Saturday, November 29, 2008

Knuffle Bunny - Classroom Activities

Knuffle Bunny and its sequel, Knuffle Bunny Too, work great for a mini lesson on predicting. Begin by reading Knuffle Bunny, stopping to model predicting. My first planned prediction was at "Trixie realized something." What did she realize? Then, as they progress home with Trixie trying to explain with her "Aggle flaggle klabble!" and "Wumby flappy?!" my plan was to predict some more. What would she be so panicked about?

My fourth graders noticed immediately, however, that Knuffle Bunny was in the laundry basket and then in the washer. When they pointed that out, I did an unplanned prediction. I mentioned my favorite Oscar the Grouch from childhood and we discussed the blankets or pillows or stuffed animals everyone had (eh-hem, have) and what it would be like to leave it behind. That got them talking immediately. I predicted a Trixie meltdown.

So, now back to my plan, I paused again at "But Knuffle Bunny was nowhere to be found...." and opened up the discussion to student predictions. What do moms and dads do when a favorite toy is lost and the child is giving the puppy dog eyes and quivering frown? Get a new bunny? Tear the place apart? They seemed to be in agreement that Knuffle Bunny, whatever the cost, would be found.

We then progressed on to Knuffle Bunny Too. Trixie is now older, quite a talker, and headed to Pre-K. She has great plans to show Knuffle Bunny to Ms. Greengrove and all her friends. Our first prediction was when "Trixie saw Sonja." What would cause Trixie to have those big eyes and shocked expression? What's up with Sonja?

After continuing through their conflict, including an argument over the correct pronunciation of Knuffle ("Kuh-nuffle," says Trixie. "Nuffle," says Sonja.), Ms. Greengrove takes away the two instigating bunnies, exiling them to the top of the cabinets. The rest of the day progresses nicely until the middle of the night when "Trixie realized something." Prediction time...what did Trixie realize?

Then Trixie marches into her parents' room and announces, "That is not my bunny." The next page, which I didn't show, says, "Trixie's daddy tried to explain what '2:30 a.m.' means." This is where I stopped and sent the class back to their seats to predict what would happen.

Hmmm, I wondered aloud...
  • How do parents feel about being woken up at 2:30 a.m.?
  • How do kids feel about not having their bunny?
  • How parent feel about kids who don't have their bunny?

Many kids predicted a late night solution of some kind. Some even predicted that Trixie and Sonja would become friends. No one, however, predicted that they would intentionally trade bunnies the very next day. This allowed us to discuss the fact that good predictions, based on prior knowledge and information from the book, are not always right. Or, to put it more positively, was your prediction correct or did the author surprise you?

Friday, November 28, 2008

Knuffle Bunny by Mo Willems

All kids have a blanky or stuffed animal or a woobie (see below), so all kids can relate to Knuffle Bunny. (I had an Oscar the Grouch who helped me take on a tonsillectomy.) Trixie accompanies Daddy to the laundromat, Knuffle Bunny securely under her arm. But as the title says, this is a cautionary tale. Children, take heed! When helping Daddy with the laundry, or when doing any other necessary activity accompanied by Knuffle Bunny (or your personal equivalent), don't become distracted.

Trixie becomes distracted. As she assists Daddy with the dirty clothes by flinging them haphazardly around the laundromat, Knuffle Bunny is temporarily forgotten. Watch the illustrations closely and you'll see the result before Trixie realizes it.

Thank you, Trixie, for allowing children everywhere to learn from your unfortunate experience.

Half way home, Trixie realizes Knuffle Bunny is not with them. She tries to tell Daddy. "Aggle flaggle klabble!" she says. "Blaggle plabble! Wumby flappy?!" she explains. When her explanations don't work, she's left with no choice. She bawls. She goes boneless.

Mom recognizes the problem as soon as they get home. After a frenzied retracing of steps, Knuffle Bunny is rescued, and Trixie surprisingly speaks her first words.

And the sequel, Knuffle Bunny Too, shows readers that Trixie isn't quite ready to give up her woobie...I mean Knuffle Bunny. (Hey, not many of us are.)

Monday, November 24, 2008

Red Ranger Came Calling by Berkeley Breathed

Any Christmas story that’s true, guaranteed true, especially, better deliver with A. a good story and B. proof of its truth. Red Ranger Came Calling does both.

