Sunday, April 24, 2016

Interview with author Brian P. Cleary

The name is Cleary, Brian P. Cleary. No - he's not a secret agent, but he does have super powers that he uses for good. He is a prolific author and a favorite of children and teachers because of books like A Lime, A Mime, A Pool of Slime: More About Nouns and Hairy, Scary, Ordinary: What Is an Adjective? His Words Are CATegorical series is a staple in many English Language Arts classes across the country, as well as gracing the library shelves. He has a unique talent for presenting concepts in an interesting and rhyming way that makes learning easy to do. 

One of his latest projects is the Poetry Adventures series, with each book featuring a particular poetic form. I've had the pleasure of reading the galleys for several of the titles and they are just as amusing and captivating as his other books. (Ode to a Commode: Concrete Poems is sure to capture the attention of reluctant poetry students.) After reading I Saw an Invisible Lion Today: Quatrains, I asked if it would be possible to interview Brian for our library blog and he was gracious enough to agree. Here are his responses to the questions I sent, as well as some photos and links to additional information. Enjoy!

1. Do authors write all day, or do you do other things, too? What does a typical day include?
Authors are so different from one to the next, so I can only speak for myself. Any day that i am not visiting a school, I am writing lyrics for songs like this for

2. Why did you decide to write about nouns and verbs and other language arts things in such a fun way?
I wanted to create a little cheat-sheet kind of rhyme to help people remember the function of these parts of speech, and hopefully make it fun.

3. Where do you get topics/ideas for the poems you are writing in the Poetry Adventures books?
I just notice a lot of things and i write notes to capture them. Whether it's about students or messy rooms, or the gross microwave in the cafeteria, I write down the spark of the idea, and then try to develop it.

4. Did you like school when you were a kid? Were you good at writing then?
 I liked my teachers, but I would rather have been doing something else.  I showed some promise at writing from a pretty early age (maybe 9 or so?).

5. Who were your favorite authors when you were a youngster? Who are your favorites now?  
Dr. Seuss, e. e. cummings, Ogden Nash, Beverly Cleary. I like mostly novelists now that I am older.

6. How long does it usually take you to finish writing a book?
A short book like the ones that explain a single concept (like nouns) might take me 2 hours a day for 10 days, whereas, Rainbow Soup;Adventures in Poetry is 96 pages long and that took a whole summer.

7. Do you get asked at every place you visit if you are related to Beverly Cleary? (It must get tiresome.)
I get asked that all the time. She just turned 100 recently, and i am not (despite my pleas to her attorneys) related to her.

8. What do you have planned for your next project?
I am finishing up a book on Personification.

9. It's almost summer. What is your favorite vacation?
I loved Paris, Vienna and Wiesbaden, Germany.

10. Is there anything else that we didn't ask, but you think we would enjoy finding out about you?
Here's something: I keep in touch with many of my elementary school teachers! I dedicated a book to each of my grade school teachers in the 3 states I went to school in, and mailed them a copy.  Several of them swap Christmas cards with me, and I spoke on the phone with my 2nd grade teacher last year, and the year before I went the 90th birthday party of my 6th and 8th grade teacher (I had the same for both).

Mrs. Tama and Brian at her 90th birthday party

For even more information, check out this Q&A that Brian shared with us:

Brian - thanks again for answering our questions, and for all the awesome books you have written. (And if you ever get the word from your attorneys that you are now related to Beverly Cleary, tell me how you did it. I will use your methods to become related to Kevin Costner and have him endow our school library!)

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Spring Reading 2016 I Saw an Invisible Lion Today

Does Brian Cleary ever sleep? I only ask because it seems like he has a new book coming out every time I turn around. This time he has put together an entire collection of quatrains as part of his Poetry Adventures series. He begins by explaining what a quatrain is and some of the rhyme schemes that are used in writing them. Then he proceeds to write poems about everything from invisible animals and mustaches to grandmothers and opposite day. The rhyme scheme of each poem is identified beneath the title, which makes it easy for readers to see how the different patterns work. English and language arts teachers will be pleased by the poems about adjectives and the thesaurus; both of them could introduce a lesson on those topics, besides being a part of a poetry unit. Students will enjoy the humor of the poems and their illustrations. The father's mustache stretching over onto the uncle's face will have everyone grinning, if not outright giggling. And the subject matter in "Sleepover Party", "It Could Be Worse", and "Think Again" will even appeal to boys who think that poetry is sissy stuff.

