Fantastic Mr. Dahl

Fantastic Mr. Dahlby Michael Rosen (self-proclaimed biggest fan)

Matt’s interest in Roald Dahl is what sparked my interest in Michael Rosen’s Fantastic Mr. Dahl, illustrated by Quentin Blake.  Written by a writer about a writer this book tells us of Dahl’s life by using Boy and Flying Solo and the many letters written between home and school that Dahl’s mother had lovingly saved.  The biography shares how life and writing intertwine and intersect.  It’s interesting to see how even the letters written by a schoolboy at ten portend the author Dahl will become.  In one Roald wrote to his sister, Alfhild, saying:  “The barber is a very funny man, his name is Mr. Lundy, when I went to have my hair cut last Monday, a lot of spiders came out from under the cupboard and he stepped on them and there was a nasty squashy mess on the floor.”  Can’t you hear words like those coming from The Twits or The Witches.

Rosen thinks about and describes how he can see the “writer” in Dahl well before Dahl considered becoming a writer himself.  He uses the ‘Great Mouse Plot’ from Boy as an example of how life mirrors writing.  Rosen explains:

            …If the story about the mouse and the sweetshop lade is true (and we can never be absolutely, totally sure about that), and it really was Roald whoe came up with the ‘Great Mouse Plot’, then I think he had already begun to invent ways of writing.

Why?

Because if you plot and plan a trick, you need to think ahead and imagine ‘What would happen if…?’  If you’re some how live to imagine ‘What would happen if…?’ such as ‘What would happen if my best friend turned into a cat…?’ then you’re well on the way to being a writer.

The biography is a combination of life-story, photographs, illustrations and fun facts helping us discover how the writer and the writing came to be.  Rosen says, “Time is something that every writer needs.  Time to think, wonder, dream, plan and collect.  And Roald Dahl had plenty of that.”  We are very glad he did.  His stories are favorites from James to Matilda and all the others in and around and in between.

Odette’s Secrets

Odette's Secretsby Maryann Macdonald

a middle reader must!

Odette’s Secrets begins “I live in Paris…but it is about the change…soldiers march, their legs and arms straight as sticks.  A funny looking man with a mustache shouts a speech.  His name is Hitler.  What are these soldiers?  Why do they move like machines?”  For Jews in Nazi-occupied Paris, nowhere is safe. So when Odette Meyer’s father, an enlisted soldier in the French Army, is sent to a Nazi work camp, Odette’s mother takes measures to protect her.  With the help of her godmother, Madame Marie, and Monsieur Henri Odette is sent deep into the French countryside. There she pretends to be a peasant girl attending Catholic masses with other children. On the outside she is like all the other children.  On the inside, Odette is burning with secrets and questions.  When the war ends Odette must figure out how she can go back to her old life in Paris.  It’s not easy when even the things that are the same –  Mama and Papa, the bed, even the pots and pans – have a totally different feel and understanding.  Secrets are never fully shared even when they are told, especially the secrets that were used for solving problems.

Inspired by the life of the real Odette Meyer, this beautifully flowing free-verse novel is a story of triumph over adversity.  Maryann Macdonald began this project as a biography.  In her author’s note she explains that as she wrote, Odette’s story needed to be told through her feelings and emotion.  Odette needed to speak to us, and through Macdonald, she does.  Her questions and fears, her confusion and understanding, her joy and devastation are artfully shared as her secrets are revealed.  Odette’s Secrets is an astonishing story of determination and care.  The story of how one person was connected to so many others offers a full picture into life at the time – and how life forever after would be changed.  Odette’s Secret is a book to read and read again.

Here’s a link to another blog review with an interview of the author. It’s interesting to know how she came upon this story.

Dr. Seuss

Theodore Seuss Geisel

Theodore Seuss Geisel (Dr. Seuss) is one of the most valued children’s books writers of American history. You probably know him because of The Cat in the Hat or Green Eggs and Ham, but most people don’t know who he really is and his story.

