Author: jp

Ten Minute Tools

I often see a lot of web-based tools for use in the classroom- some brand new and some just new to me. As I wade through the different tools I find myself spending an inordinate amount of time that could be spent on any different number of things. Classroom teachers and librarians also have little time to spend with their daily demands. I’ve come up with a strategy borrowed from Richard Byrne’s Best of the Web presentation that he shared during a NCTIES presentation. He spends eight minutes; I’m not that good. 

Give yourself ten minutes (use a timer) to keep yourself honest) to look at a web site or app and see if you can figure out the basics of use within that period of time. My challenge is this: Can I figure out how to use it well enough in that period of time to implement with my classroom?  If I can make something happen, chances are that students can, too. This routine of technical triage can yield some great finds while maximizing and focusing our time as teachers and librarians. We need not be expert users of every application we encounter, but we do need to measure it against our pedagogical expertise and seek the situations where it will enhance student learning. Now, go fill your toolbox with some Ten Minute Tools!



Two Months

It’s been nearly two months (probably more) since my last entry of any consequence and my head hangs in shame. I made a secretive agreement with myself to post twice weekly beginning at the first of the year and resolved to follow the plan, but something (can’t remember what) got in the way.
I wanted to share some of the cool web-based tools I’ve been using and some quick reviews of books I found interesting as well as gems I discovered at the thrifts, but I’ve spent more time reading and listening than normal (and that’s not a bad thing, I hope). As a matter of fact, I’ve read some new Ron Rash, older Harry Caudill and listened to more jazz than I had ever hoped. Throw in some Lee Smith, Sharyn McCrumb, Adriana Trigiani, three or four tomes on the history of broadcasting and a pile of Bob Newhart and Smothers Brothers discs and there you have it: a couple of glorious months spent feeding that insatiable thirst for things that make me smile and remember.
I’m not sure exactly why my fascination with bygone days has to do with the present, but I rather suspect it provides balance to the world of eBooks, iPads, HTML5, and the other gadgetry that consumes most of my professional life. I like to think that the old has been made new again; informed by the gigabytes of data available to me (and you too) that make sense of the things I always wanted to know and be.
Suffice it to say that I have a thirst for life and learning that cannot be quenched. It all started with books and radio (the written and spoken word) and it still continues. I believe that most kids (myself included) need places like libraries and book stores filled with people who share that malady and want to create a space to make it happen. That said, let’s make it happen.

A Review of Barbara Newman’s Glamorous Glasses-

Newman, Barbara J. Glamorous Glasses. Honesdale, Pa: Boyds Mills Press, 2012. Print.


When I think of eyeglasses I think of glamorous people: Elton John, Elvis, Jackie O., and a few others that rocked some odd looking specks. But I also recall those glasses known as Clark Kent’s that were issued to military inductees. I never wanted those (and didn’t need glasses at that point), but some people even make those look glamorous. It is the search for that perfect pair of glasses or other fashion accessory that makes life quite exciting at times for some folks. I’m just satisfied to know where my glasses are located without having to resort to one of those ropes that tethers them around my neck. Maybe I’m trying not to look like a librarian?Never mind my lack of fashion, but I just read a book that reminded me that kids can even look cool in glasses as long as they are not the ones who have to wear them.

Glamorous Glasses is an all-too-cute story that should resonate with girls and their moms. Imagine what can happen when you wear a pair of prescription glasses that are not yours, and the person that should be wearing them doesn’t wear any. The story gets better when a shopping trip to the city is the background for the fun that ensues. Yes, the story is both fun and funny; it can be enjoyed at any pace by almost anyone- including boys.

School librarians will want to be sure to pick up this title for a variety of reasons. Yes, chief among those is a reminder that it can be quite cool to wear glasses. Secondly, this title is ripe for reading aloud by a bespeckled teacher or librarian. The vivid colors reinforce the sense of fashion that can be found in everyday items and how we can achieve that elusive glamorous effect. Well, everybody except me.

The Doctor is In- Here Comes Dr. Hippo

London, Jonathan, and Gilles Eduar. Here Comes Doctor Hippo. Honesdale, Pa: Boyds Mills Press, 2012. Print.


I’m always amazed at animals that expertly mimic human behavior, and Dr. Hippo sure reminds me of countless boys and girls that have taken heartbeats, checked tonsils and conducted minor surgery all in the name of make-believe fun.


