Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Year of Miss Agnes by Kirkpatrick Hill Journal Entry 2

Dear Mr. W,

One main character in The Year of Miss Agnes is Miss Agnes. Some character traits for her are that she is a good teacher. She is also helpful and kids are important to her. It’s important that kids learn.

I know she is a good teacher because none of the other teachers ever tried to teach Bokko because she is deaf. Miss Agnes taught her sign language and how to read lips. She even had to learn sign language herself in order to teach it. Then the whole class learned those things, not just Bokko. Miss Agnes made a timeline on the wall and drew pictures from the past and put them on the timeline. Fred said that Miss Agnes could make information stick, even though they didn’t take tests. Instead they played “time machine.” 

Miss Agnes helps a lot. She taught Bokko. She also taught adults from the village even though they weren’t students. When Marie had to stay home and take care of kids, Miss Agnes had Marie come to her house at night to keep learning. She played her squeezebox at village parties so the band could take a break from playing music and dance.

Kids and learning are important to her as well. She tells Fred and Bokko’s mom that Bokko should go to school even though she is deaf. When Little Pete had to leave to work on the trapline, she read extra long so he could hear the end of Robin Hood and told him to write in a journal she gave him every day when he was gone. When their school was about to close, she gave up going home to England to stay and keep the school open. That totally shows that kids and learning are important to her.

Brian Fourth Grader

Monday, December 24, 2012

Great Joy by Kate DiCamillo

The original plan was to start my review of Great Joy by Kate DiCamillo with two Christmas lists, but I quickly realized that both lists were the same. So I combined them. And now I share them with you.

Things That Have Become Associated With Christmas  AND  Things That Really Have Nothing To Do With Christmas:

Candy canes, cookies, red and green, fake reindeer antlers, bad sweaters, bells, over-sized stockings, spruce trees, Black Friday, an increase in mail, “Ho Ho Ho,” the Christmas Eve vs. Christmas morning debate, “Bah, humbug!” and these guys.

Anyway, back to the book review.

“The week before Christmas, a monkey appeared on the corner of Fifth and Vine.” He wore a green vest and a red hat and was accompanied by an organ grinder who played music. From her apartment across the street, Frances could see the old man and his monkey, and when it became very quiet in the apartment, she could sometimes hear the music “sounding sad and far away, like music from a dream.”

Curious where they went in the evening, Frances sneaks a peek one night to discover that they sleep on the street. In the cold. Alone. Frustrated at their circumstances, and at the fact that her mother won’t allow them to come for dinner, Frances rushes over to them on her way to the church Christmas play and invites them to the show.

And here’s what Christmas is really about. When Frances takes the stage, she temporarily forgets her line, an important line in the Christmas story. The shepherds whisper a reminder and the camel sways nervously, waiting, but … nothing.

Nothing, that is, until a cold old man and his monkey quietly enter the warm sanctuary.

“Behold!” Frances shouted. “I bring you tidings of Great Joy!”
And because the words felt so right, Frances said them again. “Great Joy.”

That’s what Christmas is really about. Frances’ announcement. The “tidings of Great Joy” that this young angel brings to an old man and his monkey are the same as those announced years ago by a more experienced angel. “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.”

Merry Christmas. May it be filled with Great Joy.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Year of Miss Agnes by Kirkpatrick Hill

Dear Mr. W,

I just finished The Year of Miss Agnes. This is the plot. In the introduction I learned that Fred was the main character. Other characters include her classmates, her sister and mother, the people in town, and Miss Agnes. It is set in Alaska in 1948. The mood is unhappy because all the teachers they ever had have left them. The conflict is that once the kids like Miss Agnes, they don’t want her to leave.

Some events in the rising action include when Miss Agnes insists that Bokko come to school and she teaches Bokko sign language. She has students write stories about themselves. Miss Agnes puts a huge time line on the wall with pictures and has the class play Time Machine. She makes learning fun for kids who used to think it wasn’t important.

[Highlight to read the rest. Spoilers included...]

The climax of the story, the most important event, is on the last page when Fred and Bokko looked through the school window to see Miss Agnes and they knew that Miss Agnes decided to stay for another year. Or longer. The Year of Miss Agnes has no falling action. The book ends with the climax.

The resolution is that Miss Agnes has decided to stay and teach them. Readers don’t know why she decided to stay, but maybe it was because Miss Agnes's mom in England already died or that the students really wanted her to stay. Maybe she just wanted to stay in this place.

I wish the falling action included more information, like how long Miss Agnes stays, does she ever go back to England, does she ever get married, and does Fred ever follow her dream of going to college?

Brian Fourth Grader

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Tadpole by Ruth White Journal Entry 2

Dear Mr. W,

I am still reading Tadpole. The main character is Carol. She is 10, the youngest, and says she is “nobody at all.” She is loud. Matter of fact, all her sisters are loud. They talk loud, sing loud, laugh loud, and quarrel loud. She is the youngest and smallest so people don’t really pay attention to her a lot. When Tadpole was singing, she had to sit on the ground and not by him because her sisters stole the good spots next to him. When she started to tell the story about Tadpole getting his name, her sisters cut her off and told the story themselves. She only got to say one line when she was the one who started the story. When Tad told the story about Eugene, the other 3 sister shared sneaky glances with one another but not with Carol. Her dress was owned by all 3 sisters before her, and Tad calls her “Little Carol.” Finally, Mama gives everyone chores to do, even Tad, but not Carol. She’s told to try and stay out of the way.

Tadpole is caring. He is the only one who listens to Carol, like when she suggested his name be Tad. After he told the story about Eugene, he ignored the other 3 sisters to talk just to Carol. Tad is responsible. He didn’t complain when he got a chore, he just said, “Yes, ma’am.” He also starts weeding the garden because it needs to be done, not because he was told to do it. He also helped Kentucky with her chore to clean the kitchen. He seems to be a leader. The girls follow his example to weed the garden, even when they don’t want to do it.