He was born on March 4th, 1904. He was raised on Fairfield Street in Springfield, Massachusetts and attended Springfield Central High School. After High School, he attended Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. His writing and drawing and humor really took off there. He became editor of Jack-o-Lantern, the school’s humor magazine. In his senior year he was stripped of that job due to drinking during the times of Prohibition, so he started publishing cartoons under various pseudonyms including Dr. Seuss. That is when he officially adopted his pen name.

He married a Dartmouth classmate Helen Palmer, and his first real success was the “Quick, Henry, the Flit!” This catchphrase was featured in advertisements for the Flit bug repellent. The ads were of someone saying to Henry the catchphrase when there looked to be a massive cloud of bugs bearing down upon them. That phrase was the “Got Milk” of that time; everyone knew it. For the next three decades of his life, he made advertisements for all different companies, including GE, Ford, and many other big names.

His first children’s book was And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street and he wrote eleven others until his HUGE success, The Cat in The Hat.  It is what he is most known for. The book surfaced from the Doctor’s ( 🙂 ) friend from the publishing company Houghton Mifflin asking him to write a book with 225 words that first graders should know. The Houghton Mifflin director also wanted the book to be entertaining for the kids. In nine months, Dr. Seuss had used 223 of the words and included 13 more in The Cat in The Hat. There has been a TV show made from it as well as a film. It really took off with the kids and parents of America.

March 2nd, a few days ago, would have been Seuss’ 109th birthday. But people have not forgotten. For one, Green Eggs and Ham and The Cat in The Hat are number 5th and 9th on the all time best selling children’s books. But also Dr. Seuss’ birthday has been made National Read Across America Day by the National Education Association (NEA). It was created to promote reading in America, which fits him perfectly!

CHECK OUT WWW.SEUSSVILLE.COM – AN AWESOME WEBSITE!

Wondering About Knowing…

I started wondering – how do you learn about new things you know nothing about?  In fact, do you learn things if you know nothing about them to begin with?  I’m lucky to be a teacher and a book lover.  I spend a part of each day reading about books – new and old  and about the authors and illustrators who create them.  As I read all of these reviews I think about how these books might fit in with the things going on in our classroom.  We are working to understand ourselves as learners and as members of a learning community.  We are working to learn how we are connected to history and past explorations.  We are trying to expand the ways we express ourselves individually and collectively as we grow to see ourselves as productive members of our global community.

Picture books are important tools for opening doors in your mind to information and ideas.  They are brief, but complete windows onto new things – and once you’re aware of possibilities they are more likely to develop into something richer and more complex.  Here’s a collection of recent informational picture books written for intermediate and middle grade readers – snapshots of information to open your mind.

The Fantastic Jungles of Henri RousseauThe Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau by Michelle Markle  Henri Rousseau is a toll collector in Paris.  He is forty.  He wants to be a painter.  He wants to capture the glory and beauty of nature.  He can not afford a teacher and so he sets out to teach himself.  He studies.  He practices. He learns of an exhibition and decides to put his art on display.  His work is ridiculed by the experts.  They say his work is childish; something even cavemen would ignore, but he does not give up.  He paints what he loves, what he sees, what he imagines and what he feels. He keeps at it.  For twenty years the art critics berate his technique and ability, but finally one year other artists begin to notice the love , the story and the light captured in each piece.  In time his work is notice and not laughed at.  Finally Henri Rousseau is allowed to become what he has dreamed of becoming – an artist.  Can you imagine the courage and effort, the determination and persistence required for him to succeed? For twenty years or more he was mocked and jeered at – what an amazing person he must have been.  I would very much like to have him as my friend.

