Non-Fiction Monday: Yellow Star

Yellow Star by Jennifer Roy is a rare blend of poetry and memoir.  Roy has retold the story of aunt Sylvia, one of 12 children who survived the Lodz ghetto during World War II.  The story is broken up into five parts with a factual overview of each section. Then, Roy  brilliantly tells her aunt’s story in poetic free verse.  The book includes a timeline at the end.

Aunt Sylvia did not share her story with many for almost 50 years. Thankfully, she agreed to taped phone interviews which Roy used as the basis for the story.  She creates a strong first person character in  Sylvia as we see the invasion of Poland by the Germans through her eyes. 

Sylvia is just four at the story’s beginning. She is among the 270,000 Jews rounded up and put into the ghetto with barbed wire. At ten, Russians liberate the ghetto’s 800 survivors of which 12 are children.  She has seen it all the brutality, the need to hide in the cemetery with her father, and not allowed to be outside for four years, hiding in the cellar with other children.

In the final push to get all the Jewish people on the trains  to concentration camps, it is indeed a miracle that the children and their families survived the Lodz ghetto.

I have always been fascinated with the period of history.  It has been about two month’s but I keep coming back to a scene in which her father had her hide in the cemetery as he did not believe the Germans when they said would keep everyone safe.  This book is on the reader’s choice list for my state. I am looking forward to sharing it with my staff and students.  I am thankful that Jennifer Roy decided to honor here aunt by writing her story.  She almost didn’t, having avoided talking about the Holocaust for years.

Title: Yellow Star
Author: Jennifer Roy
Date Published: April 15, 2006Pages: 242 pages
Reading Level: Ages 9-12
Publisher: Marshall Cavendish ISBN-10: 076145277X
ISBN-13: 978-0761452775
Source of Book: Listened to audio book from public library.

Nonfiction Monday is rounded up at Wrapped in Foil today.

Non-Fiction Monday: Shape

My  four and a half year old grand-daughter visited on Saturday.  It was a perfect day for sitting on the patio swing and reading books together. It marked the first time she sat and listened to not just one book but several.  Thank goodness for the stack of picture books received from publishers.

Among the books I read was Shape by David Goodman and Zoe Miller.  The bold shape filled cover with the letters slightly raised just invites the reader to peek inside. 

Shapes of all kinds and ways to create shapes are described in the book.  My favorite was the way to make a star with fingers.  We had to wait for grandpa to return home to do it though.

The book includes both 2-D and 3-D shapes.  It also covers tessellation, patterns and symmetry. Granddaughter and I spent a lot of time on this book.  Text is minimal with the focus on visual presentation.  We poured over the pages looking for the specified shape.  After the book, granddaughter wanted scissors to make her own shapes.

Miller and Goodman have a fun blog about shapes.  This book is a winner for young and old. I enjoyed its creative presentation

Title: Shape
Author: David Goodman and Zoe Miller
Date Published: 2009
Pages: unpaged
Reading Level: Ages 4-8
Publisher: Abrams Books
ISBN: 978-1-85437-779-1
Source of Book: Sent by publisher.

In Need of Chocolate is hosting Non-fiction Monday today. Head over and find out what others are reading.

Non-Fiction Monday: Meet Janet Halfmann

Last fall I was privileged to read Seven Miles to Freedom: The Robert Smalls Story .  It was a CYBILS nominee in the Nonfiction Picture Book category.  Have you read it?  What a wonderful story of courage as a slave,  Robert Smalls escapes and becomes a Civil War hero. A great story about rising up from unbelievable odds.

Janet has graciously donated both this book and Little Skink’s Tale to the Bridget Zinn Auction.  I wanted to know more about her so I asked a few questions.

How long have you been writing/ illustrating?

I have been writing pretty much all of my life, but I have been a children’s book author for about ten years. Before I became a full-time children’s author, I was a daily newspaper reporter, the managing editor of a national children’s magazine called Country Kids, and a creator of coloring and activity books (Mickey Mouse, Lion King, Batman, etc.) for Golden Books. But being a children’s author had always been my dream, so I am delighted to be living that dream now!

When you aren’t illustrating/writing, what might we find you doing?