Brian Fifth Grader


I like what you said about Carol, but is she really one of the loud ones or do you think she gets grouped in with her loud sisters? Pay attention to Carol as you read. Is she really “nobody at all” like she says?

Tell me more about Tad. What kind of person tells stories like him and plays guitar like that? What are his strengths and talents and abilities?

Mr. W

Dear Mr. W,

I think Carol is sort of loud, but not like her sisters. She wants some things for herself, like to walk alone with Tad, but her sisters barge in and do what she wants to do herself.

The stories Tad tells are kind of hard to believe. So, maybe he simply has a really good imagination. First, people don’t move into paintings and live there. Second, a person was in the window even though the whole family was leaving and outside. But when he tells the stories he is very serious. It doesn’t seem like he’s making it up. He has musical ability. He learned the fiddle from an uncle and said he would call a square dance. It says there wasn’t a song he couldn’t figure out on the guitar, and he played like that on his first night there when all the neighbors came to visit and listen and sing with the family.

Brian Fifth Grader

Monday, December 10, 2012

Flush by Carl Hiaasen Journal Entry

Dear Mr. W,

Today in Flush, Noah was unfortunately trapped inside the main setting of the chapter: the women’s bathroom on the Coral Queen. He describes it as basically a closet with barely enough room to sit and do your business. It smelled like a combination of Clorox bleach, bathroom, and Shelley’s tangerine perfume. (Shelley was in the bathroom with him for a short time.) There is an “Out of Order” sign hanging on the outside of the door. In the bathroom there was a sink, and Noah had to brace his feet against it to keep an 85-year-old lady from coming in the bathroom while he was in there.

Noah is in the bathroom while the Coral Queen is open one night. He can hear the noise of the casino - the slot machines and the band. He sneaked on board before the boat opened at 7:00 and stayed in the bathroom for about an hour, I’m guessing, to flush enough times for his plan. Then he made a break for it.

Noah is sort of disgusted that he’s in the “Mermaid’s” bathroom. He’s also nervous about getting caught, but he also knows that his father would be proud of him. I think that knowledge makes Noah somewhat brave. When the old lady started banging on the door, he was confused that she ignored the out of order sign. He was scared when he was being chased by the two bouncer goons and he jumped off the boat.

I’m a little nervous for Noah. At the end of the chapter, Noah jumped off the boat to freedom yelling, “Geronimo!” At first Noah believes he was jumping to "sweet freedom," but then the chapter ends with, “Or so I told myself...” To me that means Noah thinks everything is going to be okay, but later he learned that no, in fact there was going to be a problem of some sort. What that problem is, however, I don’t know.

Brian 6th Grader

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Tadpole by Ruth White Journal Entry

Dear Mr. W,

I am reading Tadpole by Ruth White. The story takes place in the hills of Kentucky in 1955. The book tells me that it is 1955. They live in a holler, which is like a valley that is open on only one end. The Collins family (and Tadpole, their cousin who they call Tad) live in a small house. There is a front porch, a living room, kitchen, and two bedrooms for all six of them. They live in the middle of nowhere, basically. They can’t even see their closest neighbors, and once Tad came home from the neighbor’s house by walking through the woods. There is a creek behind their house. Once they got a goat to trim their lawn, but someone needed to keep it from getting into their huge garden where they grow tomatoes, radishes, beans, lettuce, corn, and all sorts of vegetables. They also can go out in the back and kick chunks of coal out of the hill to burn in the winter.

I’d like to say the mood is happy, but it’s not all the time. The family is happy enough with what they have, but the girls whine a lot about stuff, and their mom works really hard and it makes her tired. She has to work a lot because their father left them. Carol is sort of sad and frustrated with being the runt of the family. The mood is much better when Tad is around, except when they worry that he will have to go back with his mean uncle and aunt. The sisters help out with chores more when Tad is around. He tells them stories that make work go faster and that make them think more about their family, especially their mom.

Brian Fifth Grader

Dear Brian,

Can you give me some more clues that it is 1955 other than the book tells you? Even if it didn’t say, what clues are there that this is not in the present day? Prove that it is 1955 (or about then, anyway).

Mr. W

Dear Mr. W,

Here are some ways you can tell that Tadpole takes place in the past. Mr. Puckett drives a DeSoto car. Those were made in the past and aren’t made anymore that I know of. They had to do their washing, like baths, in a back room. There wasn’t any running water or a bathroom in the house. They used a goat to mow their lawn instead of a lawn mower. They went to see two movies, Rebel Without a Cause and The Highwayman. They came out in the 1950’s.

Brian Fifth Grader

Sunday, December 2, 2012

This Is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen

My original review of I Want My Hat Back says, “Sometimes - no, oftentimes - the simplest books end up being the best books.” I then went on to summarize the book in five lines.

Jon Klassen’s next hat book is not a sequel. It's more of a companion book. Either way the line from the previous review holds true. Simple stories make great books. Here is a 100% complete summary of This Is Not My Hat. Eh-hem...

1. A little fish has stolen a hat from a big fish.
2. The little fish is unrepentant and rationalizes his deed.
3. The little fish confides in the reader and one other marine critter.
4. A permanent home is determined for the hat.

The little fish readily admits what he has done on the first page. “This hat is not mine. I just stole it.” The little fish then goes through a litany of reasons why he will get away with his theft. He does not necessarily tell why it was okay to steal the hat, but clearly believes that getting away with it is justification enough.

As the little fish goes through his reasons, it’s the illustrations that complete the story. The little fish explains that the big fish was sleeping when the theft occurred, “and he probably won’t wake up for a long time.” Oh, really? Check the illustrations.

