Review: Picture Yourself Writing Poetry

Pic­ture Your­self Writ­ing Poet­ry: Using Pho­tos to Inspire Writing
by Lau­ra Pur­die Salas
Cap­stone Press, August 2011
32 pages
Ages: 8 and up
This title is one of the Pic­ture Your­self Writ­ing ____: Using Pho­tos to Inspire Writ­ing series, and it’s quite effective—it inspired me to write! Not only does it demon­strate how one can use images to get ideas for poems, it also con­tains many spe­cif­ic, easy-to-under­stand writ­ing tips. Salas cov­ers such impor­tant top­ics as incor­po­rat­ing sen­so­ry detail, choos­ing con­crete nouns and strong verbs, char­ac­ter­i­za­tion and point of view, and struc­ture, all paired with won­der­ful examples. 
The books opens up with the line, “The best poems are mag­i­cal, minia­ture worlds.” It then shows read­ers how to cre­ate those worlds them­selves while invit­ing them to enter sev­er­al cre­at­ed by Salas.
I think this would be a great book to incor­po­rate into any poet­ry cur­ricu­lum. I would also hearti­ly rec­om­mend it to stu­dents who enjoy writ­ing… as well as to those who tend to strug­gle with it.

(Dis­claimers: I received this copy for review for free from the pub­lish­er as part of the Cybils judg­ing process. This review is my opin­ion only and does­n’t nec­es­sar­i­ly reflect the judg­ing com­mit­tee’s selections.)

Humor in nonfiction books for kids

Some peo­ple think non­fic­tion is dry and bor­ing. How can facts be fun, right? WRONG! Humor in non­fic­tion not only gets and keeps read­ers engaged, it can also help them retain the infor­ma­tion longer. My fel­low writ­ers of non­fic­tion for kids (on the NFforKids Yahoo group and on Twit­ter) and I have put togeth­er a list of our favorite FUNNY non­fic­tion titles for kids. Here’s what we came up with, in no par­tic­u­lar order:

This is just a sam­pling of our favorites. Do you have any to add? Please let us know in the comments!
I found it inter­est­ing that often the humor is pri­mar­i­ly in the illus­tra­tions, with the text play­ing it fair­ly straight. In fact, in many cas­es it’s only the jux­ta­po­si­tion of the two that tick­les your fun­ny bone. In oth­ers, the humor is mild (a smile rather than a bel­ly laugh) or is just hint­ed at rather than being an explic­it joke. Some­times, the top­ic itself is pret­ty fun­ny, but the text is fair­ly seri­ous. Giv­en how much kids love to read humor, I won­der if that’s all just coin­ci­dence, or if humor just isn’t as tol­er­at­ed in non­fic­tion texts, or maybe non­fic­tion writ­ers just don’t have a sense of humor (I’m sure not buy­ing that last one!). Thoughts? 

Nonfiction Monday book review: Spiky, Slimy, Smooth

I must admit, when my own daugh­ter entered kinder­garten and start­ed the unit on tex­ture, I was sur­prised. Yes, tex­tures are all around us, but what’s to study? These kids are already experts. After all, they’ve been feel­ing tex­tures since before they were born (often with their mouths)!
I soon real­ized that’s exact­ly the point, though. They are all around us, but do we have the words to describe them? Have we real­ly ever thought about how things feel, or why? This isn’t impor­tant only for its sci­en­tif­ic impli­ca­tions, it’s also crit­i­cal for good writ­ing! I enjoyed see­ing my chil­dren go through this top­ic and gain a new appre­ci­a­tion for the things around them. And I espe­cial­ly loved try­ing to help them come up with exact­ly the right words to describe a com­mon, or not so com­mon, texture.

In SPIKY, SLIMY, SMOOTH (Lerner/April 1, 2011/32 pages/ages 4–8), Jane Brock­et com­bines beau­ti­ful, bold pho­tos of every­day objects with deli­cious­ly descrip­tive language.
While the read­ing lev­el seems a bit too advanced for most kids who will like­ly be study­ing tex­tures as part of their sci­ence cur­ricu­lum, it will make a great read-aloud for their teach­ers look­ing for an engag­ing way to present the top­ic. Brock­et’s text includes many inter­ac­tive ele­ments, and her kid-friend­ly pho­tos will have young learn­ers wig­gling their toes, delv­ing into their mem­o­ry banks, and stretch­ing their imag­i­na­tions to expe­ri­ence the tex­tures themselves.
Hap­py Non­fic­tion Mon­day! You can see the rest of the roundup over at Ras­co from RIF here.

