Friday, June 27, 2008

Nature-deficit Disorder

If you haven't heard of this diagnosis, apparently has penned this diagnosis for kids who spend more than 45 hours a week in front of TV or a video game—which according to them is most of today's kids. Yikes! As any of you who have heard me speak know, I am all for getting kids out from in front of the TV or computer screen and into books and imaginative writing. Having just vacationed in Colorado where everyone either hikes, bikes, kayaks, runs, skateboards, and/or skis, I'm glad to see that this state seems to be working in the right direction. For information on environmental education and ideas on how to get kids outdoors, check out Travelocity's website. The Rocky Mountains, Atlantic Ocean, and the Mid-west prairies are homegrown cures to Nature-deficit disorder--take it from me, the writer turned biker!Technorati Tags:
, , , ,

Monday, June 23, 2008

A Tale of Two Swamps

Last week my husband and I biked the Tunnel Hill trail, visited the Cache River State Natural Area, toured the Barkhausen Wetlands Center and ended by walking along the Heron Pond Boardwalk through the wetlands swamp of Southern Illinois. This past week, 1100 miles away, we walked along a boardwalk through the wetlands by the banks of the Yampa River in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. Two communities linked by their desire to preserve the ecological balance that development threatens— and yet worlds apart.

Here are a few pictures of the Illinois swamp--some of the cypress trees have been living here for 1000 years. Walking the length of the boardwalk through these wetlands was like walking through a Tolkien-like landscape. I wouldn't have been surprised to see a hobbit perched on one of the conical "knees" which are part of the cypress trees' root system.

Now take a look at these shots- taken about 8000 feet higher in the middle of the Rocky Mountains. The pictures look out from the wetlands to the snow tipped mountains in the distance. Cottonwoods and wildflowers replace cypress trees; a free-flowing river replaces a forested swamp.

Although most of you won't have the opportunity to take your students on field trips to observe such contrasting landscapes, you can visit many of them online. Beyond an interesting compare and contrast essay, what other activities can language arts teachers cull from field trips such as these? If you're committed to writing across the curriculum, then the possibilities are endless. Consider a few ideas:


Travel brochure
Persuasive letter to a legislator supporting
relevant legislation
Blog with uploaded pictures or movies
Power point presentation
Design a game


Fantasy --What type of creature might live here? What problems would he/she experience as a result of living in this setting/environment?
Historical fiction--Who or what used to live in this area of the country? What made survival difficult?


Poetry (shape, haiku, limerick, free verse)

Puppet show

Picture book

If all else fails, you can ask your students to peruse a list of young adult books such as this one, or a classical literature list such as this one and find a title that relates to their field trip(s) which can be creatively renamed and voila´- they'll have something catchy like, "A Tale of Two Swamps."

E-mail me if you have other ideas of how to correlate science, social studies, and language arts. I'll post a blog for other teachers to use.

Technorati Tags:
, , , , ,

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The dog days of summer

Two weeks ago, my husband and I drove to Cincinnati to pick up our "grand-dogs;" their parents are in the middle of moving there where our son-in-law will be continuing his surgical residency at the University of Cincinnati. Since they were in-between houses we agreed to "dog-sit" for several weeks. Cruise (the Maltese) and Brandy (a Corgy/Chow/Golden Retriever mix- or as a friend described her, "a stuffed Disney character come to life") now frolic around the house and have scampered, sniffed, and snuggled their way into our lives. We're going to have a hard time giving them back in a few weeks.

I guess you can say that we've just gone to the dogs…

Have you ever played with idioms like these in the classroom? According to, Dog days of summer refers to the hottest and most sultry days which in the northern hemisphere from July-September. Apparently, the brightest of the stars in Canis Major (the big dog) constellation is Sirius, which also happens to be the brightest star in the night sky. The star is so bright that the ancient Romans thought that the earth received heat from it.

How about "gone to the dogs?" According to this English language website, if something has gone to the dogs, it has gone badly wrong and lost all the good things it had.

