Silverstein and Me: A Memoir by Marv Gold - Book Review

Information on the reclusive, but dearly loved, Shel Silverstein is rare. Students seeking information on the author will find few interviews given and little written about him. Shel Silverstein would be happy that this is the case. A man of wildly divergent talents, Silverstein wanted his body of work to do the speaking for him. Enter author Marv Gold.

Gold’s Silverstein and Me: A Memoir begins with a dead Shel Silverstein haunting his boyhood pal via song. From there, Silverstein’s life is recalled from their meeting at six years of age to Silverstein’s death. Though a tiny final hint offers some drama, there are no big reveals for fans who’ve followed Silverstein’s work, be it a Playboy cartoon or a children’s poem.

For someone who knows little about the reclusive Silverstein (shy middle-class Jewish kid, reclusive popular talent of Playboy cartoons, songwriting, and children’s poems), perhaps Silverstein and Me is a good read. Students seeking information on Mr. Silverstein have very few sources to research. But, in reality, one can learn about as much of Mr. Silverstein’s life by reading his Wikipedia entry. The book is more of a stroll down childhood memory lane for Mr. Gold.

Silverstein and Me is a hard book to categorize. It is neither a traditional memoir nor a biography, but an odd mix of the two, with embellished and supposed conversations thrown in for effect. As for writing style, the slapstick-everyman first person voice will either be disconcerting or charming to readers.

Considering the limited information, Silverstein and Me is a possible read for high school students interested in the talented Shel Silverstein, though drug use and sexual content are present.

The 13 Days of Halloween by Carol Greene with illustrations by Tim Raglin - book review & teaching ideas

The Thirteen Days Of Halloween is the perfect Halloween picture book for the little ghouls and goblins in your life. The text follows the same rhyme scheme as the famous Christmas song (12 Days of Christmas) and the illustrations offer wonderfully bizarre scenes of mayhem to support the text.

The Thirteen Days Of Halloween is an excellent book for emergent readers. Rhyme and repetition, as well as predictable language, are important tools in learning the sounds and patterns of language. The Thirteen Days Of Halloween is just the sort of book that should be read over and over as young students eventually chant along and anticipate the next stanza.

The design and feel of The Thirteen Days Of Halloween also lends itself well to the emergent reader. The text is limited to a separate sidebar of white space. The illustrations are funny, not scary, and offer additional opportunities for inference. The gothic love scene is a hoot.

This leads to two small criticisms. The characters are “good friends,” leaving the question: Why not “true love?” This unnecessary change from the original seems forced, as the illustrations clearly depict a courtship styled relationship. Also, the cadence matches the original in all respects except for one syllabic change with “cooked worms” for “golden rings.” Wouldn’t “crooked worms” have worked better? For teaching purposes, reading cooked as two syllables is bad form. Though, both of these criticisms seem picky when considering the fun housed within the pages of The Thirteen Days Of Halloween.

Recommended for emergent readers and Halloween celebrating children in grades K-3.

-------------------- Resources --------------------
Genre: Picture Book. Age: 4-8. Pages: 32.
Themes: Holiday
Thank You to Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
ISBN: 978-1402230967
Buy The Thirteen Days Of Halloween Here

Vocabulary: vulture, wizard, cauldrons, hissing, creeping, whizzing, gobbling, swooping

Activities: Of course you have to have the students guess what is inside the box at the story’s end! It could take the form of an oral discussion or as a written reader’s response.

If you can find an instrumental version of The Twelve Days of Christmas, you can have a little sing along.

Can the students spot the adorable little dog skeleton on each page?

About the author & illustrator:
Carol Greene wrote her first poem when she was six years old (it was about a spider). To date she has published over a hundred books for children. Carol also likes to read, sing, and make teddy bears. She lives in Webster Groves, Missouri, with her cat Dulcie.

Tim Raglin brings his wacky imagination and wonderfully odd cast of characters to The Thirteen Days of Halloween. His previous books include Five Funny Fights, Pecos Bill, and The Birthday ABC. He received a silver medal from the New York Society of Illustrators for his book Uncle Mugsy & the Terrible Twins of Christmas. Mr. Raglin lives in his hometown of Independence, Kansas. You can read more about him on his website.

