Sunday, November 22, 2009

I Wish All Your Wishes and Mine

I Wish All Your Wishes and Mine is a delightful story by an author/illustrator named Vaeta Zitman. Her illustrations include intricate patterns within the landscape that bring about swirling, dreamlike thoughts as the children share their wishes with each other. The text is airy and simple, with relatively general wishes being expressed. However, children can relate to these general ideas and adapt them to reflect their own wishes and dreams.

I shared this book with my class of 3-6 year-olds. They laughed as I turned each page, but it wasn't a laugh of contempt. They gave the delighted giggles so common to entertained young children. After I read the book, we went around the group and they shared some of their own dreams and wishes.

It really is a beautiful book that will delight young children and can even serve as a segue into dreamy writing assignments for older children. Art lessons derived from this book could include using different kinds of material to recreate the patterns and textures found within.

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Sunday, November 15, 2009

Tic Talk: Living with Tourette Syndrome

Tic Talk: Living with Tourette Syndrome: A 9-year-old boy's story in his own words was written by Dylan Peters. At the age of 4, he developed tics, in which his head would would violently jerk. After a myriad of tests and observation, Dylan was diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome.

In addition to the head jerking, Dylan's other tics include clearing his throat, making a gurgling sound, and double-blinking his eyes. Medication helps relieve the tics, but he will never be able to be fully rid of the disease.

By the end of second grade, Dylan's friend began to notice his tics, and began to ask him about them. When he entered the third grade, Dylan and his mother went in to talk to his teacher, Mrs. Sudhalter, about discussing Tourette Syndrome with his classmates. That first week of school, Dylan's mother came in to help him share about his condition, and to answer any questions the other children may have. Soon after, Dylan created this book, which shares these experiences, in his own words.

Included in the book are illustrations done by Dylan's friend Zachary Wendland, a very talented young man. The foreward was written by Jim Eisenreich, who is a former Major League Baseball Player, an active member of the national Tourette Syndrome Association, and founder of the Jim Eisenreich Foundation for Children with Tourette Syndrome. He, too, has Tourette Syndrome.

At the end of the book is a guide to "10 Successful Strategies for working with children with Tourette Syndrome", written by Brad Cohen, author of Front of the Class: How Tourette Syndrome Made Me the Teacher I Never Had." A list of other resources is also included.

Though it seems unlikely that we will encounter someone with Tourette Syndrome, this book is still very important. Few resources exist for children with TS, and this book allows them someone to whom they can relate, who is closer to their age. The resources and information contained and linked to within are beneficial for any educators or workplace managers who many encounter someone with Tourette Syndrome. It should also be shared with children, simply to make them aware that even though some children may be different, they really are fundamentally the same.

Stay tuned for an interview with Dylan Peters.

Purchase Tic Talk: Living with Tourette Syndrome: A 9-Year-Old Boy's Story in His Own Words

When Life Throws You a Curve

When Life Throws You a Curve: One Girl's Triumph Over Scoliosis by Elizabeth Golden is a memoir about her experience with the diagnosis of scoliosis at the young age of 13. Scoliosis ran in her family, as both her Aunt Joanne and her Grammy had also suffered from it.

Scoliosis means curvature of the spine. It is more common in girls than boys, and is usually diagnosed in the adolescent years.

Elizabeth spent a lot of time researching and talking with family members about their experiences. It was determined that surgery would be the best course of action. She would have two rods with hooks placed on either side of her spine, that would be cranked until her spine straightened back out.

This was not her first choice, and she tried alternative treatments, but to no avail. In the end, it was the best choice.

When Life Throws You a Curve is not only a story about dealing with scoliosis, but also a story of a girl finding courage within. She has to make some difficult choices that will affect her for her entire life. She has to be strong for her worried family and friends. And she has to be strong for the inevitable pain and suffering that is going to come during the healing process.

When I was a girl, the only book that was available on the subject was Deenie by Judy Blume. It was one of our favorites, and we read it time and time again. But at the same time, the thought of wearing a brace was terrifying. Lots of movies either from the 80s or taking place in the 80s have the stereotypical girl with the brace, moving around like a robot. I think of Joan Cusack in Sixteen Candles(?).

I am grateful for teenagers today that Elizabeth has written her book. It is more reassuring to hear a true story from someone who has gone through it first-hand, no matter how good the fictional version is.

