Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Jumbo Book of Outdoor Art

The Jumbo Book of Outdoor Art

The subtitle of this book, "An Artistic Adventure From the Avenue Road Arts School" says it all. Fifty-seven art projects that can be created in a park, at the beach, or in your student's backyard are clearly presented in this kid-friendly and eco-friendly book. Eleven artist-instructors have contributed their ideas and expertise to show children how to use their imaginations, "found" materials, and a few basic art supplies to create art.  

A cartoon guide introduces the book with five guidelines for creating outdoor art:
  • start a collection so you have materials
  • respect your environment -- don't hurt plants or animals
  • be brave--try new tools and techniques
  • stay safe -- use an adult's help when necessary
  • have fun--the most important tip of all!
In subsequent pages the reader will find the guide wearing a crown with "precious" stones, recreating an archeological dig, making a sprouting lawn sculpture, modeling a batik, and creating an ice chandelier. Ordinary objects such as sticks, toothpicks, feathers, leaves, aluminum pie plates, moss, banana peels, shells, sea salt, flower petals, cupcake trays, food coloring--are all useful when it comes to creating art.

I found myself wishing that I had this book when my children were young. But wait! It's not too late. There's a generation of grandchildren waiting to discover their artistic selves!

Joyce Hostetter and I are giving away a copy of The Jumbo Book of Outdoor Art (Kids Can Press, 2006) in our next issue of Talking Story. If you are interested in registering for this giveaway, please leave me a comment with your email address and I'll add your name as a subscriber. You can look for a copy of the newsletter in your inbox on or around May 7th, the contest will close May 14th.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Celebrate Poetry Month with An Abecedarian Bedtime Chronicle

When my children were young, I used to make up ABC stories for them at bedtime. Beginning with "A" I would invent a story that used every letter of the alphabet. Until I read Carole Weatherford's poem, I didn't realize that I was being an abecedarian.

In honor of Poetry Month, I am sharing Carole's poem here. She is hoping to publish this as a picture book; can't you see the pictures in your mind?

Go ahead and try writing an ABC poem or story with your students or children. You never know what you might come up with--abecedarian poems and stories Abound Beyond every Corner! And if you or your class writes one, please let me know. I might post it here!

Vampire B...

A Bat Cave
by Carole Weatherford



Darkness descends. Eerie.

Fanged, gothic,

hungry insectivores


and kite,


for mosquitoes;

millions by the moon.

These “night owls”


‘til quenched,

and return to roost

by sonar.



vampire wannabes,




©2011 Carole Boston Weatherford. All rights reserved.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Will NCCAT Be Forced to Close?

Last week I blogged about how North Carolina thanks teachers by giving them the opportunity to receive instruction and professional support at NCCAT. Soon after I received word from NCCAT's new chairman, Elaine Franklin, that the NC House is considering eliminating funding for NCCAT. Since its inception in 1985, NCCAT has been a line item in North Carolina’s budget; 90% of its operating costs are from state funds.

Franklin wrote, “Teaching is an extremely challenging profession and too often teachers are expected to just ‘deal with’ every new thing that comes along. At NCCAT we are committed to providing the kinds of support teachers need, all the way from induction to retirement.”

As readers of my blog, you know that I am passionate about literacy. I believe that NCCAT's mission, "to keep high-quality teachers in the classroom, advancing teaching beyond that of a simple job to an art form and a profession" contributes to the goal of training the next generation to be literate, competent citizens.

Show your support for NCCAT and North Carolina teachers by writing to your legislators and the members of the Ed. Appropriations committee. At the bottom of this post I have provided a link to find your representative as well as the email addresses for all of the Education Appropriations committee. Here is the letter I plan to send which quotes Dr. Franklin extensively. She has given us permission to use these quotes; feel free to add your own experiences, copy this letter, and link to my previous blog in your correspondence.

Dear Representatives:

North Carolina stands alone as the state that pays tribute to its educators through the only professional development center like it in the world--NCCAT.

