How to Avoid Extinction

How to avoid extinction words with dinosaur eating the a in avoid. Buick electra car with girl and dog looking out window.Acampora, Paul. How to Avoid Extinction. New York: Scholastic Press, 2016

I am still making my way through the stack of books I purchased at the Texas Book Festival last fall. It is here that the Texas Library Association announces their annual Texas Bluebonnet Award Master List.  I wanted to make the live announcement, but was too late.  I was not too late to pick up a copy of the new list.  Towing my very patient husband in my wake, I hurried over to the book tent to look at the books on the list.  I selected this one.  It looked fun.

It was a fun and unexpected book.  What would you do, if your Grandma decides to hop in her 1973 Buick Electra and make an unexpected road trip? She wanders regularly and you are her appointed finder.  This is an irregular wander, even for Grandma, what would you do?  What if your Mom has become the “official head of household as well as President, Principal, Queen, and Savior” (this means she is more bossy than usual)? If you are Leo, you unhappily obey your Mom, grab your backpack, hop into that 1973 Buick Electra, and reluctantly have an adventure with your Grandma, Abbey, your third cousin once removed, and Abbey’s aged dog, Kermit.

What prompts this sudden road trip? Unfortunately, it was a death, the death of Leo’s extraordinary grandfather.  A year before this book begins, Leo’s grandfather dies unexpectedly.  He was a strong leader in their family, loving, free spirited, intrepid, wise, and smart.  His passing left a large void in the lives of those he left behind.  Leo and his Mom have always lived with his grandparents.  When Pop passed away, Mom assumed the mantle of head of household as described above.  Grandma is lonely, Leo is mopey, and Leo’s Mom is suffering in her own way.

Before he died, Leo’s Grandpa was planning a road trip to the Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry near Price, Utah. Grandma decides she needs to follow his path. As with many good books, everyone in the story discovers something about themselves and others. What does Leo discover about his family?  Does he learn how to avoid extinction? Please pick up a copy of this charming book, read it for yourself, and recommend it to someone else who might enjoy it.

I really liked this book. In January 2019, students in grades 3-6 all over Texas will vote for a book on this year’s master list to be the winner. I hope many of them decide this was a good book and vote for it.  When I was looking for the link to this year’s Texas Bluebonnet list, I read about the goals of the program.  One goal is to encourage students to read for pleasure.  My parents were readers and they encouraged me to read. I read all the time. I like to think that I became an excellent and passionate reader, because of their encouragement and my continuous practice.   This week I am attending a workshop on literacy for students with complex communication needs.  One of the big ideas this week is that all students can be readers.  To be a reader, however, a student needs to read.  We want students to enjoy reading.  It is crucial to developing their reading skills.  To enjoy reading, students need to be able to select what they want to read be it books, magazines, comic books, graphic novels, websites…anything as long as it interests them. Help the children in your life love reading. Suggest books, like How to Avoid Extinction, but let them choose!

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Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard

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  • Riordan, Rick. Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard: The Sword of Summer. New York: Hyperion, 2015.
  • Riordan, Rick. Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard: The Hammer of Thor. New York: Hyperion, 2016.
  • Riordan, Rick. Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard: The Ship of the Dead. New York: Hyperion, 2017.

Here is another great story arc based on mythology.  Have I said I love mythology?  I enjoyed these mythology-based stories as much as I did the works of Lloyd Alexander and Susan Cooper. Rick Riordan is an excellent storyteller.  I have appreciated his tales based on Greek, Roman, and Egyptian mythologies. In this series he has explored Norse mythology.

It seems that I have waited for a long time to read this series.  I have a friend who was able to hear Rick Riordan talk about his work 3 or 4 years ago.  She mentioned that he talked about his Norse series.  I have been waiting for this series to be published since that time. I have also been waiting for Alexis to finish this series so I could read it.