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Violet by Tania Duprey Stehlik

Violet by Tania Duprey Stehlik is a brilliantly simple multicultural book that says so much.

Violet is a young girl who is violet-colored. Most of the children at her new school are either red, blue, or yellow. When her blue father comes to pick her up, the other children are confused and question her about it. She had never thought about her father being blue and her mother being red before, and the questions of the other children bother her.

She realizes that most of her friends are the same color as both of their parents. Yet Violet matches neither one of hers. When she gets home and her mother asks her how the first day at her new school was, Violet bursts into tears and asks why she isn't blue.

Her mother points out that Mom is red, Dad is blue, and Violet is a little bit of both. She demonstrates how red and blue paint make purple paint. While there may not be any other purple children in her class, there are other purple people in the world, and Violet should be proud of who she is.

Violet ponders this information, and is put to the test the next day when Mom comes to pick her up from school. Another child from her class questions why her mother is red, when she is purple. She replies that her mom is red, her dad is blue, and she is Violet.

Stehlik's demonstration of the beauty of being biracial is so simple and smart, it's a wonder that no one else has written a book on it, yet! It opens the door for so many educational follow-up activities in both cultural and art curricula. And the illustrations are very pretty. They almost remind me of the old Nickelodeon cartoon Doug.

I recommend this book for use by teachers in preschool all the way through elementary school. Parents should also read it to their children, even if their children are not biracial. A simple story such as this one can teach such a valuable lesson about accepting others for who they are, instead of focusing solely on their outward appearance.

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A Glove of Their Own

A Glove of Their Own is a special project that was written by Debbie Moldvan, Keri Conkling, and Lisa Funari-Willever, and illustrated by Lauren Lambiase. It is a nostalgic look at the original American pasttime of baseball.

A group of kids gets together almost every day to play in on old field. Many days that they're out, an elderly man watches from the fence, cheering the kids on as they imagine they are playing at a sold-out stadium. They have old, ratty equipment, no bleachers, no benches, and no scoreboard, just a will and a dream.

One day, the man stops by, hauling bags filled with gently used mitts, bats, chirts, balls, hats, and cleats that were left over from the days when he was a coach and his children were young dreamers playing on that field. He leaves, telling them to remember that the game is more than just a score.

The children agree to treasure these gifts, and vow to one day pass them on to another group of dreamers, just like themselves.

The story alone is touching. It brings about nostalgic memories of when baseball was steroid and drama-free, played by real heroes. It demonstrates the innocence and limitless imagination of young players.

Even more moving are the illustrations. They are so realistic, you feel like you could reach out and grab the old baseball mitt, or tie the old shoes. The characters' faces are familiar, as if they are your own or those of someone you knew once upon a time.

The book has won several awards, including winner of the 2009 Benjamin Franklin Award for Best Children's Books, Finalist Foreward Magazine Book of the Year, and Finalist Eric Hoffer Book Award.

A Glove of Their Own was published by Franklin Mason Press. Unique to this company is that they reserve two pages at the back of each of their books for guest young authors and illustrators. The guests are ages 6-9 years of age. Nonfiction and fiction stories, between 75-200 words, as well as any word-free illustration is welcomed. Winners receive a small financial prize, framed award, and a complimentary book, as well as being published in an upcoming book. Get full rules at their website at

A portion of each sale of A Glove of Their Own is donated to one of numerous organizations that are dedicated to ensuring children are given a chance to have a glove of their own. These include Good Sports, Sports Gift, and Pitch In For Baseball.

Stay tuned for interviews with the authors and illustrator.

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Why Am I Special? by Sharmen Lane

Why Am I Special? by Sharmen Lane is a book designed to empower young children to discover their own unique gifts that make them special. It is a great read-aloud book, as it flows smoothly in its verse and I think the message is easily delivered. Children will enjoy hearing it and even trying to read along.

The print is in that fun script with a bunch of curliques that looks good on the page, but young children may have difficulty discerning the letters. The illustrations are vibrant, but look like they were inserted via a clip art program. Nevertheless, they do add a feeling of cheer to the positive message.

I think parents and teachers could have fun with this book by trying to recreate their own version on their own word processing program, asking the child to contribute his or her own reasons why (s)he is special.

