Monthly Archives: April 2012

Cats and Cockroaches?

Author Spotlight: Carmen Agra Deedy
According to her book jacket bio, Carmen was born in Havana, Cuba.

She came to the United States as a refugee and like most immigrants sees the world from multiple perspectives.  Deedy has performed in many prestigious venues, but children are her favorite audience.

This is evident in the wide age range of audiences targeted by her two books below: a primary grade picture book, and an upper elementary Dickens-like tale.

As a primary grade teacher, I got the pleasure of using great children’s literature to teach all subjects to my second graders.  Round Rock ISD has few adopted textbooks, so good literature provides a platform for lessons in reading, writing, math, science, and social studies.  During the spring unit on Theme & Genre, I always enjoyed reading this delightful folktale to them:

Martina the Beautiful Cockroach: A Cuban Folktale
By Carmen Agra Deedy; Illustrated by Michael Austin
Price New $4.99

Age Range
With parental interaction: 5-8 years old (grades K-2nd)
Independent reading: 8-10 years old (grades 2nd-4th)

You read that right…beautiful cockroach! This story encourages great conversation about what makes a good companion, as Martina searches for a husband.  You’ll be shocked and enlightened as you read about her abuela’s (grandmother’s) wise advice on how to test someone’s character.

The Cheshire Cheese Cat: A Dickens of a Tale
by Carmen Agra Deedy and Randall Wright; Illustrated by Barry Moser
Price New $16.95

Age Range
Independent reading: 8-12 years old (grades 3rd-6th)

I got this at the library last week and finished it in 2 sittings.  The setting and characters are inspired by the authors’ love of Charles Dickens, so I was worried I might miss some of the meaning since I’ve only read a few of his works.  But a Cybil Award reviewer stated it best:   “Charles Dickens has an important supporting role and there are abundant literary allusions and though these may be lost on some younger readers, we believe they will remember and enjoy them again in later life.”

You can certainly read this book with no knowledge of Dickens and still enjoy the rich language, tongue and cheek humor, and memorable characters.  The plot is lively and intriguing.  Each character’s distinct voice provides a wonderful depth to a book that, at first glance, might seem like just a cute talking-animal tale.

My favorite scene (at least that I can reveal without spoiling the plot) occurs in Chapter 6 during a fascinating encounter between a cat and mouse.  After capturing the mouse, the main character Skilley spits him out onto the stone floor.

He then nudges the mouse, whispering, “Run…”  After a pause, in which the mouse lay as still as if he were dead, eyes tightly shut, the cat asks, “What’s wrong with you?  Why don’t you run away?”

To this the mouse replies, “What’s wrong with me?  I’m behaving as I ought in this situation.  What’s wrong with you?”

This begins the unusual and humorous relationship between two fascinating characters, Skilley and Pip.  There also 2 very rich scenes about apologies and forgiveness.  The authors weave these very naturally into the story and give the reader great insight into friendships and the need to understand the tough truths about ourselves sometimes.  This title is on the Texas Bluebonnet Award master list for 2012-2013.  For a list of all current nominees for 2012-2013

Dog Files: Dog Days of Summer

It may not officially be summer (that’s June 20th this year), but here in Texas my dogs say “It might as well be.”  Sleeping after a nice, but hot, walk at midday, these two will hibernate until the next highlight of their day: dinner time.

Bear wakes up at the sound of the camera click.  He prefers the cool tile after a warm walk.  After all, look at that fur coat!

Jordan heard the camera, but ignored me…until Daddy walked into the room.  Then she stirred.  He is, after all, her favorite person.

I don’t know what it is, but when I see her lying like this–all four legs in a triangle, I just want to grab those legs and hog-tie her!  Don’t get me wrong…I’m not a farmer, and I don’t even know how to do a hog-tie, but something about it cracks me up!

But her mommy and daddy love her very much and would, of course, never do any such thing.