Like the heroes in Rick Riordan’s other series, Magnus Chase thinks he is a regular boy with crappy luck.  He witnessed his mother’s death by strange beings that looked like wolves.  She told him to run and to stay away from the only family he knew, his Uncle Randolph.  The story opens on Magnus Chase’s sixteenth birthday.  He is living on the streets of Boston trying to keep away from policemen and truancy officers. He gets a tip that someone is looking for him and off he goes. It turns out to be his Uncle Randolph.  Magnus learns from Uncle Randolph that he is the son of the Norse god, Frey. He also learns that his quest is to retrieve his birthright, the Sword of Summer, from the bottom of the Charles River.  Retrieving the sword was the easy part, the rest of the book describes his struggles to defeat the God of Muspelheim, Surt.  With this first encounter with Surt, he dies and is chosen by the Valkyrie, Samirah, to be a hero of Asgard.

Magnus goes to Valhalla.  The Valhalla of this series is a luxury hotel for heroes.  Here they can be close to the action.  The heroes practice every day to be ready for the Ragnarök, also known as the doom of the gods. When will Ragnarök happen?  Who knows, but for the God Loki, it can’t be soon enough. As in many Norse stories, Loki plays an important role in these books.  He is the chief protagonist.

Read The Sword of Summer to find out, how Magnus retrieves and (spoiler alert) keeps the sword.  Read The Hammer of Thor to see how Magnus and his friends find the Hammer that Thor carelessly misplaced.  Read The Ship of the Dead to see what mischief Loki has designed for Magnus and his friends to work against.  Does Ragnarök happen? Does the world end?  Read, read I say to find out!

Summer is coming soon!  This would be a terrific summer series for a mythologically-minded person to read.

Find the Constellations-2nd Edition

Tween Star Gazing Flyer for event on 2/23/18Rey, H.A. Find the Constellations, 2nd Edition. New York: Sandpiper, 2008.

This past Friday evening, I found myself at the Georgetown Public Library for a stargazing event for tweens.  “What are tweens?” my husband asked, when I described the event we were attending.  Referencing the library poster, I informed him that tweens were children 9-12.  I am so glad that the library is developing activities for this group of children.  I remember when my girls turned this age that there were so library/literacy things for them to do.  They are too old for story time, but too young for some of the events for adults and teenagers.

As advertised this event was to feature stargazing in the library parking lot by the Williamson County Astronomy Club.  My husband is a member.  His connection to the event is how I happened to be at the library on a Friday evening.  Alas, it had been a gloomy day it was an equally gloomy evening, the outside stargazing was scrubbed, but the program was scheduled and so Plan B was used.  The librarians already had the most important items for an evening for tweens, food (Probably a part of their Plan A)!  There were star-shaped rice crispy bars, asteroids (grapes) and flying saucers (pizza).  After food there were crafts.  I particularly liked the one with the rocket ship and straws.  There was also make a kaleidoscope station and make a constellation station using mini-marsh mellows and toothpicks. I wonder, if they found a book in their collection with these activities or if they found them on Pinterest?  All of them looked fun!

Realizing a few days before the event that anything outside would be scrubbed.  The Williamson County Astronomy Club moved to their Plan B. Several amateur astronomers brought their telescopes inside and set them up so the students could take a look at them and ask questions.  The club president provided a very interesting 30-minute presentation on basic astronomy, including: a bit about the different types of telescopes (there were 3 different ones on display), how telescopes work, things you might see with one, and a small bit on light pollution.  Only about 10-15 tweens attended, but all of them paid attention during the presentation part of the evening.  At the end, they had thoughtful and intelligent questions to ask the group of amateur astronomers.  One tween asked about who gets to name constellations, which brought a wonderful answer from the club president, “they were named a long, long time ago”.  This question and its response jogged loose the memory that I had this book in my collection, Finding the Constellations, 2nd Edition.

