Sunday, October 31, 2010


Hi Everyone,

I just want to let you know that this was my first phone interview, and I had a blast. Denys Cazet is as whimsical and passionate as his books.

Happy reading,

1. I love the alliteration in the title The Perfect Pumpkin Pie. Did you choose to feature pumpkin over apple because of alliteration?

The short answer is yes. The longer answer is that the fall season lends itself to Halloween. An apple pie simply doesn’t have the same power as a pumpkin pie.

2. Mr. Wilkerson speaks in fun rhyme which balances the bitterness of his words. Could you please tell us about how Mr. Wilkerson came to speak in rhyme?

Rhyme is funny. When Mr. Wilkerson dies, he gains a slight sense of humor even though he remains aloof. He’s dead but doesn’t know it, and he reduces all the aspects of life into one thing—an insatiable appetite for pie. Mr. Wilkerson is wandering because he left something undone in his past life, and he’s lying. He’s not going to go away whether or not Jack and Grandma make him a perfect pie. In fact, I’ve thought about writing a sequel where Mr. Wilkerson becomes a part of Jack and Grandma’s family.

3. Jack’s grandma is a strong, spunky character. She’s determined not to be out done by Mr. Wilkerson. She’s not afraid of him, she’s not afraid to taste a pie he’s smashed his face into, and in the end she succeeds in baking the perfect pumpkin pie. In a biography written about you found at the following link , it mentions that your characters are always based off the wonderful people in your life. Is Jack’s grandma based on one person in your life or a conglomeration of different people?

I had two grandmothers. One was very sweet and according to her the sun rose and set on my shoulders. After all, I was the only boy in a large extended family. My other grandma was a very strict, no-nonsense kind of lady. She ran the show, and nobody questioned it. She had one of those looks that said, “Don’t say another word.” Even though she was strict, she still made me pancakes in the morning.

4. I also that you saw a real estate ad for an old farm, formerly owned by bakers, listed for $1 and you asked yourself what if they sell the farm and the bakers’ ghost still lives in it? At the time the work in progress was Halloween Pie. Am I correct in assuming that’s the one and only book we’re talking about, The Perfect Pumpkin Pie? Could you please tell readers about your revision process?

Yes, it’s the same book. The baker apparently disappeared in the late 1800’s. However, every year lo and behold around Halloween, people could smell pumpkin pie baking on the property. I love Halloween and the Mexican celebration of The Day of the Dead.

I write many drafts. Then, I revise more based on suggestions from my editor. After I’m holding the book in my hands, I wish I would have revised it two or three more times. Sometimes I think The Perfect Pumpkin Pie is too long to be classified as a picture book, and that the book is better classified as a story book. I love writing and storytelling, although both arts differ from one another. In this book, I tried to include an element of storytelling so that when the book is read, it feels more like a story being told.

5. Is there anything else you would like to tell us?

Please read my book Will You Read To Me. A little pig writes a poem and asks his parents if they’ll read it to him, but the parents are too busy eating. So the pig walks to a lake where he sees his reflection and reads to himself. In so doing, his belief in himself is reinforced.

As a teacher, librarian, parent, and a writer, I feel that what’s happening to children’s literature is very disturbing. As mentioned in this New York Times article, picture book sales are down 25-30% because parents want their children to read longer books. There’s an assumption that picture books are inferior to chapter books which means that people don’t understand what a picture book is. Picture books often have more advanced vocabulary than chapter books, and the visual clues help students figure out unknown words. When I was a school librarian, the pictures in the Tin-Tin books helped reluctant readers become fluent readers.

School testing is narrowing choices for teachers and students, which means that as a country we are drifting away from a liberal arts’ education. We need to expand choices to improve education, not narrow them. Furthermore, we are all different. When we test, we’re looking for similarities and if someone is different and doesn’t fit a certain definition, they’re labeled as deficient.

Sunday, October 24, 2010


By Denys Cazet
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
ISBN: 9780689864674

FROM THE FLAP: When he was alive, Mr. Wilkerson was an ill-tempered, disagreeable, sour, and impatient old man. Once he died, he got better.

