Thursday, November 23, 2017


It seems kind of funny to be hosting Poetry Friday, when I haven't even been participating recently. I'm hoping that hosting will get me back into the groove or participating each Friday. Originally, I thought I would probably do something holiday-related; either a Thanksgiving poem or maybe poetry books that shoppers could buy for holiday gifts. Then, in my CYBILS reading this week, I came across Carole Boston Weatherford's SCHOMBURG: THE MAN WHO BUILT A LIBRARY. I'm sharing this book today because I think it's really important, and I want a lot of people to see it. 

SCHOMBURG is poetry-- it's a story in verse-- about Arturo (Arthur) Schomburg, a Puerto Rican who immigrated to New York in 1891. According to the book jacket, "Schomburg's life passion was to collect books, letters, music, and art from Africa and from people of African descent." His collection became so large that he turned it over to the New York Public Library. Today it is known as the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. 

This is an important book. I want my students (and my own sons) to read it, but I am not sure it's one they will fully appreciate on their own. I wonder, for instance, if they will notice the dates embedded into the pictures. I wonder if they will notice Schomburg's words in italics, "True scholarship requires time and calm effort; Tell our stories, proclaim our glories." I wonder if they will take time to read the end page, that says that each of Schomburg's books had a bookplate pasted into the front, and that's why this book also has a book plate in the front. That's why I'm looking forward to sharing it with them, a little at a time. 

UPDATE: Michelle H. Barnes actually interviewed Carole Boston Weatherford about SCHOMBURG in September. You can read that interview and more poems from the book at Today's Little Ditty. 

Arturo Schomberg was more than a book lover,
more than a mailroom clerk at Bankers Trust,
where he supervised eleven white men,
unheard-of authority for a black man at that time.
He recognized early on that history was not history
unless it was complete from all angles.
Like a detective, he hunted for clues and found facts
affirming the role of African descendants
 in building nations and shaping cultures.
Fellow book collector Arthur Spingara noted
     that Arturo would approach 
an immense pile of apparently worthless material
and unerringly find…one or two treasures
which would have been lost to a less inspired collector. 
Arturo believed that those facts, once unearted,
would speak loud and clear in halls of knowledge,
daring another teacher to tell a black child
that the Negro has no history. Time and again,
through print, music, and art, Schomberg proved otherwise.
(Page 1)

…So when his fifth grade teacher
told him that Africa's sons and daughters
had no history, no heroes worth noting,
did the twinkle leave Arturo's eyes?
Did he slouch his shoulders, hang his head low,
and look to the ground rather than the horizon?

No. His people must have contributed something
over the centuries, a history that teachers did not teach,
Until they did, schoolchildren like Arturo
would not learn of their own heritage,
ignorance shackling them like chains. (2)

I wanted to find out, said Arturo Schomberg,
what my own racial group had contributed.
He could not get his hands on enough books.
His curiosity about Africana- insatiable
Arturo had what he called the book hunting disease.
No one volume told the whole story,
and no library specialized in the subject.

So he hunted rare book stores,
poring over fragile pamphlets with torn covers
and leather books with paper mites between pages.
Most of what he bought early on came cheap
because white collectors considered it junk.
Still what he hunted was not easy to find.

…Arturo found African roots in the family tree
of artist, ornithologist, and naturalist John James Audubon.
His masterpiece was the book Birds of America.
With watercolors, pastel crayons, charcoal, and pencils,
he depicted North American birds in stunning lifelike poses.
Yet for all Audobon's fame, there was rarely mention
that he was born to a French plantation owner
and a Creole chambermaid

…Even German composer Ludvig von Beethoven
had ties to AFrica. He was often described
as dark, a mulatto, or a Moor. His mother
was said to be a Moor-- North African.
Gifted beyond belief, Beethoven
still composed after he'd lost his hearing.
How could this maestro's African heritage
     have been muted?(18-20)

Rumor has it that Schomberg's wife put her foot down:
Either his books or their family must go. Only a threat like that
could make him part with his prizes.
There were bookshelves filled with books all over the house,
a family member said, even in the bathroom.
The books were carefully catalogued,
inventoried in Arturo's head,
and arranged by color and size of bindingl
But Arturo's library had outgrown private hands.
He had turned down a very handsome author
because the collection deserved a wider audienc.
Arturo had already lent items to libraries
and staged exhibitions for community groups.
He approached the New York Public Library,
but it lacked the funds
to purchase his vast holdings.
So the Carnegie Corporation
for $10,000 and in 1926 donated it to the library.

Happy Poetry Friday! Leave your comments and I'll approve them and share them!

Wednesday, November 22, 2017


Last week, GRAND CANYON won NCTE's Orbis Pictus, for best nonfiction children's book of the year. This morning, I read GRAND CANYON, and I can definitely see why. I don't think I can do this beautiful, multi-layered picture book justice, I think it's one you will have to read for yourself but I'm going to try to describe it, just a little.

