Sendak gives his two cents on Spike Jonze's vision of Where The Wild Things Are


Also worth checking out:

We Love You So: Spike Jonze's artistic blog, mostly about making Where The Wild Things Are.

Terrible Yellow Eyes: Artwork inspired by the book.

And my own thoughts a few weeks back... HERE

© 2007-2009 Cheryl Vanatti for

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Summer literacy activity: A photographer remembers

In the previous summer literacy article, we examined the importance of field trips for building vital background knowledge. An extension on the summer field trip is to buy the child a cheap disposable camera (or even a cheap digital in today’s tech-savvy world) and let them take lots of pictures during their summer excursions.

The key to turning the simple act of taking a picture into a literacy activity lies in developing the photos and planning for more than a shoebox full of half-remembered shots.

What to do with all those shots?

1. As you enjoy your summer trips, encourage children to take lots of photographs. Make sure to point our science and nature themes like birds, flowers, rocks, etc…

2. Paste these photos into a summer journal (previously discussed in the first part of this series here).

3. Add souvenirs from the trip, like small rocks, shells, flowers, etc.. to the summer journal pages. Hint: tape seems to work better than glue.

4. Have the child write a fond remembrance of the day or something they observed (scientific discovery) next to the photograph. They can even cut out the photograph's focal point and illustrate their own version of its surroundings.

5. Remind them to use the senses in their writings. Examples: “When we went to the beach the sand felt all hot and scratchy under my feet.” Or “The boardwalk had lots of food stands. The hot dogs smelled so yummy.” Or “We heard this bird chirping and I just had to snap his picture. He sounded like a tea kettle getting ready to boil”

6. As always, a book makes an excellent addition to this activity. Visit the local library or bookstore to find books that match the photographs your child has taken. Or even check out a book on photography.

© 2007-2009 Cheryl Vanatti for
Also posted as National Reading Examiner.

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Mother Osprey: Nursery Rhymes for Buoys & Gulls by Lucy Nolan with illustrations by Connie McLennan - Book Review

I had a chance to read Sylvan-Dell Publishing‘s Little Skink's Tail from author Janet Halfmann back in February and thought it was great. So when Sylvan-Dell offered another title in their series, I was happy to look.

Mother Osprey: Nursery Rhymes for Buoys & Gulls takes traditional Mother Goose rhymes and slants them toward the nautical. Living in Florida I found the Key West & Biscayne Bay rhymes especially enticing, but there’s also Hatteras Light, Nantucket, Lake Huron, The Mississippi, Puget Sound and even the rolling grass of the Oregon Trail. There’s a great map and several comprehension questions added at the end.

Pop over to the Sylvan Dell Publishing site and you'll find an amazing array of titles. Sylvan Dell specializes in picture books with a science/nature theme that are generally fictional; yet hold a wealth of information and opportunities for discussion. The fictional story format makes for a highly engaging science read. The end of each story holds supplemental fact and activity sections, and there are a ton free activities and learning resources online. Better still, the books have all been aligned to Science and Math Standards and vetted by experts in each field, including some from NASA, NOAA, SeaWorld and the Houston Zoo.

If my two Sylvan Dell books were any indication, parents and teachers would be well served to pop over to the site and investigate.

Recommended for Pre-K – 3rd grade classrooms and libraries. With the strong online support, I think parents and homeschoolers would also love these.

-------------------- Resources --------------------

Genre: Picture Book. Age: PreK-3rd grade. Pages:32.

Themes: Nursery Rhyme Comparison, Humor
Publisher:Sylvan Dell. Date: June 2009
ISBN-10: 1607180413 / ISBN-13: 978-1607180418

Buy Mother Osprey: Nursery Rhymes for Buoys & Gulls Here
Sylvan Dell Main Page
Mother Osprey Site with info on the author and illustrator.
eBookFor Creative Minds / (en EspaƱol)
Teaching Activities
Quizzes: Reading / FCM / Math
Related Websites
Alignment to Standards
Book Flyer
Author Interview

Here are a few additional titles that looked especially engaging to this educator:

Water Beds: Sleeping In The Ocean from Sylvan Dell: "The story invites children to drift into a peaceful sleep on the gentle waves of imagination."

