Saturday, March 28, 2009

Mo and Jo: Fighting Together Forever by Dean Haspiel and Jay Lynch

Mona and Joey are a brother and sister embroiled in sibling rivalry. Who will play the next level on The Mighty MoJo video game? Who can drop the video game fast enough to answer the door first? Everything is a competition. They even argue over who is the Mighty MoJo's biggest fan.

When their mailman, Mr. Mojoski, reveals his secret identity - The Mighty MoJo! - he gives them his super-powered costume and asks one of them to replace him (he's retiring to Miami) in his battle against crime. But which one? In the ensuing tug-of-war, the costume gets split right down the middle.

Right between the Mo and the Jo.

This is where SuperMOM comes to the rescue. (She's really just a normal mom, but she does save the day, just like moms everywhere.) Mom salvages MoJo's costume into two child-sized costumes. The only problem is the Mighty MoJo's powers have been split too. One costume has the magnetic boots, while the other has MoJo's stretchable arms. Who has the better powers?

That's when Saw-Jaw shows up, the Mighty MoJo's arch-nemesis, and he's dead set on ruining the city parade. As he's about to destroy the giant hippo balloon, Mo and Jo each try to stop him before the other does. They compete to stop crime!

Finally, they figure out that cooperation, not competition, is the super power they need. Their selfish actions almost allow Saw-Jaw's destruction to succeed, but their cooperation brings an end to his dastardly deeds.

Hooray TEAM MoJo!

Jay Lynch and Dean Haspiel have combined their super powers to create another great addition to the toon-books collection. Let's hope they, like Mo and Jo, continue to cooperate in the battle against crime and boring books.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The OK Book by Amy Krouse Rosenthal

Upon first glance, the cover seems clear. The OK Book by Amy Krouse Rosenthal. Got it. Simple enough.

Open to the title page and the title has been rotated, now written vertically. Time for a second glance. Hmmm, you think. Vertical. Why's that? Ah, well. On to page one.

"Hi, how are you? I'm OK."

That's it. Page one. It's now, finally, with the third glance, that readers realize they've been looking at the main character all along. There he is, right there on page two, and yes indeed, he certainly is OK.

See? He wasn't lying. He's OK.

Which the main character goes on to explain. It's fun to try things even if you aren't great at them. You might even be just OK at them. This guy is OK at a lot of things. He's an OK skipper, an OK marshmallow roaster (ahh, crispy...), an OK kite flyer (look out for that tree!), and even an OK tug-of-war-er. He's an OK sharer,, get the smaller half of the PB&J, OK?

In the end OK realizes that even if there are more lightning bugs outside the jar than inside, and even if your toes are the wettest part of your body when you go swimming, and even if there's a boot instead of a bass on the end of your fishing line, someday we all grow up to be excellent at something.

"I don't know what it is yet," he adds, "but I sure am having fun figuring it out."

We had a better-than-OK time with this book in fourth grade. Thanks to the reproducible activities on illustrator Tom Lichtenheld's website, this one especially, we shared our own OK abilities. Here's two examples. One belongs to a student, and one belongs to a grown-up. Or, quite possibly, someone (that'd be me) simply masquerading as a grown-up. Can you guess which is which?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

2009 IRC Conference

First and foremost, thanks to everyone who came to the Help Readers Love Reading! sectionals at the IRC Conference. Your enthusiam was wonderful. Thanks also to everyone who took time to share your thoughts and comments with me.

If you requested an additional handout for either sectional, they'll be on the way shortly. Feel free to email me as well if there's a handout you'd still like. (The address is at the top and to the right.)

If you have any questions or comments or "What was that one book, again?" leave a comment on this post or drop me a message. I'm curious to hear more people's reactions to the sectional, the information presented, or if there are any topics about which you'd like more information.

Thanks again for attending and thanks for all you do to Help Readers Love Reading!

UPDATE: Handouts have been sent. Sorry again to everyone who didn't get one at the sectional. If you requested one and didn't receive it, send me a message. You may want to try a personal email address. I have already had one message bounce back marked as spam from a school district.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Thanks to Everyone at OS!

Here's a great big thank you to everyone who welcomed me in Springfield at Our Savior's Lutheran School. It was great fun sharing the chapel message ... Oh, and thanks for making Curious George welcome too. He said he had a great time. I enjoyed meeting everyone and talking books throughout the day. Did you get any ideas about what to read next?

If you have any questions about the books I shared today, the activities we did, or just feel the need to share something, you can email me (my address is at the top of the page and along the right side) or leave a comment at the bottom of this message.

Take some time to look around the site too. There's a ton of great books. They are organized by grade level, author, and my recommendation along the right side. Click around. See what you find.

Thanks again for welcoming me to your school!