GRAND CANYON follows a little girl and her father as they hike the South Trail from the bottom of the Grand Canyon to the rim. Most pages have "snapshots" of the discoveries the little girl makes as she hikes. Some pages devoted to specific animals- the California condor, the mountain goat, and dragonflies. There are also pages that show what the Grand Canyon looked like during times when it was covered by water, with the little girl swimming, surrounded by creatures. And many of the pages have a cut out that leads to a fossil on the next page.

Swimming in the sea, millions of years ago
The gorgeous watercolor (I think) illustrations and the rich factual text would probably be enough. However, they are only the beginning. Each illustration is placed directly is placed directly on top of another illustration- usually some kind of a diagram associated with a particular layer of of the canyon, or of the wildlife that lives in that area.
California condor page, along with diagram of sedimentation, most of the pages contain both kinds of information

The book has lots of special features, including cut outs to the fossils, and one spread that opens out to a double wide. End matter includes pages of factual information about the geology, ecology, history, and human life in the Grand Canyon, as well as an author's note. The front end page is a map of the Grand Canyon, the back is a generalized cross section of the area.

I could see giving it to someone planning a trip to the Grand Canyon. A person, child or adult, could spend hours and hours and hours with this book and notice something new every time they read it. Wow, wow, wow, wow, wow!

Monday, November 20, 2017

SEA OTTER HEROES- Patricia Newman

Yesterday, when I shared THE SEARCH FOR OLINGUITO by Sandra Markle,  I talked about how much I love reading books that take me in to the stories of people's work. Last night, SEA OTTER HEROES: THE PREDATORS THAT SAVED AN ECOSYSTEM by Patricia Newman was at the top of my ginormous CYBILS nonfiction pile. It's a similar book.

SEA OTTER HEROES follows the work of marine biologist, Brett Hughes. As a graduate student, Hughes studied the area called Elkhorn Slough in Northern California. Elkhorn Slough is located in the Salinas Valley, an area also known as America's Salad Bowl, because crops of strawberries, artichokes, brussels sprouts, lettuce, celery, tomatoes, spinach, and broccoli feed much of the United States. Farmers spray their crops with chemical fertilizers, then the run off drains into the waterways, which typically disrupts marine ecosystems. In areas such as Elkhorn Slough, one of the primary organisms affected is seagrass. The excessive nutrients from the fertilizers cause excessive algae growth on the seagrass, which means the seagrass can't get enough nutrients from photosynthesis. It dies, and then other living creatures in the food chain are also impacted.

Brent Hughes was surprised to discover that this was not true in Elkhorn Slough. The population of seagrass was alive and healthy. Hughes was determined to find out why. One of his first hypothesis had to do with El Niño. Examination of data from the past twenty years proved that to be unfounded. He began seeking data from other sources and discovered a tour boat Captain, Yohn Gideon, who had collected research on animal sighting on each of his journeys for almost twenty years. In looking at his data, Hughes discovered a strong correlation between the sea grass and sea otter populations. Because Captain Gideon's research was not considered to be scientific enough, Hughes had to go still further.

He talked to other scientists who had studied sea otters. He built mesocosms, a common lab technique, where a scientist actually builds an ecosystem in a bucket, barrel, or tank. And then he ventured into the slough, logging about one hundred hours over thirty days in a wet suit in the slough. Hughes hard work paid off.  He discovered that sea otters eat sea crabs, who in turn eat sea hares, that eat sea algae that kills the sea grass. Without the sea otters, the sea crabs overeat the sea hares, which then allows the algae population to go out of control.

I loved reading about this scientific mystery. I loved the full color photographs. I loved the pages of information about "Otterisms" and other related topics. I loved seeing the amount of perseverance it took for Hughes to solve his problem. I loved the end matter with suggestions of ways kids can help! Another terrific read!

Sunday, November 19, 2017


Maybe I'm a teeny bit nosy, but I love learning about how other people do their work. When I go to a play, I wonder what the actors do all day, and what they eat, and where they stay while their play is in Denver. I love (or used to love before they got so stinky) seeing pictures of the Broncos getting on their plane, or pictures of their post game food choices.

And I loved Sandra Markle's new book, THE SEARCH FOR OLINGUITO.  In 2013, Markle read an article about the discovery of a new mammal, the olinguito, a raccoon-like species that lives in the cloud forests of Ecuador and Colombia. Markle tracked down Kristofer Helgen, a scientist at the Smithsonian,  and Roland Kayes, head of the Biodiversity Research Lab at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, and pieced together the steps in their discovery.

The journey started when Helgen was studying pelts of the olingo, a similar species,  at the Smithsonian and noticed significant differences in color, fur texture, shape of ears, and tail length, on some of the species. He then examined pelts at other museums around the world and found those same features. After DNA research, he concluded that he had found a new species, which he named the olinguito. Helgen also learned about Ringerl, an olingo, who had been at zoos in  Louisville and several other places in the late 1960's. Ringerl refused to mate or interact with the other olingos, and Helgen hypothesized that she had also been an olinguito. DNA tests confirmed his hypothesis.