1st Grade

Thank you to  all 10 first grade classes that allowed me to come and read to your kids.  It was very helpful and I’ve been able to revise many things in my RUFF draft based on your students’ responses.  Please enjoy the pictures below and don’t forget to click on the image to view in the full screen gallery.

Mrs. Tran’s Class

Elley’s Story

Ms. Morrow’s Class


Monday and Wednesday I had the pleasure of reading to 9 different Kindergarten classes.  They were so sweet and I was pleased to see how well they understood the plot and enjoyed the characters.  I especially was excited at how many went home and were inspired to take a small moment of their own and turn it into a story.  These budding authors make me proud!  Some even wrote a sentence and labels to go with the picture.  View their illustrations below and don’t forget to click on an illustration to view in a full-screen gallery.

Mrs. Stroh’s Class

Ms. Campbell’s Class

Mrs. Satterwhite’s Class

Ms. Gaskamp’s Class

Ms. Elder’s Class


Books for Earth Day and Every Day

As a former teacher, and a child at heart, I love children’s books and especially appreciate the rich medium they provide for learning.  So I came up with a great excuse to continue reading these books, even though I’m no longer teaching and I don’t have any children of my own: you, my audience.

Whether you’re a parent, a teacher, or a child at heart like me, this is good news for you.  I will use my educational background to provide book reviews, comprehension questions, and free mini-lessons–all using great children’s literature found in your local library or bookstore.

Since Earth Day is coming up this Sunday, April 22, I chose books this week that will provide you and your children information, entertainment, and crafts.

This first book is the Science book you wish you had in school.

A Child’s Introduction to The Environment: The Air, Earth, and Sea Around Us
By Michael Driscoll and Professor Dennis Driscoll
Illustrated by Meredith Hamilton
Published in 2008
Price New: $19.95

Age Range
With parental interaction: 6-8 years old (grades 1st-2nd)
Independent reading:  8-11 years old (grades 3rd -5th)

I found this book at the library, an effort to provide parents and teachers on a budget (is there any other kind of teacher?) with some free resources.  But honestly, after reviewing this book, I might just go by it for myself, and I don’t even have kids.  It’s that good.  So much for the money-saving plan.

Don’t let the words “A Child’s Introduction” fool you.  The co-author, Professor Dennis Driscoll, is an emeritus professor of meteorology at Texas A&M University, specializing in biometeorology.  If you’re like me, you just had to use the dictionary to even understand this guy’s title.  He teamed up with his son, Michael Driscoll, who also wrote A Child’s Introduction to Poetry and A Child’s Introduction to the Night Sky.

Now to why I LOVE this book.  This book is jam-packed with facts ranging from states of matter to fossil fuels.  It’s as informative as those old encyclopedias we used to have as kids.  But the good news is it strikes the perfect balance between facts and humor, learning and entertainment.  And above all, the authors take very complex scientific ideas and put them into an easy-to-understand explanation using text, lively illustrations, comic strips, and diagrams that aid learning and keep a child’s attention.  Without dumbing down these concepts, the authors take an idea that a child can relate to (your garbage man collects your trash bin once a week) and explains the process step-by-step of how it gets to the landfill.  This would be a great buy for any parent or teacher because it spans an entire year’s curriculum.  A lot of these ideas are introduced as early as kindergarten and then spiraled through elementary school and built upon, explained in more depth and complexity each year.  The experiments include things I did with my second grade classes as well as things I saw the fifth grade teachers doing.

This nonfiction book comes with a poster, reusable lunch sack, and stickers.  It includes a table of contents, glossary, index, fun statistics, experiments, colorful illustrations, comic strips, and diagrams.
Topics include, but are not limited to:
Water: states/forms, freshwater vs. saltwater, plant and animal species, endangered species, hydroelectric power
Land: landforms, city vs. suburb, fossil fuels, mass transit, rural, farming, food chain, photosynthesis, landfills, recycling, forests, rain forests, deserts, arctic
Air: Earth’s atmosphere, smog, explanation of weather through balance of temperature and air pressure, global warming, clouds, wind power, ozone layer, solar cells, nuclear plants, geothermal power plants

This second book is for a younger audience, but does a stellar job of illustrating some big ideas in a way tangible to a little person.  I also found this at the library.