Saturn for My Birthday from Sylvan Dell: "Jeffrey wants Saturn for his birthday, and he wants the moons too—all 47 of them. "

Octavia And Her Purple Ink Cloud from Sylvan Dell: "Octavia Octopus and her sea-animal friends love playing camouflage games to practice how they would hide from a “big, hungry creature.” Octavia, however, just cannot seem to get her colors right when she tries to shoot her purple ink cloud."

Moose and Magpie from Sylvan Dell: "It isn’t easy being a moose. You’re a full-grown adult at the age of one, and it itches like crazy when your antlers come in! In Bettina Restrepo’s Moose and Magpie, young Moose is lucky to find a friend and guide in the wisecracking Magpie."

from Sylvan Dell: "When a strange little creature appears out of nowhere after the big rains, Australian animals wonder what in the world he could possibly be!"

One Wolf Howls from Sylvan Dell: "Spend a year in the world of wolves in One Wolf Howls. This adventurous children’s book uses the months of the year and the numbers 1 through 12 to introduce children to the behavior of wolves in natural settings."
© 2007-2009 Cheryl Vanatti for
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Tooting my horn

I'm going to toot away here:
I am now the National Reading Examiner for I'm also revamping some things around here, so please check back often.

© 2007-2009 Cheryl Vanatti for

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If I Stay by Gayle Forman - Book Review

I read If I Stay a few months back, but just couldn’t seem to write a review for it. The bibliosphere is exploding with glowing praise for this one and I wasn’t certain what more I could add. After all, Summit Pictures and Twilight director Catherine Hardwicke have already (even before it was published) signed on to immortalize If I Stay in Hollywood style.

Synopsis: Talented Mia and her great family are in a horrendous car accident and she narrates from an omniscient comatose pedestal. As she lingers, she hears discussions about herself and even wanders the hospital halls while trying to decide her own fate. Various family members and friends visit Mia, offering reflective glimpses into her own life.

If I Stay is a nice book. It’s touching. The ending is the best kind of ending, full of resolution and life affirmations. Telling us that to live is to suffer, but that holding just one hand might be worth the suffering. I shed the obligatory tear; my heartstrings were firmly pulled. I read it one night while my desire to know protagonist Mia’s decision kept the plot moving. Even though lots of people die and the theme could wander into darkness quite easily, author Forman keeps that from happening with quirky little bits to keep the reader from the edge. Ultimately, If I Stay is a story about living.

But… (there it is… that qualifier) I kept missing something as I was reading. Much like Mia’s limbo, this reader couldn’t quite buy into the emotional severity of the situation. It was as if Ms. Forman took great pains to keep Mia from expressing the depth of her grief. Even in her comatose state, I expected some anger, some screaming. It was all too sweet, too soothing. For a story so influenced by music, I’d assign the simple lullaby - rock-a-bye baby, where the bough breaks but the baby simply comes down, cradle and all. Adam is the character that gets to catapult the real, the raw, emotion (I always fall in love with charming male characters anyway). But I hated having to wait clear until the end to see that emotion.

If I Stay is written well. It kept me reading without effort. It’s a good book that will please many. It’s probably going to make good money and maybe even win some awards. Because I couldn’t conjure a genuine review, this flat, comatose one will have to suffice.

Recommended for middle grade teens, especially girls and those interested in realistic fiction told from an unusual viewpoint.

The Sister's Club: Rule of Three by Megan McDonald - Book Review

Judy Moody graduates take note: author Megan McDonald has a new series for older elementary and beginning middle-school girls. The first book in the series was simply titled, The Sisters Club and introduced readers to the Reel family: Mom, Dad and three sisters - Alex, Stevie, and Joey. McDonald furthers the escapade of the sisters with The Sisters Club: Rule of Three to be released on August 11, 2009.

In The Sisters Club: Rule of Three, the girls have to overcome rivalry as the two oldest girls try out for the same part in the school play. With the same clear, realistic writing style that made Judy Moody relatable, McDonald gives the three sisters believable voices. The story meanders between all three sisters, with pencil-scribbled notes, scripts, quizzes and illustrations adding to their individual charms. The sisters squabble and make some poor choices, but the ending resolves the drama with a strong message of family and forgiveness.

The strong literary references and the varying points of view make this title beneficial for language arts classrooms also.

-------------------- Resources --------------------

Genre: Realistic Fiction. Age: Grades 4-8. Pages: 240.

Themes: Family, Friendship, Difficult Decisions
Publisher: Candlewick. Date: August 2009.
ISBN-10: 0763641537
Thanks to The Picnic Basket for my advanced copy.

