Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

By Jacqueline Kelly
Publisher: Holt
ISBN-13: 978-0-8050-8841-0

FROM THE FLAP: The summer of 1899 is hot in Calpurnia’s sleepy Texas town,and there aren’t a lot of good ways to stay cool. Her mother has a new wind machine from town, but Callie might just have to resort to stealthily cutting off her hair, one sneaky inch at a time. She also spends a lot of time at the river with her notoriously cantankerous grandfather, an avid naturalist. It turns out that every drop of river water is teeming with life, all you have to do is look through a microscope.

As Callie explores the natural world around her, she develops a close relationship with her grandfather, navigates the dangers of living with six brothers, and learns just what it means to be a girl at the turn of the century.

Debut author Jacqueline Kelly deftly brings Callie and her family to life, capturing an unusual year with unique sensitivity and wit.

BIRD FEEDERS (Visual/Spatial)

Callie feeds the birds in her yard. Have students make bird feeders. If you want a simple fast activity, give the students string and donut-shaped cereal. Make a cereal necklace and hang outside for the birds. For a more complex activity, use milk or juice cartons. Here’s a good link to check out for more detailed information:

CLASS AWARD (Interpersonal)

Make a class award that will be passed on from one student to another each week just like Callie’s family had a FENTRESS FIREFLY PRIZE. The award could be for using a “wow” word in writing, an impressive open response math explanation, or any concept you’re trying to teach.

EGG TOSS (Bodily Kinesthetic)

Callie’s grandfather doesn’t want to damage specimens when he collects them. Divide the class into teams of four for a relay race. Each team member has to carry an egg on a spoon to the finish line and back without the egg breaking.

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR (Verbal/Linguistic)

When Callie writes to the local newspaper, not only does the newspaper write back, but they begin to include the temperature in the shade. Read your local paper and write a letter to them praising one of their articles or suggest a change that would improve the paper.


Collect samples from different water sources: lake, pond, river, marsh, swamp or ocean and look at each underneath a microscope. Record your observations. Using the results you’ve found, design a science experiment and use the scientific method to test your hypothesis.

NATURALIST NOTEBOOKS (Visual/Spatial and Naturalist)

Once a week take the class outside to sketch something in their natural environments. If you’re in a rural area, opportunities abound, but even in an urban area there are different options. Check out this blog post for photos and observations of Maple trees. Don't forget about the sky and the different types of clouds, too.


-Darwin and Evolution for Kids: His Life and Ideas with 21 Activities by Kristan Lawson
-Fire in the Hole by Mary Cronk Farrell
-How Do You Know It’s True?: Discovering the Difference Between Science and Superstition by Hyman Ruchlis
-Keeper of the Doves by Betsy Byars
-My Name is America: The Journal of Fin Reardon A Newsie by Susan Bartoletti

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Interview with The Circus Ship author and illustrator, Chris Van Dusen

KN: Why did you choose to write The Circus Ship in rhyme?

Chris Van Dusen: I wrote The Circus Ship in rhyme because I wanted to the tone to be light-hearted. As you know, the story is loosely based on a terribly tragic event, so to distance my story even more from it's horrible past, I thought rhyme would be a good choice. I was also thinking about sea shanties and other historic events that are told in long rhyming poems, and I hoped to capture a little of that feeling, too.

KN: Why did you decide to make Tiger the hero of the story?

Chris Van Dusen: The tiger's rescue, to me, is the link that brings the whole story together. Not only does he save the day, but this is the first time the people see that these animals are special. I chose the tiger because his circus talent is jumping through fire. He HAD to be the one to rescue little Emma Rose!

KN: You did a great job camouflaging the animals. Were some of the animals harder to hide than others?

Chris Van Dusen: It wasn't too hard finding ways to hide the animals, in fact it was really fun. I wanted to mix it up though. In other words, I didn't want all the animals dressed as people. I also wanted to make some animals really obvious like the gorilla in the foreground, and some animals really hard to find, like the alligator and the leopard. Have you found those two yet? If you have, congratulations!

KN: Those two animals were really fun to find! I read you live in a little town in Maine. Have the residents of your town ever worked together to solve a problem like the animals and residents in The Circus Ship?