Friday, March 13, 2009


The temperature is currently sixteen degrees. We just had freezing rain and snow. The obvious signs say winter is still going strong. But there is one indication that spring has sprung.

The elementary school spring carnival.

That's the topic of my latest column. Here's the printable version.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Skeleton Creek by Patrick Carman

It took me a while to read Skeleton Creek simply because I'm a wimp. There. I said it, and I can't take it back. The day is full of teaching, the evening is full of family, and the only time to read is at night. When it's dark. And, due to the aforementioned wimpiness, I wouldn't read it at night.

So for one day only I decided to blow off reading conferences (another admission) during reader's workshop time and read surrounded by my protective fourth graders.

Skeleton Creek is the journal of fifteen-year-old Ryan McCray. He begins by describing his past two weeks in the hospital, and then proceeds to the events that caused his stay. He and his best friend Sarah Fincher had gone to explore a mysterious, retired gold-mining dredge in the woods where a worker, Joe Bush, had reportedly died. Ryan seriously injures his leg after breaking through a crumbling safety rail and falling.

Ryan and Sarah have now been forbidden from seeing or contacting each other, but in the age of the Internet, contact is hard to stop. Ryan writes. Sarah emails video updates of her continued investigation, available to Ryan only (and readers) at via the passwords she sends.

The first video shows Sarah’s first visit to the dredge and their first evidence that someone (the ghost of Old Joe Bush?) is inside. The second video shoes the events surrounding Ryan’s accident. In subsequent videos Sarah lays out her findings – enhanced sound, image comparisons, interviews, and personal commentary. Readers get Ryan’s side of the story by reading his journal. Sarah’s part is presented through her videos and occasional email. It’s a unique concept for a book, this switching between text and video, and readers will enjoy it immensely.

The story continues through the small town of Skeleton Creek. Local history and residents become entwined in Ryan and Sarah’s story as their research unearths a secret society called The Crossbones, cryptic messages in the local newspaper, odd symbols, Ryan’s father, the new park ranger in town, and even the shotgun-toting librarian - and all somehow point to the dredge.

The online element of Skeleton Creek is enhanced by additional information and sites. Easter Eggs (click a window, click a doorway) occasionally appear on Readers question whether Patrick Carman's story is based on real events at, and present their evidence. Speculation, news, rumors, and discussion forums are available at Want to do a little research on your own? Wikipedia includes entries about Old Joe Bush and the original Sumpter Valley Gold Dredge.

Okay, back to the wimpiness. Sarah’s first two video are the creepiest. I could have handled the rest of them at night. Really. I could.

Until that last one…

Anyways, here’s the book trailer.'s creepy.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Little Hoot by Amy Krouse Rosenthal

So after you get your Little Pea to choke down his candy, what challenge could yet remain for the evening? You've already gotten him to finish his dinner - welcome to the clean plate club! - what more could be coming?


Now Little Hoot doesn't give his parents any grief about school. He enjoys playing hide-n-seek with his buddies. He even practices his pondering and staring like a good little hoot ought. But bedtime is a different story.

To parents, bedtime is set. Big hand here + little hand there = bedtime. That's just the way it is. Little Hoot is like little hoots everywhere. Bedtime means negotiation. Out come the tactics, tried and true. "All my other friends get to go to bed so much earlier than me! Why do I always have to stay up and play? It's not fair!"

His parents remind him about being a wise old owl and the importance of staying up late. "And besides, I don't give a hoot what time your friends go to bed," his father says while pouring his evening coffee. "Stay up and play for one more hour and then you can go to sleep," says his mother.

A whole hour?!? Before getting to go to bed?!? Life is so unfair.

Playing swords, climbing on the jungle gym, building forts, jumping in piles of leaves, jumping on the bed - Little Hoot can only take it for so long! All this playing, playing, playing! Finally, woo-whooooo! It's bedtime. Before his parents can come with a glass of water and a pile of bedtime books, Little Hoot is out.

Amy Krouse Rosenthal's Little Hoot will match Little Pea in giggles as kids recognize how Little Hoot's bedtime is the opposite of theirs and learn that no matter when bedtime comes, it is always a struggle.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Little Pea by Amy Krouse Rosenthal

This is a book for families with their own Little Pea.

Little Pea likes rolling down hills super fast. He hangs out with his pea pals. In Little Pea's life there are swings and snuggles and stories and cries of "Again! Again!" when Papa Pea sends him sailing through the air from the end of a spoon.

And just like most little peas you know, there's one thing he doesn't like. It comes at dinner time. There it is on the plate. What is it that your little peas absolutely, positively don't want to eat? Every night threats of "You're not leaving the table until..." and "If you don't eat what you have I'll give you more..." fly across the table. What could this nastiness be?