Berkeley Breathed tells the story of his father as a nine-year-old and the events surrounding Christmas in 1939. His father, Red, was sent to stay with Aunt Vy on Vashon Island. Red emulated the famous movie hero of the time, Buck Tweed, Red Ranger of Mars, Protector of the 23rd Century and Savior of Grateful Princesses. It was Buck Tweed that instilled in Red a desire for the ultimate Christmas gift: an official Buck Tweed Two-Speed Crime-Stopper Star-Hopper Bicycle.

Unfortunately, at this time in history, “dreams were unaffordable.” The best his Aunt Vy could do was a Buck Tweed space uniform which, upon further inspection, turned out to be last year’s pajamas, dyed red, and creatively altered.

A sour-faced little boy, Red never gave much thought to the feelings of others, Aunt Vy and her creativity amidst the circumstances included. In bed that evening, Red remembers local resident Saunder Clos, the recluse some locals believe to actually be the Santa Claus, and the mysterious pointy-eared man he saw headed towards Clos’s house.

So Red does what any respectable Red Ranger of Mars would do. Investigate. Normally cynical and disbelieving, a glimmer of hope now flickers within Red. He sneaks out his window. Ignoring the broken toys littering the walk to the Point Robinson lighthouse and the sign which reads, “Visitors Not Received With Zesty Jolliness at the Moment,” Red makes his way inside where he accosts the miserable miser. “Go home,” the man says. “I’m 435 years old, which makes me … very tired.”

So Red shot him with his disintegrator ray gun. Pop! Suction cup dart on the forehead.

But Red ignites something in the old man. Can he still make a reindeer fly? Can he still fulfill wishes, even those of boy not usually inclined to wish? Saunder Clos decides to try. And so does Red. The events of the evening persuade him to wish, despite his mind’s expectation of another disappointment.

He wishes, hoping his wish won’t fall on deaf ears, even though the old man’s ears are, nearly, literally, deaf.

“An Official Buck Tweed Two-Speed Crime-Stopper Star-Hopper bicycle,” he says.

Or, more simply, “I’d like a Tweed bicycle.”

And Christmas morning brings … nothing. No surprise. No sadness or self-pity. Not even disappointment. Nothing. Except anger. Red had allowed the old phony to trick him into the unthinkable. Faith in grown-ups.

And the old man was gonna hear about it. But upon arrival, Red discovers something much more important, a gift he gives to the old man. Red also discovers that Saunder Clos (or is it Santa Claus?) did indeed deliver on the promised bicycle. Exactly as he heard Red wish it.

Oh yeah. The proof. Here it is. Don’t believe me? Don’t believe Mr. Breathed? Do your own Google search. Here, I’ll save you the time: Vashon Island Bicycle Tree.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

I must admit only a passing interest in Greek mythology in, what was it, sophomore English? Okay, I get it. There are references to it in real life. There was a Zephyr filling station on the west side, out of business and in disrepair, but by golly, I recognized the reference to Greek mythology.

Of course there are others, and I recognize most of them (except the ones I don’t recognize, which means maybe don’t recognize most of them, but then again…yeah, whatever.) Get to the point.

Here’s the point: My passing interest is now alive and growing. The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan brought back a lot of the stories I (vaguely) remember and gave them a whole new life. Perceus – Percy – Jackson is a kid who, due to a combination of ADHD and dyslexia and family history, gets himself kicked out of schools. Six of them in six years. In chapter one readers meet Percy, his gimpy best friend Grover, and a teacher, Mr. Brunner, who constantly pushes Percy to learn his Latin and Greek mythology.

Continuing chapter one, on a field trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, another teacher, Mrs. Dodds, transforms to a “shriveled bat with wings and claws and a mouth full of yellow fangs” and is about to kill Percy beside the marble frieze of Greek gods. Mr. Brunner appears, tosses Percy a pen which amazingly becomes a sword, and after the former Mrs. Dodds says, “Die, honey!” Percy does the only thing he can do. Slice her through the middle. She vaporizes, the sword is a pen again, and nobody else even has a clue what happened.

Uh, what?

Mysteries are eventually explained as readers, and Percy, learn he is a half-blood, son of a god and a human. There are attacks from monsters, introductions to the gods and other mythical characters and locations, an explanation of how these characters continue to escape notice from humans, and even mythologically accurate swearing (“Oh, Styx!”). Mount Olympus is up 600 floors in the Empire State Building, and Hades is beneath Los Angeles. (Well, how about that? The City of Angels. Hades. Seems appropriate, yet ironic.)

Upon arriving at Camp Half-Blood, a summer camp for demigods, Percy learns that Zeus’s master lightning bolt has been stolen. Other gods are accused, including Percy’s father, schemes form, and an all-out war between the gods seems imminent if Zeus’s bolt is not returned by the summer solstice. Percy is sent on a quest with Grover, now known to be a satyr, and Annabeth, daughter of Athena, to find and return the stolen bolt.

