Monday, December 14, 2009

Interview with Jacqueline Kelly, author of The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

KN: Grandfather’s library feels so real that as a reader, I feel as if I’m there. How did you create this incredible setting?

JK: What an interesting question, I haven't been asked that before. I filled his library with all sorts of weird and wonderful things that would have enchanted me as a child. I still find objects like that irresistible. The bottled beast comes from seeing an actual sample that Darwin had collected in a museum in Cambridge, England. The specimen was fairly distorted by that time, but what really thrilled me was a small hand-written tag that Darwin had affixed to the bottle. Seeing his own hand writing made it really come alive for me.

KN: Callie’s voice is exquisite. What did you do to make sure she sounded like a girl who lived in 1899, not 2009?

JK: Since writing a hundred years ago was more formal, I figured that speech had to be more formal then as well. I tried to give her an educated, formal sound for a girl of her age. No slang, and no modern words. I'm glad you think I succeeded.

KN: I learned about Texas ’s insects, plants and animals from reading the entries in Callie’s naturalist notebook? Do you keep a naturalist notebook, and if you do, for how long have you done so?

JK: I myself keep a writing notebook, not a naturalist notebook. But a lot of the story came from me sitting quietly on a cushion on the front porch early in the morning and just waiting for the birds and animals to come visit. The biggest shock was when a tiny mole came around the corner of the house one day, only about four feet away. I'd never seen a mole before, and we just looked at each other for a moment (or, rather, it squinted at me since they have terrible eyesight) before it scuttled away.

KN: Callie and grandfather’s relationship is rich and detailed. Were you close to a grandparent at Callie’s age?

JK: One of my grandfather's died before I was born, and I grew up on the other side of the world from my other grandfather, only seeing him a handful of times as a teen and adult. Since I essentially had no grandfather in my life, I had to create the one that I wanted.

KN: Is there anything else that you would like to share with us?

JK: I'm truly delighted by the response the book has received. It's been a great treat and a pleasure to meet fans of my girl!

KN: Thanks for the interview. If you want to check out a curriculum guide for this book click on

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Day-Glo Brothers

By Chris Barton
Publisher: Charlesbridge
ISBN 978-1-57091-673-1

FROM THE FLAP: An illuminating tale. Why did you pick up this book? Did it have something to do with the eye-popping colors on the cover?

You can thank Bob and Joe Switzer for those shocking greens, blazing oranges, and screaming yellows. The brothers invented a whole new kind of color, one that glowed with an extra-special intensity. It took them years of experimenting, but their efforts paid off brilliantly. Day-Glo colors helped win a war, save people’s lives, and brighten everyday life, including this book.

BIOLUMINESCENCE IN NATURE (Naturalist, Verbal/Linguistic)

The Switzer brothers developed fluorescent paints, but glow-in-the-dark sea animals, plants, and insects have been around much longer than Day-Glo paints. Ask students to write a paragraph about a fluorescent plant or animal. The first two links below have information for kids and the last one is a teacher’s guide about bioluminescent organisms.


Gather up different types of white fabric swatches such as silk, cotton, polyester, nylon, and satin. As a class, predict which fabric will best take the dye. Make sure that each group of student dyes the fabric for the same amount of time, otherwise you’ll have more than one variable. Give each group of students a bucket, dye and a fabric swatch. After the swatches dry, hang them up from lightest to darkest. Which fabric worked best?

POP ART (Visual/Spatial)

Andy Warhol used Day-Glo paints. Ask students to pick a famous cultural object or person and create a symmetrical portrayal of their chosen object or person. Students can fold their papers into halves, thirds, or fourths to demarcate each block of space. After students have drawn their symmetrical objects, give them Day-Glo paint for the finishing touches. Warhol’s Campbell Soup Cans, Marilyn Monroe, and Four Monkeys illustrate symmetry.

SWITZER BROTHER TIMELINES (Visual/Spatial, Logical/Mathematical)

Use the dates and facts in the book to create a Switzer Brother Timeline. This is a fun and easy way to summarize the information in the book.

THE CAN-CAN DANCE (Bodily/Kinesthetic, Interpersonal)

A theater bought Day-Glo costumes that made their chorus girls look like dancing skeletons. Break the class into groups of five or six and ask them to do the Can-Can dance. Start off by asking each group to do it for a minute. Then, increase the time in one minute intervals to see which group can keep up the aerobic activity for the longest amount of time.

