Monday, May 31, 2010


KN: On your website Roy has a top-five baseball list and Sturgis has a top-ten music list. Did you make other contrasting lists in order to get to know your characters?

KS: I make a lot of those lists mentally, even if I don't write them down. I feel like, at least with major characters like Roy and Sturgis, authors should be able to answer the kinds of questions they'd be able to answer about their friends: what do they read or watch on TV, what kind of music do they like, what do they want to be when they grow up, and who are their heroes? But I only include those interests if they stand out or are a big part of a character's personality. Sturgis's music and books are a way for him to get to know his dad better, so they're important. Roy's taste in music isn't important so I don't mention it, but at I do know that about Roy -- he's OK with whatever's on the radio, unless it's jazz. But one thing about kids is that their tastes are always changing and they're always discovering new things. So as a writer, I have to keep that in mind. For example, Roy likes reading non-fiction better than fiction, but he tries reading something different in Mudville.

KN: I have to ask. Have you really cooked and eaten the dishes on Mr. McGuire’s favorite recipe pages? If so, have you served them to anyone else?

KS: Ha. Funny you should ask! My wife celebrated the week Mudville came out by planning a whole week of menus around Mr. McGuire's experiments. We had spinach surprise and spam manicotti and chili dog pie [] Chili dog pie is actually really good, although it's not that healthy. What's scary is that I made those recipes up for the book, but was able to find every one online when I put the website extras together. They were all real things people had done.

KN: Before the story starts, you quote Roy Hobbs from The Natural, “A father makes all the difference.” Did you make Roy’s mother be uninvolved so you could focus on Roy’s relationship with his father?

KS: Yes, that's exactly what it was. It was a book about fathers and sons and brothers, so I decided to downplay the mothers of both of the main characters in Mudville. Women (and girls) are also only a minor presence in Mamba Point, which is mainly about brothers and masculine friendships. I'm making up for it with my third novel, which is in progress. There are several important female characters of different generations (and different species!) that the hero gets to know, and they're all important to him without filling a role as his mother or his girlfriend. It's of the things that I feel really good about as I slog through the nth draft. I'm confident that boys will connect with those characters and find them appealing.

KN: Mudville is a pleasure to read. Could you please talk about what you did to make sure Roy’s voice is consistent and strong throughout the novel?

KS: Thanks for the compliment! Roy's voice is a synthesis of my voice and one of the great narrators in baseball fiction, Henry Wiggen. He's the narrator and hero of The Southpaw and Bang the Drum Slowly and two other novels by Mark Harris []. Wiggen is unpretentious and often funny, but those books are gorgeously written. Harris himself was taking a lot of cues from Ring Lardner's Jack Keefe stories. Anyway, that's how I found Roy's voice... the plot is like a W. P. Kinsella book, but I really owe a lot more to Mark Harris, and I said so in the acknowledgments.

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

KS: Well, I already worked in one plug but let me work in another. I have a new book coming out this summer. It's not a baseball book, or even a sports book, but I hope people who liked Mudville will like this one, too. It's called Mamba Point, and it's about an American kid living in Monrovia, Liberia (that's in West Africa) who befriends a black mamba, one of the deadliest snakes in the world. A lot of the book is based on personal experience, because I moved to Liberia myself when I was thirteen. My dad worked at the U.S. Embassy, just like Linus's dad does in the book. I never befriended a mamba, but I did see a couple.

KN: Thanks so much for the interview.

KS: Thanks for the invitation. I really like your blog; the educational tie-ins are creative.

KN: Thanks for the compliment.

Monday, May 24, 2010


By Kurtis Scaletta
Publisher: Knopf
ISBN: 978-0-375-95579-2

FROM THE FLAP: The sky had opened, sending sheets of rain across the baseball field, while lightning was flashing in the distance.

The last two boys were my father and the Sinister Bend pitcher. They were the only ones whose parents had not yet come to pick them up. They waited, wet and cold, in different corners of the muddy diamond, a full hour after every single other person had gone home.

At last, the Sinister Bend pitcher stood up and stepped out of the rain.

“This isn’t over!” he shouted at my Dad. “Not by a long shot!”

It still isn’t over, twenty-two years later. After all, it’s still raining.

KATE’S TAKE: This is a baseball curse story that tops ‘em all.

BASEBALL (Interpersonal, Kinesthetic)

After students have done the timeline and researched past town rivals, divide the class into two groups and head out for an inning or two of baseball or softball.