Buy The Sisters Club: Rule of Three Here

The RIF site has a fantastic interview with author Megan McDonald and Reading Rockets has a great video interview too.

Teachers can sign up for Megan McDonald's Totally Rare Teachers' Club: Here.

Author Megan McDonald is well known to many elementary readers as the author of the wildly popular Judy Moody books. She's worked as a children's librarian and in a children's bookstore where she once caught a burglar trying to steal books! You can read a lot more fun facts about the author on her website.
© 2007-2009 Cheryl Vanatti for
Review also posted National Reading Examiner.
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Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson - Book Review

It’s been over 10 years since Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak was printed to both acclaim and dismay. I recently picked up the platinum edition at a book sale and reread it. I’d forgotten just how hauntingly beautiful the voice of narrator Melinda is and why young adults need to read her story.

The summer before Melinda Sordino is to begin high school, she makes a decision that will brand her an outcast. Entering high school is difficult, even under the best circumstances, and Melinda’s decision to remain silent through the bullying and ostracizing is a powerful testament to the damage she’s suffered. As the year progresses and Melinda sees that her once childhood friend faces the same danger she's endured, Melinda's courage and strength will finally allow her to speak.

Warning spoiler – don’t read the conclusion section if you’ve not read the book:

In the author interview section at the end of the platinum edition, Ms. Anderson answers what has been the most shocking question asked of her during the ten years: “I have gotten one question repeatedly from young men. These are guys who liked the book, but they are honestly confused. They ask me why Melinda was so upset about being raped. The first dozen times I heard this, I was horrified. But I heard it over and over again. I realized that many young men are not being taught the impact that sexual assault has on a woman. They are inundated by sexual imagery in the media, and often come to the (incorrect) conclusion that having sex is not a big deal...."*

I read this statement to a few young men who admitted that they could understand this perception. This led to further discussions about the media’s objectifying young girls and women. It’s an important discussion and one that makes Speak an important read for all teens: males especially.

Recommended for all high school English classrooms and libraries.

All the World by Liz Garton Scanlon, illustrated by Marla Frazee - Book Review

Magical. In a nutshell.

From the moment I opened the amazing promotional box through the minutes spent with the exquisite All the World, to the video describing Simon & Schuster's new imprint, Beach Lane Books, each second had a magical quality that makes those of us who love children’s books swoon. Though it won’t be published until September, I just couldn’t wait to tell readers about this fantastic book.

All the World follows the simple day of a family. The four begin at the beach, wander in their cool red pickup truck to a farmer’s market, stop at a park where rain ruins the fun, enjoy dinner in a cozy restaurant and end the day at their grandparent's home with a slew of extended family.

Simple. Not so much.

Mixed within that simplicity is a message of the beauty in the everyday. A message to take note, to look around and relish in the glow of a good dinner, the love of community, the arms of a grandparent, the fun of playing with your cousin. The softly brush-stroked artwork of illustrator Marla Frazee is stunning. It flows from page to page with the same hidden depth as the story, especially beautiful in multicultural and multigenerational interpretation.

Wake up Caldecott committee! All the World needs to be on your short list.

This is perhaps my favorite picture book published in the last few years (knocking Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed right off its pedestal). Great picture books subscribe to the Sendak school of thought, “...that there's something living underneath it... When you hide another story in a story, that’s the story I am telling the children” (source: Rosenbach Museum Video). All the World, with its subtle message to enjoy the beauty in the everyday and magnificently complementary illustrations, hits the beach ball squarely in Sendak’s court.

Recommended for all elementary classroom & library purchases as well as for art and language arts instructors in all grade levels. No higher recommendation will come from this reading educator.

-------------------- Resources --------------------

Genre: Picture Book. Age: Beginning & Elementary Readers. Pages: 40.

Themes: Love, Family, Appreciation of Life
Publisher: Beach Lane Books. Date: September 2009

Preorder All the World Here (available September 8, 2009)

Look at the beautiful presentation Beach Lane Books sent! Description from publisher:

All the world is here.

It is there.

It is everywhere.

All the world is right where you are.


Here's a video from their website explaining the goals for their new endeavor:

Here's the link to author Liz Garton Scanlon's Live Journal Page

Here's the link to illustrator Marla Frazee's Website (wanna-be illustrators should definitely check it out!)
© 2007-2009 Cheryl Vanatti for
Review also posted as National Reading Examiner.

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