This book was written by H.A. Rey in 1954 and was updated in 2008.  I found it on a past vacation and wanted it, because H.A. Rey, the author of the Curious George series, wrote it.  I love his style of illustration.  I was also intrigued by its content.  It is a delightful explanation of the constellations and how to find them.  Here is a bit from the foreword.

Few people can tell one star from another.  Most of us can tell an oak from a maple or a jay from a woodpecker even though we don’t see woodpeckers often, but the stars, which we see any clear night, remain a mystery to us.

Yet it is not difficult to know them.  Simple shepherds, 5,000 years ago were familiar with the heavens; they knew the stars and constellations – and they could not even read or write – so why don’t you?

Its is good to know the stars, if only to enjoy better the wonderful sight of the starry sky.  But you simply must know them if you are interested in space travel.

I wish I had taken it with me on Friday.  I think it would have been a cool resource to share.  It was written for tweens.  It has plenty of basic astronomy information, but is written in a fun and chatty style.  You can learn about star magnitudes, their names, and where to find them in the constellations we see in our northern hemisphere night sky.  Did you know that there are only 15 stars of the 1st magnitude (brightest) in our northern skies?  If you remember that constellation names came from the distant past, you also might remember that some of them come from ancient myths.  He tells the stories of two of them, Andromeda and Orion.

The book contains some very practical help.  It has sky view charts for winter, summer, spring, and autumn stars.  It has some helpful hints for stargazing outdoors.  Although they aren’t constellations, he doesn’t neglect our solar systems planets.  Some of them are as bright in our night sky as a star.

Alas our skies are not as dark as they were for H.A. Rey, but there are still some wonderful sights to behold.  So find a clear night, drag out your comfy chair, or better yet a blanket, and look up.  You don’t need any fancy equipment to view our heavens.  I end this blog the way Mr. Rey ends his book: Happy stargazing!

Here are some interesting links for you.

Things to Make and Do for Valentine’s Day

VDayDe Paola, Tomie.  Things to Make and Do for Valentine’s Day.  New York: Scholastic, Inc., 1967.

Happy Valentine’s Day!  I was looking through my book collection for a book to share on this day and this one leaped off the shelf and into my hands.  This book wanted to be shared so I decided that I would.  Over the years, I have been a room mother for one or the other of my girls elementary classrooms, a preschool teacher, and a library story-time lady.  I expect I purchased this little book as a resource for activities for an evening at home or a party at school.  These were the kind of resources you needed “back in the day” as my stint in all those roles came after 1983 and before the age of Google, DIY, and Pinterest. Here is the perfect book for all your DIY needs from ancient times.

Do you need Valentine Cards?  How about making some?  This book has easy, but detailed instructions on how to make block print cards with Styrofoam and poster paint.  Messy work, but fun to do.  It also included instruction for making an envelope for your cards.

Does you child need a Valentine Mailbag for school? Do they still have Valentine Mailbags at school?  It has been a long time since I have attended a party at an elementary school.  Here are the instructions for making one using a brown paper grocery bag.  Brown paper shopping bags were terrific!  You could make so many  great things from one.  Alas this activity might need modifications as brown paper grocery bags are hard to come by these days.

Do you need to organize a Valentine’s Party?  This book has all you need from food to games. For food there is a recipe for fancy sandwiches and chocolate snowball valentines. I don’t have any food stains on the book so I never made these recipes. With supervision each of these recipes would be easy for a child to construct.

What else do you need for a party?  Why decorations of course!  This author provides some simple decorations that can be made in a snap.  Once your guests arrive, you need games to entertain them.  This is a one stop book, so it includes information on several different games.  I found some construction paper hearts tucked in the back of this book so I have organized the Valentine Relay Race at some point.  It is a rowdy game, sure to tire out some silly players. Here’s what you need and how you play.

You need:

  • Red construction paper
  • Scissors
  • Black crayon
  • A piece of string six times as long as your arm

How to do

  1. Before the part, cut out a heart for each player.
  2. Think of some things to do, such as jump, crawl, hop, skip, and walk backwards.
  3. Take two hearts. Write the same thing to do on each.
  4. Do this for all the hearts. Put the hearts into two piles.