BIOMIMICRY (Naturalist, Logical/Mathematical, Visual/Spatial, and Interpersonal)

Roy’s dad’s business installs, “sheets of heavy-duty plastic arced over roofs like the protective wings of a mother bird” to protect houses from rain damage. Ask students to pair up and brainstorm a new product that mimics an animal or a plant from nature and will help people improve their ability in a specific hobby. First, ask each pair to brainstorm five activities/hobbies they have in common. Then ask each pair to think about what product would help them enjoy more or increase their skills in a certain hobby.Students will make a drawing of the product and present their poster to the class. Here are two great sites with more information on biomimicry: and Special thanks to Lisa Sama for this activity.

PERCENTAGES (Logical/Mathematical)

“To understand baseball, you have to understand percentages.” That’s what Roy, the main character, tells us in his first line. Invite each student to pick his or her favorite athlete and calculate percentages and fractions for that players statistics. Anyone who finishes early can write the numbers as decimals too.

TOWN TIMELINE (Interpersonal, Kinesthetic, Verbal/Linguistic)

After students have completed their posters in Sly Sleuths, ask them to come up to the front of the classroom, make a timeline, and do an oral presentation on the information they found. Invite other classes to come learn about their town.

SLY SLEUTHS (Verbal/Linguistic, Interpersonal)

Have students work in pairs and research their town’s history from a certain time period. Give each pair a different time period to research. Students should report on major date and facts as well as any tension between groups of new and old settlers. Ask them to make posters for their time period.


-Babe Ruth and the Baseball Curse by David A. Kelly
-Baseball Great by Tim Green
-Baseball Saved Us by Ken Mochizuki
-Lucky by Wes Tooke
-Six Innings by James Preller
-The Boy Who Saved Baseball by John H. Ritter
-The Brooklyn Nine by Alan Gratz
-Top of the Order by John Coy

Friday, May 21, 2010


KN: Where did the spark for Across the Alley come from?

RM: The lovely thing about writing is that sparks come from so many directions, and if you are lucky, they somehow fuse themselves into a single whole in your mind.

Prior to beginning this book, my son was practicing violin daily (under duress), and wishing he could be outside playing ball (in his case, soccer, not baseball). During that same period I was invited to give a talk in Brooklyn, and missing my turn (pre-GPS) I happened to drive though my old neighborhood for the first time in many years.

When I was born, East New York, Brooklyn, was 90-percent Jewish. A short 12 years later, less than 10 percent of those living in the neighborhood were Jews. Across the Alley, is set at the 50/50 tipping point, when Jewish kids and black children shared the streets equally, but rarely played together. In this case Abe and Willie’s bedroom windows face each other’s and they become secret best friends.

KN: You grew up in Brooklyn. Did you have a friend across the alley?

RM: I did, but not to the same extent that Abe befriends Willie, nor was I as courageous as these two boys in stepping out of my comfort zone. What fiction allows us, of course, is to reinvent our lives (less generously called, as my mother might say, “lying”), and both complicate or improve on our personal history.

KN: What would you like readers to know about violinist, Jascha Heifetz?

RM: Just listen to the music! His tonal beauty is unmatched, setting the standard against which violinists are measured to this day. But I admit that for my purposes I was mostly drawn to the music of his name—Jascha Heifetz. The four syllables roll off the tongue, and I love reading them aloud.

KN: Why did you choose to include Abe’s grandfather instead of his mother or father?

RM: Hmm. I don’t know if this has a definitive answer, as I did play with different family relationships for both boys. But I’d recently finished my books Too Young for Yiddish, which involves a Jewish boy and his grandfather; and Happy Feet, about a black child and his father; and I didn’t seem quite done with those relationship structures. Also the age range worked, as I needed a Jewish character whose mental outlook would have been shaped by the Holocaust, and a black character who was stuck in the mindset of the world at the time of the Negro Leagues. I wanted the adults to be forced to confront their prejudices and find a new zest for life through the achievements of Willie and Abe.

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

RM: Sure. Along with Across the Alley, a number of my titles deal with racial issues and hopefully provide a good starting point for classroom discussion. Busing Brewster published this week (!!!!) is about a black child bused to an all white school and As Good As Anybody: Abraham Joshua Heschel and Martin Luther King’s Amazing March Towards Freedom is about the real life friendship of these two great religious leaders. You can read more about these and my other books on my site;

KN: Thanks for the interview.

RM: Thank you, Kate, for providing this valuable opportunity for authors to make our books better known to educators and readers.

Monday, May 17, 2010


By Richard Michelson
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons
ISBN: 0-399-23970-7

FROM THE FLAP: Abe and Willie are next-door neighbors. During the day they don’t play together, because Abe is Jewish and Willie is black. But at night, when nobody’s watching, they’re best friends.

All summer long, Abe and Willie open their windows across the alley to play catch. Abe lends Willie his violin, while Willie shows Abe how to throw a real big-league slider. Then one night, Abe’s grandfather catches them—will Abe and Willie have the courage to cross the alley and bring their friendship out in the open?