But so what if he does wake up? “He probably won’t notice that it’s gone.” Uh-huh. Right.

Can the little fish make it to “where the plants are big and tall and close together?” Will the big fish even realize his hat is missing? Is the little fish’s confidence warranted or will he be called to account for his crime?

Just as in I Want My Hat Back, the conclusion in This Is Not My Hat is somewhat open ended. Yes, readers know what happens to the hat, but there’s still plenty left open to interpretation. Readers will have fun filling in all the possible details about what happens “where the plants are big and tall and close together.”

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Who Could That Be at This Hour? by Lemony Snicket

Dear Mr. W,

I just finished Who Could That Be at This Hour? by Lemony Snicket. (He’s the author of A Series of Unfortunate Events, which I read, and I loved.) Anyways, this new book is the first of four in a new series called All the Wrong Questions. The genre of this book, and the new series, is mystery.

The main character is a young Lemony Snicket. He is an apprentice to S. Theodora Markson, and together they have been assigned to get back an item that has been stolen from Mrs. Murphy Sallis. The item is a statue of a mythical creature called the Bombinating Beast. Who could have stolen the statue? Will S. Theodora Markson be able to get it back? Will Lemony Snicket learn anything from his chaperone?

These are all the wrong questions.

While Lemony is investigating the crime, he discovers that there may not have been a crime after all. He also meets numerous characters like kid-journalist Moxie Mallahan, sub-librarian Dashiell Qwerty, eavesdropping hotel owner Prosper Lost, a kidnapper named Hangfire, and a mysterious girl in the Clusterous Forest named Ellington Feint. Actually, it’s not fair to call Ellington Feint mysterious since all them are mysterious in some way. Why is Prosper Lost eavesdropping? Who is Hangfire? Why does Dashiell Qwerty open the library so early?

Again, all the wrong questions.

By the end of the book, Lemony Snicket has the mystery of the Bombinating Beast and its rightful owner solved, but more mysteries have appeared. What is the Bombinating Beast for? Will Ellington Feint find her father? Does Lemony Snicket’s secret organization have anything to do with V.F.D.? What is Kit Snicket up to?

I don’t know if these are all the wrong questions or not, but they are definitely questions I want answers to and proof that this book is a mystery.

Brian Fifth Grader

P.S. I found this book trailer. Does it get me extra credit?

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Son by Lois Lowry

Dear Mr. W,

I just finished reading Son by Lois Lowry and wanted to tell you about the setting. There are three main places where Son takes place.

The first setting is the community where Jonas and Gabe live in The Giver. Claire is a birthmother in the community. (The title refers to her son.) She received her assignment at the Ceremony of Twelve about two years before Jonas receives his selection. I thought a lot about The Giver as I read. Everything in the community is the same. People live in plain houses. They all ride bikes. Meals are delivered to every house. To me it would be a very boring existence. A lot of time is spent in a laboratory where fish are raised to be food.

The second setting is a new place, a village on the sea. There is a huge cliff by the village which prevents anyone from leaving the village by land. Most everyone makes a living from the sea. The village is very old and old fashioned. Houses are not much more than huts, there are dirt roads, a harbor with fishing boats, and some fields with sheep and animals. The events that happen here occur after the events of The Giver.

Finally, the last setting is the same village as was in Messenger, but the events happen after the events of Messenger. This village is not advanced like Jonas’ first community, but it is civilized and the people are kind. Much of the time is spent in Jonas’ house. (You learn a lot about him in Son, like he’s married and has kids.) His house is warm and welcoming and happy. Whenever I imagine it I see a fire in the fireplace and smell a pot of something delicious cooking. It feels like a place I’d like to sit and visit for a while.

After reading the book and knowing that events happen in Jonas' community from The Giver and in the village from Messenger, I was surprised that there were no events in the village from Gathering Blue. Looking back it almost seems like it should. There are still many important connections to Gathering Blue, just not the setting.

The book was great, but Lois Lowry has a way of ending books without really ending them, like there’s still much more story to be told. I guess I’ll just have to imagine my own rest of the story.

Brian 6th Grader

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Alvin Ho: Allergic to Girls, School, and Other Scary Things by Lenore Look

Dear Mr. W,

Today while reading Alvin Ho: Allergic to Girls, School, and Other Scary Things by Lenore Look, Alvin used swearing words but they weren’t actual curses. The curses were from Shakespeare. He was at the psychotherapist, but he thought that meant she was crazy, like psycho.

I was wondering what some of the curses mean. He said, “Grow unsightly warts, thou half-faced horn-beast!” and “Bathe thyself, thou reeky reeling-ripe pigeon egg!” and “Sit thee on a spit, then eat my sneakers, thou droning beef-witted nut hook!” What’s a nut hook? What is a half-faced horn-beast? Why is a pigeon egg smelly? Maybe when it says ripe, it means that it is a rotten egg. I’ve smelled one of those before, and it’s not pretty.

I also wondered why his dad took him to get ice cream. I expected him to get punished for speaking that way, but he got ice cream instead. That didn’t seem right. I thought he might get a spanking or something like that. Usually when you speak mean to someone, you get in trouble. At school that happens. When kids talk mean, they get in trouble. I guess his dad knew he had a bad day at the psychotherapist, and dads know that sometimes ice cream can make things better, especially ice cream with your dad.

Brian 4th Grader

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Reading Journals

When I started teaching I knew two things for certain. First, I wanted to read aloud every day. Second, I wanted my students to read every day.

I thought I was pretty smart for that.

I didn’t call it readers’ workshop. There weren’t mini-lessons, at least not officially, and reading conferences were informal conversations between readers rather than intentional conferences focused on a specific topic. Students were expected to write entries in a reading journal, but my expectations were often loose and not clearly defined.