Two days a week, my husband and I have our 2-year-old and five-year-old grandsons, so those are busy, fun-filled days. I also enjoy working in my garden, exploring nature, visiting new places, and spending time with the rest of my family.

Who influenced you as a writer/illustrator?

One of my biggest influences is animals and nature. Most of my books are on these themes. I grew up on a farm in Michigan and spent many hours with my mother and dad in the fields, barn, and garden. My dad was what I call a “farmer’s farmer” and I think his love of animals and the land rubbed off on me.

What is your current project?

I am working on my tenth book for Soundprints, which publishes books on animals and nature in association with the Smithsonian Institution. My ninth book with them, Little Black Ant at Park Street, is coming out this summer. Good Night, Little Sea Otter will come out from Star Bright Books next spring and a second book from Sylvan Dell Publishing, the publishers of Little Skink’s Tail, will come out in 2010.

What books are on your nightstand?

Right now I am reading From Slavery to Freedom by John Hope Franklin. I also have a huge, ever-changing stack of children’s picture books in my living room that I share with my grandsons.

Where do you find inspiration?

I find inspiration all around me-in nature, in what people do and say, from my children and grandchildren, in events, in experiencing new places. Often research for one story leads to another.

What was your favorite book as a child? As a teen? As an adult? Any particular genre stand out?

I grew up in a home without many books, so my favorite story as a child was from one of my parents’ old schoolbooks: Rumpelstiltskin. As a teen I liked Little Women and Wuthering Heights. As an adult, two of my most memorable books have been The Negro in Our Historyby Carter G. Woodson and The Underground Railroad by William Still. From the time my children were young until the present, my favorite books have been children’s picture books.

Favorite time of the day to work?

Probably the afternoon, but I’m not really fussy.

Chocolate: white, dark, or milk?


Coffee or tea or —?

Herb tea once in a while, but mostly water or juice.

Dance: Funky chicken or the tango?

My husband and I square dance-great exercise and an activity where we meet some of the friendliest people in the world.

 Thank, Janet.  I see that you list on of my favorite teen books, Wuthering Heights. Love that story. Love dark chocolate as well.  You can bidd on either of the books that Janet has donated at the Bridget Zinn Auction.  If you have not read Seven Miles to Freedom: The Robert Smalls Story, put it on your short list to read.

Nonfiction Monday is being round-up at ACPL Mock Sibert.

Happy Reading.


Nonfiction Monday: Pavlov’s Elephant

No, I have not mixed up the days.  I know this is Monday. I know this is the day reserved for nonfiction.  Thank goodness poetry is non-fiction. I must talk about the book of poetry I stumbled into over the weekend.

The first weekend in May is usually the “college girls” weekend, in which my friends from college have gotten together for about 18 years.  This year, however, it fell apart, things came up for just about everyone. That was the bad news.  The good news was that my husband and the pooches and I drove to Seaside, OR spending the weekend with our friends. 

So Saturday afternoon, my friend Barbara, my husband and I decided to hit the local bookstore, Beach Books.  We walked in just in time for  cheese, crackers, wine, and the poetry reading by Rosalee van Stelten, author of Pavlov’s Elephant.  Talk about serendipity! 

Rosalee’s poetry is visual, makes you laugh and think.  Even my poor husband( who thought we were just on a trip to the grocery store) was engaged. At one point I thought I might lose it when I looked over at him and he had his mouth covered.  Images of our teenage daughter and her first experience with melted brie flooded my brain. (She had no idea of its texture and about lost it at the table).  My husband, however, was worried that the crackers were too noisy in his mouth.

Pavlov’s Elephant is a great little addition to my personal poetry collection.  She has drawn on her own experiences to create the following categories for poems: “Knifing toward spring”, “Under the Same Small Sky”, “the petals against my flesh”, and “echoes”

I blurted out that I missed writing 30 poems in 30 days by one poem.  She shared the following in acknowledgement of my even attempting to write 30 in 30.


Some believe
spiders hatch their eggs
by staring at them

I believe
by staring at this page
I will hatch a poem.

Oh yes, that is the way I feel some days.