Set against a backdrop of old-time Brooklyn, E.B. Lewis’s haunting watercolors and Richard Michelson’s stirring prose capture both the fun and the danger of having a secret best friend. Across the Alley, like E.B. Lewis’s timeless classic The Other Side, is a powerful story of overcoming prejudice that will strike a chord with readers of all ages.

KATE’S TAKE: A celebration of music, baseball, and most importantly friendship.

BASEBALL (Kinesthetic)

It’s almost summer! Take the kids outside for a scrimmage. If an adult pitches, the game will move quickly.

FAMILY FUN (Verbal/Linguistic and Interpersonal)

Have students prepare interview questions for their grandparents. Have them find out what kinds of activities their grandparents did when they were in elementary school. If possible, kids could invite their grandparents into the classroom for the interview. This is a fun Grandparents’ Day activity.


Invite students to be like Willie and prepare a piece of music to sing or play in front of the class. Invite them to partner up if that helps them gain the courage to perform.

SEE-SAW FRIEND BOOKS (Verbal/Linguistic, Interpersonal, Intrapersonal, Visual/Spatial)

Michelson compares and contrasts Abe and Willie to one another throughout the book. Ask students to write their own books comparing themselves to one of their friends or a family member. So the pattern would proceed like this: I have _______________ (color of eyes or other physical description). My friend has ______________ (color of eyes or other physical description). My favorite food is __________________. My friend’s favorite food is ______________. My favorite activity is _____________. My friend’s favorite activity is ____________. The last page would read, “We are friends.” Ask students to illustrate each page of their books.

SOMEDAY CLASS BOOKS (Verbal/Linguistic, Interpersonal, Intrapersonal, Visual/Spatial)

Abe’s grandpa tells him someday, “You’ll be the next Jascha Heifetz.” Give each student an 8x11 sheet of paper that says, “Someday I’ll be the next ___________________.” Have them fill in the blank with a famous person’s name or a specific occupation and draw a picture of themselves doing that activity. Bind the pages together and send the book home with a different student each day.


-As Good As Anybody: Martin Luther King and Abraham Joshua Heschel’s Amazing March Toward Freedom by Richard Michelson
-Mis Amigos/My Friends by George Ancona, Alma Flor Ada, and F. Isabel Campoy
-Someday by Eileen Spinelli
-The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson
-Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


KN: My Heart Is Like a Zoo is a great blend of creativity and emotional intelligence. How did the idea for this book develop?

MH: While in San Francisco for my brother’s wedding, I was inspired by a public art exhibit called “Hearts in Union Square.” On the plane ride home, I started to put together a story about the wedding that moved from one heart illustration to another. One of the pictures in the story was an elephant seal — a sight to see in the San Francisco Bay area. From there, I instinctively began making other animals out of hearts without any idea of what they might become. Four years later, I began to picture them in a book called “My Heart Is Like a Zoo.”

KN: Why did you choose to focus on hearts instead of another shape?

MH: I have little collections of pictures made from many different shapes. The heart is particularly effective because it has circular, straight and pointy parts within it.

KN: How did you decide which animals to include?

MH: I began with about 75 animals and grouped them according to the kinds of feelings they might represent. I wanted to represent a wide variety of feelings and characteristics. I chose animals that I liked visually and that seemed unique in some way. Toward the end, as I was tweaking the text, I had to change a number of animals because the rhythm just didn’t work. For example, one of my favorite animals was a sneaky raccoon. But “sneaky as a raccoon” didn’t flow well because the beat is on the wrong syllable in raccoon.

I wrote a blog post about the animals that didn’t make the cut for the Greenwillow blog:

KN: The sparse text rhymes and is alliterative at times. Were those poetic elements always part of the text, or did you add them over time?

MH: Initially, I didn’t plan to use rhyming text, but as the book unfolded, I could see that I needed to break the long list of animals into sections. The rhymes help to emphasize this.

The alliteration occurred naturally. I like that it is there, but I didn’t change any words in order to create that effect.

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

MH: A few weeks before I planned on showing the book, I noticed that about a third of the animals were overworked to the point that they seemed lifeless. I rebuilt them from scratch so that they were less animal and more heart.

Anyone interested in learning more can visit

KN: Thanks for the interview!

MH: Thank you.

Saturday, May 8, 2010


By Michael Hall
Publisher: Greenwillow Books An Imprint of Harper Collins
ISBN: 978-0-06-191511-6

FROM THE FLAP: Welcome to the zoo! Twenty animals are waiting for you—some are familiar, some may be brand new. What are they doing? How are they feeling? Are they friends of yours? Come on in and say hello!