The EARTH Book
By Todd Parr
Published in 2010
Price New: $9.99

Age Range
With parental interaction: pre-school to Kindergarten
Independent reading:  6-8 years old (grades 1st-2nd)

This book states its purpose on page 1:  I take care of the earth because I know I can do little things every day to make a big difference.  In my opinion, mission accomplished.  It then gives 12 very easy things that little kids can do at home.  The rhythm and pattern make it easy to understand and enjoyable.
Pattern:  I _____ and ____ because I _____.
Example: I use both sides of paper and take my own bags to market because I love the trees and want owls to have a place to live.

After reading it a second time it struck me how successfully it highlights complex science topics without going into details that would lose its young audience.  By giving concrete examples for children and simple reasons to help the earth it reinforces concepts like water conservation, air pollution, farming, global warming, energy conservation, litter, recycling, and landfills.  With your toddler or kindergartner, this book would be educational and entertaining.  First and second graders could take each pattern and discuss the science lesson being inferred and how that action helps the earth.

With colorful and simple illustrations, a young child can easily learn things they can do to take care of the earth.

Now that our kids have all this great knowledge about the Earth, let’s have fun and make a mess in honor of Earth day.   I searched for craft books that had supplies the average person would have on hand, as well as ideas that would be easy, fun, and actually useful.  I found 3 books at the library that fit the bill and quite accidentally, they are all by the same author.  What can I say?  She’s doing something right.  Maybe her 30 years’ experience as a nursery teacher and director have something to do with that. She goes by the name Queen of Crafts.

Earth-Friendly Crafts: Clever Ways to Reuse Everyday Items
By Kathy Ross
Illustrated by Celine Malepart
Published in 2009

Age Range
The crafts in this book would be enjoyable for grades K-3.  They would need to be done with the help of an adult.

This book has 21 projects in it.  With the exception of Tiny Toy Bookmark, Changing Faces Necklace, and Box Board Links, I loved all of these crafts and can’t wait to try them.  My favorites were Marker Caps Pencil holder for all those dried out markers,  Puzzle Piece Alligator for the puzzles you can’t use because of a missing piece, and Game Board Art folder for those games you were going to throw out due to missing pieces. There are only two required items that you probably won’t have on–hand: a 3 inch round metal slogan pin, an old slinky, and a wooden or plastic paddle from a paddle ball game.

All New Crafts for Earth Day
By Kathy Ross
Illustrated by Sharon Lane Holm
Published in 2006

The beauty of her books is the easy access to common household items for supplies. And by reusing items you would normally throw away, you are teaching your child a valuable, but easy way to help the environment.

Age Range
The crafts in this book would be enjoyable for grades K-3.  They would also need to be done with the help of an adult.

This one also has 21 crafts and then some suggestions for handy items to keep in your very own craft box.  My favorites in this book were the Candle Stub Pincushion, Used Dryer Sheets Flower Sachet, Playing Cards Photo Frame, Pencil Trivet, and Puzzle Piece Turtle Ring.

Crafts to Celebrate God’s Creation
By Kathy Ross
Art by Sharon Lane Holm
Published in 2001

Age Range
The crafts in this book would be enjoyable for pre-school through 2nd grade.  They would need to be done with the help of an adult.  They would also be ideal for Sunday school, children’s ministry, Christian pre-school or pre-K programs.

I was drawn to this book because its purpose is to actually celebrate God’s creation which to me seemed like a great way to celebrate Earth Day.  While these crafts are adorable, they are not meant to be useful other than as art to decorate your home or toys for your child.  These will be a blast for your family to make and symbolic of the Genesis 1 creation story.