Funny, clever, short and sweet, this is a collection that every classroom and school library could use.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Spring Reading 2016 Max at Night

In the proud tradition of Bear and his friend Moon from the books by Frank Asch, or Owl and his friend Moon from Arnold Lobel's Owl at Home, Max also talks to Moon. Our lovable little friend Max (you saw him in Max the Brave), is trying to get ready for bed. He goes through all his nightly routine and then can't find his friend Moon to say, "good night." So Max looks for Moon. He goes outside, tiptoes over a sleeping dog, climbing higher and higher until he finally reaches the top of the highest hill. When he still can't see Moon, "Max has had enough." Oh, the illustration for that simple phrase! Max has his eyes squeezed tight. He shakes his fists in the air. His tail is as jagged as a lightning bolt. And he shouts, "Mooooooooon! Where are yoooouu?" What a determined little guy Max is. His persistence pays off as he finally sees Moon come out from behind the clouds. Moon thanks him for coming and Max heads home. As Max finally makes it to bed, Moon whispers "Sleep tight," but Max is already snoring.

Fans of Max from his previous adventure will be ecstatic to have him return in a new story. He is drawn in a deceptively simple way, but he conveys so much emotion from his big eyes and his body language. The little happy dance he does when Moon finally appears is as full of joyful energy as his previous pose was overflowing with frustration. Young readers will be asking for this again and again - and not just at bedtime. The nighttime routine that Max goes through will soon be memorized, including the part where he scrubs behind his ears (another great visual). Readers of all ages will laugh at Max's antics, sympathize with his frustration, and sigh in satisfaction at the successful end of his quest. Highly recommended.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Visit the Max website for downloadable activity kits for both of the Max books, a Common Core-aligned educator guide for Max the Brave, and information about the author.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Spring Reading 2016 If You Were Me and Lived in Elizabethan England


Carole just keeps expanding on her ideas for her "If You Were Me"series - both in modern countries around the world, and now also in historical periods. Young readers will enjoy hearing tidbits like the explanation for the phrase, "raining cats and dogs," or learning that boys dressed in skirts like their sisters until they were old enough to get breeches. Other things like the difference in the diets of peasants and nobles will be a surprise that will probably elicit comments about unfairness (although they probably wouldn't want to eat blackbirds or pigeons). The idea that chocolate was only used as as a medicine and wasn't sweet could take a little explanation, since most children think all chocolate tastes like milk chocolate candy. And I can just imagine their faces when they learn that female roles in plays were done by male actors and women weren't allowed to perform on the stage.

While the text shares information about aspects of life during the time of Queen Elizabeth, the illustrations show the clothing, the cobblestones, and other visual details of the period. Children will probably remark that the lower class workers look like Pilgrims, and will be amused to see the men in knee breeches and stockings. Points like having to pay for school and only one child out of a family of commoners being able to attend due to the cost (and then only boys, not girls), will emphasize how much things have changed over time. There are biographical sketches of famous people from the period in the back matter, as well as a lengthy glossary of terms. This book is sure to be a conversation starter and may begin some youngster's love affair with history as he or she becomes fascinated with all the differences between life then and now.

I received a copy from the author for review purposes.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Spring Reading 2016 You Are My Best Friend


Miyanishi has done it again. In this second book in the Tyrannosaurus series, we once again see a T-rex that develops a relationship and learns to care for others rather than being a selfish bully. (In the first book, You Look Yummy, a T-rex adopts a lost baby dinosaur and eventually reunites him with his family instead of eating him.) This T-rex enjoys terrorizing all the smaller dinosaurs and is such a bully that even creatures that live in the ocean have heard of him. But when he has an accident one day and calls for help, he makes his first friend. Will he ever have the courage to tell his friend the truth - that he is the bully everyone fears?

