Sunday, February 19, 2012

Read To Me Challenge- Bear Snores On by Karma Wilson

Bear Snores On
By Karma Wilson
Illustrated by Jane Chapman
Awards: This wonderful picture book has won 19 awards. ( If I posted them all, you wouldn't have time to read my book review. So please visit these links Bear Snores On and teacher resources.

Synopsis: Review
On a cold windy night, an itty-bitty mouse "pitter-pat, tip-toe, creep-crawls" into a sleeping bear's cozy lair, looking for relief from the bitter winter weather. Soon he is joined by a veritable menagerie of woodland animals, and the party begins. Popping corn, brewing tea, tweeting, and chatting, the critters enjoy themselves thoroughly while the bear slumbers through it all. Until, that is, an errant pepper flake from the simmering stew wakes him up with a giant sneeze. As the bear goes from ferocious snarls and rumbles to pitiful whimpers, his uninvited guests realize what the problem is.
You've snuck in my lair
and you've all had fun!
But me? I was sleeping
I have had none!
Not to worry. Mouse knows just what to do.

Why I like this book:
Let me just say Karma is amazing at telling a story in rhyme. This book was so much fun to read. I can't say that it is my favorite, because my 2nd graders and I love them all! As a teacher it sparked great vocabulary lessons and was a great piece to to use in my writer's workshop to focus on the craft of vivid verbs. 

Critique for Room 502:
My students loved, loved this book. I think some of my enthusiasm wore off on them. If you were to pole my class, and ask the question, who is one of your favorite bear authors, hands down the winner would be Karma Wilson. We are doing a unit on Alaska and studying the bears that live there. The kids connected instantly to the book. Besides bear, their favorite little character was mouse. When we reached the ending, they responded "Karma tricked us".They love it when books end in a surprise way. And Yes they know her by name- I have to take credit for that one-  They loved the part when bears thinks they are having a party without him. 
I have one little boy who burst into his infectious laugh...which started others to laugh. Yes , I did too! We were having great time on the carpet. They love to read rhyme. 
We have a tradition in my classroom when one of the students is absent we sing a wish you well song, sending them love and hope that they will return soon. My little giggler, said "Bear's friends need to sing him, the Wish you well song."so he can feel better. Out of all the books I have in my classroom library, Karma's bear books are the most worn because they love to sit and read them over and over again. For a teacher, this is a beautiful sight. The critics from room 502 give Bear Snores On two thumbs up and a giggle.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Welcome guest author Ruth VanderZee

Ruth portraitPlease help me welcome my guest author, Ruth VanderZee. Ruth has found her passion writing historical fiction.  She has four published picture books which have won numerous awards in the United States, Japan and Great Britain. Please visit  Ruth VanderZee's website to learn more about these touching stories that will pull on your heart strings. 

"Children are amazing. When hand a fractured world created by some adults who make selfish, bad or even evil decisions, many children respond with courage, wisdom and,hope. I've meet some of these children and they are my inspiration."
Ruth VanderZee

I am so excited that you stopped by and shared your writing journey with us and answered a few of our questions.
Look for Ruth's latest book. Woman Meets Jesus: How Jesus Encourages, Empowers, and Equips Women on Their Personal Journey of Faith. 

1. How did you get started writing nonfiction picture books?

(My books might be more accurately considered historical fiction.  I'll talk about that in later answers.)