How to play:

  1. Make two teams of players
  2. Put the string on the floor
  3. Line each team up behind it.
  4. Put a pile of hearts across the room from each team.
  5. On “Go”, the first player on each team runs up to a pile and takes a heart.
  6. The players then come back, doing what it says on the hearts.
  7. When the first players get back to their teams, the next players run to the hearts.
  8. The team finished first wins.

Do you need a gift for your Valentine?  The book had an excellent recipe for making “Baker’s Clay.”  You could craft a little something wonderful for your special person.

This little book has everything you need for a wonderful day of activity for young ones or those young at heart.  Interspersed throughout the books are bits of valentine humor.  They are groaners.  I will be kind and share only two.  I hope you have a terrific day with all of your loved ones!

A Valentine’s Joke

Knock knock
Who’s there?
Olive.
Olive who?
Olive you!

A Valentine Tongue Twister

Lila’s love laughs loudly!

Last Stop on Market Street

LastStopDe La Peña, Matt.  Last Stop on Market Street. Illustrated by Christian Robinson.  New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2015.

Many of the children’s books I featured in my blog are older books. I write about them, because I have wonderful memories associated with them.  When I pick up a book, I remember the first time I read it either to one of my daughters or to a group of children.  I have been lucky to have read many fine books over time.  I am delighted to add this new book to my collection.  Eventually, I will get to read it to special young person.

This is a very new book to me. I picked it up on a whim at this year’s Texas Book Festival. I am ever in pursuit of Caldecott and Newberry award winners.  Not only did it win these two awards, but it also won the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor.  I brought it home and placed it on my shelves for a future blog post.  Just after the first of the year, I bought myself a 2018: Desk Diary Literary Datebook from Barnes and Noble.  It is chock-a-block full of all sorts of literary bits and bobs.  A couple of weeks ago, I was looking it over for interesting facts and I found one about this book.  My diary informed me that on January 11, 2016 Matt De La Peña became the first Hispanic winner of the John Newberry Medal award. It was kismet!  It was a sign! This must be my next book blog.

Wonderful words and praiseworthy pictures come together for a charming story about CJ and his Nana.  I already have something in common with CJ.  He calls his grandmother, Nana and that what I called my grandmother and my girls called theirs. Every week after church, CJ goes with his Nana to help at the soup kitchen, which is near the last bus stop on Market Street.  He is young and restless.  Why do they have to walk to the bus stop in the rain? Why don’t they have a car? He has a few other laments.  For each question, his strong and sunny Nana has a calm and thoughtful answer.  She guides him to ideas and thoughts outside of himself.  A question about why they don’t have a car, brings this reply, “Boy, what do need a car for? We got a bus that breathes fire, and old Mr. Dennis, who always has a trick for you.” It took me a couple of readings and examination of the illustrations to find the reference to the bus that breathes fire.  It is an illusion to the fire-breathing dragon Christian Robinson has illustrated on the side of CJ and Nana’s bus.

This is a wonderful book about how we see things about us.  CJ, with Nana’s help, learns to hear and see the wonder of the world that surrounds them.  Whether you’ve ever ridden a bus with your Nana or not, this is a wonderful book.  Read it and remember all the times someone who loved you, helped you see the bigger picture.

Santa Calls

SantaCalls1Joyce, William.  Santa Calls. New York: Laura Geringer Book, 1993.

I found this book about 4 or 5 years ago.  It delighted me so much that I had to add it to my Christmas book collection.  This fall when Jim and I went to the Texas Book Festival, I was excited to see that William Joyce was a featured speaker.  In the children’s book tent, there was a display of his books.  I managed to reign in my desire and purchase only a copy of one of his other books for myself and two copies of this book to send to my two young nephews for Christmas. I am hoping that it is a new addition to both of their book libraries and not a repeat of what I sent last year.  I am going to have to start keeping a log of what I send.