Chris Van Dusen: Fortunately, our town has not been overrun by exotic animals! I live in a beautiful, small, coastal Maine town, and I feel very lucky to live here, but I can't think of a specific incident when we've had to band together to solve a big problem. Probably the closest thing to that is when we worked hard to save a wetland area from being filled to build condominiums. We succeeded, by the way. It's now a wildlife preserve.

KN: Our small town succeeded in preserving land from a developer, too. It feels great to work together. Is there anything else you'd like to tell us?

Chris Van Dusen: I'd just like to add that The Circus Ship is different from my other books in a number of ways. While it's still a rhyming picture book, this is the first time I've attempted an historic story. It was fun to do research for the book. It's also the first time I've added a villain to one of my stories, which was a lot of fun. There's so much you can do with a bad guy!

Thanks again, Kate.

KN: Thank you, Chris.

Sunday, November 22, 2009


By Chris Van Dusen
Publisher: Candlewick Press
ISBN 978-0-7636-3090-4

FROM THE FLAP: When a circus ship runs aground off the coast of Maine, the circus animals must stagger to the shore of a small island. At first the townspeople view them with suspicion, but it’s not long before locals and animals are sharing the island in harmony.

When the greedy circus owner returns, the townsfolk and the circus refugees come up with a delightfully original way to outsmart the bloated blowhard, exacting hilarious revenge in the process.

With rhymed text and brilliantly caricatured illustrations that evoke the early nineteenth century, Chris Van Dusen has crafted a stunning picture book about the unique bonds of friendship and community.

THEY CAME IN TWOS (Verbal/Linguistic)

Take twelve pairs of rhyming words from the text. Write each word on an index card. Pass out a card to each student. Say a rhyming word from the same family and ask the students who have words from that same family to come to the front of the room. As a class brainstorm as many words as possible that rhyme with those words.


As a class, talk about how each animal is hidden by the townspeople. Brainstorm different ways each animal could camouflage itself in varying realistic and fantastic environments. Have each student choose an animal and draw a picture of it camouflaged in a realistic or fantastic setting.


There are some great circus songs you can sing with your class at All of the lyrics are set to well known tunes such as Mary Had a Little Lamb or I’ve Been Working on the Railroad.


Circuses usually showcase tightrope walkers. Put a balance beam or a two by four in the middle of the class rug. Have a few students pretend to be hungry crocodiles swimming around the rug waiting to gobble up any students who fall off the tightrope into the water.


This book has a distinct beginning, middle and end and has a large list of characters. So, it’s great for Reader’s Theater. Talk about the beginning when the boat crashes, the middle when the animals cause havoc and the Tiger saves Emma Rose, and the end when the townspeople and the animals work together to trick the circus owner. Give students the roles of the animals, the circus owner, the captain, Emma Rose, Little Red and the townspeople and have them reenact the book. Don't forget to have the animals camouflage themselves in the classroom!


-Circus by Lois Ehlert
-If I Ran The Circus by Dr. Seuss
-Last Night I Dreamed a Circus by Maya Gottfried
-Miss Bindergarten Plans a Circus with Kindergarten by Joseph Slate
-Twenty-One Elephants and Still Standing By April Jones Prince

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Interview with The Year the Swallows Came Early Author, Kathryn Fitzmaurice

KN: Did you use any organizational tools such as an outline or graphic organizers before you started writing Groovy's story?

Kathryn Fitzmaurice: Typically, I am a very organized person who writes a lot of lists and outlines. But with this story, I did not use either. I knew what the beginning and ending would be, but not the middle. I just wrote the story as it came to me, which is probably why it took three years to complete. I find if I do use outlines, though, my writing goes more quickly and is more organized.

KN: The Year the Swallows Came Early has beautiful metaphors, many of which relate to food. Did you have a list of food metaphors before you created Groovy, or did the metaphors stem from Groovy's character?

Kathryn Fitzmaurice: Thank you for this very nice compliment. I did not have any lists of food metaphors as I wrote. I suppose they came as I was writing the story. I’m not a very good cook, so luckily, with Groovy only being eleven; I didn’t have to think up elaborate things.

KN: Migration is a theme in your book. Did the migration of swallows inspire you to think of how people relocate, or did you think about the mobility of people first?