$14.95 seems a little steep for a small paperback book, but if I understand correctly, Sharmen Lane donates a portion of the proceeds to various children's charities with which she is involved. She is also a motivational speaker, as well as a writer for, as am I.

Visit her website at

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Fish Sticks, Books and Blue Jeans!

Fish Sticks, Books and Blue Jeans!: Teaching kids to be thankful for everything (yes, even Fish Sticks) everyday! is the brain child of a child, herself. Sami Fitzgerald was just six years old when she approached her mother, Caryn, about making a book to help children be thankful for everything they have.

The book is designed to have adults and children interact with each other to discuss the wonderful things in life, whether material or more emotional or spiritual. Topics include love, caring, sharing, believe, smile, happiness, proud, success, friends, health, food, family, reading, exercise, laughter, acts of kindness, and anything else!

Each topic starts with an affirmation. Read the affirmation together, then discuss how it applies to your life. Suggestions and leading words help inspire the conversation. Adults and children can then write together a list to accompany each topic, then draw a picture on the next page to illustrate thoughts.

The book does not have to be done in order. Choose topics that are of particular interest for the day or week. The important thing is to remember to be grateful for what you have in your life, and to share meaningful time together.

To find out more about Sami Fitzgerald, visit her website at

Purchase Fish Sticks, Books and Blue Jeans

Stay tuned for an interview with Sami and her mom, Caryn.

Pencil Play Pals Pencil Games and Press-outs

Pencil Play Pals Pencil Games is a series of fun games collected by Norman Childes. Each one is creative, uses items from around the house (most notably pencils, of course!), and most importantly does not require the use of electronics! Each game comes complete with instructions on how to make it, as well as how to play it. The characters involved are the cute stars of the Pencil Play Pals series of stories.

They range in difficulty to engage children of all ages. For example, Harry Stomp's Pencil Ring Toss simply requires sticking a pencil into a potato, and throwing rubber bands over it. More difficult is Lori Longneck's Fun Fruit'n Veggies, which requires children to draw their own game board of fruits and veggies. Some of the games, such as Humphrey Hump's Cover Your Eyes and Will Wool's Whacky Golf, have premade designs in the back of the book.

The game book continues to reinforce the purpose of the Pencil Play Pals series. Norman Childes created this series to inspire children to write and to draw. Children are encouraged to design the games within, and will probably be inspired to make up their own variations. In a time of video games, tv, and texting, kids are using their imaginations less and less. I find these games to be a breath of fresh air!

Accompanying the stories and the game book is a book of Press-out Pencil Play Pals. Children can press out the characters from the Pencil Play Pals books to put on their pencils. They can also find out more about their favorite characters from the series of books.

Purchase Pencil Play Pals Pencil Games and Press-out Pencil Play Pals (Series 1)

The Pristine Pig by Curly Tail

The Pristine Pig by Curly Tail is one of the Pencil Play Pals books by Norman Childes. Percy the Pig is different from the other pigs, because he absolutely despises getting dirty. This embarrasses his brothers and sisters, who are absolutely determined to make him as dirty as they are, no matter what it takes. They scheme and plot to get Percy filthy, which of course, greatly upsets him.

At the same time, Percy strives to find new ways of dealing with farm life, without getting dirty. He uses a straw to drink his mother's milk, and tries to walk around on stilts. Some animals make fun of him; the mouse tells him it is okay to be different.

Percy discovers that going for a swim is a great way to stay clean. While he is out swimming, his siblings try to throw mud at him. One slips and falls into the water. Of course, he cannot swim, and Percy saves him. With new appreciation for their pristine sibling, the other pigs now strive to find ways to help Percy stay clean.

I enjoyed this book much more than the other book in the series I read. This story is very cute. It demonstrates that it is okay to be different and to believe in yourself. The meanness of his siblings is a great starting point for conversations about being kind to others. And children can easily be inspired to come up with their own creative ways for Percy to stay clean, while simultaneously strategizing their own hygenic behaviors. A few pig facts at the end of the book can help it tie into a unit on farm animals.

The purpose of the Pencil Play Pals series is to inspire children to draw and write their own stories as part of literary habits. I think this book is a great way for children to do so.

Visit Norman Childes' website for more Pencil Play Pals fun at

Stay tuned for an interview with Norman Childes.