The artwork is a clear, graphic style that is fun and attractive for young readers. There are also opportunities to ROAR along with the story (and who doesn't love that). Other onomatopoeia words to act out include splash, slurp, crack, thump, bang. I can imagine a lot of audience participation when this is read. Dinosaur lovers will enjoy the inclusion of a few different types of dinosaurs including the tyrannosaurus, styracosaurus, and elasmosaurus. The scenes with the T-rex hanging onto the tail of the elasmosaurus as he explores the ocean and then of him carrying the elasmosuarus on his back as he shows him life on land are great examples of how friends each have their strengths and weaknesses and can help each other out. Parents and teachers will enjoy the lesson about making friends. This is really a win-win book for everyone. Perfect for bedtime, story time, or any old time at all.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Spring Reading 2016 Can a Princess Be a Firefighter?

A loving adult answers the question from two young girls, "Can a princess be a firefighter?" This is an important question, because it deals with hopes and dreams for the future. As adults we always try to show children the wide range of choices that will be open to them, so the narrator in this book lists a wide variety to choose from. Everything from astronaut to crime fighter is named in the text and shown in the illustrations. The reassurance at the end is a nice touch, "whatever you will always be a princess to me." But I think that the statement, "It's important that you like your job. It should make you happy every day." is an even more important message to get across to young readers.

The illustrations by Mateya Arkova show the girls dressing up for many of the careers mentioned, or imagining them in thought bubbles. One interesting thing about the pictures is that the adult's face is never shown. Everything is shown as if from a child's viewpoint so that the tops of the illustrations end near the tops of the girls' heads. That's a way to make sure that the focus is on the girls and their exploration of what they want to be when they grow up. It also leaves the identity of the narrator up to the reader's interpretation. Is it a mother, father, grandparent, teacher? It could be any of those or some other important adult in a child's life. As an aunt with many nieces, I appreciate the wide range of jobs mentioned in the book and the fact that they include options that might be shown as "boys only" in some books from previous decades.

I received  copy of this book from the author for review purposes.

Spring Reading 2016 Gobble, Gobble


Cathryn Falwell has created a picture book that introduces children to turkeys - not the kind on the dinner table, bu those that are seen in the woods and fields. Each season they are busy with different activities. In spring, the toms show off to impress the hens and the hens are busy making a nest for their eggs. The babies hatch in summer. Fall has them roosting in the trees as the red and gold leaves drift to the ground. And the turkey tracks are visible in the winter snow.

The illustrations are charming and the text is just enough to carry the reader along, not too heavy or cutesy. It would be a nice change of pace to read at Thanksgiving - a book where the turkey is not in danger or humorously escaping the danger, just a tour through the year with examples of what wild turkeys do. Young readers are introduced to proper terms such as tom and hen, and there are additional facts in the section at the back of the book, "Jenny's Journal." You can visit Curious City DPW for other nature activities to use with the book.

Our school library received a copy in a give-away contest. The author was kind enough to autograph it for us.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Spring Reading 2016 Doggone Feet


The dog in the story is the narrator and describes everything from her perspective, usually from under the kitchen table. First she follows Legs home, then Toes shows up (Legs is the man of the house and Toes is his lady love). Toes takes up room and gets attention from Legs, but does sometimes rub the dog's back. Gradually other feet arrive, some wearing Socks, or Boots, or Slippers (children for Legs and Toes). Each time the dog thinks this is just too many feet, but there is always something good  about each pair of feet. Readers see the dog nibbling on scraps dropped on the floor, licking off sticky fingers, taking care of unwanted pieces of dinner, and getting bigger and bigger. There is an amusing surprise at the end of the story (I can't tell or it would be ruined).

I love how the story is told from the dog's point of view. That would make an excellent discussion point for students about how perspective changes the way a story is told and events are described. The counting by twos would be great for a math lesson, but I don't need to list all the curriculum tie-ins because there is a free 22-page teacher's guide available at Leslie's website. Every elementary library should have a copy. I was lucky enough to win a copy in a giveaway.

Visit  Curious City DPW for a story hour kit with read-aloud activities.