There are currently four books in the Olympians series, with a fifth one planned for spring of 2009. Having only finished one and a half, I can’t fully comment on the series as a whole. I can say, however, that if all the books have the same excitement and adventure, this is a series that will continue to absorb readers.

Finally, thanks to Anonymous for recommending the books in his/her comments.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

A Busy Day for the Bald Guy

Living nearly halfway between Oshkosh, Wisconsin and St. Paul, Minnesota, yesterday's decision was heavily debated in the household. Should we go to Oshkosh to see Jan Brett or visit St. Paul to hear Tomie dePaola? Two nearby author visits on the same day. Ah, shucks. One or the other.

Tomie dePaola and St. Paul, we decided. Minnesota is our old stomping grounds, and a visit to the Red Balloon Bookshop is always a bonus.

Mr. dePaola talked about his new book, Brava, Strega Nona! and gave some interesting insight into how a pop-up book gets made. He shared how one spread just wasn't working, Big Anthony and the flood of pasta, until he shared one word with the pop-up creators. Tsunami. Now Big Anthony practically lands in your lap as pasta spills off the page. Did you know pop-up books were put together by hand? (Me neither.)

We then headed to the Mall of America for lunch and some shopping. When we got off the elevator in front of the Barnes and Noble, we were greeted by a sign promoting a visit from Jan Brett. Apparently, after a visit in Oshkosh, she headed over to St. Paul! Our decision was well made...or just lucky.

Mrs. Brett shared information about her newest book, Gingerbread Friends. The rooster that pulls Gingerbread Baby's sleigh is actually one of her chickens, and the mouse that Gingerbread Baby meets in the bakery is the same visitor to a basket of gingerbread cookies at her home.

She also gave everyone a great art lesson about creating three dimensions and how draw reflecting light.

Both authors were incredibly entertaining, gracious, and patient, and while our day ended a lot later than initially expected, it was well worth it. Thanks to Tomie dePaola and Jan Brett from me and the entire family.

Oh yeah. Hedgie was cool too.

Friday, November 14, 2008

New Column and Happy Thanksgiving

It might be a bit early to wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving, but then again, Christmas decorations were out before the Halloween candy was put away. By that standard, two weeks isn't early at all.

Here's a link to my latest newspaper column...and Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Life's Blessings Aren't Always the Obvious

Monday, November 10, 2008

Big Plans by Bob Shea & Lane Smith

I like this kid. Not that I see anything familiar in him or anything. Just because he's sitting in the corner of his classroom at 3:01 and the chalk board is covered with his assigned "I will not..." sentences, doesn't mean I immediately recognize something familiar or that I flashback to any one particular incident. Oh, no … a-hem … nothing like that. I just like him.

He's got big plans.

“Plans so big I’ll need Dad’s shiniest tie and fanciest shoes. Then I’ll climb atop the highest hill in town and shout, ‘I GOT BIG PLANS! BIG PLANS, I SAY!’”

As he spends more time in his corner of the world, he comes up with more plans that will affect the entire world. “I GOT BIG PLANS! BIG PLANS, I SAY!”

What does a young man with big plans need?
  1. A Yes-Man – He meets an agreeable mynah bird.
  2. Power – Local big shots, bigwigs, and muckety-mucks support his big plans.
  3. Prestige – He scores the winning touchdown for the home team.
  4. Position – He becomes mayor and president president (as opposed to assistant president).
  5. A Great Hat – Even Davy Crockett would be envious of his skunk-skin cap.

Now, fully supplied, the boy finds a way to pronounce to the whole world, “I GOT BIG PLANS! BIG PLANS, I SAY!"

What else is a boy sitting in the corner after school supposed to do? Throughout the history of schools there have been a whole lot of kids in corners thinking, “Someday, when I get older, you’ll see. I’ll show you!” and this young man is making some seriously big plans to do just that.

Students will read along with teachers. “I GOT BIG PLANS! BIG PLANS, I SAY!” they’ll announce together with our protagonist. (Or antagonist, depending on your perspective.) They’ll even continue announcing it. “I GOT BIG PLANS! BIG PLANS, I SAY!” you’ll hear from the hallway and the playground.