But not much.

Now he is back and very, very hungry.

When Jack and his grandma move into the old Wilkerson house, they find out just how hungry, and why.

At least they think they know.

It has something to do with the pie.

A perfect pie.

KATE’S TAKE: Clear your calendars. You'll want plenty of time to flavor and savor The Perfect Pumpkin Pie.

FAVORITE PIE CLASSROOM BOOK Verbal/Linguistic, Visual/Spatial, and Interpersonal

Give each student an 8x11 sheet of paper with the following sentence starter: My favorite kind of pie is _____________________. Have them illustrate making and/or eating their favorite pie. Compile a classroom book and send it home with the students.

FAVORITE PIES GRAPH Logical/Mathematical, Visual/Spatial, and Interpersonal

Mr. Wilkerson’s favorite pie is pumpkin pie, but what’s the class’s? As a class brainstorm four different kinds of pies. Make a large bar graph on the board. Give each child an index card with their name on it, and ask them to add it to the graph. Afterwards, each student can make their own perfect pie graph.

FIVE LITTLE PUMPKINS SITTING ON A GATE Kinesthetic, Verbal/Linguistic, Interpersonal

Act out the popular FIVE LITTLE PUMPKINS rhyme:
Five little pumpkins sitting on a gate.
The first one said, “Oh my! It’s getting late.”
The second one said, “There are witches in the air.”
The third one said, “But we don’t care.”
The fourth one said, “Let’s run, run, run.”
The fifth one said, “It’s Halloween fun.”
WOOOOO went the wind, and out went the lights.
And the five little pumpkins rolled out of sight.


Mix canned pumpkin and cinnamon into orange paint. Then ask each child to paint his or her perfect pumpkin. Special thanks to Diane Esser for this activity.

PUMPKIN PIE RHYME Verbal/Linguistic

Mr. Wilkerson speaks in rhyme. Print out one of his speeches and leave six spaces blank, one for each rhyming word. Give the children a word bank and ask them to fill in the missing words. Then, ask them to write the six words in alphabetical order. I’ve typed out one of Mr. Wilkerson’s speeches below:

“Pumpkins, pumpkins, pumpkin pie!
I must have one before I die.
It must be round and brown as toast,
Or I’ll haunt this house a hungry ghost.
It must be perfect or a ghost I’ll stay,
And haunt this house, and never, ever go away!

-The Bake Shop Ghost by Jacqueline K. Ogburn
-The Big Pumpkin by Erica Silverman
-In The Haunted House by Eve Bunting
-Pumpkin Soup by Helen Cooper
-Seed, Sprout, Pumpkin, Pie (Picture the Seasons) by Jill Esbaum

Monday, October 18, 2010


By Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan
Illustrated by Brian Floca
ISBN: 978-1-59643-338-0
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press


Martha Graham: trailblazing choreographer
Aaron Copland: distinguished American Composer
Isamu Noguchi: artist, sculptor, craftsman

Together they created an American masterpiece: Appalachian Spring. In the tradition of their award- winning Action Jackson, acclaimed authors Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan tell the story behind the scenes of this classic ballet from the first spark of imagination through the music’s composition, Martha’s intense rehearsal process, and on to its first performance on October 30, 1944 at the Library of Congress. This book puts you in a prime seat at that performance, watching as this iconic dance unfolds.

Ultimately this is a book about collaboration, and the authors’ collaborator is Sibert Honor artist Brian Floca, whose vivid watercolors bring both the process and the performance to life.

Also included are extensive source notes, biographies of each of the three principal collaborators, and a full bibliography.

KATE'S TAKE: If you want to incorporate, movement, music, and art into your curriculum, don't miss this book.

INTERESTING INTERVIEWS Verbal/Linguistic and Interpersonal
Have students write, conduct, and record interviews of people who were alive during the 1940’s.