Winter Reading 2015 Wild About Bears


This is an excellent introduction to the topic of bears. It lists the 8 different species of bears and then discusses what they have in common in their physical traits and behaviors. From there, it has a two-page spread for each species. The scientific name, common name(s), and average size are listed. There are a few paragraphs of text about the bear which describe the unique characteristics of the species. The illustration stretches across both pages and shows the bear in its natural habitat, including an adult and its cub(s). The captions within the illustration provide additional information. After all 8 species have been introduced, then the challenges facing bears and the importance of preservation efforts are shared. The back matter includes a world map which is color coded to show where each species lives, a habitat glossary with small illustrations and descriptions, and suggested books and websites for those who want to find out more.

Because of its picture book format, this would make an excellent read-aloud for a class studying bears. But it would also be perfect as a beginning reference source for young readers who want to learn more about these mammals that look so much like their cuddly bedtime friends. It would be a great addition to a school or classroom library for either use. I am very excited to add it to our library collection.

Visit Curious City DPW to find a nonfiction game and other activities to use with the book.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Spring Reading 2016 If You Were Me and Lived in ... Ancient Greece


Many of you are probably familiar with Carole P. Roman's series, "If You Were Me and Lived in ..." Now she has a companion series, "An Introduction to Civilizations throughout Time." In this first book, she takes readers to Ancient Greece and walks them through daily life in the city-states there. Home life, clothing, food, education, and parental roles are covered. Modern readers, especially girls, may be annoyed to find out that girls didn't go to school and women were not considered citizens. Shopping, occupations, and military service are also discussed, with descriptions of the goods from all over the world that were offered in the market. Facets of Greek culture that still influence the modern world, such as democracy, philosophy, and the Olympics are pointed out, and the gods of Greek mythology are introduced.

This is a good general introduction to Ancient Greece for young readers. The list of gods and goddesses explaining their attributes and area of influence, along with the glossary of terms will be very helpful for classroom use.

I received an e-book from the author for review purposes.

Spring Reading 2016 Rocket-Bye


Forget about rock-a-bye baby, Rocket-Bye is so much more entertaining. Two children climb aboard a rocket and take a tour of the solar system in this fun bedtime story. Rhyming text narrates their trip as they rise above the trees with the houses below growing smaller and smaller. The moon smiles at them, the Milky Way beckons to them, and they imagine they are pirates sailing through the sky. During their trip they fly past each planet, noting things like Saturn's rings and Jupiter's eye as they zip by. They also pay attention to the constellations that they see like Draco and Leo. Stars that are bright and easy to see in the night sky such as Polaris, Castor, and Rigel make an appearance. And after all those faraway sights, they end up at home, safely tucked in bed.

The illustrations are done in soft colors suitable to bedtime, with lots of soft curving shapes and an absence of harsh edges. Readers will have fun comparing the sights from the space tour to those in the children's bedroom. Can they find some of the same objects in the mobile hanging over the beds, or within the patterns on the bedspreads? This is obviously a room decorated for kids who enjoy outer space.

This could become a new bedtime ritual for young astronomers and other adventurers.

I received an e-book from the author for review purposes.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Spring Reading 2016 Once Upon a Dream (Twisted Tales #2)


A castle is surrounded by thorns, keeping the rest of the world out. A princess is inside the walls, but she has been saved from a terrible fate by the good fairy Maleficent. Wait, what? Your mental brakes are probably screeching to a halt right about now. Sure, sure, this is a twisted tale, you get that. But you weren't expecting it to be that twisted. Suppose I told you that when the handsome prince defeated the dragon, scaled the walls, and finally kissed the princess - she didn't wake up? Instead, the prince was placed in a magical sleep, too. Now everyone in the castle is trapped in a dream, Aurora's dream. You will have to travel through the dreamworld with her to discover if she can save herself and the others before it is too late.

This story will keep you guessing for several reasons. First, it's a twisted tale, and you can't expect it to follow the plot of the original story. Second, the princess seems to have two sets of memories and trouble telling which one is true. Third, every time you think that evil has been defeated, it seems to find another loophole and continue the battle. But you will be rooting for the princess and her prince, and glad to see the princess developing into someone who will become a fine queen (if she gets the chance).

With this second in the Twisted Tale series, Liz Braswell has once again taken a tale that everyone believes they know and turned it on its head. Fans of fractured fairy tales and books where we can watch the protagonist develop into a true hero will enjoy Once Upon a Dream.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.