Every day of the week, Monday through Friday, weekends too, it's candy for dinner. Grow up big and strong? Dessert? Not without your candy. What?!? FIVE pieces?!? Just like little peas across the country, this Little Pea chokes them down, squinty-eyed and not without a running commentary on how icky it truly it is. Blech! Candy.

Readers will giggle all they way through once they recognize this nightly struggle through different eyes. And it will certainly make all the little peas out there eager to eat their vegetables every night without complaint.

Ah, who am I kidding? That'll never happen. However, Amy Krouse Rosenthal's book may help all little peas, just like Little Pea in the book, finish that detestable food so they can finally enjoy the best part of the meal. mean, DESSERT!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Wolfsnail: A Backyard Predator by Sarah C. Campbell

“Do we have these around us?” asked the resident seven-year-old after reading Wolfsnail by Sarah C. Campbell.

“Sorry, Buddy. It says here it’s found in the southwestern United States. We live in the northern part of the U.S.”

“But we have hostas! It says he climbed up the stem of a hosta!”

“Yeah, we have hostas, but wolfsnails don’t live this far north. Apparently they’re pretty smart. They don’t like winter.”

“Cool! He’s smart AND he hunts and eats other snails and slugs.”

I’m not sure why he wanted them around our house, but I can imagine him, or any dirty-kneed summer time boy, crouching behind the house studying the wolfsnail as it makes its way across the hostas, hoping like crazy it catches something while he’s watching.

That’s pretty much the way it goes with the book as well. Readers will pay close attention to the text, learning about wonderfully gross things like mucus and slime and tentacles. The photographs are excellent and larger than life. Young boys might think they can climb up and ride these carnivorous monsters, when in reality adults are only 1.5 - 3 inches long. The end of the hunt is especially cool. The wolfsnail stretches to reach the next leaf, finds its prey, attacks (as a snail would…there’s no pouncing here), and dines. Finally, there’s a close-up of the now empty shell.

Wolfsnail was named a Geisel Honor book in 2009. While very different from this year’s Medal winner, Are You Ready to Play Outside? by Mo Willems, it is equally as deserving and engaging to young readers, but in a completely different way.

Monday, March 2, 2009

The Sword Thief (The 39 Clues) by Peter Lerangis

At the end of One False Note, book two of The 39 Clues, Amy and Dan Cahill had narrowly escaped grave danger, outwitted numerous competitors, and uncovered a second clue. Another normal day in the life of a Cahill. The book closes with another meeting between the mysterious man in black and Mr. McIntyre, and readers are told “High above their table, the vapor trail of a jetliner left a white ribbon in the clear blue sky, heading east.” It’s a triumphant announcement – Amy and Dan, once again, are a step ahead of their apparently befuddled competition.

One problem. Amy and Dan aren’t on the plane.

The Sword Thief, author Peter Lerangis’ contribution to The 39 Clues series, begins with Amy and Dan at the airport, worrying about their luggage, carry-ons, security, and why the flight attendant checking their boarding pass has just said, “Un momento?” Note to Cahill siblings: If anyone asks you for un momento, especially in an airport, museum, or library, they’re not just being polite. They’re stalling you, and there’s a cousin or uncle or distant relative – another Cahill – behind it.

Double-crossed by competitors thought to be out of the contest, at least temporarily, Amy and Dan form a reluctant alliance with their uncle, Alistair Oh, if for nothing else than his ability to offer them transportation, a hotel room, Japanese translations, and clean clothes. They eventually make their way to Tokyo following the clue discovered in Salzburg. Once again – twice, actually – they find themselves underground in their search, discovering hidden scrolls, haiku, maps, puzzles, codes, and numerous other “clues to the clues,” all of which, after being deciphered, lead them across the Sea of Japan.

The search for the 39 Clues remains entrenched in history too. In the 1500’s, Toyotomi Hideyoshi was born a peasant but grew to be a great warrior, uniting Japan as a major power. According to Uncle Alistair, he was a Tomas and his descendants, the yakuza, still guard many of Hideyoshi’s hiding places. Unfortunately for Amy, Dan, and Uncle Alistair, his information proves to be correct, with the accuracy of a yakuza-thrown shuriken.

Peter Lerangis adds his own flavor to the series. The shortest book so far, The Sword Thief is still action packed, but moves quickly between scenes leaving readers to draw conclusions as to what happened in between. Near the end of Chapter 4, the Cahills are on a plane preparing to land and refuel. After a three page Irina Spasky update, Dan is stealing ashtrays from a hotel in Tokyo. Dan is also extremely funny, more noticeably so. I will make myself invisible by using ninja mind control, he thinks when stopped by airport security. The book is full of hilarious Dan one-liners.

The hunt for the 39 Clues continues in The Sword Thief without a letdown, and promises to carry on all the way to Egypt in book four, Beyond the Grave by Jude Watson, scheduled for release on June 2, 2009.