Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The UPS Man Thinks I'm Famous

I got my new business cards last week. I'm officially a "curriculum resource specialist." I suppose it's just a fancy label for bookseller, but it's also a pretty good description of what I do.

Let's say you are a fourth grade teacher in Georgia, where a strongly standards-driven educational system dictates what teachers teach. At some point during the year, you'll be teaching the Inuit, the Kwakiutl, the Nez Perce, the Hopi, the Pawnee, and the Seminole. Then you'll move on to the exploration and settlement of the American colonies, the Revolutionary war, and so forth, until you're just short of the Civil War. If you teach science, you'll be working on stars, the water cycle, weather, light and sound, and ecosystems, among other things. You'll want books on these subjects in your school library. Library bound books at an appropriate reading level. I can help with that.

Lots of schools these days want classroom libraries. Paperback books in the back of the classroom for their students to read during the day. A good percentage of these books should be nonfiction on the topics they study.

A fourth grade teacher needs books in his/her classroom on the appropriate subject, but they also need that subject matter to be written at the level the students are reading. That can vary for a fourth grade classroom. Some students may be reading at or above fourth grade level, but a lot of them won't be. Not only do teachers need books on those specific Native American tribes at a fourth to fifth grade reading level, but also at a second to third grade reading level for their struggling students.

I search for the right books at the right level from my Delaney database of over 75 publishers. That's the part of this job that I love. Matching the books to the needs of the classroom teacher.

One of the perks of being a curriculum resource specialist is that I get lots of samples. Publishers come out with new lists of books twice a year, spring and fall. So I usually get three shipments of books and catalogs somewhere between January and March and again between August and October. Occasionally I order my own samples if I have a customer who would like to see a product. And then there are the specialty products that come at random times of the year. Like the Dr. Jean Literacy kits for Pre-K. Or the Big Books by George that come in some really fabulous canvas bags packaged according to comprehension strategies. A great product for my county that's moving in this direction with every subject.

So let's just say the UPS man knows my address really well.

On Saturday, my husband walked into the salon where he gets his haircut. He's a regular and is pretty well known among the hairdressers. This week there was another man sitting in one of the chairs.

"So how are things going at 4... B.... Drive?" the strange man asked.

"Pretty good, I guess," my husband managed to say.

The hairdresser laughed. "He loves doing that to people. He's the UPS man."

In the ensuing conversation, the UPS man asked, "So what's in all those boxes your wife gets?"

"Books," my husband explained. "She's a writer."

"Well that explains why they're so heavy."

Fast forward....

"So did you tell him they weren't my books?" I asked.

"No, he thinks you're famous!"

Oh good grief.

My husband is extremely supportive of my writing. He thinks everything I write is wonderful, which makes him a sweetheart, but not a very good critiquer.

But here's the heart of the matter. How did the UPS man identify him as the resident of 4... B...... Drive?

You see, it's not me that's famous at all. It's the man and his truck!

Monday, March 22, 2010

A Thunderous Weekend

The annual Thunder in the Valley air show was this weekend. My backyard is in the turnaround flight path for getting back to the airport. So even though we didn't go see the show, we could follow the trail of dust as the the bi-plane looped across the brilliant blue sky and search for jets that outran their own thunder.

In the meantime, there was a wedding going on in my backyard. Not a large one, but a bride in her gown and a groom in his tux saying their vows on the rocks in my creek while the aircraft circled overhead.

What a day!

I recently listened to Half Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls. It's billed as a true-life novel, an interesting twist to the recent memoirs and autobiographies that have been pulled off shelves for their invented facts. Half Broke Horses is based on the life of Walls' grandmother, a thoroughly likable, fearless heroine who rode through the 20th century like a half broke horse herself. A good read with a solid sense of place and an entertaining voice.

On the audio version, the author reads the book herself. In my opinion this is seldom a good choice. A professional reader would have done a much better job. If I ever have a novel published and they ask me to read it on tape, remind me to decline.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Always Time for a Poem

But not much more. So here's to Poetry Friday.

One Heart
by Li-Young Lee

Look at the birds. Even flying
is born

out of nothing. The first sky
is inside you, open

at either end of day.
The work of wings

was always freedom, fastening
one heart to every falling thing.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Back to Daffodils

This weekend I finished another one of the scripts for the reader's theater book I'm working on, so I gave myself permission to do some fun things as a reward.

I finished Irene Latham's fabulous first novel, Leaving Gee's Bend. If you haven't read it yet, go straight to the store and buy a copy. Irene stopped by my blog a few weeks back to talk about the book. You can read the interview here.

After that, I worked in the yard for a few hours. Moved a couple of rose bushes. Yes, I know. I should have done that in January, but I couldn't brave the cold and my shoulder was hurting too much back then. I moved a hydrangea and planted a new variety that my nephew brought a few weeks back. And I planted a couple of basil plants in the same spot the tomato plants refused to grow last year. It looks like good dirt. And I added a little fertilizer, so maybe they will flourish.

Then I wandered around my yard and enjoyed the daffodils. Who knew there could be so many different kinds!