STORIES AND MOVEMENT Musical, Bodily-Kinesthetic, Interpersonal, and Verbal-Linguistic

Copland wrote many pieces of music including Billy the Kid, Rodeo, Hoe Down, Music for a Great City, Of Mice and Men, Fanfare for the Common Man, A Lincoln Portrait. In small groups ask students to create a scene to accompany one piece of Copland’s music. Students could choose to interpret the music through choreography like Martha did, or they could write out dialogue for their stories. Either way they get to collaborate to create art just like Graham, Copland, and Noguchi.


During the 1940’s, society marginalized many groups of people including women, people of Jewish faith, and American citizens of Japanese heritage. Ask students to write a report on a famous person or group of people who triumphed despite the discrimination that occurred during that era.

STAGE DIORAMAS Visual/Spatial and Bodily-Kinesthetic

Isamu Noguchi built models of his set for Appalachian Spring before building the set. Ask students to make a set diarama of their favorite tv show, movie, play or book.

STORY SETS Visual/Spatial and Bodily-Kinesthetic
Ask students to collaborate in groups to design sets for their Copland stories.

-Aaron Copland by Mike Venezia
-Kids Dance by Jim Varriale
-Martha Graham, A Dancer’s Life by Russell Freedman
-The Children of Topaz: the Story of a Japanese Internment Camp Based on a Classroom Diary by Michael O. Tunnell
-The East-West house: Noguchi’s Childhood in Japan by Christy Hale

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


1. Joe Dumpty's voice is fantastic. Please tell us what strategies you used to create such an authentic voice.

Thank you! Unfortunately, I don’t know that I have any strategies for creating an authentic voice --- not anything I do consciously anyway. I do know that for me, writing a story in first person seems most natural. I’ve heard editors say that if your story doesn’t seem to be working in third person, try rewriting the story in first person, and vice versa.

2. How did you decide which Mother Goose characters to include and which characters to exclude?

When I first starting writing the book, I included just a few basic Mother Goose characters. But as the plot thickened, as they say, I made a list of other characters I could weave into the story. From that list, I played around with which characters would best help advance the story. Of course, I couldn’t use everyone, but that’s what sequels are for.

3. I love that spider turns into a good guy, and Miss Muffet turns out to be corrupt. Was it your intention to switch their roles?

I really didn’t have any intentions when I started the story. In fact, these two characters were pretty much true to their traditional roles in the Mother Goose tales. But somewhere in the revision process – and it was quite a process! --these minor characters wrote themselves into major roles. I’m a strong believer in letting my characters take the lead in creating the story. It’s fun to see what they come up with, but I must admit, Little Miss Muffet took me totally by surprise!

4. Having a deadline of five o'clock definitely ups the ante. Are many mysteries races against the clock?

I can’t really speak with any authority, since this is the first mystery I’ve written, and I tend to read more suspense novels than I do mysteries. However, I knew that because I was writing a picture book, I had to get a whole mystery set up and solved in just 32 pages. I decided that having a deadline was one way to accomplish that.

5. Is there anything else you'd like to tell us?

I’m happy to say that this past summer, WHAT REALLY HAPPENED TO HUMPTY became available in paperback. As for Detective Joe Dumpty, he’s busy working on his next big case. I’m not at liberty to discuss it right now, but I’m sure you’ll be reading about it at some time in the not-so-distant future.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

CALVIN CAN'T FLY: The Story of a Bookworm Birdie

By Jennifer Berne
Publisher: Sterling
ISBN: 978-1-4027-7323-5

FROM THE FLAP: Calvin was born under the eaves of an old barn with his three brothers, four sisters, and sixty-seven thousand four hundred and thirty-two cousins. Calvin may be one of many, but he’s certainly different from the rest.

While the other little starlings learn to swoop and hover and fly figure eights, Calvin buries his beak in books. In the library his mind soars, taking him places his wings never could.

KATE’S TAKE: A fun fall read that celebrates books and being one's self.

FALL FUN BOOKS: Verbal/Linguistic, Visual/Spatial, and Intrapersonal
Give each student a piece of paper with the sentence starter: In the fall I like to_____________. Ask each student to finish the sentence and draw a picture to go with it. Then, have students illustrate their sentences. Put each sheet in a three ring binder and make a class book to send home with the students.