The other favorite section of her are the “Echoes” poems, her own creation.  From each longer line, she uses the last word to “echo”

Cannon Beach, Oregon

before dawn                                                                                          dawn
bled into break of day, rain wrapped                                                     wrapped
the moonless beach                                                                               beach
in sheets of slate, while shorebirds                                                       shorebirds
like strewn boulders, hunched                                                               hunched
against the wailing wind,the thundering                                                thundering
surf, and cloud piled upon cloud                                                           cloud
turned all the world to grey                                                                    grey

midmorning                                                                                           midmorning
on the wet wash of a receding tide                                                        tide
a lone gull                                                                                             gull
reflecting                                                                                               reflecting

I love this. It reminds me of how I am playing with combining pantuom and haiku together.  Chicken Spaghetti is rounding up the books today.

Thanks for indulging me with my poetry book round-up today. It just could not wait until Friday.
Please visit the blog to support Bridget Zinn.
Happy Reading.


Non-Fiction Monday: William Carlos Williams

I love the poem “This is Just to Say” by William Carlos Williams.  I was thrilled to receive a copy of his biography, River of Words by Jan Bryant, last fall during the CYBILS  judging. 

River of Wordsis a wonderful read.  It is written in a style accessible to students of all ages.  My first and second graders loved listening to it last week.  What surprised me was the close proximity of Williams hometown to my father’s hometown, Lodi, NJ. 

This book is on my list as an excellent example of a book with a strong metaphor.  Blending the Passiac River with the volume of ideas, thoughs, and words flowing from Willaims’ mind is brilliant.

I asked my aunt about it and she said, “Yes, I know who he was.  But we didn’t know much about him when we were growing up.  Sometimes the locals don’t know much about the home town folks.” 

I love the artwork by Melissa Sweet.  Her illustrator’s note at the end of the book tells a personal story how she was introduced to this great poet.  Her collage and art medium variety complements the text. Readers will want to linger awhile on each page.

I love Bryant’s message that a person can have a day joy, a career and yet find time to write poetry.  The time line at the end of the book is an asset. More to think about. The quote at teh book’s beginning should be one for all of us:

“When I was younger, it was plain to me, I must make something of myself.”– William Carlos Williams, “Pastoral”.

Anastasia is hosting Nonfiction Monday today. Thanks.

Happy Reading.


Nonfiction Monday: Celebrating Women’s History Month

“I want to do it because I want to do it.  Women must try to do things as men have tried.
When they fail, their failure must be but a challenge to others.~~Amelia Earhart

March is Women’s History Month. What better way is there to celebrate than to take a look at a book that was nominated for the CYBILS in the Nonfiction Picture Book category (and I believe we ended up moving it because of the text difficulty to middle grade nonfiction)?

Amelia Earhart, the Legend of the Lost Aviator by Shelley Tanaka is a great addition to the biography section of any library. The main focus of the book is her career as an aviator from her first flight to her disappearance in the South Pacific.

The book is rich in archival photos, quotes, time lines, and an extensive resources at the end including the index.  The color illustrations are an added bonus and bring the text to life.  It is a book that will appeal to those readers in the upper elementary grades and beyond.  I can see teachers using portions with students to model think alouds and determining importance. 

This book demonstrates to readers of all ages the importance of following your dream despite the challenges.

Title: Amelia Earhart,The Legends of the Lost Aviator
Author: Shelley Tanaka
Date Published: 2008
Pages: 48
Reading Level: Upper middle grades and beyond
Publisher: Abrams Books
ISBN: 978-0-8109-7095-3
Source of Book: Sent by publisher for CYBILS consideration.

L.L. Owens is hosting Nonfiction Monday here.  See what else is available in the nonfiction world.

Happy Reading.


Nonfiction Monday: It’s Moving Day

Even though it looks like a snow globe from the windows at school, the woodchuck in It’s Moving Day by Pamela Hickman is awakening to spring.  On its mind is the best place to find food.  Rabbit soon discovers the empty borrow and realizes it is a fabulous home to raise a family.  The season wanes and soon rabbit knows time to find a new place for winter.  It is then that salamander takes rabbit’s place as rabbit had taken woodchuck’s place And so it goes, the raccoon, the snakes the chipmunk, a skunk family and then circling back to woodchuck.