Kathryn Fitzmaurice: The migration of the swallows has always fascinated me. How do they know the exact place to come back to? How do they arrive the same day each year? I like to think that no matter what else is going on around us, we can always count on the swallows to be here each spring. It’s one thing that never changes, almost like a promise that can’t be broken. I knew I wanted to put that in the book, and when Frankie needed something to believe in, it was the swallows’ return.

KN: Have you seen the swallows return home to San Juan Capistrano in the spring?

Kathryn Fitzmaurice: I go every year to the area around the mission in San Juan Capistrano to see the swallows return. We call it St. Joseph’s day. Unfortunately, because of the construction that has occurred since the mission was built and all the people who now live around there, including a big freeway, the swallows have scattered to the surrounding areas, but we can still see a few each year. A lot of them go to the undersides of the canal bridges lately because it’s much more quiet and away from the people.

KN: Is there anything else you would like to tell us?

Kathryn Fitzmaurice: Thank you for interviewing me, and for reading the book.

KN: It's been a pleasure.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Year the Swallows Came Early

By Kathryn Fitzmaurice
Publisher: THE BOWEN PRESS An Imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers
ISBN: 978-0-06-162497-1

FROM THE FLAP: Eleanor “Groovy” Robinson loves cooking and plans to go to culinary school just as soon as she’s old enough. But even Groovy’s thoughtfully planned menus won’t fix the things that start to go wrong the year she turns eleven. Suddenly, her father is in jail, her best friend’s long-absent mother reappears, and the swallows that make their annual migration to her hometown arrive surprisingly early.

As Groovy begins to expect the unexpected, she learns about the importance of forgiveness and starts to understand the complex stories of the people around her. And, on a night where nothing goes as planned, she is amazed to discover that even a really big shake-up can’t get in the way of a family that needs to come together.

Kathryn Fitzamurice’s tender debut novel is as full of promise as the swallows that return home to San Juan Capistrano every spring.

BIRD REPORTS (Naturalist and Verbal/Linguistic)

Research a bird and describe its physical traits and habitat. Be sure to include information about whether or not the bird migrates.


Swallows and people “migrate” in this book. Groovy’s dad migrates to and from jail, an adult friend migrates to and from and island, and Groovy’s best friend’s mother migrates to and from Mexico. With a partner, ask students to research charitable organizations that help displaced people or animals. As a class, take a vote and narrow the organizations down to three possibilities. Using Skype, interview the presidents of these organizations on the phone to decide which organization is worthy of a donation from the class.

FOODOLOGY (Verbal/Linguistic)

Ms. Fitzmaurice peppers her narrative with beautiful metaphors comparing Groovy’s life to food. On the first page, Groovy compares her house to a chocolate-covered coconut candy, and on the last page, Groovy compares the upcoming year to a chocolate-covered caramel. Write an essay comparing your life to a candy, or make a Foodology list to describe important events in your life just as Groovy did on page 255 of the novel.

MIGRATION GRAPHS (Logical/Mathematical and Visual/Spatial)

After researching a specific bird, have students list their bird’s name and the distance it migrates on the board. Give each student a piece of graph paper and have them graph the miles each bird migrates. Calculate the mean, median, and range of the selected birds’ migration.


Create a diorama of one of the settings in the book such as Groovy’s house, Luis’s store, the jetty, the pier, or the hair salon.


-Becoming Naomi Leon by Pam Munoz Ryan
-Everything on a Waffle by Polly Horvath
-Faith, Hope, and Ivy June by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
-My Life in Pink and Green by Lisa Greenwald
-The Cupcake Queen by Heather Hepler

Monday, November 9, 2009


By Janet Stevens and Susan Stevens Crummel
Publisher: Harcourt, Inc.
ISBN 0-15-202298-8

FROM THE FLAP: Hey diddle diddle, the cat and the fiddle, The cow jumped over the moon; The little dog laughed to see such sport, And the dish ran away with the spoon.

Every night the rhyme gets read. Every night Dish and Spoon run away. And every night they return, until tonight!

Where can Dish and Spoon be? The rhyme can’t go on without them, so Cat, Cow, and Dog set out to search for their missing friends. But where to start? Should they go north? East? Northeast? They’ll just have to read Fork’s map, ask directions, and try not to get lost in Little Boy Blue’s haystack or under Miss Muffet’s Tuffet or in the Big Bad Wolf’s Kitchen…

“Fee, Fi, Fo…”

Oh no. Could that be the giant?