The single spindly ones, the orange-centered ones, the double ones, and the whites.

And there are the lilies-of-the-valley blooming alongside.

It was a good weekend. Now it's time to get back to work. Seven more scripts to finish and a deadline to meet.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Poetry Friday: A Good Cry

Everyone needs one once in a while.

by Galway Kinnell

Crying only a little bit
is no use. You must cry
until your pillow is soaked!
Then you can get up and laugh.
Then you can jump in the shower
and splash-splash-splash!
Then you can throw open your window
and, "Ha ha! Ha ha!"
And if people say, "Hey,
what's going on up there?"
"Ha ha!" sing back, "Happiness
was hiding in the last tear!
I wept it! Ha ha!"

Friday, March 5, 2010

An Interview with Sarah Campbell on Poetry Friday!

It's Poetry Friday, but it's also my turn to interview Sarah Campbell on her blog tour. Sarah's new book, Growing Pattern: Fibonacci Numbers in Nature, is a beautiful exploration of the connection between math and nature.

But first...

Before I post the interview, I want to share a poem I stumbled upon this week in my library wanderings. It is poetry Friday, after all. This poem is from another children's writer who loved nature and numbers and patterns, Barbara Juster Esbensen. Here, from her collection Echoes for the Eye, is a poem about...You guessed it. Fibonacci Numbers!

from "Spirals"

In summer gardens
yellow faces
to the sky
their stiff-crowned seeds
in flying spirals
clockwise and counter-
clockwise Count
the whirling 55 the
dizzy spinning 89 --
the rows and
rows of old Italian

And now, here's Sarah.

I'm sure every blogger has asked, but would you explain Fibonacci numbers to our readers?

Actually, you are the first to ask. Fibonacci Numbers are the series of numbers created when you start with 1 and 1 and then, in order to get the next number, you add the two previous numbers. So, 1 plus 1 equals 2. 1 plus 2 equals 3. 2 plus 3 equals 5. Do you get the idea? These numbers, then, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, … are called Fibonacci Numbers.

When and how did you learn about the concept?

I remember reading about and hearing about the concept about six years ago in a novel and on a documentary television program. (You can read a more detailed description of this on Elizabeth Dulemba's blog)

It's easy to see how this book could be used by many grade levels and across the curriculum. How would you suggest teachers use it in kindergarten to second grade classes? How about third to fifth grade? And middle school, too?

I'm glad you asked about this. I hope teachers of students at all levels will do hands-on activities with their students – both outside observing nature and inside with natural objects.


I have created two very simple printable sheets for teachers. One re-creates what I call the Fibonacci grid, which features prominently in the book's design, with empty boxes. I suggest teachers ask their students to fill in the squares with the appropriate numbers from the Fibonacci sequence and/or draw a picture of a flower with the requisite number of petals.

The second printable sheet is essentially a black-and-white reproduction of one of the book's pages. It shows the Fibonacci grid filled in with our photographs of flowers. The teacher would cut the grid apart and let students put it back together like a puzzle.


I am working on a photography lesson for this group. Each student would take a digital image of something outside. The student would then write a Fib poem (a six line, 20 syllable poem with a syllable count by line of 1/1/2/3/5/8: credit to Gregory Pincus) to accompany their photograph.
My friend Julie and I have designed a special accordion book for each student to make to display the photo and poem.

Middle School

I suggest teachers ask their middle school students to write a picture book to explain a math concept.

Have you worked on a teacher's guide?

I am indeed working on a teacher's guide. It will be ready very soon on my website.

Do you know what the AR level or Guided Reading Level is for the book?

I do not know. For my first book, Wolfsnail: A Backyard Predator, the AR level is 4.4 and it is worth .5 points. It has appeared on summer reading lists for kindergarten through fourth grade. This shows an interesting paradox with my books. They include challenging words (which kicks up the reading level), but the challenging words are well supported in the text with images and context clues so teachers and librarians tell me they have many students in earlier grades who read the book with interest.

Can you give us examples of what you might include in a school visit focused on Growing Patterns?

I will read the book, share a multi-media presentation that includes a behind-the-scenes look at getting the photographs, and entertain questions from the students. If we have time and I am working with a small group, I like to get the students looking at some of the objects from the book (pine cones, nautilus shell) through tiny jewelers loupes and writing down their observations.

Many thanks to Sarah for taking the time to visit and answer my questions.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Springmingle and Jane Yolen

I attended the Springmingle writer's conference this weekend in Atlanta, sponsored by the Southern Breeze region of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. Jane Yolen was the keynote speaker. I am in awe of Jane's beautiful way with words. She has published 300 books in the field, including the Caldecott Medal winner, Owl Moon. It was a treat to sit and listen.

Jane has several new books available. I am the proud owner of an autographed copy of All Star! Honus Wagner and the Most Famous Baseball Card Ever. I bought it for my husband, but the inscription is for me.

Another of Jane's lovely picture books just out is My Father Knows the Names of Things. Delightful!

So check these new books out. Your students will definitely enjoy them.