First of all, let me say that I'm a late bloomer.  I didn't get my bachelor's degree until I was 40 and began writing when I was 50.  So, as I was teaching my Middle School students, I learned what communicated to them when I taught - and it wasn't all my pearls of wisdom!!!  My students responded best when they heard stories.  When they were able to connect stuff they thought was old and unimportant to their own lives.  Stories have the power to do that.  So, when I began writing, I had a Middle School kid sitting on my shoulder asking me to connect historical events to their own lives.  And kids do want to connect.
So with that as a bit of history, I went to Israel with my husband who was studying there in 1955.  On our way home, we traveled through Germany and Austria.  It was then two significant things happened - way out of my control.  First of all we went through the concentration camp in Mathausen, Austria.  That was a chillingly quiet, impacting experience - on many levels.  Later, when we were in Rothenburg, Germany, I "just happened" to sit next to the woman I call Erika in ERIKA'S STORY.  I had a five minute conversation with her.
When I got home and went to my SCBWI critique group, I began to see that this is a story I needed to tell.  And I wanted to tell it in a picture book format even though it didn't seem to be picture book material.
But because that Middle School kid wanted to know more about World War II than what he/she read in history books, I knew they would connect to Erika's Story because it helped them feel something. 

2. There are so many historical/nonfiction books out there, how did you choose the topics to write about?
Each of my stories came to me through the voice of the people who lived them, except for MISSISSIPPI MORNING.  That's why I love to speak to kids about my books because even though I had to fictionalize the stories in order to make them work as stories, they are all based on the real-life experiences of real people.  That speaks volumes to a child.

I met the protagonist of ERIKA'S STORY  sitting on a curb in Rothenburg, Germany.

The story of MISSISSIPPI MORNING came to me through a  homeless black man who visited a friend of mine at his offices in Chicago, Illinois.  I had to change that story to being one of  a young white boy for it to be authentically a story I could write which would connect to my story.

I co-authored ELI REMEMBERS with a friend of mine.  This is the story of Marian Sneider's grandson and the impact it had on her family.

ALWAYS WITH YOU is the story of a woman who I met when I lived in Chicago.  She told me her compelling story as we sat in her living room.

They all were stories which dealt not only with critical social issues but also are stories of courage and hope.

3.What are the current trends/ needs in today's market for nonfiction? Is there a suggested word count?
For non-fiction writing, I would recommend you speak with my friend Elaine Landau who is a prolific nonfiction writer.  Every company who publishes nonfiction has specific requirements, word count, and subject matter they are interested in.
My stories are based on true stories which fall into specific historical settings.  In order to write them as story, however, I have to find the story within the story.  In doing that, and because, in some cases I had to supplement the stories with cultural and historical facts which may or may not have been part of the main character's experience, they are not non-fiction and fall more accurately fall into historical fiction.
4.What advice can you give to writers just starting that will help them in the nonfiction writing process?
Whether your write nonfiction or historical fiction, you have to get the story right.  I, as do nonfiction writers, do a lot of research.  For example, in ERIKA'S STORY I researched train lines through Europe, read extensively on concentration camps and ghettos.  Even if the information is not in the story, it informs the story you are writing. 

For MISSISSIPPI MORNING I traveled to Mississippi, interviewed anyone who would stand still long enough to listen to my questions, met people who informed me of so many idiosyncrasies of the area of which I was writing which I would not have known if I hadn't been there, read books about the area, about the history, about the issues which were going on in the 1930's.

For ALWAYS WITH YOU I even had a journal kept by the leaders of the orphanage in which they recorded what Kim called out in her sleep.  I had footage of the orphanage taken by film makers.  And, of course, I had Kim's own voice who informed much of the story.
I  could not have written ELI REMEMBERS without the intimate family details and cultural sensitivities of his grandmother.

5..How do you know when to give credit for factual information in a story?

In nonfiction, the publisher will require documentation.  No one wants to publish a story historical fiction or nonfiction in which there are cultural or historical inaccuracies.

6.When writing a fictional story about a real people or event do you call it nonfiction in a cover letter?

I guess that would depend on how you are writing the manuscript. For instance, the real people I wrote about are not well known historical figures.  They had real life stories, but I  could not tell their stories in the book exactly as they happened because that does not make for good story telling.  In order to tell the story, I had to fill in details, find information that was not part of the original story, etc. all within the accuracy factor of the time and place. I would call that fiction.