Some of you may know that I started this blog as a review of the books we gave one of my nephews for his Mama’s baby shower.  I bought too many books to explain to my niece at her shower how special each and every book in the collection was to us.  I was so excited about all of them, I wrote her soon-to-be born son a book about all the books. That book about my nephew’s little library got me started on this blog.  I try to include updates to that book for each new book that I send.  Here is some of what I sent this year.

Santa Calls is a book written about a boy, who lives in Texas.  Your Grandma and Grandpa and your Uncle Jim and I live in Texas and I know you visit it often.  I love words, so I could not resist a book that opens with an alliteration (ask your Mom about this).  Here’s the first sentence: “Art Atchinson Aimesworth was a very singular boy.” It is a book about boy, who lives in Abilene, Texas and helps his Aunt and Uncle run a Wild West Show and Animal Phantasmagoria.  With these two sentences, I knew Santa Calls was a book that needed to be shared with you.  It is about Art’s Extraordinary Adventure of Christmas 1908.  In this exciting adventure, Art, Spaulding (his friend), and Esther (Art’s little sister) take a trip to the North Pole.  They go because, “Santa Calls.”

This Extraordinary Adventure of Christmas begins just before Christmas.  A mysterious box appears in front of Art’s laboratory.  Did I mention that Art has many talents/hobbies?  He is an inventor, adventurer, and crime fighter. Art and Spaulding systematically and scientifically attempt to open the box.  Their most scientific method?  Poking it with a stick.  A note pops up.  It reads: “Open the box. Assemble the contents. Come NORTH. Yours, S.C.” Art and Spaulding as directed, assemble and modify the contents.  By Christmas Eve, they are ready to head north.  Esther has been watching and helping with the preparations and she asks to go on their quest.  As we learn early in the book Art has one weakness and one flaw.  His weakness is his love of sweets and candy.  His flaw was being mean to Esther.  As you guessed, Art refuses to take her along after all she is too little to come.  She of course, threatens to tell if she doesn’t get to go.  Art’s reply, “You know an Aimesworth never tells.”  Esther knows the truth of this so she watches sadly as they rev the engine to go.  Art, however, is not heartless.  At the last-minute he lets her hop in. “You won’t be sorry,” Esther says.  They lift away on their northern adventure.

What an adventure it is!  They meet Santa and Mrs. Claus, Ali Aku (Captain of the Santarian Guard), Dark Elves (trouble), and their evil Queen (even more trouble).  There are battles, a kidnapping, and an amazing rescue all before Christmas Day!  This book reminds me of so many other wonderful adventure stories like Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz, the movie Babes in Toyland, and J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Father Christmas Letters.  It is an exciting book to read.  Santa is in the book, but Art, Spaulding, and Esther have the starring roles.

I told my nephews that I loved words and language and this book is filled with wonderful little sayings mostly from Art.  They remind me of old science fiction movies.  I can’t call to mind which movie, but here are a couple of them for you to think about.

  • By the rings of Saturn!
  • To the Pole! (I wanted to add, “and beyond!” It reminded me of Buzz Light Year in Toy Story.)
  • By the moons of Jupiter, this is a swell place.
  • Why in the name of Neptune did you call for us?

The illustrations in the book are soft and warm, but rich with detail.  While they are illustrations, they remind me of sepia photographs.  They set the right mood and enhance the story at every turn of the page.

You are going to need to read the book to find out the answer to these questions.  I predict you will have fun making these discoveries.

  • How does Art’s one weakness and one flaw play into this story?
  • Why were they called? Art imagines it to solve an arctic crime wave. Is it?

Ride along with these young people and have a magic adventure. I hope you enjoy this rollicking Christmas adventure!

Happy Reading!

Owl Moon

Girl and man on snow hillside under an owl moonYolen, Jane. Owl Moon. Illustrated by John Schoenherr. New York: Scholastic, 1987.