Faith: Five Religions and What They ShareFaith – Five Religions and What They Share by Dr. Richard Steckel and Michele Steckel does exactly what the title says.  Illustrated with current photographs, it shares information about Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, Islam and Hinduism.   With so much unrest in the world centered around belief and doctrine it is important for us to understand how closely related our beliefs, the origins of our faiths and underlying tenets of these religions are.  Certainly each is different – but just a certainly, they are the same.  Faith explores sacred texts, common acts of worship, charity, symbols and clothing. It helps us understand the rituals and celebrations that lead to a common belief – treat others as you would like to be treated.  It is a beautiful books to see.  It shares the richness of diversity, while at the same time honoring the individuality of one’s faith.

 

Hanging Off Jefferson's Nose: Growing Up On Mount RushmoreHanging off Jefferson’s Nose – Growing up on Mount Rushmore by Tina Nicholas Coury tells the story of Lincoln Borglum, the son of the sculptor, Gutzon Borglum, who designed the great monument on Mount Rushmore.  Mount Rushmore is amazing.  It is stunning to see and imagining the enormity of the accomplishment is mind-boggling.  And then you read the book and realize there is so much more involved – investigating the stability of the rock, creating two-story models so the 500 men working on the project would know the dimensions they were working on, keeping the crew safe and warm all year.  It wasn’t a fair weather project.  Stairways, scaffolding, dynamite, starting over, taking care of the men, taking care of the Lakota tribe, adjusting and readjusting the design, losing your father, being commissioned as head sculptor and dedicating fourteen years of your life to see a project through to its end.  I don’t think you’ll see any sculpture in the same way once you read this book. It is such an amazing feet of engineering and art created by an entire community dedicated to one task and doing something they believed in.  Lincoln was 15 when his father began the project.  He was 29 when he finished the project for his father.  Just imagine.

Once you get reading you’ll find more to pique your interest.  Here are a few that I have found in the last few weeks as our class works to uncover and discover possibilities:  Rachel Carson and Her Book that Changed the World by Laurie Lawlor, Leo-Geo and His Miraculous Journey Through the Center of the Earth by Jon Chad, I Could do That!  Esther Morris Gets Women the Vote by Linda Arms White or For the Birds – the Life of Roger Tory Peterson by Peggy Thomas

The Fairy Ring

The Fairy Ring: Or Elsie and Frances Fool the Worldor Elsie and Frances Fool the World – a true story

by Mary Losure

World War I brings Frances Griffith from Cape Town, South Africa to Cottingley, Yorkshire, England to live with her aunt, uncle and cousin until the Great War is over and her father returns from the front. Everything is drab and dark in England.  Nothing is as her mother had told her it would be – no joy or light. Cousin Elsie, six years her senior, is kind and fun loving.  There is a little happiness when she returns home from work each day and she and Frances have fun. Frances is often alone though and the place she finds most full of light is the beck: the little stream behind the cottage.  It was there that Frances believes she see fairies.  Each day she saw green clad men about eighteen inches tall marching through the willows.  She never spoke to them, or they to her.  They just became part of her days.  When she told her family, she was teased. Elsie had also been teased for not being a great reader or speller.  She was a wonderful artist though. Tired of the teasing, Elsie created some paper fairy cutouts, beautifully painted along with the plan to pose along the bank of the beck to photograph.  She hopes the photograph will serve as proof to end the taunts and teasing.

Photography was the new technology of 1917.  Taking and developing pictures on glass plates was a difficult and expensive process.  Elsie did convince her father to let her use the camera.  When he developed the one plate the girls had been given – sure enough the fairies emerged. Elsie’s dad is not convinced it is not a trick but he developed the plate and knows that the photograph has not been tampered with.   The girls use his doubt to convince him to let them take one more photo. This one is of a gnome and while they don’t fully convince everyone in the family, the photographs do end the teasing.

