Humphrey the Lost Whale

I decided to read a true animal story to one of my third grade classes today that they insisted I had read to them before. I think they were remembering seeing the story on Reading Rainbow, because today was the first time I’d ever read it.

In 1985, a humpback whale entered the San Francisco Bay and then, apparently lost, swam upriver for 69 miles before rescuers figured out how to coax him back to the sea.

I explained to my students that Humphrey, as the whale came to be known, was not meant to live in fresh water, and that was one of the reasons he was getting sick the farther he traveled upstream. I also told them that he would be having a harder time swimming in fresh water because of the difference in buoyancy between fresh and salt water. The book mentioned he may have been hungry as well.

The kids were glad to hear that Humphrey’s story had s happy ending, even when 5 years later he beached himself. Again he was rescued and sent on his way. They enjoyed the story so much that we found a recording of whale songs online to listen to. The kids I read to are smart and curious. If I don’t know an answer to a question, we look it up or I challenge them to find the answer.

I have to admit, this happy story did me some good. Finishing up my book fair and getting it all packed up had me stressed out. Knowing Humphrey may still be out there, that makes me happy.

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Knut

I am reading true animal stories with 3rd grade right now, and we loved Cecil’s Pride, despite the sad ending to Cecil’s life.  We moved on to a second book by the Hatkoff family, Knut How One Little Polar Bear Captivated the World.

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This book was written when Knut (pronounced Ka-Nute) was one year old.  Knut was born in Zoo Berlin in December of 2006, with a twin brother.  Sadly, their mother didn’t have the instincts to take care of them so the cubs were fostered by zoo keepers.  Knut’s brother died from a high fever, but Knut was a tough little guy and grew to be healthy and strong under the care of Thomas, his foster father.

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Knut quickly became a world-wide sensation, especially as debates took place about whether or not zoo babies should be fostered or left to die as they would in the wild.  My students and I agree that babies should always be fostered to help us learn more about our animal friends and to further our conservation efforts.

Today, as I knew we would finish the book with time to spare, I thought I’d go online to find a live feed of Zoo Berlin, thinking that a celebrity like Knut would surely be accessible online.  I was horrified to learn that Knut died in 2011 from encephalitis.  I was very sad to have to tell the kids that news, but I did explain that until Knut’s death, we did not know that animals could get this particular form of encephalitis.  Now that scientists know what caused his death, they may be able to help other animals in the future.

Knut was an amazing animal and I am thankful for this wonderful book that allows me to share his story.

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Let’s-Read-and-Find-Out Science Books

The other day I decided to visit a thrift store that I don’t often go to. They have rearranged since I was last there, and now they have a nice organized book section right up front. The children’s books are all just 25¢! I think someone must have cleaned out their 1980s children’s books because there were some amazing vintage titles. The one I couldn’t resist was

There is a reprinting of this book that is newer, but this is exactly like the one I had as a child. Aliki is the author and it’s a cute story about a family visiting a dinosaur fossil exhibit at a museum. Some of the information is out of date, and the pictures of dinosaurs aren’t as dynamic as they are depicted today, but it’s still a great book.

I think this picture is Aliki and her husband and children visiting the museum.

I did find three others from the Let’s-Read-and-Find-Out Science series.

I bought them for my browsing cart (books that don’t check out) just because I love the vintage factor.

I’d like to go back when I have more time, as I know I didn’t look as closely at everything as I should have. For 25¢, it’s worth the time to slowly flip through the books. I’d love to find one in particular:

My twin brother and I had this one as kids, and I just can’t resist buying the ones I once had.

Book: my autobiography

I’m taking a short side trip off of Deckawoo Drive to tell you about a brand new book I just got in at school. Book my biography was transcribed by John Agard and illustrated by Neil Packer.

My name is Book and I’ll tell you the story of my life.

This story begins with the earliest form of storytelling, the spoken recitations of our ancestors around campfires. Book tells us,

Before Book, there was Breath.

Book goes on to explain all of his ancestors, such as cave paintings and cuneiform on clay tablets. He explores the birth of letters from hieroglyphics and how they have been changed and reworked to fit the sounds they represent.

Book explains how he moved from clay tablets to papyrus to parchment and vellum and eventually to paper. He explores the words we use to describe books, here is one of my favorite passages:

He explains the transition from scroll to codex, and from codex to hardback. He talks about the handwritten illuminated copies of books made by monks and scribes, and on to the introduction of movable type and steam powered printers.

Book tells us of good times and bad. He doesn’t shy away from telling the reader about the terrible book burnings that have sadly repeated throughout history.