This fun–filled adventure is just the thing for parents to share with their emerging readers. Not only is the book predictable, but also it encourages vocalization and bonding.  This is sure to be a bedtime favorite for many sessions even if it inspires much play beforehand. The story is solid in all the ways that children’s books should be and Eduar’s art is the perfect match for this tale providing its own predictability and easily understood interpretations.


Parents and libraries collecting early childhood literature can feel confident adding this to their collection knowing that it will become a favorite of kids and adults reading together and building relationships.

If You Were a Chocolate Mustache: Poems

Lewis, J P, and Matthew Cordell. If You Were a Chocolate Mustache: Poems. Honesdale, Penn: Wordsong, 2012. Print.


Kid’s poems are always fun, but they have always been problematic for me.  Finding and sharing good poems is not too difficult when one has the time. On the other hand, finding poems that approach greatness are rare.  This work is a case of the latter. Poet (Lewis) and illustrator (Cordell) have unleashed over 100 poems and sketches designed to entertain and challenge kids.


The challenge in reading the poetry in this volume is that it presents younger readers with some difficult words scattered throughout. (Hmm, that sounds like text complexity referred to by the Common Core). The poetry is accessible because it is what I like to refer to as “everyday stuff.” Isn’t that what language is for, to describe everyday stuff in different ways depending on the message one wishes to convey?


This is a perfect book for the classroom library, if you buy more than one copy. Teachers and librarians serving second grade and beyond need to put this into their daily routine and use it as a read-aloud. The beauty of poetry, especially kid’s poetry that is illustrated is that it is playful and lends itself to performance. Indulge yourself and treat your kids to this scrumptious volume.

The Ice Man Cometh- A Cool Common Core Nonfiction Selection

Pringle, Laurence. Ice!: The Amazing History of the Ice Business. Honesdale, Pennsylvania: Calkins Creek, 2012. Print.


Sometimes you can judge a book by its cover and Pringle’s Ice is no exception. Ice is a well-organized and chronicled history of the ice business. Okay, it’s ice, how exciting can that be?  It’s more exciting than watching ice melt. Yes, it exciting and it is simply about the ice industry. But what makes ice interesting? Not having ice? Trying to keep it from melting? Harvesting? You name it, this book delivers in a big way.


Given the emphasis on the Common Core by so many education agencies this book should become an exemplar.  It’s not that ice is so important these days as described in the book ; it is what the book doesn’t suggest that makes it valuable. Early keepers of ice were plagued with finding the perfect insulating material to preserve their investment and reduce melting. Can you imagine a group of student conducting their own controlled experiments to determine the same with modern day materials that are often bound for the garbage? Many opportunities for further investigation are ripe for the harvest inside the pages even if the author does not identify them.  And that makes this book even better because the author sticks with the program and writes about ice.


The illustrative content is superb. The pictures chosen have significance and are not just something loosely associated with the history. Readers come away with a feeling of the struggle that influenced innovation and made everyday life much more comfortable and profitable.


Libraries and teachers of science and social studies should give this book high priority on their selection lists.  Others interested in Americana should also find a way to read it and enjoy the well-written text that is useful and attractive. If I owned a business with a waiting room this book would occupy a prominent place.


Look– Look Again!

O’Brien, John. Look– Look Again!: Cartoons. Honesdale, Pa: Boyds Mills Press, 2012. Print.


This book of cartoons is a frolic through the unexpected, yet familiar. While the book is targeted to an audience of young people one better…Look –Look Again! The dairy farmer, chef, woodsmen, knight, doorman and clown suggest familiar images from the annals of children’s literature.  And those vehicles provide a starting point for some twisted visual interpretations that may cause everything from subtle smirks to uproarious gut-busting belly laughs.


To be sure, the cartoons are exciting and provide a lot of room for thinking as readers, but the error is in the marketing- this book is not necessarily for eight-year-olds.  Yes, older, more mature readers with print experience may have a grand escape, but most may be tempted to discard it.  This is one of those books that need an introduction by a teacher, librarian, or a parent.  As a matter of fact, they might enjoy it much more than any child.


Teachers, librarians and parents will want to challenge themselves and their students with Obrien’s zany tales. They should make it available and make it a part of conversation, offering explanation where necessary. Challenge yourself and others to read, think and view outside the box.