Just to give you an idea, I’ve listed the supplies needed to complete all the crafts in this book.  It might seem like a lot at first, but I bet you have 90% of this on-hand.  And you could just skip the few crafts that involve an item you don’t have:

Tissue paper, White glue, craft glue, Pin, String, yarn, ribbon, thread, Scissors, Paper plates, Paint, paintbrushes, watercolor paint, poster paint, Construction paper, Stickers, Fiberfill from pillow or cotton balls, Paper Lunch bag, Catalog or magazine with pictures of flowers, 9 oz disposable cup, Coffee filter, Tape, Magnet strip with sticky back, Stapler, Pipe cleaners, 2 Styrofoam balls, Craft stick, Glitter, Plastic wrap, Paper reinforcers (like what you use for notebook paper holes), Straw, Wiggle eyes, Toilet tissue tube, Marker, Dry spaghetti, Back of a pin that you’d wear, safety pin, Old stretchy knit glove, old sock, old necktie, Shoebox lid, Feather fluffs, Felt scraps, Buttons, beads, seed beads, Unwanted CD, Plastic white spoons, Cardboard egg carton, Plastic flip-top cap like on salad dressings, White envelopes or index cards, Corrugated cardboard

If you get a chance to complete any of the crafts, I’d love to hear your honest feedback about how it went.  I want to provide helpful resources, so your thoughts are valued.

2nd Grade

This Friday the thirteenth was a lucky day for me.  I got to spend the morning with 2nd grade classes, sharing my love for reading and writing.  A stellar audience, I went home energized and ready to revise.  I added a little of this and that…took away a word here and there.  I was a cook perfecting her recipe!

Take a look at the following illustrations these artists created based on my story, Not Your Ordinary Pet Detective (NYoPD): The Case of the Staring Contest.  Be sure to click on an image to open the gallery in full screen.

Mr. Gray’s Class

Mrs. McCarthy’s Class

Mrs. Bryant’s Class

Mrs. Baker’s Class


Patsy Sommer Elementary Drawing

Thank you for letting me visit your school. I enjoyed reading my dog stories to each of the kindergarten, first, and second grade classes. You were a fabulous audience and an inspiration. I hope I also inspired you to use your author’s eyes and see the small moments that happen to you every day. They are just waiting for you to turn them into good great stories. I would love to hear from you. And just to prove it, I’m going to have a drawing.

NOTE: Put your FIRST NAME, GRADE, and TEACHER on anything you write, draw, or type. “No names” get no prizes.

How Do I Get My Name In The Drawing?

  1. Draw a picture to go with my dog story. Give it to your teacher and I will publish it in a gallery on this website. (Picture gets your name in the hat one time.)
  2. Leave a comment here on my website. Did you think of a different ending for my story? Do you want to see anything taken out or added? Revising is the key to making a good story GREAT! You should see some of my earlier “RUFF” drafts. Yikes—not good at all! (Each comment gets your name in the hat one time.)
  3. Did I inspire you to write a small moment of your own? If so, write that story at home and post it to the comment section of this website or email it to me at the email address you were given at school . (A story gets your name in the hat five times!)

I will hold the Patsy Sommer Elementary Drawing on Tuesday morning, April 24. Winners will receive their prizes at school at the end of that day. The total number of winners will depend on the amount of participation.

NOTE: Put your FIRST NAME, GRADE, and TEACHER on anything you write, draw, or type. “No names” get no prizes.

Be sure to have your parent help you use a computer to enter the drawing.  While you are here, take a look at Bear and Jordan’s biographies, too.  They each wrote a little about themselves.


First “Ruff” Draft Read Aloud

This gallery contains 5 photos.

On March 21, 2012, my friends let me borrow their kiddos for my first focus group.  Many thanks to them.  It was a blast and very helpful.  The first story is entitled Not Your Ordinary Pet Detective (NYoPD): The Case … Continue reading