Book Buddies:

-Andy Warhol by Mike Venezia
-Girls Think of Everything: Stories of Ingenious Inventions by Women- Inventors by Glenn Murphy
-So You Want To Be An Inventor? By Judith St. George
-Stopping Bullets with a Thread: Stephanie Kwolek and Her Incredible Invention (Genius at Work! Great Inventor Biographies) by Edwin Brit Wyckoff
-TV’s Forgotten Hero: The Story of Philo Farnsworth (Trailblazer Biographies) by Stephanie Sammartino McPherson

Monday, December 7, 2009

Edublog Awards

Behind the Books: Edublog Awards

Tomorrow is the deadline for this year’s Edublog Awards -- nominations, so while I still have time, here are my choices. Each of my picks features sites that can enrich your classroom. Enjoy!

Best Individual Blog: Celebrate Science
Melissa Stewart is the award winning author of more than 100 non-fiction books for children, and her posts are perfect for science centers and any teacher who is trying to implement naturalist notebooks into their weekly routine. For science centers, check out her Fun Friday posts which include science-based word searches, gross and goofy body facts, Readers Theater scripts, and contests. For naturalist notebooks, have your students read her Monday posts about the maple tree in her yard. It’s full of fascinating scientific information, and will help your students learn to be more observant of the natural world around them.

Best Group Blog: I.N.K. (Interesting Nonfiction for Kids) If you’re looking for books for your elementary science and social studies centers, this is the blog to check out. Twenty-two award-winning children’s non-fiction authors post about all aspects of their writing and research. Make sure to click on the Ink Think Tank link. The Ink Think Tank connects books from each of the authors to curriculum standards. This is an invaluable source of information for educators.

Best New Blog: Celebrate Science
You don’t want to miss out on this one! Check out the explanation above to see how this blog will help you celebrate science in your classroom.

Best Teacher Blog: Kate’s Book Blog
Kate Messner is a middle school English teacher and the author of three fantastic books (with more on the way). She does an amazing job of integrating technology and education to enrich her creative writing courses. If you’d like to find out how to use Skype to bring authors into your classroom, or want tips on how to help students develop setting, character, and conflicts in their work, browse Ms. Messner’s site.

Next year I hope to be able to nominate an elementary math blog! If you find a great one, let me know. In the meantime, here's a great math website with lots of great games to enrich your classroom:

Sunday, December 6, 2009


By Sebastian Meschenmoser
Publisher: Kane Miller
ISBN 978-1-935279-01-4

FROM THE FLAP: Deer has told squirrel how wonderful snow is, so Squirrel sits outside and waits for winter. He waits, and he waits, and he waits. It’s boring.

All his not-so-patient waiting has woken Hedgehog, who decides he’d like to see it snow too. They wait, and they wait, and they wait. And it’s still boring, even when there are two of you. Maybe singing will help to pass the time?

All the not-so-patient waiting and the not-so-quiet singing has woken Bear. He’ll have to help Squirrel and Hedgehog find the snow if he wants to get any sleep this winter. Deer said it was white and wet and cold and soft. How hard could it be to find something like that?

Well, maybe harder than he thinks.

GARBAGE DAY (Naturalist)

Give the kids plastic, disposable gloves and garbage bags, and take them for a walk outside. Have them pick up any litter or garbage they see. Not only does it make their immediate surroundings cleaner, but it keeps the trash from traveling elsewhere. Read Tracking Trash by Loree Griffin Burns for more information.

SNOWMEN RETELLINGS (Verbal/Linguistic)

Have each child cut out two symmetrical snowmen. Then, ask them to put glue on one vertical half of the snowman and stick the other snowman on top. Fold back the two halves without glue. The snowman should have three sides and be able to stand up on its own. On one side have students write about the beginning of the story, on the next side have students write about the middle of the story, and on the last side have students write about the end of the story.

SNOW LANDSCAPES (Visual/Spatial)

Give students an 8x11 piece of black or blue construction paper and a piece of white chalk. Have them draw snowdrifts on the bottom of the paper. Then, give them sheets of white paper to tear, clear beads, snippets of white ribbon, and foam snowflakes for the falling snow.

SNOW SONGS (Musical)

Squirrel sings to pass the time. Welcome winter with these snow songs available at and

SQUIRREL TAG (Bodily Kinesthetic)

Each child starts off as a squirrel. Have two squirrels be it. When they tag a student, the child becomes a tree, a base for the other squirrels that have yet to be tagged. Time how long it takes for the pair of squirrels to tag ten students and repeat.


-Snow by Uri Shulevitz
-Snowball by Nina Crews
-Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin
-Tracking Trash: Flotsam, Jetsam and the Science of Ocean Motion by Loree Griffin Burns
-Under the Snow by Melissa Stewart