Sunday, February 28, 2010


By Melissa Stewart
Publisher: Peachtree
ISBN 13: 978-1-56145-493-8

FROM THE FLAP: When snow falls, we love to sled and skate and have snowball fights. But at the end of the day, we go home where it is warm and safe. What about all those animals out there in the chilly winter weather? What do they do when snow blankets the ground?

Journey to fields, forests, ponds, and wetlands to see how animals survive. Watch as ladybugs crowd together in a gap in a stone wall and a chipmunk snoozes in its burrow. Take a side trip to the pond, where a carp rests quietly on the bottom and a frog nestles in the mud, scarcely breathing.

And then as winter passes and the sun’s rays grow stronger, join all animals as they get ready for spring.

Award-winning science writer Melissa Stewart offers a lyrical tour of a variety of habitats, providing young readers with vivid glimpses of animals as they live out the winter beneath the snow and ice. Constance Bergum’s glowing watercolors perfectly capture the wonder and the magic that can happen under the snow.

KATE'S TAKE: About this time of year I begin to fantasize about what's the underneath all the snow. Read UNDER THE SNOW to find out.

ANIMAL ANTICS (Bodily/Kinesthetic and Interpersonal)

At the end of the book, the snow melts and the animals come out from underneath the snow. In a circle on the rug, invite children to physically impersonate one of the animals in the book, and ask the students to guess which animal the student is impersonating.

GUESS WHO? (Verbal/Linguistic and Interpersonal)

Have students fill in the blanks to the following questions:

I live in a __________ (habitat).
I am (color) _________ and (color) ________.
When spring comes, I ________ (movement)
Who am I?

Then ask the other students to guess who each student is.

HABITAT POSTERS (Naturalist and Visual/Spatial)

Divide the class into four groups. Give each group a large poster and have each group illustrate one of the four different habitats mentioned in the book: wetlands, ponds, fields, and forests. Post one poster in each corner of the room.

HABITAT SORT (Naturalist and Bodily/Kinesthetic)

Assign each child an animal. Then ask all of the animals that live in each habitat to find the poster that represents their habitat. When they move to their habitat, they should move as their animal moves.

PUPPET PLAY (Visual/Spatial)

Gather a bunch of supplies such as socks, juice concentrate cans, margarine containers, and ask students to make a puppet representing one of the animals in the book.


-Animal Camouflage in the Snow by Martha E. H. Rustad
-Animals in the Snow by Margaret Wise Brown
-Footprints in the Snow by Cynthia Benjamin
-Footprints in the Snow: Counting by Twos by Michael Dahl
-When Rain Falls by Melissa Stewart

Sunday, February 21, 2010


By Wendy Mass
Publisher: Scholastic
ISBN-13: 978-0-545-05239-9

FROM THE FLAP: On their first birthday, they learned to walk. On their fifth, they planted seeds in homemade pots. On their tenth, they learned there are some words you can never take back.

Amanda’s eleventh birthday should have been a happy occasion. Instead she’s dressed in an itchy costume her mother picked out for her Hollywood-themed party (Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, even though the flying monkeys have always creeped her out). Meanwhile, across town, her ex-best friend Leo is celebrating their joint birthday with a huge bash including a hypnotist, a football star, a giant iguana, and a rock band. SO not fair!

Amanda can’t wait for the day AFTER her birthday so she can stop thinking about the fight that led her and Leo to have separate parties for the first time in their lives. There’s just one problem. The next day is her birthday all over again.

In this hilarious and touching adventure, Amanda must figure out how to get unstuck, in more ways than one.

KATE’S TAKE: This is Groundhog Day for eleven-year-olds. It’s a great way to lighten up the assessment-heavy spring.

ALL OVER AGAIN: (Verbal/Linguistic)

Ask students to create a character and a problem. Have the students write the scene three different times. Each time the character should change his or her action which will move the character toward the solution.