Helgen then needed to prove that olinguitos still exist. A Smithsonian intern from Ecuador scouted possible cloud forests, then Helgen and Roland Kayes, traveled to the Otonga Cloud Forest, close to Quito. They spent three weeks studying and photographing the olinguito. Even after that, their work was rejected by scholarly journals, because they didn't have enough information about the animal's physical features and habits. Helgen and Kayes had to spend an additional six years, from 2005-2011, studying the species before their work was accepted. 

Markle follows the scientists' journey with an an engaging story and full color photographs. It also shows readers how much patience and perseverance scientists have to have. A great book for a study of perseverance.  And the book reads like fiction, so it would be terrific in a study of narrative nonfiction.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Bugs, bugs, and more bugs

Bugs! Ewww! I don't kill 'em, but I don't love them either! Even if you are not a big fan, Sneed Collard's INSECTS: THE MOST FUN BUG BOOK EVER, is more than a little interesting. Did you know, for instance, that there are more than 950,000 species of insects identified so far (that compare to 5,400 mammals or 10,600 birds or 33,200 amphibians? I also learned that insects have been around for 480 million years (again compare this to mammals, who have only been around for 180 million years). And that ironclad beetles have such strong shells that scientists have to drill holes  to mount them. Dragon flies fly over 35 miles per hour. The dung beetle specializes in eating particular kinds of poop (according to page 26, if you try to feed cattle dung to a dung beetle that prefers elephant poop, he will unfriend you faster than you can say "Poop"). And that a diet of insects is healthier than what Americans eat now-- did you know that a hamburger is 18% protein, but a cooked grasshopper is 60%?

INSECTS includes sections on body parts, chemical communication, reproduction, defenses and social groupings. Every chapter includes sidebars with related topics- things like how insects breathe, locust plagues, and colony collapse disorder, and diseases. The book is illustrated with beautiful full color close up photographs, taken by the author. There's not a lot of end matter, in fact Collard goes so far as to say that he's not going to suggest alternate sources because kids can find their own. He does, however, includes an extensive glossary. A book kids (and their adults) will definitely enjoy.

Sunday, October 29, 2017


So I'm a CYBILS nonfiction judge this year. And I should be blogging about all of the terrific books I'm reading every day. Time to get started.

SHARK LADY: THE TRUE STORY OF HOW EUGENIE CLARK BECAME THE OCEAN'S MOST FEARLESS SCIENTIST is the biography of oceanographer Eugenie Clark. The book follows Eugenie's life long love affair with sharks, starting at an aquarium when she was a little girl. In 1986, when she was 64, she made the first of over 12,000 trips in a submersible. In 2014, she celebrated her 92nd birthday by diving in Jordan and Israel. In between those years, she earned a doctorate in zoology, was a professor and author, discovered many new species of sharks, was the first to train sharks to prove their intelligence, and advocated for protection of our oceans. The book reads like a story, and that, along with Maria Álvarez Miguéns illustrations are lively and colorful and sure to hold kids' interest.

Lots to love about this book. Of course you could use it as a biography. But you could also use it to help kids understand that the passions they pursue in childhood really could lead to life long work. You could use it to show how important it is to persevere when people tell you your dreams aren't realistic. Or to show kids about all of the different ways of learning about a topic- Eugenie studied sharks in museums, read books and articles, took classes, and finally learned to dive. She kept track of her learning in research notebooks. 

And there were lots of great extras. The end pages are various kinds of sharks (I wondered if these were the species that Eugenie loved most or  discovered or ????). Back matter includes a page of "Shark Bites," (facts about sharks), an illustrated timeline, and author's notes.

Definitely a great addition to your picture book biography library.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017


I am the literacy coach/interventionist at my school. In August and September, that means I do testing. Lots of testing. And specifically, lots of testing with kindergarteners.

I love kindergarteners.

I do not love testing kindergarteners.

Take last week, for instance.

I am administering a state-mandated, computer-based test to one of my five-year-old friends. The test measures students' understandings in things like phonemic awareness, listening comprehension, vocabulary, and fluency. And it's timed.

F was about five minutes into the test. I was standing about six feet behind him, and about five minutes into the test, he turned around to talk to me.

"Dr Carol, did you know it was my birthday this weekend?"

I tell him I didn't, but that I can't wait to hear about it. After he finishes taking his timed test.

He turns back to the test, but a few seconds later, he has more news.

"And did you know I had a Ninja Turtle party. And M and D and W came. But Joe didn't came."

I try to be polite and attentive as I redirect F again.

"And I had a bouncy castle. It was the one with the Ninja Turtles. The ones coming out of the sewers."

Once again, I try to be politely attentive as I redirect my friend's attention. He lasts about five seconds this time.

"And I had Ninja Turtle cake. And it was so good. I'm going to ask my mom if there is any more. And I can bring it to you.:

I assure him that I bet his cake was beautiful. And that it's ok if he didn't bring me any. I can wait until his next birthday, when he turns seven.

And all the while, the clock on the standardized test is ticking and ticking and ticking.

And I'm wondering how anyone could possibly think this could be a good measure of this little guy's literacy skills.