KATE'S TAKE: A bright, emotional intelligent book that's sure to spark creativity.

ALPHABETIZED ANIMALS (Kinesthetic and Verbal/Linguistic)

Give each one of your students a different heart animal. Make sure the name of each animal is visible. Ask students what the first letter of the alphabet is and ask that student to come in front of the class. Continue until all of the students are in alphabetical order in front of the class.

ANIMAL YOGA (Kinesthetic and Interpersonal)

Gather the students on the rug and give each child a chance to physically emulate an animal. The other students will try and guess which animal the child is mimicking.

HEART COLLAGES (Visual/Spatial)

Place a variety of hearts of all shapes and colors at the art table. Give each student a large sheet of black paper and ask them to create a heart collage. They could choose an animal or they could choose to create a different object.

HEART GRAPHS (Logical/Mathematical)

Make a graph of how many hearts Hall used to create each animal or make a graph of the how many hearts there are of each color.

OUR HEARTS ARE LIKE A ZOO CLASS BOOK (Intrapersonal, Interpersonal, Verbal/Linguistic, and Visual/Spatial)

Give each child a 8x11 piece of white paprer and ask him/her to complete the sentence ________ heart is as ____________ as a ____________ when ______________________________________________________. Have them illustrate
their sentegnce. Bind the work together to create a class book to send home with a different student every few days. If you’re working one-on-one with a child, he/she can easily make their own book which contains five or six pages that each talk about a different emotion and animal.


-Circus Ship by Chris Van Dusen (November 22, and November 25, 2009 posts)
-Color Zoo by Lois Ehlert
-Mouse Shapes by Ellen Stoll Walsh
-Quick as a Cricket by Audrey Wood
-Wild About Books by Judy Sierra

Monday, May 3, 2010


By Maryrose Wood
Publisher: Balzer and Bray, An imprint of Harper Collins
ISBN: 978-0-06-179105-5

FROM THE FLAP: Of especially naughty children, it is sometimes said: “They must have been raised by wolves.”

The Incorrigible children actually were.

Discovered in the forests of Ashton Place, the Incorrigibles are no ordinary children: Alexander keeps his siblings in line with gentle nips; Cassiopeia has a bark that is (usually) worse than her bite; and Beowulf is alarmingly adept at chasing squirrels.

Luckily, Miss Penelope Lumley is no ordinary governess. Only fifteen years old and a graduate of the Swanburne Academy for Poor Bright Females, Penelope embraces the challenge of her new situation. Though she is eager to instruct the children in Latin verbs and the proper use of globes, first she must eliminate their canine tendencies.

But mysteries abound at Ashton Place: Who are these three wild creatures? Why does Old Timothy, the coachman, lurk around every corner? Will Penelope be able to civilize the Incorrigibles in time for Lady Constance’s holiday ball? And what on earth is a schottische?

Penelope is no stranger to mystery, as her own origins are also cloaked in secrecy. But as Agatha Swanburne herself once said, “Things may happen for a reason, but that doesn’t mean we know what the reason is—at least not yet.”

KATE’S TAKE: A deliciously old-fashioned novel laced with foreboding.

CASSIOPEIA CHALLENGES (Logical/Mathematical and Interpersonal)

Cassiopeia creates her own math problems. Ask students to create their own math problems based on scenes in the book. Have each student prove the problem is solveable before challenging another student to solve it.

CHARACTER ACROSTIC POEMS (Verbal/Linguistic and Interpersonal)

Ask each student to pick a character from the book and write an acrostic poem to describe each character. Students should describe physical and personality traits of the character as well as the person’s role in the book.

FOLK DANCE FUN (Kinesthetic and Interpersonal)

Miss Lumley and the children learn to dance the schottische, a popular folk dance of the time. Teach your class how to do a folk dance. This website has great teacher support for this activity:

TABLEAUX VIVANT (Visual/Spatial and Interpersonal)

Ask groups of three or four students to perform tableaux vivants for the class. Students will design sets and props and dress up as characters from a book the class has studied over the year or from a classic tale. The rest of the class will guess which story the students are portraying.

TASTY TREATS (Verbal/linguistic and Interpersonal)

Alexander, Beowulf, and Cassiopeia indulge in many delicacies such as petites madeleines at the Christmas ball. Ask each child to bring in a favorite recipe from home and correlate the recipes together to create a class recipe book.


-The Witch’s Guide to Cooking with Children by Keith McGowan
-The Witch’s Guide to Hunting with Children by Keith McGowan
-Werewolves by Stephen Krensky
-Werewolves Don’t Go to Summer Camp by Debbie Dadey
-Werewolves Don’t Run for President by Debbie Dadey