FORMATION TAG-Bodily/Kinesthetic and Naturalist
Discuss the possible reasons why starlings might fly in formations. One reason is to protect themselves from possible predators such as hawks. Take students outside to play a game of predator vs. prey tag, hawks vs. the starlings. As the starlings try to cross from one line to the other, they’ll learn the benefit of flying in a group vs. flying solo.

STARLING BLACK BIRDS-Musical and Bodily Kinesthetic
These lyrics are adapted from Music Together
Starlings black birds-put hands in your armpits and flap wings
Crow flying round-flap arms out at your side
Nut hatch hopping down the tree-have one hand hop down your opposite arm
Chickadee, dee, dee, dee-hold both hands out front and open and close fingers to thumb like a bird beak, using quick, small motions
Caw, caw, caw, caw-do same motion as chickadee but open the beaks wider and at a slower pace
Repeat chickadee line and actions four times
This is a fun song to sing in a round, too.

Starlings form all sorts of amazing formations while flying through the sky. Ask each student to outline their favorite shape on a large piece of sky blue construction paper. Make bird stamps out of a potato or apple and have kids stamp multiple bird shapes inside their outline.

Divide a 8x11 sheet of paper into 6 parts. Trace a flying bird shape into each section. Write one of the following six words on each bird: Starlings fly south for the winter. Make enough copies for the class. Ask each student to cut out the six birds and glue them in order onto a long strip of paper made from a 11x18 sheet of construction paper cut in half length wise and stapled together. Ask students to glue the birds down in order on their paper.

-Book! Book! Book! by Deborah Bruss
-How Rocket Learned to Read by Tad Hills
-Swimmy by Leo Lionni
-The Library Lion by Michelle Knudsen
-Wolf! by Becky Bloom

Monday, October 4, 2010


By Karen Jo Shapiro
Publisher: Charlesbridge
ISBN 978-1-58089-143-1

FROM THE FLAP: I must go down to the beach again, where there’s water, sand, and sky…

It sounds familiar, but it’s not quite what your parents memorized in school.

In this delightful collection of poetic parodies, Karen Jo Shapiro has taken 23 classic poems spanning nearly five centuries and given them a kid-sized twist. Channeling wordsmiths from Shakespeare to Blake, Dickinson to Poe, this celebration of poetry and parody is sure to spark your imagination.

KATE’S TAKE: A whimsical introduction to the classics.

CLASSICS TIMELINE: Verbal/Linguistic, Interpersonal, Visual/Spatial
Karen Jo Shapiro introduces fifteen classic poets in English and American Literature. Break the class into pairs and give each pair an index card. Ask each pair to write down some basic biographical information on a specific poet, including date of birth which can be found in the back of Ms. Shapiro’s book. Have students arrange themselves in chronological order without speaking. Then ask each pair to present their poet’s biographical information to the class.

GUESS WHO: Verbal/Linguistic, Interpersonal
Ask students to dress up as one of the fifteen classic poets, memorize the classic poem mentioned in Ms Shapiro’s book, and prepare five clues to read out loud to the class. Invite each student up to the front of the class to recite his or her poem and read his or her clues. Ask the audience to guess which poet the student is imitating.

MACBETH MADNESS: Interpersonal, Verbal/Linguistic, Visual/Spatial
Break the class into small groups, and ask each group to act out a scene from Macbeth. If you have more time, put on a class play of Macbeth complete with scenery.

PERSONAL PICKS: Verbal/Linguistic and Visual/Spatial
Ask students to choose one of Ms. Shapiro’s poems and write their own poetic parody of her work. Have them illustrate a picture to go along with their poem.


-Come Fall by A.C.E. Bauer
-Macbeth by William Shakespeare
-My Letter to the World and other Poems by Emily Dickinson
-Shakespeare’s Secret by Elise Broach
-Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

Friday, October 1, 2010


Hey Everyone,

I've got great news.

Choose to Read Ohio linked to Classroom Book of the Week. Here's the link:

If you want to read The Giant of Seville post on this blog, please visit November 1, 2009.

Have a great weekend!