As happens for all teachers over time, the classroom strategies and activities that worked well became more evident, and my instruction become more focused on essential material. Of course, we teachers are constantly tinkering and changing and improving our instruction as we continue to learn more and gain more teaching experience.

What follows is how reading journals currently look in my readers’ workshop. (And quite possibly, something will change next week.)

Independent Reading
Students are expected to always have an independent silent reading book which they use for their reading journal entries. Students choose one of the following topics and write about it within the context of their chosen book. As I tell students, reading lessons should apply to all reading, for all students, not just a specific story. (Note: This list focuses on literary elements. As such, topics pertaining to informational text are absent. Rest assured it is still being taught.)

Journal Topics

  • Main & Supporting Characters
  • Protagonists & Antagonists
  • Character Traits
  • Setting (place, time, mood)
  • Plot (introduction, conflict, events, rising action, climax, falling action, resolution)
  • Theme
  • Genre
  • Conflict & Resolution
  • Making Predictions
  • Making Judgments

In the Beginning
As we begin the year, journal entries focus on the question “What are you thinking?” The goal is to get students to pay attention to what they do as readers. Sometimes using our read aloud book, sometimes using my own reading, we discuss, write, and share what we are thinking while we read.

As the Help Readers Love Reading site transition continues, sample journal entries will be posted. Sample journal entries is a format I’ve not seen on children’s literature blogs so I thought it might be a unique change of pace for readers. My goal is to continue to introduce great books to the site’s readers while at the same time compiling examples to use with students.

Thursday, November 15, 2012


Life is full of transitions. Some are positive, others negative. Some transitions occur in our personal lives while others happen to us professionally. Whenever numerous transitions happen simultaneously, life can get a little … well, to put it simply: busy.

The second half of 2012 has been full of transitions for your humble reader/reviewer/writer/blogger. Thankfully these transitions, both personal and professional, have been of the positive variety. Details aren’t necessary, but a new role and additional responsibilities at school coupled with significant changes at home (again, all positive) have made me, once again simply stated: busy.

I’ve temporarily stopped writing my monthly newspaper column and, considering that the site’s most recent post was on July 23, have taken time away from Help Readers Love Reading as well. That doesn’t mean that I’ve completely stopped writing, however. There was time for an interview with Kirby Larson, and at school, with three readers’ workshop groups, I have written numerous sample reading journal entries as models for students.

Many of these sample journal entries have been about books that would have appeared here on Help Readers Love Reading. So to add to the transitions, I’m going to try one here on the site as well. In the coming days and weeks I plan to post a short outline of how I use reading journals in readers’ workshop followed by sample journal entries that I share with students. Not only will this allow me to continue sharing books here on the blog, but I’ll have my sample journal entries all in one place.

So that’s what’s going to happen … or that’s the plan, anyway. As new posts appear, I’d love to hear your feedback. As always, thanks to everyone for visiting Help Readers Love Reading, and thanks for staying with the site through its unintended temporary shutdown.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Maya Makes a Mess by Rutu Modan

If Maya Makes a Mess was nonfiction, if author Rutu Modan had created an illustrated account of a real Maya’s actual dinner manners, than this book would document the greatest achievement in childhood dinner manners in the history of children, dinner, or manners.

In the opening pages, Maya is seen eating with her hands, standing at the table, slouching, leaning back in her chair, and feeding the dog. And her parents are heard correcting each behavior. “You need manners!” says her father. “What if you were eating dinner with the QUEEN?!”

Yes, indeed. What if?

DING DONG! goes the doorbell, and in walks a court herald. TOO-TOOT! goes his horn before he announces, “Her Majesty the Queen invites Maya to come to a dinner party. Tonight.”

Maya is whisked away to dinner, her father’s last words, “Mind your manners!” echoing in her ears. At dinner she faces choices and troubles that would mystify the best of us. Does she choose to eat the goose livers, snail salad, or ham jelly? Should she wash it down with spinach juice? Which of the 8 forks, 5 knives, 5 spoons, and 4 glasses should she use? Thankfully the gentleman next to her - a Duke, it is later revealed - helps her out. “Eat it the way you’re used to.”

So she does. And everyone notices. Including the queen.

But Maya is not thrown in jail, as she thinks might happen. Instead the queen does something drastic: She talks to Maya. She asks questions. She listens. Most amazingly, she trusts Maya.

In the end the queen makes an announcement. It’s an amazing, Maya-inspired, dinner-eating command that is embraced by every Duke, Princess, Countess, and Duchess in attendance and justifies every ketchup-fingered young dinner-eater around.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Importance of Thank You Notes

My latest column is mostly not mine. After my brief introduction is an actual thank you letter from my wife's cousin, Mark, to their grandmother ten years ago.

The letter speaks for itself, and honestly, I have nothing more to say. (Except, maybe, thanks for reading.)

My wife’s grandmother recently passed away, and in going through some paperwork, my mother-in-law discovered an envelope, addressed simply to Grandma H., in amongst Grandma’s important documents. The envelope held a thank you letter Grandma received from cousin Mark nearly ten years ago.

The letter illustrates three things. First, thank you letters hold great importance--Grandma kept this one for nearly a decade. Second, never underestimate the importance of a good laugh even during the most trying times. And third, cousin Mark could take my job writing this column.

We enjoyed numerous rereadings last week on family vacation, recalling Mark’s days as a graduate student, and he graciously gave me permission to share the letter, unedited. I hope it brings you some of the same joy it brought Grandma these past ten years.

Dear Grandma,

I thought I’d write you a letter to see how things are going in Wisconsin. Of course, I wish that I had some wonderfully entertaining tales from Florida to share with you, but I’m afraid that would entail using an imagination. Unfortunately, I think that I’ve been in school a sufficiently long time for them to train every bit of imagination out of me. Reality, meanwhile, is far less amusing than wonderfully entertaining tales from a tropical land. In fact, I do believe that a recounting of my exam experience today would more properly fall into the category of “Tragedy in the Swamplands,” and even that makes it sound more interesting than it was.