APPLE SEEDS: (Naturalist and Logical/Mathematical)

Have students plant apple seeds, take care of them, measure and record their weekly growth.

FORGIVENESS: (Verbal/Linguistic, Intrapersonal, and Interpersonal)

Amanda has to forgive Leo in order to move forward in time. Write about a problem you had with someone, and how you solved it.

RHYTHM SEQUENCES: (Musical and Bodily Kinesthetic)

Amanda longs to play drums in the marching band. Write a measure of music on the board. Put our four chairs to represent the 4 beats in 4/4 time and fill them with kids to represent the rhythm. For example, if you write out 1 quarter note, 1 half-note, and two eighth notes, you would have one child sit on the first chair representing the quarter note, the second child would cover the second and third chair representing the half note, and the last chair will have two kids on it to represent the eighth notes. Then, clap out the rhythm as a class. Special thanks to Scott Rossley for this fun and effective activity.

WHO AM I?: (Verbal/Linguistic and Interpersonal)

Amanda has a Hollywood-themed character party. Ask students to write out three or four clues about a Hollywood character. Have them read their clues in front of the class, and see whether or not the other students are able to guess who they are.


-Camille McPhee Fell Under the Bus by Kristen Tracy
-Extra Credit by Andrew Clements
-Fourth Grade Rats by Jerry Spinelli
-Mudshark by Gary Paulsen
-The Secret Language of Girls by Frances O’Roark Dowell

Friday, February 19, 2010

Interview With Unnameables Author, Ellen Booraem

KN: On your website,, you have a fantastic description of Medford and Goatman’s development from paintings into characters. However, there are many other outstanding characters in The Unnameables. What did you do to bring each character alive?

EB: When I’m starting a book, I have a form I fill out for important characters, asking questions about their hopes and fears, even what they have in their pockets.

When characters first appear in a rough draft, I let them speak and act for themselves, doing whatever is required of them to move the plot along. When I’m ready to delve deeper—later in the rough draft and certainly during the revisions—I open a new document for each important character and write a brief life story, including his or her fears and goals, and often a journal entry in that character’s voice. When I was writing THE UNNAMEABLES, I did this at least once for Earnest, Boyce, Essence, Twig, Clarity, Arvid, and Deemer—and repeatedly for Medford, Prudy, and the Goatman.

I had a separate document telling me what everyone looked like. For a few characters, I had other documents tracking their mood changes throughout the book—especially important for Earnest, Prudy, and Twig, whose intentions and activities were hidden until the end.

KN: What a fantastic answer! I'll have to use those techniques to strengthen my characters. Why did you choose to have the island stuck in the colonial period versus another historical era?

EB: As a purely practical matter, I needed the original settlers to take over a distant, empty island and then be ignored or forgotten long enough to figure out their needs and obsessions on their own. That wouldn’t have happened as easily with a later settlement, especially after transportation became easier and faster.

In my head (not stated in the book), the original settlers were disaffected members of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. They’d be adventuresome by nature—having uprooted themselves once to sail from England to Massachusetts, it wouldn’t faze them to do it again. It made sense to me that they would have tired of the religious and social restrictions in Massachusetts, and would have tried to find a place where they could live according to their utopian ideals. And of course they ended up creating a society that was even more restrictive than the one they’d left.

I drafted a sequel that offered an explanation of why the Islanders continued to be left alone to the modern day. That draft is pretty much dead now because of changes in the first book, but I hope to revive parts of it someday so I don’t want to give much away. If you look at the map in THE UNNAMEABLES, though, you can see that the shoals around Island make it inhospitable to the casual visitor.

KN: In addition to the tremendous amount of historical research to inform your language style in the book, what else did you do to make sure the character’s voices were consistent throughout the book?

EB: Every morning before I started to write, I would read a chapter of one of Jane Austen’s books, which were written in the early 1800s. That set me up for the narrator’s voice and the way Islanders talked when they weren’t using Book Talk. Before writing dialogue in Book Talk, I’d dip into Samuel Pepys’s diary, written in the mid-1600s, and maybe the King James Bible or some plays from the mid- to late 1600s.