Purchase The Pristine Pig

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Crocodile Who Thought She Was a Duck by Charley Chomp

The Crocodile Who Thought She Was a Duck by Charley Chomp is one of the books in the Pencil Play Pals series created by Norman Childes.

Joan and Harry are two crocodiles who decide that they would like to have their own children. After receving a partial lesson from the birds and the bees, Joan becomes pregnant. But alas, a hunter appears and shoots at then happy couple. Harry's tail is nicked by a bullet and he disappears to maintain his safety.

Joan is left all alone, and after two months she lays a bunch of eggs. Because her lesson by the birds and the bees had been interrupted, she doesn't understand that crocodiles also lay eggs. She thinks that only birds lay eggs.

She then begins a comparison between herself and ducks, realizing that they have a lot in common. Now she is convinced that she is going to be a mother to a bunch of ducklings. A worm teases her that if she is going to be the mother of ducks then she needs to learn how to fly.

With the assistance of other animals, Joan tries to learn how to fly, but with little success. She returns home to her eggs, which are starting to hatch, and is ecstatic to discover that instead of little ducklings, she has baby crocodiles. And to complete the happy family, Harry finally reappears, after being in hiding from the hunters all this time.

Honestly, this book is my least favorite of the series. I think the story has potential and the general message could have been maintained, without a couple of parts. I don't think there needed to have been a discussion about the birds and the bees, or talk about how to go about having babies. Joan could have laid a bunch of eggs perhaps next to a duck who had laid eggs, and gotten confused that way. She still could have compared herself to a duck, and tried to learn how to fly, and still have been relieved to have hatched a bunch of baby crocs instead of a bunch of ducklings.

I also did not care for the entire part about a hunter shooting at the crocs. I know hunters exist in a lot of classic books, such as the story of Bambi, and Roald Dahl's The Magic Finger. But to me, those stories end up demonstrating why guns are not okay, and this one doesn't. Then again, I am not a hunter. I am a Montessorian, and naturally prefer the peaceful aspects of life.

This book does have some great points that I do appreciate. At then end, Norman Childes encourages children to create their own drawings and stories for Joan and Harry. I'm a big proponent of anything that inspires creativity and literacy in children. He includes numerous facts about crocodiles, which can serve as a science lesson. Children can make their own Venn diagrams or comparison charts about ducks v. crocodiles.

Find out more about Norman Childes' Pencil Play Pals series by visiting the website at

Stay tuned for reviews of more books in the series, as well as an interview with Norman Childes.

Purchase a copy of The Crocodile Who Thought She Was a Duck

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Golden's Rule by C. E. Edmonson

Golden's Rule by C. E. Edmonson is interesting, as it is a dual story-in-one. The main, wrap-around story is about Maddie Bergamo, who is a 14 year-old girl. She is well on her way to the Olympics as a basketball player, and to an Ivy League school on scholarship. She is beautiful and smart, with a fantastic group of friends.

When she receives a devastating diagnosis following a collapse at a basketball game, she begins to lose some of her spark. To help her cope, her mother gives her the diary of her slave ancestor, Golden Lea. Golden Lea's story of fighting for freedom in a time of slavery gives Maddie the hope and inspiration to fight for her life in a time of medical imprisonment.

The two stories don't quite mesh well in the beginning, and I found myself wondering why they were both there. But as the story went on, it was becoming more apparent how much strength and inspiration Maddie was receiving from Golden Lea. Granted, it wouldn't make sense for the answers to be readily apparent at the very beginning.

I've always been interested in reading slave stories, so that alone made this book appeal to me. Also interesting was the medical aspect, which seems to be a new trend in books lately. And always attractive is an author who is willing to share proceeds with organizations, such as the Make-A-Wish Foundation and the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.

Also interesting is that the character of Maddie is biracial, which seems to be a new theme in many books I have recently read. To me, it is a sign of the times, and can help more children who are searching for their racial identity. We have a biracial President, and it is no longer taboo to talk about it.

I also appreciate how this book is one of many that are now featuring stories of children who have serious medical conditions. Again, such topics often seemed to be taboo, and there were few stories that actually dealt with children suffering from medical conditions.

While it's not necessarily a book that I am going to read time and time again, I did enjoy it in one sitting.

Stay tuned for a Q&A with author C.E. Edmonson.

Purchase Golden's Rule