Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Interview with Poop Happened! author, Sarah Albee

KN: The humorous voice is strong and consistent throughout the text. How did you accomplish this feat?

SA: It wasn’t always easy to remain light and irreverent, because a lot of the information in the book covers episodes of human history that weren’t very funny—like plagues and poverty and overcrowding. I didn’t want to come across as uncaring or flippant. But usually I was able to find something light-hearted to focus on. My ultimate goal was to help kids appreciate the amazing ability humans have to cope with bad situations. I also thought it was important for kids to appreciate that the field of public health has only been a priority for civic leaders for the past hundred years or so.

KN: I love the TMI(too much information) sections in the book. Did you plan those out or did the book designer come up with that idea?

SA: It kind of evolved, actually. In an early draft I had a few boxes that I had called “Probably more than you wanted to know” and my editor changed it to TMI. Then we culled out more from the body text and made a few extra TMI boxes.

KN: In order to write this book, you had to do a tremendous amount of research. How much time did you spend researching and how did you organize all of the information?

SA: I did read a lot of books, in whole or in part, as I researched. The research part took about two years, although I wasn’t working exclusively on POOP that whole time. The biggest challenge was organizing it all and then deciding what information was most relevant and/or fun for kids. A good friend of mine who is a writer read an early draft that was perhaps twice as long as the finished manuscript. She gently pointed out to me that not everyone is as excited about sanitation as I am, and that I really had to cut out some of the information. Which I did. And then my editor asked me to make further cuts. Cutting the text forced me to consider what was truly essential to me to keep, and that made it a stronger book.

KN: Reading this book made me really grateful that I live in modern times in a country which has a good sanitation system. You mention that many of the sanitation problems of medieval Europe still exist in developing countries today. Did you visit any of these countries to have a better idea of what it must have been like to live in London or Paris over a hundred years ago?

SA: I lived in Cairo, Egypt for a year, and there I witnessed a great deal of poverty and poor sanitation, both in the urban center and also in the countryside. During the course of my research I also read an amazing book called The People of the Abyss, by Jack London (the writer of White Fang and Call of the Wild). In 1903, London left his comfortable lodgings in the west part of London and traveled to the East End, purchased second-hand clothing, and went to live in a London slum, to experience firsthand what the life was like. He walked the streets, starving and homeless, and then wrote about it. Because he’s such an amazing writer, his account really helped me understand what it must have been like to be poor at that time, when there were virtually no social safety nets. Unfortunately similar situations exist today in many developing countries.

KN: Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?

SA: I hope this book will get kids excited about history. I’m working on a follow-up book about the history of clothes, especially some of the funkier fashions like corsets and codpieces and ruffs and bound feet and bathing costumes and arsenic wafers. I hope the next book will be another fun way for kids to learn a little history—the kind that isn’t in their social studies textbooks.

KN: Thanks for the interview.

SA: A pleasure!

Monday, April 26, 2010


By Sarah Albee
ISBN: 978-0-8027-2077-1
Publisher: Walker & Company

FROM THE FLAP: Throughout the ages, the most successful civilizations were the ones who realized that everyone poops and they’d better figure out how to get rid of it! From the very first flushing toilet (invented way earlier than you would think) to the efficient Roman aqueducts (possibly inspired by the goddess of sewers!) to castles in the Middle Ages whose moats used more than just water to repel enemies, Poop Happened! traces human civilization through this revolting yet fascinating theme. Disgusting details about human hygiene give kids down and dirty answers to some enduring questions like:

Did lead pipes cause the fall of the Roman Empire?
How many toilets were in the average Egyptian pyramid?
How did a knight wearing fifty pounds of armor go to the bathroom?
Was poor hygiene the last straw before the French Revolution?
Did Thomas Crapper really invent the modern toilet?
How do astronauts “go” in space?

History will finally come out of the water closet in this exploration of how a human necessity shaped civilization from ancient times to the present. Bathroom reading has never been so engrossing!