Ostrich and Lark -a voice lesson

Nelson, Marilyn. Ostrich and Lark. Honesdale, Pa: Boyds Mills Press, 2012. Print.

This book is about more than a child’s picture book by a Newberry Honor Book author; it is about breaking down barriers. The Kuru Art Project of Botswana provided the vibrant pictures for the tale that describes their journey as much as it does the story accompanying the art. And make no mistake about it, the book is about the art and it is fabulous. It is vibrant and adds color to the text that is a little more complicated than the art. In fact, the text is often overwhelmed by the art- which is not such a bad thing.

Ostrich and Lark is about finding one’s voice and that is a message that applies not only to writers, but learners of all shapes and sizes. The choice of characters just adds to the African feel of this book and introduces all types of life from the animal world, most not in the average child’s vernacular.

Teachers contemplating a study of Africa or African influence will not want to neglect this beautiful book. The images invite replication and kids are the perfect ones to attempt it. Librarians will also want to consider adding it to collections that need some more representation from true African art. Another educational opportunity and conversation also exists in the role that this art plays in helping an indigenous people realize their value and commodity in a world economy. Schools engaged in a serious program of world cultures will also want to acquire this book .

Veteran’s Day with the The Poppy Lady

Walsh, Barbara E, and Layne Johnson. The Poppy Lady: Moina Belle Michael and Her Tribute to Veterans. Honesdale, Pennsylvania: Calkins Creek, 2012. Print.

The story of Moina Belle Michael is unfamiliar to many that have grown up in the past twenty or thirty years. To older Americans, her name may have slipped, but the memory of veterans with poppies is as familiar as an often-recited poem about Flanders Fields.  For me, those memories date back to my neighbor, Mr. Yeager and his ever-present cigar. He was a veteran of WWI and I remember seeing him outside Kresge’s Dime Store giving away poppies and encouraging everyone to remember the veterans. He was my poppy guy. Today, my father is in a veteran’s home, but is not engaged in making poppies, he writes feature stories for their in-house newsletter.

For those with no background knowledge, The Poppy Lady provides a perfect opportunity to gain both perspective and appreciation. The story crafted by Walsh is filled with inspiration to future generations with her oft cited “But she wanted to do more.” The oils by Layne Johnson provide a powerful backdrop for war and its aftermath. Together, the words and pictures tell of a time, place, and way of life that are all to unfamiliar to Americans, even when war is ongoing. The story provides opportunity to reflect: upon one’s past, future, and all the space in between where we too can do more.

Schools and public libraries will want to add The Poppy Lady to their collections. It is more than a child’s picture book with a civics lesson. Perhaps an ideal way to do more is to make a gift of this book to a veteran’s organization or home. Creative classroom teachers will see plenty of opportunities to continue the traditions and spread the word of The Poppy Lady.

Molly, by Golly!

Ochiltree, Dianne, and Kathleen H. Kemly. Molly, by Golly!: The Legend of Molly Williams, America’s First Female Firefighter. Honesdale, Pa: Calkins Creek, 2012. Print.


Dianne Ochiltree and Kathleen Kimly have provided an accessible, albeit fictionalized account of America’s first female firefighter, an African-American named Molly Williams. The story, crafted from legend and a few available facts portrays Molly Williams as a servant-cook who took up the firefighter’s role in a time of need.

The story heralds Molly’s actions as heroic, but it is her motivation that provides the real life lesson for young readers. Molly was faced with a circumstance where the opportunity to do good took precedence over any other role that was assigned or expected of her. Encouraging young readers and future firefighters to do the same in the name of unselfish public service is at the heart of the lessons to be learned from Molly, by Golly!

Additional information and background is included on the historic development of firefighting at the end of the book along with a section of frequently asked questions.  Young readers will be comfortable with the illustrative content, but others may find the plump Molly a tired stereotype of African-American women. Despite that objection, the watercolors provide the appropriate images for a folktale for young children.

Teachers and librarians will want to include Molly in classroom activities of all sorts. Besides the obvious connections to firefighting and public service, the content does provide elementary-aged students a glimpse into a neglected area of early American city life. Add this piece of Americana to the collection with confidence that it will circulate and spark conversation about life past and present.