NCCAT’s director, Dr. Elaine Franklin, writes,

“Abundant research tells us that teacher quality is the single most important factor in improving student achievement. Students with strong teachers in consecutive years can soar academically, regardless of other external factors beyond the control of the school. NCCAT’s instructional programming is carefully designed to give North Carolina’s teachers the support and resources they need to be highly effective and to increase student success.

“Additionally, studies show that students who have an experienced teacher in the classroom are more likely to achieve at high levels. Retention of dedicated, high-quality teachers ensures each student has an experienced teacher in the classroom. The retention rate of teachers who have participated in NCCAT’s Beginning Teachers Program is 82%, as compared to 64.6% statewide and 67% nationally.

"Retaining these great teachers not only ensures experienced teachers for our students, it also saves our state money in recruitment and induction costs.

“The proposed budget will result in new challenges for classroom teachers that will make their jobs even more difficult; this is all happening at the same time that we are shifting to the new Common Core Standards. Grappling with all of this requires high-quality professional development of the type that NCCAT can provide."

I hope that you will agree that NCCAT is needed now more than ever to provide public school teachers with the tools and strategies they need to teach children the skills needed as we go forward into the 21st century.

We stand on a precipice. Please vote to maintain funding for NCCAT. We do not want to lose this unique treasure that serves North Carolina teachers and its students.

Click here and follow the instructions to find your state legislator and his or her e-mail address.

Here are the members of the Ed. Appropriations Committee. Click on their name for their e-mail address:
Rep. Blackwell, chairman
Rep. Hilton, chairman
Brian Holloway, chairman
Gaston Pridgen, vice chairman
Norman Sanderson, vice chairman
Marilyn Avila, member
Larry Bell, member
John Blust , member
Larry Brown, member
Rick Glazier, member
Maggie Jeffus, member
Marvin Lucas, member
Marian McLawhorn, member
Mickey Michaux, member
Earline Parmon, member
Paul Stam, member

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

There is No Place Like It In the World

If you live in North Carolina then you know that twin jewels bedeck its geographic crown: the mountains and the sea.

What you might now know is that each coast also hosts a unique educational treasure: The North Carolina for the Advancement of Teaching.

Begun in 1985 by the state legislature, NCCAT is a leader in providing professional development for North Carolina's teachers. Both locations (Cullowhee and Ocracoke Island) provide renewal seminars on topics related to the sciences, arts, humanities, technology, communication, leadership health and wellness. 

Joyce and I enjoy spring outside our seminar room.
For four years Joyce Hostetter  and I have had the honor to teach "Is There a Children's Book in You?" We both enjoy meeting teachers, librarians, and guidance counselors who love books and want to explore the possibility of writing a children's book themselves. Joyce shares her expertise as a published author of historical fiction, and I teach about creating a character, setting, plot, and share information on getting published.

Teachers write

wherever they want to!

This year we added three new components to an already packed week. Joyce taught them how to make a book out of a paper bag, which is an easy and fun activity for adults and kids.


I set up a wiki so that Joyce and I could provide more information about writing and publishing, and the teachers could upload their writing as well as receive comments and critiques.

Little Chicken's Big Day
The third addition was a fun Skype visit with author-illustrator Katie Davis. She shared the story behind her new book, Little Chicken's Big Day, as well as the process of writing the book and creating the illustrations.

In her honor, we recorded this video. We are each holding her book Kindergarten Rocks (courtesy of NCCAT):

It's always a sad time when we say goodbye. The moment is commemorated by a "pinning" celebration. Each participant receives a NCCAT pin, reminding them of the great week of renewal which they just received.  

The teachers appreciated the opportunity to explore ideas which would ultimately invigorate their teaching. As one teacher wrote in her evaluation, "I have learned the importance of writing as a craft, not just as part of a teacher's schedule. I learned that writing can be and should be presented and experienced as a means of enjoyment."

It was a privilege to be a part of an organization that is devoted to enriching the lives and skills of North Carolina educators.  