AQUEDUCT RELAY RACES (Kinesthetic and Interpersonal)

Rome, and Edo(modern day Tokyo) used aqueduct to keep their water supplies free from waste which made their cities much cleaner and healthier than other cities in history. Divide the class into five teams. Give each person a twelve to eighteen inch piece of PVC pipe cut in half lengthwise. Each group should have one tennis ball. Each team needs to transport the tennis ball from the start line to the finish line without having the ball touch their hands or the floor/grass. If the ball falls or if it touches their hand, the team needs to go back to the start line. Special thanks to Matt Ettinger for this activity.

CITY PLANNERS (Visual/Spatial and Interpersonal)

Pair up students and ask them to pick a city mentioned in the book. Have one student draw a map of the city from the time period mentioned in the book while the other student draws a map of the modern day city. Maps should include information about waste treatment. Have the students present their maps and compare and contrast the two.

DIRTY DISEASES (Verbal/Linguistic, Visual/Spatial, and Interpersonal)

Poor hygiene and unsanitary conditions spread disease throughout Europe. Divide the class into five small groups and have them each research a specific disease during a certain time period. Ask them to create a poster about the disease that includes information on how the disease spread and how that specific civilization dealt with the public health threat. Posters should include a map. Afterwards have them present their posters and ask class members to provide constructive critique on the group’s poster and presentation.

FAVORITE FACT TIMELINE (Logical/Mathematical, Kinesthetic, and Interpersonal)

Important facts and dates are sprinkled throughout the text. Ask each student to write down their favorite fact and the date it happened on a piece of paper. Then have them line up in class in chronological order.

GUESS WHO? (Verbal/Linguistic and Interpersonal)

Fun facts about famous people abound in Poop Happened! Each student will choose a famous person in the book and write five clues about his or her person of choice. Then, the student will dress up as the famous person and read his or her clues in front of the class. The other students will try and guess who the identity of the dressed-up student.

-Canals and Aqueducts by Julie Richards
-City Planning in Ancient Times by Arthur Segal
-Sustainable Cities by Cheryl Jakab
-The Gross and Goofy Body Series by Melissa Stewart
-The World’s Deadliest Diseases by Tim O’Shei

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Interview with VULTURE VIEW author, April Pulley Sayre

KN: Vulture View is filled with poetic elements such as alliteration, repetition, rhythm, and rhyme. Were all of these elements present in your first draft or did you add some as you revised your manuscript?

APS: Yes, those elements were present in the very first draft. I had been thinking, for years, about writing a book about flight and hawks. Vultures were in drafts of my hawk book. But then, one day, they took over. Or, should I say, I was watching vultures rise up over a rain forest in Panama when the words to the book came into my head. I heard, "The sun is rising, up, up. It heats the air up, up." Once I saw the connection between the sun coming up and the air rising up and the vultures rising up, I knew I had a book. The cadence and alliteration just unfolded. Of course, there were still many drafts to polish the language.

KN: On your website you talk about how in high school you took care of a young turkey vulture while working at a raptor rehabilitation center, and that later on you spotted them migrating through Panama. Did seeing the kettle migrate inspire you to write Vulture View?

APS: Yes, it started in Panama, although the book was not ultimately set in the rain forest. (Many of my other books, such as Meet the Howlers and Army Ant Parade are.)

KN: We tell students it’s important to use strong, “WOW” words while writing. Could you share some of the ways you sought out “WOW” words while writing Vulture View?

APS: Well, I do a lot of editing to eliminate fluff. So I guess my technique for writing with "wow" words is to eliminate all the "non-wow" words! I like concise, specific writing. I love active verbs.

KN: Please tell us about winning the Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor Book award.