To make sure I had individual characters’ voices right, I would occasionally break away and read the journal entries I’d written for them, or maybe write a line or two more in a journal. After a while, though, I had each character so firmly fixed in my mind that their voices came naturally to me.

These were great questions, a lot of fun to answer. Thanks so much for asking them!

KN: Thank you for answering them.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Interview with FACES OF THE MOON author, Bob Crelin

KN: In FACES OF THE MOON you beautifully juxtapose scientific information with personification. Why did you decide to personify the moon? Was it because lunar phases sounds so similar to lunar faces?

BC: Granted, it’s not the traditional style for teaching about the Moon, however it is one that I have found very successful. I developed this book’s approach based on what excited and engaged young students when teaching them about astronomy. One of my central goals with FACES OF THE MOON was to help readers discover a connection, or relationship with Earth’s satellite world. Throughout our history and in the mythology of different cultures, the Moon was often referred to as a female entity. I love that, and it is why the Moon is a “she” in the book. Also, describing the changing “face” of the Moon in the book, the reader can relate to something familiar while being introduced to the scientific term “phase.” I believe to reach the reader/learner, it is best to meet them where they are, then guide them by the hand from there.

KN: I love how you included what time each moon rises and sets, because it’s necessary if one is going to try and observe the moon each day. Why did you decide to set this information apart from the poetry?

BC: Observing the actual Moon bridges what the reader learns in the book to the real world. Each rhyming stanza in FACES OF THE MOON tells you orbital, or visual aspects about a particular phase. I included the Moon phase rise/set times as an observer’s cross-reference, and not necessarily as part of the main text. What I find interesting is that this rise/set time aspect has not been commonly used in books about the Moon. It was my goal to relate to the Moon within the frame of our everyday lives as Earthlings. Simply by watching changes in the sunlit part of the Moon, and in its position in the sky, day or night, we learn that we’re actually witnessing the Moon moving in orbit around our planet.

KN: I read on your website that you started a grassroots movement in your community to cut down light pollution in your hometown. What tips do you have for readers who are looking to make a change within their communities?

BC: A big part of the problem is that not everybody knows what this is. So, first I’ll offer a brief explanation: “Light pollution” is the sky glow and intrusive glare caused by poorly directed and overdone outdoor lighting at night. Nowadays, it blots out much of our view of the starry skies, and can disrupt the nocturnal cycles of living things on Earth. Although unintentional, it is an unnecessary, harmful and wasteful side effect of our modern world. With a little bit of public education and awareness, it is not difficult to convince others of the benefits of using lighting more discreetly. The basic solutions are: 1. Use fully shielded outdoor lighting to direct light only where it is needed. This prevents glare, allowing your eyes to see better at night using less light. It also prevents light trespass from intruding into neighboring homes and natural areas. Shielding also prevents light from being cast upward into the sky, where it serves no purpose. And, 2. By using only the amount of light needed for the task, and by using it only when it is actually needed, we can also significantly reduce our energy use. To find out more, go here:

KN: In addition to fascinating information about your grassroots movement, you have a fantastic video from La Serena, Chile which translates your book, into Spanish. I lived in Chile, and I’m wondering how you obtained that video?

BC: The students of Colegio Carlos Condell de la Haza in La Serena, Chile chose my first book, THERE ONCE WAS A SKY FULL OF STARS as their favorite from a collection of astronomy books that had been brought to them. As a school project, they proceeded to translate the book's text to Spanish, then hand-illustrated and hand-bound copies of the book in the new translation. They sent me a copy - it's great! In addition, the students created a video production of the translated book, and subsequently posted it on the web. When I first wrote this book’s manuscript in 1996, my goal was to spread the message far and wide about fixing the needless problem of light pollution. So far, so good!