Several years ago at Novello, an annual book festival in Charlotte, NC, our SCBWI group manned a booth. We invited children to pick an idiom out of a box and then draw it- not what the idiom meant, but what the words said. This is a fun activity for elementary age students and can be particularly helpful for ESL students. Can you imagine your students drawing "Down at the mouth", "take a nosedive" or, "spit it out"? Print out a list of idioms, cut them apart, hand them out, and voila! You'll have a great mini-lesson on language usage. If your hunger for idiom-play is not satiated, then check out Maupin House's books Idioms for Aliens and Exploring Idioms.

Has the Baldwin family gone to the dogs? I believe Brandy and Cruise would vote "yes."

Technorati Tags:
, , , , ,

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Looking to Promote Your Book?

If you are a new or established writer, you might want to check out the Book Promotion Blog. In yesterday's post Stacey Miller wrote:

"If you're still thinking that traditional book reviews will appease your publisher and fulfill your book promotion duties, think again. A new age of book promotion is dawning, and book publicists are rolling up their sleeves and getting to work on creative ways to help you build your brand. Get ready to meet your readers -- under conditions you never would have dreamt of just a few years ago!"

And you thought all you needed to do was write a book.Technorati Tags:

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Craft Plus revisited

In March I blogged about the project which Maupin House publisher Julie Graddy had asked me to work on— adding 6-8th grade fictional narrative lessons to the new edition of the Maupin House Craft Plus series. I recently received my copy in the mail and was proud to see my name listed along with eleven other teacher educators who participated as curriculum writers. If you are looking for a comprehensive program to teach writing skills, check out this easy-to-follow set of lesson plans that also include descriptive, expository, personal narrative, procedural, persuasive, and comparison writing. A list of materials, which you will need during the 5 weeks of writing and application, introduces each book. Selecting literature models was one of the fun parts of writing these lessons; I could choose books that I have enjoyed over the years. In 6th grade I recommended that students write an historical story and was happy to suggest that they read Blue and Healing Water
by my colleague, Joyce Hostetter; and Anchor: P.Moore Proprietor by fellow North Carolina SCBWI-er, Blonnie Wyche. For seventh grade, I used sports fiction as a model and included Jan Cheriko's book, Imitate the Tiger
and Samurai Shortstop
by Alan Gratz. Eighth graders write mysteries and one of the books that I recommended was Gratz's book, Something Rotten. It's an honor to have been part of the staff that created these writing lessons, and a pleasure to recommend these books to your students.

Technorati Tags:
, , , , , ,

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Samurai Shortstop

Baseball bats and samurai swords. At first glance, you wouldn't think that these two have much in common. But if you're Alan Gratz, you will discover the story of how a Japanese teenager brings together his father's samurai traditions with his own passion for the gaijin sport, baseball. Readers of Samurai Shortstop (Dial 2006) will discover a coming of age book both for Toyo (the main character) as well as for the "new" Japan.

Although set in the end of the 19th century, this is the story of every young person who wrestles with having one foot imbedded in the traditions of family and culture, the other foot ready to sprint into the future. Which rules and family traditions will Toyo embrace and bring with him into his adult life? Which rules will he throw off? This is the not only Toyo's decision, but one that faces all young people, in every culture and every time period.

The two symbols, the bat and the sword, play significant roles as Toyo angrily wrestles with Sotaro's insistence that he learn bushido (the samurai code). In a poignant passage, his fellow players come and ask him for bushido lessons so that they can become better baseball players. As Toyo struggles with his decision, he realizes that, "…maybe they could take the warrior code and leave the worst elements of the samurai behind. He knew Sotaro would never approve. But wasn't that what Japan was herself doing—taking the best of what the rest of the world had to offer and making it her own?" p. 206.

"…the warrior's way is the twofold path of the brush and the sword," Sotaro tells Toyo on his sixteenth birthday. By opening the book with the following haiku, Gratz sets the stage for this well-written historical and sports novel.

The secret to catching a ball

Lies with the willow

Swaying in the wind

--Haiku by Japanese baseball player and poet Shiki Masaoka (1890)

I would recommend this book for middle and high school students. The quality of research and attention to detail which Gratz includes makes this an excellent supplementary book for Asian studies particularly in the period prior to World War I. Teachers could also use this book to discuss the issues their students face in assimilating or rejecting their own cultural heritage.

Technorati Tags:
, , , , , ,

THE NIGHT WAR: A MG Historical Novel Review

  By now you should have received an email from my new website about my review of THE NIGHT WAR by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. (It'll com...