As of yet, I don’t believe that I’ve properly thanked you for the Christmas money. In the spirit of doing nothing at the right time, let me now, on the 24th of February in the year 2003, thank you for the Christmas check. With part of that money I recently purchased a new seat for my bicycle. It seems that bicycle seat technology has changed in the mere 6 years or so since I bought my bike; my old seat was more or less shaped like a wedge, while this one is designed to “reduce pressure points on soft tissue areas” -- precisely the weight-supporting areas with the wedge seat. Of course, the alternative way of describing the newer design if one was, say, writing to someone other than one’s grandmother, would be to “lessen pain where you don’t want it and consequently decrease the probability of impotency.” So I guess you can either say that at a minimum you saved your grandson significant discomfort, while at most you helped grow the family tree. To be honest, though, the discomfort issue is more relevant for me at the moment.

I suspect that after reading the previous paragraph you may in the future force all your children and grandchildren to sign forms promising to never tell you, much less describe in detail, the purchases that resulted from your Christmas gifts to them. Nevertheless, I figured that such an explanation might be an interesting change from the typical “Hey Grandma, thanks for the dough” sort of thank you.

I hope that you’re doing fabulously well.

With Love,

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Fake Mustache by Tom Angleberger

Simply put, Fake Mustache by Tom Angleberger is a book that grown-ups should be recommending to young readers. As a public service, I offer several suggestions to would be recommenders for doing just that.

First, point out the book’s alternate title. Listed underneath the impressively mustachioed young man on the cover, it reads How Jodie O’Rodeo and Her Wonder Horse (and Some Nerdy Kid) Saved the U.S. Presidential Election from a Mad Genius Criminal Mastermind. Who doesn’t like a colorful cast of characters and high stakes?

Second, you might point out to your targeted young reader that one of the book’s lessons is this: If ever presented with the opportunity to purchase a Heidelberg Handlebar Number Seven fake mustache along with a complimentary year’s supply of spirit gum from the Heidelberg Novelty Company, say no. Evil can lie in wait, even in an impressive mustache.

Third, mention that the story begins in Sven’s Fair Price Store, a place to “buy fake tattoos, fake noses, fake thumbs, fake eyelashes, fake tuxedo shirts, fake books that have secret compartments, fake laughter machines, fake fog makers, fake feet, fake teeth that you wind up, fake teeth that you stick in your mouth, fake gum that snaps people’s fingers, fake dog poop, [and] fake people poop.” (And fake mustaches.)

Fourth, even though not given in the above list of products, one of the story's heroes uses a Nasal Gun enabling him to shoot fake boogers out his nose. And it’s every bit as gross as it should be.

Fifth, it’s by Tom Angleberger, the guy behind The Strange Case of Origami Yoda. You’ve read Origami Yoda, right?

And finally, some reasons for the recommenders themselves. Beyond the absurdity and hilarity in the first four reasons, Fake Mustache contains grown-ups worthy of a Roald Dahl story, the action pace of an Alex Rider adventure, ordinary kids with extraordinary accomplishments, and a sequel-ready ending. Kids will love it.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Shark King by R. Kikuo Johnson

While searching for her favorite food, opihi (oh-PEE-hay, a delicious sea snail), in a seaside pool, a young woman named Kalei has a run-in with a rogue wave and what appears to be a shark. An ominous black outline complete with jagged teeth is headed right at her as the wave knocks her off the rocks and into the sea. But instead of gnashing teeth, she is grabbed by two strong hands that pull her to safety. Stunned, she can barely utter a thank you as the rescuer warns her that the Shark King does not like visitors.

Kalei and her mysterious rescuer fall in love, marry, and soon a son is on the way. Shortly before the child is born, the husband goes swimming in the sea for hours When he returns, he announces, “I’m making a place for our son at the bottom of the pool.” At the bottom of the pool? Then, the night before the boy is born, he leaves completely, returning to the sea and revealing himself to be the Shark King.

Kalei is left to raise the boy, Nanaue (nah-NOW-way), on her own. But he is different from the other boys and villagers and must stay hidden. Eventually his secret is discovered when the villagers no longer catch any fish. Blaming Nanaue, the villagers chase him to the only place he can find safety - the pool - leaving Kalei alone.

The Shark King is one of Toon Books more difficult books, Level 3 on their Toon Into Reading scale for “Advanced Beginners.” Pronunciations like the ones in this review are included in the text. Readers will enjoy Nanaue’s antics that keep his mother busy, as any young boy's antics will. Readers will especially enjoy drawing conclusions about the mysterious Shark King and Nanaue. As with all graphic novels, the text is limited, leaving readers to use the images to understand the events. Should Nanaue wander farther and farther from home? Is Kalei truly left alone? Will Nanaue be safe in the pool?

The Shark King by R. Kikuo Johnson is another strong addition to the Toon Books library. But with Toon Books, that’s come to be expected with each new release.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Chick and Chickee Play All Day! by Claude Ponti

“Chickie, let’s make masks!” begins Chick in this latest offering from Toon Books. But not just any masks, as young readers quickly find out. Scary masks! Chick and Chickie work diligently - shown expertly in only one panel, heads down, focused on the task - until each uses their grand creation to frighten the other. “BOO!” screams a mask-wearing Chick. “That was me!”

“Oh! That’s funny, Chick!” replies Chickee before returning the favor with a BOO! of her own.

Chick and Chickee move on to playing school with a capital letter A. They discover A’s many talents. A can “Ah!...” when he rests. A can also “AH! HA HA HA HA!” when tickled. When the two friends play catch with A, launching him through the sky, A screams, “Aaaaaaaaaaaa” as he flies. Charge at A with a pin and eraser, and a terrified A hollers, “AH!”