Wherever there is Book, there you will find the shadow of burning.

Book even talks about the newest evolution in the written word: eBooks. He gives them the credit they are due, but he makes sure to point out that you can’t smell an eBook, you can’t dog-ear a page, you can’t flip through the pages, not in the sense that you can with a piece of print.

From blank spaces, in soulless places, I will blossom into Book, scattering my seeds across the shelves of the imagination.

I really enjoyed this book! I use the masculine pronouns to describe it, but only because it was transcribed by a man. Neil Packer’s illustrations have the quality and texture of old woodcuts, and fit so perfectly. I like that Book (and Agard) credit cultures from all over the world with the inventions that added to the modern printed Book. Sometimes we teach a west-centric history that gives all the credit to Gutenberg when truly he shares it with Korean and Chinese inventors. There are other examples within the book as well.

I am a certified bibliophile, possibly a bibliomaniac, and I soaked up every bit of knowledge that this book could offer to me about someone I consider a lifelong friend. The material is very middle grade friendly but interesting to adults too. Get ready to learn more about the life of a book than you ever realized there could be!

Book leaves us with a final dedication:

To

Bibliophiles for collecting me

Bookbinders for binding me

Booksellers for selling me

Designers for designing me

Editors for editing me

Illustrators for illustrating me

Librarians for lending me

Printers for printing me

Readers for reading me

Reviewers for reviewing me

(favorably or not)

Translators for translating me

Writers for writing me

Beauty and the Beak

There are few people who would disagree when I say that a bald eagle is truly a breathtaking sight. Sadly, there are just that very few who don’t see their majesty and instead see a target. Today’s book is Beauty and the Beak: how science, technology and a 3-D printed beak rescued a bald eagle by Deborah Lee Rose and Jane Veltkamp.

The story starts at the beginning of the eagle’s life, with her hatching as a fuzzy grey chick, to her first flight and then reaching maturity. One day when she was about four years old though, someone shot the eagle, destroying the top of her beak and damaging her eye. For some eagles, this would have led to death, but Beauty, as she became known, was found by a police officer who took her to a wildlife center.

While the wildlife center was able to bandage her wounds and give her antibiotics to prevent infection, they were ultimately unable to keep Beauty in their care. Beauty’s beak had not regrow so she couldn’t return to the wild. Janie Veltkamp took Beauty to her raptor center in Idaho and began telling people about Beauty’s story. An engineer heard one of Janie’s talks and had an idea of how to help Beauty.

Thanks to technology, Janie and the engineer were able to create a prosthetic beak for Beauty. It was carefully fitted and adjusted to fit Beauty in a 3 hour procedure.

Beauty was able to once again preen her feathers, and she could eat and drink almost normally (her meat had to be precut into strips).

Beauty’s beak has begun to regrow. It is made of keratin like human fingernails. Her prosthetic beak no longer fits and so she remains in the raptor center. No one knows if her beak will fully regenerate, so she relies on her human caretakers for now. Janie is keeping close measurements and records of the beak’s regeneration to provide scientific data that we just haven’t had before.

I was very excited to get this book! It is written in a simple and straightforward way. I think that when it gets an Accelerated Reader level, it will be in the third grade range. I plan to read it to third grade later this year when they are focusing on animals.

I learned a lot from the additional back matter the book includes. I didn’t know that young bald eagles are mostly brown and don’t grow their white feathers on their heads and black feathers on their bodies until they are mature. The back matter covers the adaptations that help the eagles like their feet, feathers, wings and bone structure. It also talks about the near extinction eagles faced in the 1960s and 1970s. Kids today probably have never heard of DDT and it’s effects on eagle eggs.

I hope that reading books like this with children will help prevent more tragic injuries to these majestic birds.

Oregon Trail

I am taking a fairytale break to tell you about a book I’ll be using at school in a few weeks. Fourth graders study the history of South Dakota in social studies, so I try to supplement their lessons. The book I’m excited to share with you today is You Wouldn’t Want To Be An American Pioneer!

This book is part of a huge series that covers all parts of history. Kids love them because they don’t gloss over the gross and gruesome truth of how people lived in days gone by.

The book reads quickly and has little sidebars with great illustrated facts.

I learned a lot reading this book! The sidebar on the illustration above is about what what to do when your oxen get infected feet.

Cut the infected tissue out and seal the would with hot tar. Make a waterproof cover with buffalo hide.

I think the kids will really like this lesson. We played the old game The Oregon Trail last year but it ate up too much class time. I do plan to give them the link to play it at home though. You know you’re dying to play it again too!