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

BC: FACES OF THE MOON and my MOON GAZERS’ WHEEL invention were born from my popular, curriculum-based 5th grade classroom lesson/activity, that has been in use in the CT schools over the last 4 years. The complete guided lesson/lab is available as a free, downloadable PDF teacher's guide, designed for use with the book. The guide is available at a number of locations including here:
Visit my web site to find out more:

KN: Thanks so much.

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Unnameables

By Ellen Booream
Publisher: Harcourt, Inc.
ISBN: 978-0-15-206389

FROM THE FLAP: There was that feeling again, blowing through his brain like a spring morning.
The feeling scared him. It wasn’t real, wasn’t right, had no Name. He stifled it, tamped it down to a murmur, something he could control.
And then he acted on it. He ignored all the messages sent by the better part of his brain. Disgust, for example, because he’d promised himself he’d never do this again. Resignation, because he’d known he would. Terror, because someone might find out.
Joy, because he could do it at all.
They call him Raggedy, Plank Baby and Nameless because of his scraggly hair, the plank he was tied to when he washed up on the shore as an infant, and his meaningless last name. Nobody expects much from a foundling called Medford Runyuin.
On this neat, orderly, puritanical island, known simply as Island, where everything (and everyone) is named after its purpose, useful names are what count the most.
And Medford’s got a terrible secret. A secret he hides under his bed and everywhere else it will fit. A secret that even his best friend, Prudy Carpenter, doesn’t know. He just can’t risk telling her.
His secret is Unnameable.
Unnameable makes you get banished.
But a strange creature is about to arrive on Island. His first stop will be Medford’s house, where the secret will be out before Medford can blink twice.

KATE’S TAKE: If you want to promote creativity, challenging the status-quo, and staying true to one’s self, this novel is a must.

ISLAND LIFE SNIPPETS (Interpersonal, Verbal/Linguistic)

With a partner, ask students to write a new scene with dialogue that could occur on Island.
Have students act out their scenes in front of the class.

NATURALIST SKETCHES (Naturalist, Visual/Spatial)

Nature inspires Medford’s carvings. At the end of the book, the townspeople discover that one of the Island’s most respected families, the Learned’s, have an ancestor who sketched. Take students outside and ask them to sketch a natural object of their choosing.


Island is stuck in Puritanical times. Ask students to research a different historical era, and write a story about an Island stuck in that time with those values.

STRANGE WINDS (Bodily/Kinesthetic)

Goatman brings uncontrollable winds to the island with the touch of his finger. Ask students to spread out around the room and pretend they are trees. They can grow from a seed to a tall tree. Then, have the leader act out the tree’s movements during one of Goatman’s winds.

UNNAMEABLE SCULPTURES (Bodily/Kinesthetic and Visual/Spatial)

Turns out at the end of the novel, that righteous Prudy’s mother, also has an unnameable passion. She sculpts. Give students clay or model magic to sculpt an object. Further the “useless” fun by letting them paint the dried sculptures.


-11 Birthdays by Wendy Mass
-Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry
-Steal Away Home by Lois Ruby
-The Giver by Lois Lowry
-When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

Sunday, February 7, 2010


By Madeleine Floyd
Publisher: Candlewick Press
ISBN: 0-7636-2761-5

FROM THE FLAP: Far away in the land of cold and ice lives Cold Paws, a lonely polar bear. With only his silver flute for company, Cold Paws shivers and wonders why he always feels cold inside. But when young Hannah from the nearby village makes friends with him, that chilly feeling inside Cold Paws begins to melt away.

KATE'S TAKE: A fun book just in time for Valentine's Day.

A SPECIAL GIFT (Verbal/linguistic, Visual/Spatial and Interpersonal)

Hannah gives Cold Paws material gifts, hugs, and the gift of her time. Ask students to draw a picture of a material gift or a gift of time they received from a friend or loved one. Have them write about their picture and share it with the class.