Author Claude Ponti’s ending - “Well, tomorrow we can play with B!” - leaves readers wondering what might happen next and gives grown-ups a great opportunity to discuss exactly that with their young readers.

With Chick and Chickee Play All Day!, Toon Books has added to their small but steadily growing library of graphic novels for younger readers. Toon Books are grouped into Levels 1, 2, and 3, and each book contains easy to understand descriptions of each level inside the back cover including recommended grade levels, lexile, guided reading and reading recovery levels.

But don’t let the educational jargon fool you. These books are not contrived just to fit a category. Toon Books are genuinely fun, kid friendly, and re-re-re-re-readable. There’s something new to discover with every bed time, story time, and reading time, perfect for showing your newest readers the joy books hold.

Monday, June 18, 2012

A Mysterious Magazine

Since this article was originally published in the local newspaper a week ago, people have told me about Erik Estrada, Shaun Cassidy and "Da Doo Ron Ron," and the Jonas Brothers. I suppose when a magazine has been around for nearly fifty years, there are going to be a great variety of generational memories. It's been fun learning about babysitting allowances being saved and walls being covered, and I'd love to hear even more. 

Thanks for reading. and please consider sharing your own Tiger Beat memories.

A Tiger Beat magazine recently turned up in my house. Seriously, they’re still making Tiger Beat. I thought it died with parachute pants, eight-inch bangs, and Baby on Board, but it seems I was mistaken - about Tiger Beat, not the parachute pants.

But what drum brought this beat to my house? Magazines don’t just randomly appear on kitchen counters, and I certainly never wrote a check for a subscription.

First, I weeded out the fringe suspects.

Grandma and Grandpa: No flowers, no recipes, no woodworking, and no sports in Tiger Beat. Wasn’t the grandparents.

The two-year-old nephew: No Thomas the Tank Engine pictures. He’s out.

Aunt and uncle: No coupons. No lists of baby names. Nope, not them.

Time to look closer to home. Time to look IN the home, as a matter of fact. Four people live in the house, which left three main suspects. There were only three main suspects because one of the residents, me, was not a suspect. Trust me.

The boy: Despite liking music, a staple of Tiger Beat since Monkees made music, and having a proclivity for posters on his bedroom walls, it doesn’t appear to be the boy. Unless Tiger Beat features photos of Prince Fielder and Justin Verlander - you know, DETROIT Tigers - which it undoubtedly does not, then it wasn’t the boy.

The wife: Drawing on my best memories of the magazine, which are admittedly limited, I felt this issue of Tiger Beat was severely lacking in pictures of Ralph Macchio, Kirk Cameron, and Patrick Swayze. True, the posters could have already been nipped out, but had that been the case, I’d be waking up to Daniel-san, Mike Seaver, and Johnny Castle on my bedroom walls. The wife was no longer a suspect.

That left the thirteen-year-old daughter as the only logical option.

By process of elimination, the culprit, I believe, had been exposed, and it didn’t take much sleuthing for suspicions to be confirmed. There was music coming from her room, paper trimmings and scissors on the floor, and walls covered with photos of floppy-haired boys.

It’s a classic example of the more things change, the more they stay the same. Regardless of the decade, certain truths remain evident: Whether it’s Monkees or New Kids or One Direction, groups of shaggy-headed boys will make music, and hoards of girls will obsess over them. And cover their walls with the boys’ photos.

It doesn’t matter if these young men are singing about why Sleepy Jean needs to cheer up (Oh, what can it mean?) or explaining how she’s got the right stuff (Oh-oh, oh-oh-oh), or wondering how everyone else in the room can see it (You don’t know-oh-oh, you don’t know you’re beau-ti-ful), the chorus will echo throughout the house ad nauseam. Moms will reminisce about their past obsessions. Dads will cover their ears and complain about the noise. 

And everyone can’t help but sing along.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Little Kids and Nicknames

There are approximately 4 million children born each year in the United States. That means there are around 8 million two- and three-year-olds. Eight million kids learning to speak ... with varying results. My own kids are no exception. With all these little ones toddling around, trying to successfully speak what they've been hearing their whole lives, I know there must be other kids with names like Beef and Maymay and Bubba and Teetee.

And I'd love to hear about them. See more at the bottom of my latest column. (You can see the original here until it is archived.)

I have a son named Beef.

No, this is not the name on his birth certificate, Beef not being what our grandparents might call "a strong, Christian name." Beef is not a traditional family name, nor is it a tribute to a close friend, favorite literary character or dinner selection.

It's all because of his sister, Maymay, who, needless to say, has her own name issues.

Once, when I was changing Ethan's diaper, Megan, then 3, tried talking to him using his first name. "Eefy," she said, with concerted effort.

Now, the boy was in that 9 to 12 month range, when eating has been mastered but moving is still a challenge, so he wasn't yet burning off the calories he was taking in. Both legs had rolls at his ankles, mid-calf, knee, mid-thigh and hip.

"Eefy?" I asked. "Look at those legs. Beefy is more like it."

A nickname was born. Sure, I might have added the B, but the girl's "Eefy" was the inspiration. Ten years later and the boy is writing Beef on his school papers and talks about going to court to make it legal. His own mother calls him Eef. He's the Beefer, Beefy, Beef, Eef, and, occasionally, Eefy-Beefy.

And he's built like a butter knife's profile. It's like calling the short kid Stretch.

Three years later, the Beefer returned the favor. Megan was one syllable too many. "May!" he'd yell.

"Me-gan," we'd model slowly.

"May!" he'd copy.

It was a process. We worked at it. He created variations -- May, Maymay, Maynuh, Maynuhmay -- but in the end Megan turned out to be a name he could handle. Today she prefers Meg, but there's still ample family evidence of her nickname's history.