I am over the moon, so to speak, to tell you about Owl Moon.  It seems it is the perfect week to do so.  It was the full moon on Monday that made me remember this book. The moon was large, bright, and lustrous.  This book takes place on a night with a full, bright moon. Here’s how the book opens.

It was late one winter night,
long past my bedtime,
when Pa and I went owling.
There was no wind.
The trees stood still
as giant statues.
And the moon was so bright
the sky seemed to shine.

What else make this a perfect time for this book?  It snowed this evening in central Texas.  If you have friends from central Texas on Facebook, this is probably no surprise to you. Everyone I know in the area has posted a snow picture.  Those of you who live where it is cold and snowy will not be impressed.  I hope you will forgive our giddy pleasure in this skiff of snow.  You will notice this book takes place on a snow covered wintry night.  With a snowy night and a full moon in the same week, I think I was destined to write about this charming book.

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The little girl in this story lives on a farm in a very, snowy part of the country.  She has been waiting oh, so very long to go owling with her Pa. It is late, way past her bedtime, when they head out.  The snow on the fields they pass glistens in the light of the moon.  It is quiet and she can hear sounds from far away as clear as if they were close by.  Have you ever walked on a pristine field of snow with no one around?  It is so quiet and bright.  It crunches as you walk.  If the snow is deep, you have to lift your feet high to walk.  As they walk together their feet crunch in the snow.  It is the only noise they hear.  She knows that if she goes owling with her Pa, she has to be very quiet.  She has to run to keep up with her dad sometimes, but she is still quiet.  They make shadows on the snow, tall and thin, short and round.  They walk to the forest at the edge of the fields.  They stop and Pa gives the call of the Great Horned Owl. They listen and listen, but there is no answer.  She isn’t disappointed as she knows from her brothers that “sometimes there is an owl and sometimes there isn’t.”

As the girl and her pa walk further into the forest, they listen.  There is suppressed excitement and anticipation.  I can almost imagine the little girl bouncing silently up and down as she listens and waits as Pa calls out again. Then they hear it, the faint echo of a returning call.  As they listen the call comes nearer and Pa turns on his big flashlight and catches the owl as it lands on a branch.  Momentarily, they stare at one another, owl to girl and man and back.  Then the owl wings its way back into the forest.  The owling is over and it is time to go home.  She could be loud, she could laugh, but she holds the silence inside as she walks home.  A wise young one, she is.  Here is her final reflection.

When you go owling
you don’t need words
or warm
or anything but hope.
That’s what Pa says.
The kind of hope
that flies on silent wings
under a shining owl moon.

Jane Yolen is a wonderful storyteller.  She evokes feelings of peace and quiet, just what you need for a night of owling.  When I read it aloud, I almost want to whisper.  I want to keep the serenity I see in the pictures and hear in the words.  I hope you can find this book and add it to your collection.  It would make a restful, reflective read on a wintry, full moon night.

Jane Yolen

Facts about this author.

  1. She wrote her first poem in preschool. Amazingly she still has it.  She recites it to groups of students, “because it was so bad that I tell them that, clearly, they’re writing better poems than that.”¹
  2. She has written over 250 books. They seem to cover many genres and all ages. You can take a look at her website for a full listing: http://janeyolen.com/
  3. Owl Moon was the 1988 Caldecott Medal winner.
  4. She won the World Fantasy Award in 1987 for Favorite Folktales from Around the World. In 2009, she was earned their Lifetime Achievement award. Fantasy is one of my favorite genres.²
  5. She’s been an editor, a teacher, a storyteller, a critic, a songwriter for rock groups and folk singers.³

Here are some websites to visit to learn more about this author.

¹http://www.readingrockets.org/books/interviews/yolen
²http://www.worldfantasy.org/awards/winners/
³https://www.scholastic.com/teachers/authors/jane-yolen/