I will also be reading another book about the pioneers:

I haven’t read it yet so I can’t give you a summary.

I also like to teach about the Native Americans from this area. These books are great!

What’s New In Children’s Literature

Wow. I did it. I taught my first professional development class to educators! I was nervous, I mean I'm used to my audience being shorter than I am, after all.

What's New In Children's Literature

What's New In Children's Lit Resources

The link above is for my resource handouts. I talked about a lot of books today.

The session covered:

  • Nonfiction
  • Biography
  • Poetry
  • Fiction (Early and Middle Grade chapters)
  • Graphic Novels
  • Picture Books

For each book, I made slides to show the cover and the illustration style. The corresponding resource page included the author, illustrator (or photographer), Accelerated Reader information, notable titles by the author, further reading bibliographies on the topics and any useful links.

I worked so hard on this project and the feedback was fabulous! I'm so proud of myself. I styled my session after an amazing woman who travels the country teaching sessions like this, Judy Freedman. I was fortunate enough to attend one of her sessions a few years ago and I learned so much!

I am kind of drained so I won't write about a particular book today, but if you are interested, check out the links.

Jack the Ripper

My family loves a good mystery. My husband isn't a reader, though, so the mysteries we share tend to be on tv. Right now we are watching s History Channel series about H.H. Holmes, a serial killer from Chicago in the 1890s.

Holmes is actually an alias, one of many, as this man was a con artist and committed fraud many times for money as well.

The series is based on the theory that H.H. Holmes could have also been Jack the Ripper. This theory has been put forward by his great-great-grandson. The grandson and a former CIA investigator are looking for clues to either prove or disprove this theory. It is a compelling argument and I think it has a strong basis in fact. We are only two episodes into the eight part series, so I can't tell you anything definitively.

What I can tell you is I have read books of differing theories on who the Ripper was.

Cornwell is the author of a bestselling mystery series. She believes in research and backs up her theories. She postulates that Jack the Ripper was a troubled impressionist artist who was known for painting odd subject matter. Walter Sickert followed the Impressionist art style and so would have painted things he actually saw.

This painting is called The Camden Town Murder, and the Ripper's last known victim was killed in her bed.

A second book I have read is
The theory here is that the man who was Jack the Ripper stopped killing because he was institutionalized after slitting his own wife's throat.

If I was going to pick one suspect based on these two books, I'd go with Sickert, but now I think H.H. Holmes could be him.

One of the things about this mystery is that I don't think we will ever conclusively prove who he was. Crime scene investigation was in its infancy at that time and the scenes were often contaminated by unwary gawkers and police officers. DNA could yield clues but I don't know that much of the evidence remains. There is a shawl from Mary Eddows being tested for the show but I doubt the blood is anyone but hers.

I wish I had more time to read other theories for comparison, but I just don't right now. I'll have to rely on the History Channel series to sate my curiosity for now.

Shark Lady: Eugenie Clark

Today’s book is a new picture book biography of Eugenie Clark. Clark was a trailblazing scientist who left a grand legacy to science.

Eugenie was discouraged from going into a scientific career, but was unwilling to give up her love of the oceans. Eugenie specifically loved sharks, but did advance the study if other species of fish. She even discovered three new species early in her career: the Red Sea sand diver, the barred Xenia pipefish and the volcano triplefin. 

Her scientific discoveries did not stop there. She discovered that sharks were able to stop moving to rest, dispelling the myth that they must keep moving to stay alive, and that they could be trained like a dog and would remember that training for up to two months. She also discovered a rare six-filled shark.

I learned all of these facts about Eugenie from this book, but there are other books about her:


 Eugenie Clark died in 2015 at the age of 92. You can learn more about her at the website mote.com.

Even famous people start out small.

I’m not joking. Did you know that Thomas Edison fed someone worms once?

It’s true! He thought that worms might be what gave birds the power of flight. While it was a good observation that birds eat worms and are able to fly, it wasn’t one of his best theories on how to imbue humans with the power of flight.

It’s true, Martin Luther King, Jr. was a kid once and he did regular everyday kid things. One thing he never did though was respond to violence with more violence.

This fun new series of narrative nonfiction biographies is by Mark Weakland. I have them on my purchase list for the upcoming school year and I’m hoping to read the other two books here at the public library.


I have heard about Amelia’s rollercoaster, I think in Brad Meltzer’s Ordinary People Change the World Series, but I have not heard about Wilma playing basketball.

These books have nice illustrations and are easy to read and understand. I think they will go over well with my K-4 audience. I plan to put them with the biographies but here at the public library, they are in the picture books.