Last weekend we went to Bubba's house. Bubba, or Caleb more accurately, was known as Cabub for a while, thanks to the Beefer's linguistically challenged fourth year of life. Naturally, Cabub evolved into Bubba.

Bubba and Beefy: Two skinny kids who have names that sound like the hosts of "Deep Fried Favorites" on the Food Network.

Eef and May have a 2-year-old cousin. Alex is still contemplating Meg's name, but he's got Ethan's. His version, anyway. "Eeeeeeee!" Alex says when he sees him. He can even communicate full sentences using only Ethan's name. "E?" translates to "Have you seen Ethan? I have come to his house and am eager to play that game where we run recklessly throughout the living quarters."

My wife was, at one point, nicknamed Gaga by her younger sister. How Jennifer became Gaga is a mystery, but it did lead to a quote still oft repeated by her family during card games. "Puck 'em, Gaga! Puck 'em!" (Yeah, the whole family is thankful that nickname didn't stick.)

Let's face facts: Grown-ups aren't very creative. Our best nicknaming seems to revolve around the letter Y -- either adding one or cutting one. Is this the best we can do? Call the guy named Smith, Smitty? Change Murphy to Murph?

Kids create the best nicknames when they try pronouncing real names correctly. So now I want to know your family's best kid-created nicknames. Email me your stories at, and if the feedback is good, I'll write a follow-up article.

Don't wait! Get on that, Teetee.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

I had been hearing about The One and Only Ivan for a while and planned to buy the book sooner than later, when one Monday morning it simply walked into my classroom. "Mr. Wilhorn, I want to show you this book. It is, like, the best book I have ever read," said Claire, the student holding Ivan out to me. "You need to read it." I'm not sure how I responded, but I know I was excited to finally have the book. Then Claire said, "Oh, by the way. Since you always have us write journal entries about the books we read, YOU have to write a journal entry to me."

So I did. And Claire and her mom graciously allowed me to use our journal conversation as a review of The One and Only Ivan.

Dear Miss Claire,

Thank you for loaning me The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate. I had been wanting to read it ever since seeing people on Twitter recommend it, so I was pleasantly surprised when it suddenly appeared in the classroom.

Ivan is a silverback gorilla. That means he a grown-up gorilla, and the silver or grey on his back makes him a leader in his family. The problem is that he’s the only gorilla living at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade. His family includes his dearest friends, Stella, an elephant, Bob, a stray dog who claims to be homeless by choice, and Ruby, a baby elephant recently added to the Big Top Mall.

Ivan is quiet, calm, and peaceful. He says that the picture of him on the billboard that shows him angry is wrong. “Anger is precious,” he says. Anger is used by a silverback to maintain order and protect his troop, but Ivan says, “Here in my domain, there is no one to protect.”

Deep down you can see that Ivan is still a noble and protective silverback gorilla, but I think being in the cage for so long - 27 years! - has made him forget. He says he has a bad memory, but when he tells Ruby a goodnight story, he shows that he can remember things from his past. He tells about his sister, Tag, and others in his family.

Ivan is a man (or gorilla) of his word. He promises to take care of Ruby, to protect her even though he thought he had no one to protect, and without giving too much away, Ivan is able to protect her, even though he is stuck in his cage.

Finally, Ivan is a talented artist. When he lived in the jungle he painted with mud, but now he uses crayons, markers, and paints to make pictures that Mack sells in the mall. Most of the time people don’t understand what he has drawn, but they like that he draws anyway. But his greatest creation, a giant painting, makes a huuuuge difference in the lives of Stella, Ruby, Bob, and others.

Thanks for loaning me the book, and I look forward to your reply.

Mr. Wilhorn

Dear Mr.W,

I am glad you have been noticing the little things about Ivan. And I’m glad you are enjoying the book. But what is Ruby feeling at this point? Does she feel scared or sad? If yes, what happened and why? Oh, and make sure to watch what happens with Stella in the book.

Sincerely, Your Dear Student,

Dear Miss Claire,

I think Ruby is one of the smartest characters in the book. When she tells about how she got captured, she realizes that just because bad humans captured her, not all humans are bad. She even said that before a bunch of humans try to help them. It's like she knew there were good people who might help them. She is sad and misses her family, but she is happy that she has Ivan, Stella, and Bob - her new family.

I was not too surprised at what happened with Stella. There were some clues along the way. But I was very impressed - incredibly impressed - with how Ivan takes care of things.

Thank you for your response.

Mr. Wilhorn

Monday, April 16, 2012

Defeating Dad

Now that the weather is swinging towards summer, we're not in the basement quite as much as in winter. But the games are ongoing, and the lesson I'm quickly learning (or the lesson the boy is teaching me) is changing: Get used to it, Dad.

Here's my latest column on defeating Dad which appeared today's local newspaper

Last night, the boy beat me.


Now I'm not saying I enjoyed losing, but my streak was approaching rare company -- Wooden's UCLA Bruins, the '72 Dolphins, DiMaggio's 56 -- and frankly, the pressure was building.

To be sure, I have registered an official protest with the commissioner's office, but so far the boss (aka Mom) has refused to issue a ruling on the contentious contest. So as of now the boy's table tennis victory stands, and his full-out, arms raised celebratory sprint throughout the entire house was not in vain.

Let's recap. The score stood 20-17 with the old man in the lead when my return clipped the top of the net but luckily trickled over to the boy's side. Game over.

"Nope!" he yelled, waving his arms and paddle. "That's my point 'cause it hit the net."

"What? You know that only applies on a serve."

"Whatever. My serve. 18-20." And he promptly skipped his next serve past my unprepared, weak side.

"Hold on. This game is already over," I insisted. "Why are we continuing?"

His only response? "19-20," and another quick serve that I returned straight into the net.