A few years pass and then someone mentions these pictures to a group, the Theosophists, eager to prove the existence of fairies and nature spirits. That involved Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, author of detective Sherlock Holmes and created more attention and publicity for the girls.  Everyone wants to know the girls who see fairies; wants to see what she sees.  Everyone wants to find the girls quickly because fairies are known only to reveal themselves to the young and innocent.  What happens next is an incredible story of a great hoax, perpetuated by two girls who never intended to deceive the wider world.  They just didn’t want to get into trouble and didn’t know what to do when the tale they had begun took on a life of its own.

This is the true story of how two girls fooled the world with their fairy photos. The book describes the girls’ personalities. This was a time of great technological changes and new strains of the environment. The books share the what is happening in Frances and Elsie’s lives at the time along with letters and direct accounts of the ordeal so readers can understand how it came to be and perhaps why some many people at the time wanted the photographs to be real.  The Fairy Ring makes you wonder and think.  What you have done in their shoes?

The Dreamer

TThe Dreamerhe Dreamer is the story of Pablo Neruda.  As the jacket flap says, “Combining elements of magical realism with biography, poetry, literary fiction, and sensorial, transporting illustrations, Pam Munoz Ryan and Peter Sis take readers on a rare journey of the heart and imagination.” A rare journey indeed…through words and sounds, colors and emotions, joy and agony.

The collector in me immediately connected with the shy, determined Neftali.  His shelves of feathers, rocks, shells and nests and his daily joy in looking at and seeing the wonders around him spoke to me. His days of dreaming and wondering are like quiet meditations.  Those calm languid feelings collide abruptly with the harsh anger and bitter barked commands as his father enters the story.  Neftali is never enough, never quite right, never important.  His moments of shame and humiliation are painful stinging slaps stinging showing another side of reality.  Never enough, until finally, Neftali Reyes in becoming Pablo Neruda found the way to follow his heart without shaming his family name.

The words, the pictures, the poems make this a strikingly beautiful book, but it is not for everyone – lovers of action and a tightly woven plot will likely find the pace tedious, but readers who savor the shimmer of well polished words like these when Neftali first sees the ocean…

“Neftali’s breath caught in his throat at the sight of the infinite colors and the gentle curve of the faraway horizon. He had never imagined the height of the white spray breaking against the rocks, the dark sand, or the air that whispered of fish and salt. He stood, captivated, feeling small and insignificant, and at the same time as if he belonged to something much grander.”

… will enjoy each and every moment.

Around the World

Around The WorldAround the World – three remarkable journeys

a graphic novel by Matt Phelan

Last weekend I read a  newspaper about a young woman who completed a solo circumnavigation in her sailboat.  She turned sixteen on the voyage and claims to be the youngest person to complete this incredible challenge.  (Interesting to note Guinness World Book of Records no longer tracks items like this so they don’t encourage kids to take too much risk.)  In the article she said she learned many things on the journey – how to play the flute (the guitar was a challenge in choppy seas), about the world, her boat and a great deal about herself.

That got me thinking.  For me that may be what is most intriguing part of embarking on a solo journey of any magnitude.  I admire the courage, determination and perseverance of these choices.  It makes me wonder about the stories of all who have attempted this challenge – why do they think to do it?  How are they changed by the attempt or completion?  What does it lead too?

Three Remarkable Journeys Around the World adds both answers and more questions to those wonderings from me.  It starts with, “It all began, as many great adventures begin, with a story.” This sets the stage for the travels for the three adventurers featured in this book –Thomas Stevens, Joshua Slocum, and Nellie Bly.  Thomas Stevens traveled in 1884 from San Francisco to Boston on a 50-inch bicycle.  Joshua Slocum was the first man to sail solo around the world in 1895.  Nellie Bly was a pioneer journalist who traveled around the world to beat the time record of Phileas Fogg in 1889.  With his typical attention to detail, Matt Phelan captures their adventures in graphic form.  It’s beautifully drawn and skillfully arranged to capture the spirit of each adventurer.  The tales show how each person embarking on a journey of this magnitude also has an individual quest – an internal search.  It is amazing how Matt Phelan’s art and story craft develops and shows changes to the inner lives of these people.  Around the World weaves an exciting story of three historical characters whose bold endurance and stamina go beyond mere bravery.  Their willingness to focus on tasks some thought were unattainable paved the way for others who dare to dream!   What would your journey be?  It doesn’t have to be for or grand to make an impact… hmmm

Check out this preview and then dive right in – adventure anyone?

