Cracked Corn and Snow Ice Cream

Every year I teach Reference books to 4th grade. Most may not have seen a dictionary – I’m not joking, or a thesaurus, and they think of encyclopedias as “Google, but in a book.” Some have never looked at a road map so an atlas is a new concept too. But I can show them physical copies of each of these items and they get the idea. He last type of reference book is an almanac. I can explain until I’m blue in the face about needing to know when it’s best to plant, and when to expect rain, but for the most part, it’s just not something we typically use in our technological age.

I don’t buy the yearly Farmers Almanac because they aren’t cheap, they aren’t super durable and there just aren’t that many kids concerned about when the tides will change.

But yesterday, I made a Thrift Store Score with this book:

I bought it for a couple of reasons. First, it’s not for a specific year so it can’t really become outdated. Second, it’s hardbound, so it will last awhile on my shelves. Third, it gives me a physical copy to show students during lessons, and fourth, it’s just old-timey country goodness.

Besides the monthly advice there are little tidbits scattered throughout the book like HowTo Find Your True Love:

  • Walk around the block with your mouth full of water. If you don’t swallow it, you’ll be married within the year.
  • Set a silent supper late at night, taking care to do everything backward. Keep perfectly silent. Take your seat backward and at the stroke of midnight you will see the face of your true love.
  • Count Fifty white horses as you see them, and a white mile. Your groom will be the first unmarried man you shake hands with afterward.

This book is so fun, I can’t wait to show it to one history-loving teacher in particular. Of course, that’s after I read the whole thing!


It is not common in this day and age to find new species of animals. Usually when a scientist does, it’s a small and easily overlooked creature like frogs or insects. But in 2013 it was announced that Kristofer Helgen, the curator of mammals at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, had found a “new” small mammal, the olinguito, pronounced oh-lin-GHEE-to

I was very excited to get in Sandra Markle’s book, The Search For Olinguito: discovering a new species. I think it’s important that children know about conservation but I also want them to know that there are still frontiers and new discoveries awaiting them in this world.

Helgen did not set out to find a new species, but through diligent scientific research he did just that. I’m pretty sure kids are taught the scientific method and that’s exactly what Helgen had to do to prove the Olinguito was not an olingo as originally thought.

The olinguito and the olingo are both related to raccoons and kinkajous. They inhabit the cloud forests in South America and the foggy misty forest provides them the perfect protection from prying eyes.

Markle’s book is not the only one out about olinguitos:

I don’t own these yet, but I’d like to get more information on these adorable animals. And to make you smile, check out a baby olinguito:

No wonder they are nicknamed kitty bears!

Real Friends

I just read the new graphic novel by Shannon Hale, Real Friends. It’s a memoir, Shannon’s story of friendships as she grew up.

I’m very thankful my daughter, who is 10 years old and finishing fourth grade, read this book. I said in yesterday’s post that this book openly talks about how friendships change and how some kids just aren’t real friends. I want my daughter prepared for this, though I know she’s seeing and experiencing changes in her friendships already.

Why is it so important to me to help her learn these lessons? I was a lot like young Shannon. Completely attached to one friend until things changed in third grade. A new girl moved to our tiny town and the three of us had roller-coaster friendships for the rest of elementary. I felt left out and developed stomach problems, that eventually cleared up and left depression in its place. I don’t think those girls were purposely mean to me, I just didn’t have the tools to grow and change with the friendships. 

I see, in my K-4 school, situations like this all the time. Girls wanting to fit in. Girls who upset one member of their friend-group and then end up on the outs with the whole group. My daughter tells me that one of her best friends is part of a group like that. Thankfully, my daughter stays away and offers a calm alternative when that group is too rough.

Do boys go through stuff like this? I have a twin brother, and while his friendships changed over the years, I don’t remember there being drama like this.

I’m going to ask the school’s counselor to read this book. I feel like it’s something she can recommend to girls who need it. I don’t always know there is anything going on, but they are all my girls, so I want to help them all.

Anything But Ordinary

Yesterday I shared a book called Mesmerized by Mara Rockliff and illustrated by Iacopo Bruno. I have another book by this duo today. 

Somehow, I made it through life not knowing about Adelaide Herrman. She was an amazing woman and an amazing magician.

I love this picture. Bruno really captured the feeling of Addie wanting to stand out. She was not the kind of woman to follow society’s rules. She met her husband when he was a young magician from a famous family of performers.

Addie joined the Herrman performance lifestyle and thoroughly enjoyed her life. Sadly, her husband died and she was left in charge of a large performance group — a “family” she wanted to continue to provide for.

Despite all of society’s expectations, Addie became a magician and started performing, even death defying tricks like catching a bullet!