"20-20. Your serve." Smug. Real smug.

"This game is over! I already won, and you know it," I argued.

"Dad, please." He looked at me as if I'd just suggested tofu at a tailgate. "Serve."

Two serves later -- one short into the net, one long onto the floor -- and the boy was off and running. Up the stairs, down the hall, circle in the bedroom, back down the hall, around the kitchen table, and down the stairs back to where he found me waiting.

"I already won," I reminded him. "Why are you making a scene?"

"Dad, admit it. I. Beat. You."

"OK. Rematch?"

"Nah, I think you've had enough for today." And he turned and floated out of the room.

Defeating Dad ranks with game seven victories, the 12 seed beating the five, walk-off home runs, and knocking the defending champs out of the playoffs. The stakes might not be as high, but then again, hit a walk-off home run and the pitcher doesn't have to tuck you in bed later. When a boy beats Dad, the vanquished still has to live with the victor.

This quest to give Pops a paddling encourages creative strategies. Rules change. "I get five extra armies this turn," a boy might say mid-game in Risk. Do-overs are called. "That's not an out even though you caught it because I wasn't ready. Do-over." How can the boy see the pitch, swing the bat, hit the ball and not be ready? Doesn't make sense.

Doesn't matter.

What boy doesn't arm wrestle his dad? And what boy doesn't end up standing, two-handed, elbows aloft, and jumping to put his full weight on Dad's arm?

As I watched the boy disappear, I remembered a recent game of darts in Grandpa's basement. My father, my son and me. And I had the lead. A big lead. A don't-hand-me-three-darts-'cause-I'll-only-need-one sort of lead, when ... well, you know what happened.

I folded and Grandpa beat us both.

You know what? Maybe I'll withdraw my official protest with the league commissioner.

Just this once.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Wonder by R. J. Palacio

Much has been said and written about Wonder by R. J. Palacio during its short existence on bookstore and library shelves. Even before its February release, one could see and hear the buzz grow on Twitter and the Internet as advanced reader copies found their way to teachers and librarians. At first I was hesitant to buy into the hype since kids don't generally care about hype.

Finally I decided to find out what all hubbub was about and got my own copy. After reading it in one sitting, I knew. Wonder is one of those books that stays with you long after finishing. After reading it once I changed my lesson plans to make it our class's next read aloud book. I immediately started rereading. And I started writing.

I'm not going to write a full synopsis here. That's readily available elsewhere. But it doesn't matter. You don't need one. Wonder is a book you should read. Wonder is a book you should share. Wonder is a book you should discuss. Parents, children, teachers, students, everyone.

As I planned our class read aloud, I wanted to help students see and hear what the main character, August, shared with readers. Most sections of the book are introduced by song lyrics, and songs play a role on several key scenes. Auggie also uses numerous Star Wars references, and face it, you don't know who Mon Mothma or Lobot are off the top of your head either, just like I didn't. So I created a visual guide for Wonder to share with my class and posted it on my class blog.

These resources are what I started writing as I prepared for our read aloud. Here are links to each section.

Wonder - Part One: August

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

A Family Recipe & Its Miraculous Effects

All delicious, but none miraculous.
This column appeared yesterday in the local newspaper. If anyone is interested, the recipe is available, but it will cost you the same as the Colonel's chicken recipe or Coca-Cola's secret recipe. And I don't know where the bakers in the family keep it hidden, so no guarantees.

There is a homemade bread recipe handed down from generation to generation on my wife’s side of the family that works miracles.

Now I personally have not experienced the miraculous due to this mysterious mixture of wondrous ingredients, but three generations of women in the family swear by it. The ingredients include wheat flour, All-Bran, raisins, and flax.

Mix, bake, cool, slice. Eat. 

Then wait. And not very long from what I’m told.

The family calls it Go Bread.

My daughter is mortified that people would even consider talking about the physical need for Go Bread, let alone openly sharing stories around the table, say, while enjoying dessert. That there are people in the world – in her family! – that find Go Bread a healthy, enjoyable, and sometimes necessary part of their balanced breakfast, well it’s too much for her teenage brain to handle. Someone mentions Go Bread, and she’s off to her bedroom, texting. Probably telling her friends about her sick family.

The boy just thinks it’s funny. There are certain topics that cause ten-year-old boys to commence giggling. Some include smells. Others include noises. Most include the bathroom. Go Bread, or the miraculous effects due to its consumption, touches on all three. If Grandma says, “You know, I gave the recipe for Go Bread to your Aunt Mildred,” the ladies around the table, all concerned, ask how she’s feeling.

The boy? Hysterics.

Me? I always remain a silent observer in these conversations, content to listen but not qualified to participate. And even though I have never enjoyed this delectable delight, I understand the consequences of consumption. More importantly, I understand the consequences of overconsumption.

My nephew, a toddler, lacks an adult’s knowledge and experience. As a result, he tends to understand fewer things, yet what he does know he comprehends with greater intensity. Some related concepts of which he has a thorough grasp include: Hungry. Food. Eat. Yum. More.

And Grandma. He understands Grandma too.

So when the lad got hungry at his grandparents’ house, he went straight to Grandma who cut him a healthy slice of a healthy snack. Go Bread. Which he ate. And enjoyed.

And demanded, “More!”

Which he got.

(Now, despite my best journalistic efforts, the story here gets a bit murky. How much Go Bread did he eat? Was it a complete loaf to start? Did anyone else share the Go Bread? There are numerous opinions, but from what I can gather, the youngster ate anywhere from “a slice or two” to “the whole stupid loaf,” depending on the source.)

They say Go Bread performs the miraculous. What it did to my nephew, however, defies the laws of physics. Four changed diapers. Four sets of new clothes. Four baths. All in one morning.

And his mother, a member of the third generation to swear by Go Bread, now swears AT Go Bread.