APS: Oh, wow. What can I say? The passionate, hard-working members of that award committee helped change my life. I'd been ill for months with whooping cough, cracked my ribs because of it. I was just barely healing, and had just that day, for the first time in months, gone out of the house, to see a movie with my husband. I could barely speak because my voice had been damaged by the whooping cough. Now, just imagine, how it feels in such a vulnerable state to find a message on the answering machine that some librarians at some conference have called. Hmm...strange. Yet, how nice that they like my books! Honestly, that in itself was lovely. I had no idea that it was awards time of year. But then they had called back and left a second message. What? I have won an award? A Theodor Geisel Honor Award? What? My favorite part was when the committee erupted into cheers in the background and said "Hurray, April!" I just stood there and listened to the message and cried with joy. It was particularly sweet because it came at such a tough time in my life. Of course, another great part of it is that the award for Vulture View is for both text and illustration. You know that the illustrator is the great Steve Jenkins. So that call, and all the happy messages and award hoopla, including the ALA conference, were a pleasure. My entire family, especially my nieces, made the most out of the entire thing. They loved the silver stickers on the books. Someone locally gave me a basket of gigantic vulture sugar cookies. Since then, I have been on t.v. talking to a T.V. (turkey vulture) puppet. So we've had a ball. I think we've perhaps changed a few people's attitudes about vultures, too.

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

APS: Well, I think it's an exciting time for nonfiction. There are many nonfiction authors experimenting with language and format. New nonfiction awards, and awards such as the Geisel, which have welcomed nonfiction, have helped bring these books to wider audiences.

KN: Thanks so much for the interview.

APS: Thanks for helping point out quality books and bring them to educators and to readers in general!

KN:Read the April 5th post for accompanying activities for VULTURE VIEW. I won't be posting a book of the week this week because it is spring break here in Massachusetts. I'll post a new book on the 25th. Have a great week!

Monday, April 12, 2010


By Iain Lawrence
Publisher: Delacorte Press
ISBN: 978-0-385-73376-2

FROM THE FLAP: The spring of 1955 tests Laurie Valentine’s gifts as a storyteller. After her friend Dickie contracts polio and finds himself confined to an iron lung, Laurie visits him in the hospital. She meets two other kids trapped inside the breathing machines: there’s Carolyn, an obnoxious girl whose family has abandoned her, and Chip, a boy with an enigmatic past. Laurie’s first impulse is to flee from the sickly children, but Dickie begs her to tell them a story. And so Laurie begins her tale of Colosso, a rampaging giant, and Jimmy, a tiny boy whose destiny is to become a slayer of giants.

As Laurie embellishes her tale with gnomes, unicorns, gryphons, and other fanciful creatures, Dickie comes to believe that he is a character in her story. No longer paralyzed, he’s transformed into Khan, a hunter of mythical beasts. Little by little, Carolyn, Chip, and other kids who come to listen recognize counterparts as well. The story allows them to forget reality and take on active, heroic roles. In fact, Laurie’s tale is so powerful that when she’s prevented from continuing it, Dickie, Carolyn, and Chip take turns as narrators. Each helps bring the story of Colosso and Jimmy to an end—changing the lives of those in the polio ward in startling ways.

KATE’S TAKE: A fusion of historical fiction, fantasy, hope, and friendship.

DELETED SCENES: (Verbal/Linguistic and Interpersonal)

In small groups have students write a new scene with characters from the book and perform it in front of the class. Students can choose to write a fantasy or a historical fiction scene. Their characters’ words and actions should match the characterization in the book.

DIAMANTE POEMS: (Verbal/Linguistic)

Transformation abounds in the Giant-Slayer. Ask students to write a diamante poem that illustrates how one character changed from the beginning to the end of the story or a poem that compares and contrasts two characters in the book.

LANDFORM MAPS (Visual/Spatial)

When Laurie was six, she drew a map of a fantasy world that later became the setting of the story. In small groups ask students to create a topographical map of their own fantasy world. Use cardboard for the base and play dough for the landforms. Challenge students to include at least ten different types of landforms.