Addie became The Queen of Magic, and yet somehow she has faded from our cultural memory. Rockliff wrote in her author’s note that she wants to change that, and I’m going to help spread the word. Adelaide Herrman deserves to be remembered as well as Houdini. 


Recently, while putting together a presentation on what’s new in children’s literature, I realized I really like the narrative nonfiction written by Mara Rockliff. Some of her books are illustrated by Iacopo Bruno, and the pictures fit the books perfectly. Today I read Mesmerized: How Ben Franklin solved a mystery that baffled all of France.

When the American colonists realized that they needed help to win the Revolution, it was decided that Ben Franklin would travel to France to ask King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette for help. Franklin was quite famous for his electrical experiment with the kite in the lightning storm.

When Franklin arrived, a new sensation was sweeping through Europe. Dr. Mesmer was using a force he called animal magnetism to heal people and King Louis as Ben to investigate. Mesmer’s assistant agreed to meet with Ben to show him how it worked. Ben used the scientific method and hypothesized that what the patients felt was caused by their own minds, not an invisible force.

Ben and a team of scientists blindfolded patients of Dr. Mesmer to see if his hypothesis was correct. He found that if patients believed something would happen, something did — even without the force (animal magnetism). If the patient did not expect anything to happen, nothing did — even with the force.

Ben had proven Mesmer was a fraud, though Mesmer should get credit for discovering the placebo effect. 

I especially liked the way that Rockliff pointed out each step in the scientific method. She reinforced the logical way that Ben Franklin was able to make such big changes in our world. Bruno’s artwork is lovely. I really like how he drew Marie Antoinette.

I think this is a story about Franklin that should get as much coverage as the kite experiment. He really contributed a lot to the world of science.

The Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay

Living in a nice midwestern town, it’s easy to forget that people live in terrible conditions, and even raise families there. Cateura is the main garbage dump for Paraguay’s capital city. More than twenty thousand people live there earning a living by digging through the garbage looking for recyclable items.

Understandably, the children in this community see their futures as bleak, but then Favio Chávez decided to teach the children music as an alternative. He had a few instruments to share but they were so valuable that it was not safe for the children to be seen with them. A plan was hatched to attempt to make musical instruments from garbage – their value would only be to the child who played them.

Ada, the main character in the story, chooses a violin made from an old paint can, a baking tray, a fork and pieces of wooden crates.

The orchestra started with ten kids and now includes two hundred! The orchestra has traveled the world and even toured with Metallica.

The world sends us garbage. We send back music. –Fabio Chávez

This book is one of the books I’m going to feature in a session I’m teaching for my school district this summer on what’s new in children’s literature. It’s a great story that allows us to learn about diversity, music (which my library desperately needs more of), perseverance and giving back to our communities.

If you’d like to hear the orchestra play, check out their website here or search for them on YouTube. They even played Metallica’s Nothing Else Matters.

🦍 !Gorilla! 🦍 

I like gorillas. If there is any creature more amazing that actually exists (sadly I have yet to meet a real unicorn…) then I haven’t seen it.

I’ve read some great gorilla books in the past few years:

Koko’s story is sweet and sad. She had been taught American Sign Language and told her caretakers that she wanted a baby of her own. Her kitten filled that need perfectly.

While Newberry Award winning The One and Only Ivan is based on a real gotilla, Katherine Applegate fictionalized his story and added other great characters like Ruby. I’m so glad we know now that Ivan didn’t belong alone in a shopping mall. This is a great book for kids who need to try thicker books but are reluctant. It’s not a high reading level, and because Ivan is telling the story the pages don’t tend to be full. They get hooked quickly and are pleasantly surprised when they realize they’ve finished this ‘big’ book.

I like to recommend this as a companion to the novel. Ivan: the remarkable true story of the shopping mall gorilla tells us Ivan’s story in a nonfiction format. The kids find it terribly sad and are outraged, but it gives me hope for how our future generations will care for wild animals.

Little Gorilla is a cute story about how all the animals love Little Gorilla even when he’s not little anymore. This one has cute pictures.

Someone in the zoo is a bit naughty. Gorilla follows the night guard around the zoo and lets all the animals out. The animals follow the guard home and climb into bed with he and his wife. Imagine her surprise!

Anthony Browne’s Gorilla is about a little girl who loves gorillas and her daddy. Daddy is always too busy to spend time with her, but gives hera toy gorilla for her birthday. At first she is disappointed, but the gorilla is magical and takes her to the zoo. This book had the best illustrations! 

