe in winter
Past winter nose;
The sweet scent of black birch
Where velvet moss grows.

Walk through winter
With winter feet
On crackling ice
Or sloshy wet sleet.

Listen to winter
With winter ears:
The rustling of oak leaves
As spring slowly nears.

 Winter Lives

The “dead” of winter—
Or so they say.
But winter lives
In her own way.
She leaves her tracks,
She shows us signs:
Not brilliant blooms,
But webs of lines.
Not sprout or splash,
But silver gray.
Winter lives
In her own way.

Good-Bye, Winter

 Good-bye, winter.
We’ve really had
Enough of you.
Enough of frozen
Hands and toes.
Of numbing ears
And running nose.
Enough of sniffles,
Snivels, sneezes.
Enough of coughs
And whines and wheezes.
Enough of winter
Winds that sting.
Good-bye, winter.
Hello, spring!

A Wrinkle In Time

When Kailana said she would host a read along for the Time Quartet, I couldn’t refuse. Never mind that I’ve read them over and over and over since 1973; every single time I read Madeleine I gain a new perspective.

I used to think that A Wrinkle in Time was “only” about love. It is a huge lesson in love. By realizing her love for her brother, Charles Wallace, Meg realizes she has something which can wrest him away from the power of IT. In fact, it is the only thing she can use that has any power. It was an important lesson for me at 11 years of age, sitting in my sixth grade English class, and one I’ve needed remediation in several times since: hate cannot win in the face of love.

But, there’s so much more. This time around I saw Madeleine was writing about more than hate; in particular, I saw her address conformity. There is a certain evil in the expectation, or even desire, that we should all be the same. When we have given up our identity, our own special uniqueness, we might as well have given up our souls.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident!” she shouted, “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

As she cried out the words she felt a mind moving in on her own, felt IT seizing, squeezing her brain. Then she realized that Charles Wallace was speaking, or being spoken through by IT.

“But that’s exactly what we have on Camazotz. Complete equality. Everybody exactly alike.”

For a moment her brain reeled with confusion. Then came a moment of blazing truth. “No!” she cried triumphantly. “Like and equal are not the same thing at all!”

“Good girl, Meg!” her father shouted at her.

But Charles Wallce continued as though there had been no interruption. “In Camazotz all are equal. In Camazotz everybody is the same as everybody else,” but he gave her no argument, provided no answer, and she held on to her moment of revelation.

Like and equal are two entirely different things. (p.160)

Hate and love are two entirely different things; like and equal are two entirely diffferent things; control and freedom are two entirely different things. Thank you, Madeleine, for reminding me that we are all fearfully and wonderfully made.

The Magician’s Elephant

Title: The Magician’s Elephant
Author: Kate DiCamillo
Published: 2009
Number of pages: 201
Rating: 5 out of 5
Vilna Lutz stared at Peter with his mouth agape and the point of his beard trembling.

Peter, looking back at him, felt something unbearably hot rise up in his throat; he knew that now the words would finally come. “She lives,” he said. “That is what the fortuneteller told me. She lives, and an elephant will lead me to her. And because an elephant has come out of nowhere, out of nothing, I believe her. Not you. I do not, I cannot, any longer believe you.”

“What is this you are talking about? Who lives?”

“My sister,” said Peter. (p. 99)

Not every work by every author is loved by every body. I adored Because of Winn-Dixie. (Tell me, if you will, exactly what a Litmus Lozenge tastes like.) I enjoyed The Tale of Despereaux (especially reading it with a French accent to my class). I tolerated Great Joy (finding it more sorrowful than joyful) and most sorrowful of all is The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane.

But, I fully expected my students to embrace The Magician’s Elephant. They weren’t having any of it. A few of them loved the writing as much as I did, but most of them wanted me to abandon it, a most loathsome thing for me to do. However, rather than have my enjoyment ruined by their discontent, I did abandon it and brought it home to read to myself.

I’ve been reading this book slowly all week. It is the perfect thing to come home to at the end of a hectic day, the perfect world to absorb oneself in:  a world which only Kate DiCamillo can create. I can’t think of an author who can write more beautifully than she does. Nor, in a more heart wrenching manner.

The 13 Days of Halloween

thirteen days of halloween

Title: The 13 Days of Halloween
Author: Carol Greene
Published: September, 2009 by Sourcebooks
Genre: Juvenile Fiction/Picture Book

Yesterday morning I stood before my class and announced that I had a new book to read to them. “Have you ever heard of The Twelve Days of Christmas?” I asked. “Well, this book is titled The 13 Days of Halloween…”

“Mrs. Smith!”


“Thirteen rhymes with Halloween!”

“You’re right, Jacob. Now…”

“Mrs. Smith!”

“Yes, Terri?”

“Thirteen can be a good day. My dog was born on the 13th of July…”
“…and my football jersey has the number 13 on the back…,”said Ethan,
“…and my number in class is 13,” said Saif.

“Okay. Well, we’re going to listen to this story,” I said, and I began:

On the first day of Halloween, my good friend gave to me:
a vulture in a dead tree.

“Mrs. Smith! Vultures can peck your eyes out!” said Keya.

“Yeah, and vultures fly over the desert looking for dead animals,” said Shobhit.

“Then it’s not a very nice gift, is it children?” I replied. “Let’s hear the story before we make any more comments.”

and so, I read them the whole story, which we actually started singing together because it follows The Twelve Days of Christmas so nicely. Plus, it’s a great way to enhance their memory skills: seeing if they can remember each new gift as it was added. When we got near the end:

On the twelfth day of Halloween my good friend gave to me:


Twelve cauldrons bubbling,

eleven bats a-swooping,

ten goblins gobbling,

nine wizards whizzing,

eight brooms a-flying,

seven spiders creeping,

six owls a-screeching,

five cooked worms,

four giggling ghosts,

three fat toads,

two hissing cats,

and a vulture in a dead tree.


I turned the page and read,

On the thirteenth day of Halloween I invited my good friend to tea, and I gave HIM a present.

The children waited, breathless as I said,

A real, live….

and showed them this picture:


There was a stunned silence. And then a flood of comments wondering what could be inside the last gift. I had them take out their Reading Response Journals, mere notebook paper stapled inside a cover into which they write about what they’ve read, and had them write what was inside the box. (Kyle still insists it’s a giant baby floating head.)

Then, I asked them what they thought of the book, because many of us who’ve read Murakami, for example, were initially frustrated when we’re left hanging. An amazing 17 children out of 29 said they liked the ending left ambiguous! Here’s what they said:

“I loved it because it was funny and scary at the same time.” ~Nicholas

“I like the idea that they didn’t tell what the ending gift was so we could imagine it more.” ~Claudia

“I like the way it kept adding on and you could also sing along.” ~Sophie

“Thanks for actually letting us use our imagination instead of telling us. p.s. I said he got a giant floating baby head.” ~Kyle

and my personal favorite:

“I’m usually Mr. Specific, but I’m glad you let me use my imagination for once.” ~Jacob

There you have it, in better words than I can say. This is a great Halloween read, and the kids totally loved it.Totally.