GLOWING HEARTS (Visual/Spatial)

Obtain a glow stick bracelet for each student. Ask each pupil to cut out a large, medium and small heart. On the large heart, have students write: You make my heart glow. Tape the large heart to the middle of the glow stick. Tape the small heart at one tip of the glow stick, tip pointing away from the stick. Tape the large heart to the top of the glow stick pointing down the stick. Have students exchange their arrows with other students and wear their bracelets for the rest of the day. Special thanks to FAMILY FUN for this activity.;4

MY BODY’S PUMP (Musical and Naturalist)

To the tune of Bingo have students sing “My body has a pump and heart is its name-o. H-E-A-R-T and heart is its name-o.” Students clap each time they say a letter name. On each consecutive verse, they don’t name one of the letters. So, the second time through it will be CLAP-E-A-R-T. Repeat until students are clapping each letter name instead of singing it.

PATTERNED SCARVES (Logical/Mathematical and Visual/Spatial)

Hannah gives Cold Paws her striped scarf to keep him warm. Have students make a patterned scarf out of construction paper. Hang the scarves around the room to keep everyone warm.

WARM UPS (Kinesthetic)

Hannah teaches Cold Paws jumping jacks. As a group give students a chance to suggest a warm-up activity for the class. Count out loud and perform the exercises together.


-A Bear for All Seasons by Diane Marcial Fuchs
-A Visitor for Bear by Bonny Becker
-Bear’s New Friend by Karma Wilson
-How Does Your Heart Work? (Rookie Read-About Health) by Don L. Curry, Jane Waddell and Jeanne Clidas
-The Lonely Moose by John Segal

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Interview with Dina Friedman, author of Escaping into the Night

KN: Halina is a vivid character. What did you do as an author to get to know her?

DF: That's a really interesting question that no one has asked me before. I don't have a methodical process for getting to know characters, and I think I get to know them the same way I get to know my friends--by listening deeply to them as I consider the situations they are in. Of course, with Halina, I did have to do a lot of historical research about the time period as well as life in the ghetto and the forests to understand the type of life she was living.

KN: I’m fascinated by the ziemlankas. Could you please tell us as much as you can about their construction?

DF: Construction is not my forte, but this is what I understand. They dug holes in the ground, then lined them with logs to keep the dirt from falling in. They camoflauged the entrance with leaves. Inside there were shelves, which served as beds, as well as room to put a woodstove for heating. You can find a picture of them and more information on the website of the Jewish Partisan's foundation.

KN: Music plays an integral role in the book from Halina’s singing to Eli’s violin playing. How and why did you decide to have music be such an important part of the book?

DF: I can't seem to get away from music; it's such an integral part of my life. Almost all the books I've written feature music in some way or other. This may be because I grew up in a music family. Two of my grandparents, as well as several great aunts and uncles were professional musicians; my parents both went to the High School of Music and Art. I sing in a chorus, and have played piano, guitar and carillon. My two children (ages 22 and 17) have been serious music students their whole lives. But in addition to that, I believe that engaging in creative arts plays a huge role in sustaining morale in times of crisis, whether that be music, dance, visual art, or some variation thereof. I think that the use of music in Escaping Into the Night played a huge role in giving both Halina and Eli the hope and strength they needed to survive.

KN: In the book the Russian Army welcomes Halina and the other Jewish refugees. Was this typical? Did the refugees continue living in the forest under the protection of the Russian Army?

DF: The relationships between the Jewish refugees and the Russian Army weren't 100% smooth, but many deals were struck that guaranteed protection in return for weapons and services.

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

DF: You can find more information about the book on my web site:, which includes programs I offer, as well as classroom resources and a discussion guide. You can also find more information about the forest communities at

KN: Thank you for writing this stunning book and for taking the time to do the interview.

DF: You're welcome, Kate. Thanks for taking the time to review it and feature it on your blog.