On subsequent readings, take a close look at the pictures. Lane Smith includes hilarious details. Check out the Idaho potato space suit and the Pennsylvania rocket ship. Notice the humble look on the mynah bird’s face when he realizes the president will answer to him, and how Mr. Bird takes over the president’s official seal. There’s even a phone number on the boy’s cell phone. (Go ahead. Give it a call.)

“I GOT BIG PLANS! BIG PLANS, I SAY!” Everybody should! Right now my plans include using Bob Shea's book in the classroom.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

It's Not Fair! by Amy Krouse Rosenthal & Tom Lichtenheld

“It’s Not Fair!” A phrase so unique it can be statement of perceived fact, an expression of outrage, and a demand for justice. Three simple words that, when put together, have as many meanings as kids who whisper, whine, or scream them.

Or it could just mean your sister got the bigger half of the cookie.

Declarations of faulty fairness start with more recognizable complaints, things like that smaller cookie and not getting your desired pet. “Why can’t I have curly locks?” asks a straight haired girl. “Why can’t I have my own box?” asks a boy standing enviously next to a pony-tailed girl peeking out of her own box. “Why now, chicken pox?” asks the birthday girl as her party continues in the yard, sans birthday girl.

“It’s not fair,” is the only appropriate response to all three situations.

Apparently the phrase is more universal that originally thought. A spider complains that a neighbor gets more flies. A little green alien complains about his red friend having more eyes. Planets complain about all Saturn’s rings. After every rhyming litany of complaints, kids will join with the characters in demanding, “It’s not fair!”

Pay close attention to the end pages. There’s a lawsuit. The plaintiff, Sibling No. 1, seeks judgment against the defendant, Sibling No. 2 for causing “grievous emotional trauma and malnourishment” by deliberately giving a smaller half of the cookie despite a promise to break the cookie equally and distribute said cookie properly.

The best “It’s not fair!” comes at the end of the book, and it’s something I’ve wondered myself: “Why can’t books go on and on? No more endings, only Once Upons…”

“It’s not fair,” whisper the books from their shelf.

I agree.

Friday, November 7, 2008

The Maze of Bones (The 39 Clues) by Rick Riordan

Ignore, for a moment, the fact that there are trading cards and websites and games and prizes all associated with The 39 Clues. Pay no mind to the kids who might spend as much time, if not more time, studying the cards and entering and deciphering codes and wondering what the heck is up with Nessie Lives (look closely at the copyright page).

Okay, just kidding. Don't ignore that stuff. First of all, when the cards, game, prizes, website, and $100,000 are all mentioned on the front and back covers, you can't ignore them. But second, and I'll admit it here, but only in small font: that stuff is kinda cool. And I'm not saying it again. It sounds sort of blasphemous to a reading teacher. But facts is facts.

The Maze of Bones follows Amy and Dan Cahill, members of the most power family in world history. Every important event in world history has been orchestrated by someone from one of the four branches of the Cahill Clan. When Grace Cahill dies, her will dictates that 40 family members may take $1 million or participate in a contest to track down 39 clues and become the most powerful Cahill ever. Despite no financial resources and no adult assistance, Amy and Dan burn up their $1 million checks and start the competition ... by nearly dying in a house fire. (Unrelated to their burning checks. Just saying.)

Their quest takes them to the library (of course), Philadelphia, Paris, another library (woo-hoo!), and underground. They nearly die (this is just top-of-the-head recall, now) three times - in the aforementioned house fire, getting lost underground, and being buried in wet cement. Wait! Four times! There's a bomb too. There's probably more, but I'm moving on.

Amy and Dan encounter invisible ink, maps, codes, anagrams, diagrams, and signs in foreign languages. They are instructed to trust no one. Non-stop action, near death experiences and narrow escapes, puzzles and codes (one even hidden in the page numbers) all will draw readers into the book and, indeed, the series. One student of mine hasn't finished the book yet, but he's already registered at The 39 Clues website, has all his cards entered, and has obtained exclusive online cards as well.

Without much effort, here's some pieces I've stitched together. A code in the book says that Anne Cahill did not drown. On the cards included with the book, Nella Chain is listed as a passenger on the Titanic. Here name is an anagram for Anne Cahill. Another card says that a Titanic expert's prize artifact is a cameo from room B77 on the Titanic. Who stayed in room B77? According to the passenger list on another card, it's Nella Chain.

Another admission: I'm registered on the website too. Don't tell my wife. Or my principal.

Know any kids who would get into this? The second book, One False Note by Gordon Korman, will be released in December 2008, and the third book, The Sword Thief by Peter Lerangis, soon after in March 2009. Book One author, Rick Riordan, has mapped out the ten-book series, but different authors will write each book.