It’s Moving Dayintroduces young readers to the variety of animals who use a burrow as a habitat. Geraldo Valerio’s acrylic illustrations are vibrant and depict the text in a fun, playful manner.

Nonfiction Monday is hosted today at Lori Calabrese Writes. Thank you, Lori.

Please hold Bridget Zinn, Portland YA Librarian,writer and kidlit blogger, in your healing prayers and thoughts.  She was admitted into the hospital last week and has been diagnosed with colon cancer (and the cancer has spread to other areas. )  An account to help Bridget with medical expenses is being set up.  More when I find out.

Happy Reading.


Nonfiction Monday: A Great Source for Library Media Specialists

I realize that Nonfiction Monday is pretty much about great nonfiction books for kids.  However, I need to share a book that I recently ordered because it it such a great find (thanks to a library media specialist’s recommendation from my district) and it is so much about the conference I attended a few weeks ago.  In fact, Grimes acknowledges the PEBC, the Denver group which hosted the conference.

Reading is Our Business, How Libraries Can Foster Reading Comprehension by Sharon Grimes is the perfect book for library media specialists who are looking for ways to incorporate thinking skills and strategies.  Grimes outlines how to create a communities of readers through a variety of ways.  From making the library a warm and inviting place (if you have some money to spend on furniture) to a different look in the way you teach, the book provides useful ideas that are easily implemented. 

She hits the big strategies: “visualizing, questioning, determining importance, analyzng and synthesizing”.  It is a book I wish I had know about last year during my national board’s adventure.

Title: Reading is Our Business, How Libraries Can Foster Reading Comprehension
Author: Sharon Grimes
Date Published: 2006
Pages: 155
Professional Book
Publisher: ALA Editions
ISBN: 0-8389-0912-4
Source of Book: Purchased From American Library Association.

Nonfiction Monday is being hosted at Books Together.

Happy Reading.


Nonfiction Monday: An Interview With Kirby Larson

Two Bobbies, a True Story of Hurricane Katrina, Friendship, and Survivalwas nominated for a CYBIL Award this past year. It is a compelling story about two Hurrican Katrina survivors, a cat and a dog both named “Bobbie”.  Animal stories are among the most difficult for me to read (tears, happy but tears) but this story is a must read to students of all ages.  What a compassionate story.

Provato Marketing is hosting a “Winter Blog Tour 2009”. For the tour, I had the privelge to interview Kirby Larson, one of the authors of the Two Bobbies.  We met last fall at the Second Annual Kidlitosphere Blogging Conference. Kirby decided to brave the waters of blogging and has recently joined Facebook.

Interview Questions

What have you recently published and what are you currently working on?
I wrote a book with my dear friend, Mary Nethery, called TWO BOBBIES: A TRUE STORY OF HURRICANE KATRINA, FRIENDSHIP AND SURVIVAL, which came out in August.
Mary and I are finishing up another joint project, due out this coming fall. In the meantime, I’ve been working on another historical novel, this one more middle grade.

What books are on your night stand?
I have quite the assortment! I’ve just finished a Dear America book, and a book called THE LOST ART OF WALKING. I’m reading AFTER TUPAC AND D FOSTER and under that is ANTSY DOES TIME and THE PORCUPINE YEAR.

What does a day of work look like for you?
It varies somewhat but mostly I start out by doing the NY Times crossword puzzle over a cup of green tea. Then I head up to my study (just upstairs) and answer emails and get to work. Lately, final revisions of the next book with Mary have been taking up my day. But my novel is getting some attention!

When did you know you wanted to write/illustrate?
I’ve always been a reader, which I think led me to want to be a writer. I had no idea I could ever write books, however, because when I was growing up I had no idea real people, people like me, could do that job. My life changed when I read Arnold Lobel’s MING LO MOVED THE MOUNTAIN to my children – it inspired me to start down the writing road.