The Candy Bomber

Candy Bomber: The Story of the Berlin Airlift's "Chocolate Pilot"The Candy Bomber by Michael O. Tunnnell is a true story of hope and kindness. At the end of World War II Berlin was divided and in ruins.   The people had little.  The Allied Forces were airlifting supplies and food but US Air Force pilot, Gail Halvorsen knew there were children there grateful for food and freedom.  He spoke to the children who looked through the airfield fence.  They didn’t ask for chocolate or gum, nothing, but Halvorsen wanted to give them hope.  He told them the next time he cam back he would bring them chocolate.  The children asked how they would know it was him flying over.  He told them he would wiggle his wings.

Halvorsen gathered chocolate bars and gum from his buddies at the base, and using handkerchiefs, fashioned parachutes so the candy would float down to the children below.  “I had so much fun on my first drop … when I flew over the airport I could see the children…I wiggled my wings and the little group went crazy… I was able to give them a little candy and a little hope, but they were able to fill me us with so much more,” Gail Halvorsen wrote in the prologue of the book.

Read The Candy Bomber to learn about this amazing man and his commitment to humankind.  He didn’t stop with just one drop or with just operation.  His effort to show kindness to those most in need is inspirational.  What can you do to inspire hope in the world?  Share your ideas in a comment – no idea is too small.  After all The Candy Bomber began with only two sticks of gum.

Click here to learn more about Gail Halverson and Operation Little Vittles.

Wideness and Wonder

Wideness and Wonder: The Life and Art of Georgia O'KeeffeWideness and Wonder – the life and art of Georgia O’Keeffe by Susan Goldman Rubin is the story of one woman’s determined effort to do what she loved – create art.  Packed with information and a  rich collection of photographs and art reproductions this book opens the door on the artist’s entire life.  When Georgia was in eighth grade she said she would grow up to be an artist. Closely tied to the land and her family, Georgia always worked to paint what she loved.  Each image was a celebration.

At first Georgia tried to stay within the lines of “good art and technique.”  It was fine, but it was also like everything else.  It wasn’t until Georgia found a way to share her unique view with the world that her art sang.  When she discovered her individual sense of expression and sought to share her own interpretation and arrangements of color, shape and form she knew she had found her true passion in life.  She made sure each image captured how she felt.  Georgia knew that, if nurtured, passion continued to grow and develop leading a person onward.  “Success doesn’t come with painting one picture.  It’s building step by step against great odds…Every year I have to carry the thing I do enough further so that people are surprised again.”  These quotes, found on page 79 of the book, show how Georgia created and thought about sharing her work with the world.

Later in life, once her success assured that she could devote her life to creation, Georgia O’Keeffe moved on to painting the world as she saw it boldly, serenely, full of light and color for the sheer joy and pleasure of learning how she saw her world.

As I read Georgia O’Keeffe’s story I was amazed and thankful for her determined life.  So many times it would have been easier to fade away into her family obligations – to care for her parents and her sisters.  So many times it just would have been easier to pack up the paints and colored pencils to live a quiet life on the lake.  We are so lucky she did not.  We are so fortunate she did not allow her vision to be put aside until life became more settled and taking time to create was convenient.

It is important to share your vision with the world no matter how challenging that is. It is the only way our world becomes richer and full of possibilities – when we understand more than our own mind.  What is your passion?  What talents will you develop?  How will you share your unique vision with the world?  How are you and Georgia O’Keeffe alike?  Read Wideness and Wonder and then let us know.