If you are writing about a certain time in Abraham Lincoln's life and have researched thoroughly and are presenting the information as fact, it would be nonfiction.


Saturday, February 4, 2012

Read to me challenge: Henry's Freedom Box

Henry's Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad

by Ellen Levine
illustrations by Kadir Nelson
ISBN: 9780439777339

 Honors: 2008 IRA Teachers' Choices selection.  
               2008 Caldecott Honor Book.
               2010 ALA Notable Children's Book.

After Henry Brown's wife and children are sold at the slave market, Henry knows he'll never see them again. The only thing left to live for is freedom. With help from a white man named Dr. Smith, Henry mails himself from Richmond, Virginia, to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, inside a wooden box. "Dr. Smith begged the clerks to be careful. But they didn't listen. They threw the box into the baggage car. Hours passed. Henry was lifted up and thrown again. Upside down!" 

 Check on this awesome book trailer by clicking on this link

Critique from Room 502:

The month of February is Black History Month at my school. When teaching writing to my 2nd grader I use the writer's workshop model.

All that means is I begin every lesson reading a part of a story, that model the writing craft I want my students to use that day.  I was reading from the book Escape. In mentions the underground railroad. 

To my surprise not one of my 2nd graders knew what it was.(For the record 12 of my 15 students are Afrian American) So I chose Henry's Freedom Box for my next "Read to me challenge picture book."  
I chose this book because of its inspirational message of courage and determination. Just let me say, you could have heard a pin drop!  The thought of Henry loosing his family and putting himself in a box 
to mailed to freedom was just  too much for them. They had so many questions! They wondered why would someone do such a crazy thing. This was the beginning of many books about the Underground Railroad, that I will read to my class. One little boy, ask me, Mrs.Velasquez were your family slaves? At first I thought that was a silly question, but then I realized litte Mottama was from Hatti and knew nothing of slavery in America. I told him no and he reached over hugged me and said, “I’m glad.” Reading historical fiction is so important!! The critics from room 502 gave it a thumbs up. I personally give it 2 thumbs up! I love historical fiction :)

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Read to Me Challenge: Quiet Bunny

Book: Quiet Bunny
Written and Illustrated by: Lisa McCue
Theme: Be Yourself
Written for 4-8  year olds

Synopsis: Quiet Bunny, beautifully depicts sounds of animals in the forest and yes, it includes a particularly wise owl. Quiet Bunny is just that- a quiet bunny. He desperately wants to find his own voice so that he can join the other animals in singing the night song. He tries imitating his forest friends, but fails. Finally, after following some wise advice from an owl, he discovers his very own bunny sound.

I've been watching you, Quiet Bunny," said the owl. "It doesn't matter how hard you rub your feet together, or flap your ears, or puff up your cheeks, you will never make the sound of a cricket, or a bat, or a frog. You are a Quiet Bunny. Be whoooooo you are, and you will find your own bunny sound." - 

Critique from Room 502
Children love making noises. And that is exactly what my class did through the entire reading of this book. HOW RUDE, you say. It's not rude if the pages you are reading are filled with fun words Cheet, like the cricket, ssssssssss like the hissing snake, or o-uuuu like the howling wolves ! Lisa McCue 's illustrations are fabulous. I wanted to jump in the book and roll in the grass with Quiet Bunny. My students did something at the end they have never done before. They clapped. You may think that kids clap all the time. Well let me just tell you my students are very special. For the most part at least one parent is in Jail and they live in a very violent neighborhood. This story made them feel good about themselves. I ask them why they clapped. Right from the mouths of babes," Quiet Bunny never gave up and that is what you always tell us, Never stop trying." I never expected to hear that! Needless to say, the 2nd grade critics from room 502 gave this book TEN STARS and a CLAP!

I also used this book during writing to teach the craft of onomatopias. And yes, all this week I have read ch-cheet at least 2o times in their writing. haha. You've got to love them.

Happy Reading Writing:)