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Two Boy Geniuses & One Book Giveaway

I discovered Freak the Mighty (Blue Sky Press, 1993) and The Reinvention of Edison Thomas (Front Street Books/Boyds Mills Press, 2010) when I was preparing for recent workshops at NCRA. Both books feature strong boy protagonists and include science and math elements.


Conventional writing wisdom is that the first few lines of  a story should grab the reader. Consider this opening paragraph:
I never had a brain until Freak came along and let me borrow his for a while, and that's the truth, the whole truth. The unvanquished truth, is how Freak would say it, and for a long time it was him who did the talking. Except I had a way of saying things with my fists and my feet even before we became Freak the Mighty, slaying dragons and fools and walking high above the world.

From there, Rodman Philbrick, the author, leads readers through a story of two boys who individually confront traumatic pasts as well as struggle day-to-day with their disabilities. Maxwell is a huge 7th grader who is diagnosed with a learning disability; his father killed his mother and is prematurely released on parole. Kevin is a genius dwarf with Morquio Syndrome; his father also abandoned him and his battle is against time and the limitations of his diseased body. Together they become an inseparable team.

With Kevin riding high on his shoulders, Maxwell learns he not only can "slay dragons," but defeat town bullies and overcome his fears about his father and school. Kevin finds an invaluable friend who loves and respects him.

Philbrick weaves their stories together masterfully. I love the voices of the two characters, the layers of meaning, and how Philbrick brings us a story about friendship and acceptance, as well as about death and healing.  

Like Kevin, Edison Thomas is also a boy genius with a problem. Here is the opening:

Eddy sat on the steps outside Drayton Middle School, where the noise from the science fair in the gym still roared in his head. Tiffany always told him to picture a calm place when he felt stressed....

Tiffany's strategy wasn't working; his heart was still beating too fast. His body would have to be under control for him to go back into that gym full of people...

New calming strategy: think about the science fair project.

The author, Jacqueline Houtman, has begun to paint a picture of a middle school boy who has Asperger's syndrome. Eddy has a million scientific facts at his fingertips but is unable to relate socially to his peers and is happy in his own world of experiments and science. The book is full of personal conflicts: disappointment when his science fair project does not win first prize, not understanding why his former friend Mitch now teases him, and obsessive fears over children being killed when a crossing guard loses his job.  

Two turning points occur that change things for Eddy. When he figures out how to stand up to Mitch's bullying and when he accepts the friendship of two other scientifically-minded peers, Eddy's life begins to change. Houtman, provides the reader with a satisfying ending when Eddy is allowed to compete at the regional science fair, but realizes that he no longer needs to win it - he has already won some major battles in his young life.

By the way, both books have great appendices that add much to the the books' content.

In the spirit of books which incorporate science into their stories, I am giving away an autographed copy of Bonnie Doerr's book, Island Sting. If you are between the ages of 11-16, please share this blog with your friends (talk about it, e-mail it, Facebook, or Twitter) and then leave me a comment on this blog. I'll enter your name for a drawing on April 15.  

Friday, April 1, 2011

Friday Night at 8 PM

This week I enjoyed a mini-reunion with several college friends. As we caught up with news about children (and grandchildren!) one of my friends, Harry Forbes, mentioned that in their weekly "Friday night at 8 PM" conversations, one of his sons has consistently been mentioning a special girl and he was looking forward to meeting her. We all wondered about these conversations and this is what he told us.

Over thirty years ago, his wife Charlotte, began a tradition that every week their family would gather at 8 PM on Friday night and record what had happened that week. Harry now has over 65 handwritten pages full of these entriees; together he and Charlotte used to enjoy reading what they had been doing one year, five years, or even ten years earlier.

When the children left home for college and jobs, phone calls, texting and Skype visits replaced being together in one place. Now the children are literally scattered around the world, but Harry's daughter who is studying in Australia, begins a Friday e-mail and eventually it makes the rounds to everyone else.

Two years ago Charlotte lost a 15-month fight against mesothelioma and this notebook is now a precious journal of their family life.
Charlotte Forbes, 2006
Today is Friday. What are you doing with your family tonight?


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