© 2007-2009 Cheryl Vanatti. 

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National Geographic Kids Almanac 2010

Students are going to pour over the fabulously stuffed-to-the-brim National Geographic Kids Almanac 2010.  Is it possible to pack any more animals, geography and culture into a book? This book is great for mini-reports or beginnings of further exploration on an amazing array of topics. The only criticism, from a reluctant reader standpoint, is the small text and overwhelming content. Teachers and parents might offer the sections in small chunks to these sorts of readers. 5th - 8th grade readers, especially gifted or strong readers, will have no difficulty, and find the amazing array of facts both fun to read and food for further thought.

-------------------- Resources --------------------
Genre: Nonfiction. Age: 9-12. Pages: 352.
Thank You to Media Masters Publicity for my copy.
Publisher: National Geographic Children's Books. Date: May 2009.
ISBN-13: 978-1426305016
Buy National Geographic Kids Almanac 2010 Here

I began this post hoping to discuss National Geographic Kids Almanac 2010, but I ended up jumping all over the National Geographic websites so I have to include all the goodness here!

National Geographic has long been the leader in the study of the people and creatures of our planet. But do you know about the wonderful resources National Geographic has to offer students? It all begins on their fantastic website, with animal facts, games, quizzes, videos, stories, cartoons, jokes, crafts, recipes, contests, amazing photography and even a club with a personalized Facebook-like page. You can also subscribe to their award winning children’s magazine for $15.

Teachers: scroll all the way to the bottom for an Education Guide link It's a great abundance of teaching support.

There’s also a link to the National Geographic Bee with ten new questions posted every day!

Do you know about the In2Books Community? It’s a group of carefully screened adult volunteer pen pals who will read 5 books and discuss them pen pal style with students.

Most folks have heard of the widely successful ePals, but it’s worth mentioning again. ePals is a global classroom community of pen pals who connect with other classrooms to exchange ideas and discuss current global issues.

Even the little guys have their own site, with Toot & Puddle as their guide! Toot & Puddle rank second only to Olivia in Pig Love with this gal.

Also well worth further investigation is the Giant Traveling Maps. They sure look like fun!

All in all, one could spend a long time exploring the National Geographic National Geographic Website, The place really got this reading educator enthused about geography!

© 2007-2009 Cheryl Vanatti.

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Ghost In The Machine by Patrick Carman

There's a new review of Ghost In The Machine up at my Reading Education post on

Basically, I just restated my interest in the story and linked to my original thoughts on the fantastic and unique concept by author Partrick Carman. If you missed my review of Skeleton Creek, here's the link.

This series is a great one for lovers of the mystery genre and reluctant readers. Libraries and classroom should add this one to their shelves. It won't stay on them long.

Oh! And don't forget all the wonderful links to additional content:

Win a copy of Horrid Henry - 3 Winners!

Back in May, Henry had just landed on the Reading Rumpus doorstep, but it was instant love. The Horrid Henry series is aimed toward the early independent reader. However, it's also an excellent resource for struggling readers. Each book contains four tales with a large font style, quick pace and illustrations for excellent contextual support (and also a laugh or two).

From the May review, "Horrid Henry is HUGE. He’s all over Europe with a television series, a play and famous people like Miranda Richardson loving him up. But here, we Yanks have missed out on his mania. Not so anymore! Horrid Henry has jumped the pond and if you have or teach children in the young independent reader age group, you’re going to want to check Henry out.

Make no mistake, Henry is Horrible and author Francesca Simon makes no apologies for him. It’s that unapologetic horribleness that allows the reader to escape into a world of naughty without really being naughty themselves (my favorite sort of escape!). There will be no need for moralistic discussion as kids will cover their mouths, giggle and offer their own ideas as to why Henry’s made some mistakes. Francesca Simon's style certainly leans toward a Roald Dahl slant, and this is further amplified by the Quentin Blake inspired illustrations of Tony Ross. There could be a lot worse comparisons for an author or an illustrator!

I can easily predict that US students are going to love Horrid Henry as much as their European counterparts."