MATH MINUTES (Logical/Mathematical and Interpersonal)

Between the coins dropped in Jimmy’s cradle and the piles of gold and silver alongside the road, students can imagine many fanciful math problems. Challenge each student to create a word problem based on the story that covers whatever current topic you’re studying in math. Then, switch problems with a partner and solve.

VACCINATION REPORTS (Verbal/Linguistic, Visual/Spatial, and Interpersonal)

Split the class into small groups and assign each group a different vaccine to research. Ask them to develop an informational poster about the disease and the vaccine. Have each group present their poster to the class and ask the class to critique each poster.


-Bearwalker by Joseph Bruchac
-Gods of Manhattan: Spirits in the Park by Scott Mebus
-Steal Away Home by Lois Ruby
-The Journey: A Northern Lights Adventure by Stephanie Wincik
-Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin

Monday, April 5, 2010


By April Pulley Sayre
Publisher: Henry Holt
ISBN-13: 978-0-8050-7557-1

FROM THE FLAP: Wings stretch wide
to catch a ride
on warming air.
Going where?
Up, up!

TURKEY VULTURES soar on the balmy air, looking for their next stinky feast. These birds don’t hunt—they like their food to be already dead. Vulture’s are part of nature’s cleanup crew.

In her signature poetic, energetic style, acclaimed nature writer April Pulley Sayre introduces young readers to the world of the turkey vulture. Gorgeous illustrations by Caldecott Honor-winning artist Steve Jenkins capture these birds in all their surprising majesty.

KATE’S TAKE: Soar into national poetry month, spring, and a bird unit with April Pulley Sayre’s Vulture View.

BIRD COLLAGES (Visual/Spatial)

Ask students to create a paper collage of the bird of their choice.

BIRD COUPLET POEMS (Verbal/Linguistic)

Couplets abound in Vulture View. Ask students to write a poem about birds with couplets. To scaffold the activity write one together as a class. After you write the first line, ask students to brainstorm a list of words that rhyme with the last word on the first line. This will make it easier to think of the next line.

MIGRATION MATH (Logical/Mathematical and Visual/Spatial)

Vultures migrate all over the world. Here is a list of 10 vultures and their migration patterns. Pair students and ask each pair to calculate total miles traveled and for those students who want to extend their learning ask them to find the average miles traveled each day. Find more information at this link or use
the list below:

Vulture Name: Starting Location and Date to Ending Location and Date

Sabado: La Pampa, Argentina to Central Bolivia
3/31 to 5/15

Butterball: Central Florida to Kempton, Pennsylvania
3/3 to 3/26

Schaumbock: Jacksonville, Florida to Danbury, Connecticut
3/7 to 3/30

Quarry: Savannah, Georgia to Delaware
4/3 to 4/18

Rosalie: Washington State to El Fuerte, Mexico
10/3 to 10/26

Morongo: Guatemala to Oregon
3/11 to 4/08

Sill: Saskatchewan to Oklahoma
9/30 to 10/31

Blizzard: MacDowell, Saskatchewan to Rugby, North Dakota
9/25 to 10/07

Duck Lake: Duck Lake, Saskatchewan to Brandon, Manitoba
10/8 to 10/28

Ranger Ranger, Saskatchewan to Mexico/Guatemala Border
9/27 to 12/2

SOAR AND SEEK CLASS BOOK (Verbal/Linguistic, Visual/Spatial, Intrapersonal and Interpersonal)

Ask students to write the following sentence on an 8 ½ by 11 sheet of white paper: If I could soar anywhere in the world, I would go to ___________ and seek ____________. After they fill in their sentence, have them illustrate their trip. Form a class book and send home with each student on a rotating basis.

SOAR AWAY ( Kinesthetic and Interpersonal)

Take students outside to a field and have them catch a thermal and soar. Split them up into groups and have each child in the group lead the soaring.


-A Place For Birds by Melissa Stewart
-An Egg Is Quiet by Diana Hutts Aston
-Birds of Prey by Dr. Gerald Legg
-Feathers For Lunch by Lois Ehlert
-Poppy by Avi