Review: Tom Thumb


I just fin­ished an advance read­ing copy of TOM THUMB: THE REMARKABLE TRUE STORY OF A MAN IN MINIATURE by George Sul­li­van (Clar­i­on; Feb­ru­ary, 2011; 208 pages; grades 5–9).

Writ­ing non-fic­tion is like putting togeth­er the pieces of a puz­zle, says author George Sul­li­van… “I like non­fic­tion because I’m a very curi­ous per­son, and the research that I do I find intro­duces me to new worlds,” he said. “I’m always inter­est­ed in find­ing out what peo­ple were real­ly like—how they live, what the fam­i­ly life was like, what moti­vat­ed them.” (full arti­cle here)

I think he suc­ceeds in con­vey­ing that sense of curios­i­ty and won­der to his read­ers, and TOM THUMB should be of great inter­est to mid­dle-graders for both plea­sure read­ing and research­ing reports.
In TOM THUMB, Sul­li­van pieces togeth­er the puz­zle behind the real-life sto­ry of Charles Sher­wood Strat­ton (a dwarf who would lat­er become famous­ly known as Tom Thumb), as well as those of P.T. Bar­num and Tom Thumb’s wife, Lavinia.
Writ­ten as a nar­ra­tive, the text chrono­log­i­cal­ly fol­lows Tom Thumb’s life and beyond, weav­ing an inter­est­ing biog­ra­phy and tale of his­to­ry and show­man­ship. Sul­li­van treats his sub­ject with care­ful dig­ni­ty and respect.
In addi­tion to the sto­ry itself, librar­i­ans, teach­ers, and researchers will appre­ci­ate the atten­tion to back­mat­ter, includ­ing acknowl­edge­ments, about the sources, end notes, bib­li­og­ra­phy, books and arti­cles list, and an index.
In my mind, the book also rais­es some inter­est­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties for dis­cus­sions in class­rooms and chil­dren’s book clubs:

  1. The book makes it clear that Tom Thumb appar­ent­ly enjoyed play­ing his roles and liv­ing life as a per­former in the pub­lic eye, but oth­ers, most notably Bar­num and Tom Thumb’s own par­ents, also prof­it­ed from his on-stage antics. At what point does it con­sti­tute exploita­tion to treat peo­ple this way? What fac­tors might have made it accept­able his­tor­i­cal­ly? How is it dif­fer­ent today? What types of exploita­tion, if any, still exist today? Should they be banned?
  2. The book reveals Barnum’s skills in self-pro­mo­tion, mar­ket­ing, and know­ing what audi­ences want­ed and were will­ing to pay for. It also reveals sev­er­al knows cas­es of “hum­bug­gery,” or instances where he know­ing­ly deceived audi­ences to draw big­ger crowds and more prof­it. Is this behav­ior accept­able for a “show­man?” What might “hum­bug­gery” look like today, and how do we try to pro­tect con­sumers from it? Are we suc­cess­ful? How can we be on the look­out for “hum­bug­gery” in today’s media?

Sul­li­van has writ­ten more than 100 books for chil­dren, and he’s still writ­ing in his 80s. He shared some of his tips here, includ­ing:

“I write very ear­ly in the morn­ing, when my mind is fresh and when I know I’m not going to be inter­rupt­ed by the tele­phone or vis­i­tors or what­ev­er might occur dur­ing the day,” he said. “I do a great deal of work in the ear­ly morn­ing hours.”


“You take the project and you break it into pieces,” he said. “You have an out­line that breaks it down into dif­fer­ent cat­e­gories. Then you research each of these pieces, instead of try­ing to do every­thing all at once.”

Good advice. And Sul­li­van has cer­tain­ly built a book, and a career, worth emulating.