If you were not a writer, what job would you like to have?
There’s no other job I could love this much!
What are some jobs you have had along the way that has helped you in your writing?
My undergraduate degree is in Broadcast Communication so I was trained in journalism; that was a huge help. One of the jobs I had working myself through college was typing up poems for one of my professors who was a poet – that taught me to type fast and accurately. And finally — this was not a job, really, but being the oldest of four taught me a lot about bossing people around, which is helpful when I have to boss myself around and tell myself to get to work.
What advice to do you have for a would be writers?
I would say read, read, read! And write, write, write. After they’d done that for awhile, I’d tell them to join the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and go to conferences to learn about the business and to make life-long friends who share their passion. I couldn’t survive without my critique group, so I’d advise creating/joining one but don’t be in a rush to do so. It’s an important decision.
What book do you wish you had written?
Oh, too many to name! I really, really wish I’d written the first line of BECAUSE OF WINN-DIXIE, by Kate DiCamillo; I wish I had Ann Whitford Paul’s sense of rhythm and rhyme; I wish I had Mary Nethery and Dave Patneaude’s sense of plot and I really, really wish I could tell stories like Barbara O’Connor, Laurie Halse Anderson, Karen Cushman and Kathi Appelt.

Whom would you most like to meet?
What an intriguing question! I don’t think there’s just one person but after reading her book, THE PRINCIPLES OF UNCERTAINTY, I really, really wanted to have coffee with Maira Kalman.
What was your favorite book as a child? As a teen? As an adult? Any particular genre stand out?
I was such a bookworm (well, I still am) that I don’t have one title that stands out. I treasured my copy of ALICE IN WONDERLAND, not for the story, but because it was the one and only book I owned as a kid. I loved reading Russell Hoban’s HOW TOM BEAT CAPTAIN NAJORK AND HIS HIRED SPORTSMEN with my kids when they were small, and stories like GOOD NIGHT, MR. TOM and Lloyd Alexander’s Westmark Trilogy have stuck with me through all the years and all the books.

Chocolate: white, dark, or milk?
Rice. Unsweetened. Plain.
Coffee or tea?
Green tea first thing in the morning, followed by a mid-morning latte.
Dance Funky chicken or the tango?
Tango!!! My husband and I are taking salsa lessons now.
Writing the first draft or revising? Which is your favorite?
Revising. First drafts make my head and stomach hurt.
Favorite time of the day to work?
Mornings are nice, but I can write any time.
Is there a question you wished I would have asked?
Yes. I wish you had asked if I adore librarians. And the answer is “yes!”

By the way, Kirby’s novel, Hattie Big Skywas a 2007  Newbery Honor Book.  I listened to the book last fall and if you have not read it, run to your nearest library and get it. 

Thanks again to Kirby Larson for appearing, courtesy of Provato Marketing, for other stops on the tour please check

Nonfiction Monday is hosted by The Miss Rumphius Effect today.

Non-Fiction Monday: I Want to Be Free

One on my favorite things to do when I go out of town is to visit the local bookstore.  I was fortunate to spend time at the Tattered Cover Bookstore in Denver, CO last week.

I was not going to buy books and stuff my suitcase (already too full with books at brought.) But then I stumbled onto to Joseph Slate‘s I Want to Be Free. You know his work, don’t you?  Miss Bindergarten?

Well, Slate has written a powerful narrative of a runaway slave with an iron ring still locked onto his ankle.  He sings, “Before I die, I want to be free, but the Big Man says, You belong to me.”

The slave knows that until the ankle ring is removed he will always belong to the “Big Man”.  Along the way, he rescues an orphaned slave child and well, the rest you will have to read for yourself.

The author notes in the end lead you to another story by Rudyard Kipling which would be wonderful to pair for comparison.

E.B. Lewis’ watercolors complement the text evoking a strong emotional response.  It is evident that the illustrator researched background information before painting.

Title: I Want to Be Free
Author: Joseph Slate
Date Published: 2000
Pages: unpaged
Grade: 2-+
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons
ISBN: 978-0-399-24342-4
Source of Book: Purchased for the school collection.

This book is an excellent choice for libraries.  It must be remembered when the 2009 CYBILS nominations open next October.  I am excited to try it with fourth graders this week as well as incorporating some of my learnings from last week.

Nonfiction Monday is hosted over at Jean Little Library. Head over to see other great posts.

Happy Reading.