Cut out a large moon from yellow bulletin board, tape it to the rug, and have students jump over it one-by-one. Have students recite And the Dish ran away with the Spoon rhyme saying each child’s name instead of Cow when he or she jumps over the moon. Take a picture of each child jumping over the moon for the Who Jumped Over the Moon? activity below.

LOST AND FOUND (Intrapersonal and Visual/Spatial)

Cat is very upset when he realizes Dish and Spoon are gone and is very relieved when he finds them. Draw a picture of how you felt when you lost something and how you felt when you found it. Write a sentence describing your picture.


Give each student a paper plate(Dish) that has been cut up into six pieces. Have them repair Dish. Then, around the edge of the paper plate, have them use marker and create a striped border in an A, B, A pattern.

WHO JUMPED OVER THE MOON? (Verbal/Linguistic)

Using the pictures from Jumping over the Moon, create a class book. Each page will feature one picture of a student jumping over the moon, and the rhyme minus the word cow. Put a blank line where the word cow would go and have the pictured student write in his or her name. Take turns sending the book home in a bag with each child.


Instead of playing Doggy, Doggy Where’s your Bone, play Who Ran Away with the Spoon. Change the last line of And the Dish Ran Away with the Spoon to And someone ran away with the spoon. Have one student go into the hallway while one student hides the spoon. Have the class chant the rhyme when they’re ready to have the student come guess who ran away with the spoon.

Book Buddies:

-Little Miss Muffet Counts to Ten by Emma Chichester Clark
-Mother Goose Numbers on the Loose by Leo and Diane Dillon
-The Neighborhood Mother Goose by Nina Crews
-You Read to Me, I’ll Read to You: Very short Mother Goose Tales to Read Together by Mary Ann Hoberman

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Giant of Seville by Dan Andreasen

By: Dan Andreasen
Publisher: Abrams Books for Young Readers
ISBN 13: 978-0-8109-0988-5

FROM THE FLAP: Seville, Ohio is a sleepy town. Nothing exciting ever happens, that is until Captain Martin Van Buren Bates arrives. Standing seven feet eleven and a half inches, Captain Bates is a giant who has toured around the world in the circus. In search of a quiet home for himself and his wife (who is also a giant), Captain Bates decides to get off the train in Seville, although he fears that he will be too big for the little town. But Seville is full of surprises, and the giant is about to learn that the only thing that matters is the size of one’s heart.

A “tall” tale based on the true story of a real-life circus giant, The Giant of Seville is a heartwarming story of acceptance, and also includes an author’s note on the life of Captain Bates and his wife, Anna Bates, Seville’s most famous residents.

CLASS HEIGHTS (Logical/Mathematical)

Pair students and have them measure one another’s heights. Make a graph of the students’ heights. Ask each one of them to estimate approximately how many of them would it take to reach the height of the giants in the book.

GIANT HEARTS (Intrapersonal, Interpersonal and Verbal/Linguistic)

The residents of Seville go out of their way to welcome Captain Bates into their community. Ask the students to tell about a time someone did something nice for them or a time when they did something nice for someone else. Then, have them write their incident on a giant heart.

SQUARE DANCING (Rhythmic/Musical and Bodily-Kinesthetic)

Teach the kids to square dance just as the residents of Seville. Use the free downloads from Ez-tracks and the list of definitions from Dosado to help you out.

TALL TALES (Verbal/Linguistic)

Have the students retell the beginning, middle, and end of The Giant Of Seville. Then, give them a graphic organizer to plan the beginning, middle, and end of their own Tall Tale. After that, have them write their own tall tale.

TOP HATS (Visual/Spatial)

Using construction paper and other art supplies, have kids design their own top hats.


-American Tall Tales by Mary Pope Osborne
-Dona Flor: A Tall Tale About a Giant Woman with a Great Big Heart by Pat Mora
-The Foot-Stomping Adventures of Clementine Sweet by Kathy Combs, Kitty Griffin and Mike Wohnoutka
-Thunder Rose by Jerdine Nolen
-Whoosh Went the Wind! By Sally Derby