Author-Illustrator team, Dianna Hutts Aston & Sylvia Long

My library subscribes to a service that sends me amazing books in catagories I’ve selected every month. I’m so thankful to this service because they have sent me amazing books that I would have never found on my own. One of my catagories is Elementary Nonfiction, and through this collection I have received three books by the fabulous Author Dianna Hutts Aston.

Aston’s books are nonfiction but Long’s artwork is mesmerizing and the books read like picture books. 

The beetle shells in this book look truly iridescent. Long’s command of the watercolor medium is breathtaking.

Artist-wannabes like me can fawn over the artwork while our kids enjoy learning from the stories and pictures. All of the illustrations are neatly labeled as well. 

I am missing three of her nonfiction titles:

Here are the endpapers from A Butterfly Is Patient:

I will have to wait for my budget to renew in July before I can see these books; none of the other schools have them and the public library doesn’t either. How frustrating, but the reward will be even sweeter when I have them for my own (technically the library’s.)

A real lion king

Back in 2015, most of the country was shocked to hear that an American hunter had lured a lion out of Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park and killed him. I am not a hunter, and no one in my immediate family hunts, so I didn’t understand. I can rationalize shooting an animal that you will eat, but I’ve never heard anyone say that they eat lion meat. A senseless waste.

I read true animal stories to third grade each year since they write reports on wild animals. I bought Cecil’s Pride by Craig Hatkoff hoping the students would read it. I think I may be the first to read it. have read Knut to my classes and they love Hatkoff’s writing.

Until I read this book I had no idea how truly amazing Cecil was.

Cecil’s life was very typical for a male lion. He was even casual with tourists on photo safaris, seeming to pose for them.

He had established a pride with his brother before being challenged by another lion. The rival lion killed Cecil’s brother and it seemed Cecil had made enemies not only of the rival but also his sons.
Cecil eventually crossed paths with the son of the rival, named Jericho, and they fought. Lion researcher Brent Stapelkamp thought it would end badly for one of the lions, but the unimaginable happened. Cecil and Jericho became friends and started working together!

Unrelated males rarely cooperate so researchers were amazed by these events. Sadly, when Cecil was lured to his death, Jericho disappeared for a short time as well. When he was found, he was within the borders of the park, close to where Cecil had crossed the boundary, calling for Cecil.

By lion hierarchy, Jericho could now take over the pride and kill Cecil’s offspring–this ensures that the lionesses will mate with him to continue his bloodline. But Jericho didn’t hurt them, he allowed them to live, almost as if in honor of Cecil’s memory.

We are all our brothers’ keeper. And out of tragedy and darkness, a new king shall always arise.

True Stories

It has become habit to bring a stack of books home with me on Friday to read over the weekend. While most of this weekend’s stack come from Patricia Polacco, I also brought two books based on true stories. I often read books like this to second and third graders.

While doing inventory I found When Esther Morris Headed West in the picture books. I re-catalogued it to go in the 320s of nonfiction with the other books on Women’s Suffrage. I had heard that Wyoming was the first state to give women the right to vote but that was the extent of what I knew about this progressive state’s history of equality. Esther felt that having the right to vote and hold office was useless unless women actually exercised those rights. Not only did Esther vote, she also ran for Justice of the Peace and won! Esther served a term as judge and did well considering she did not have an education in law. Esther’s work, along with many other women and men in Wyoming made the whole territory proud to offer equality–so much so that they were willing to be passed over for statehood.

I think Esther Morris would be a perfect figure for the third grade wax museum. I can picture one young lady who would embrace this opportunity; she is always outraged to hear how life was for women before they received the same rights as men in America.

Mercedes and the Chocolate Pilot is based on the true story of the Allied air bridge to West Berlin during the first years of the Cold War. Russian blockades would have left the West Berliners starving and freezing but heroic pilots from Britain, France and America flew in supplies nonstop for 15 months. One American pilot,  Lt. Gail Halverson, was extremely kind to the children in West Berlin and began dropping candy with tiny handkerchief parachutes for them. Mercedes and her mother are struggling to survive and hoped that one of those magical pieces of candy will brighten their world. Lt. Halverson could not pinpoint Mercedes home exactly so he sent candy to her through the mail (he did this more than once with other children). The candy worked it’s magic for Mercedes. 22 years later, Colonel Halverson returned to Berlin to be in command at the air force base. He accepted a dinner invitation from a Berlin family who turned out to be Mercedes and her family. She still had his letter and was so excited to have the man who helped the city’s children in her home.
If Colonel Halverson has passed away, he would be ideal for our wax museum (curriculum standards say the historic figure must be American and no longer living.) His generosity to a city of children he didn’t even know went far beyond his duties as a pilot. His work in Berlin helped create the Little Vittles organization that is still in action today. The  organization has delivered candy to Bosnia and Kosovo, just to name a couple.