Inspiring Children to be the Best That They Can Be

For: Primary Educators, Parents, and Kids Inspiring Children To Love Learning And Be The Best They Can Be

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Birds of Prey, Reviews, and My Backyard

Time to Explore
Birds of Prey - Up close & personal
     We've all looked up to watch a hawk soaring high overhead or stopped the car short when vultures are picking over a dead carcass. The Birds of Prey center in Awendaw, South Carolina, takes our knowledge a step further.
     The one pictured is a red-tailed hawk. It is well trained to fly between posts and land on the trainer's leather guard. The midieval sport of falconry (as early as 2000 BC)  is practiced by some in the area, usually targeting rabbits. Hawks are now used rather than falcons. Most raptors seek rats, mice, dead carcasses and insects. 
    One of my favorites at the center was the African yellow-billed kite. It soared, hovered, and took food from the trainer in 'fast' flight - eating as it flew. (pictured on the left) Local varieties include the Mississippi and swallow-tailed kites.   
    Probably everyone's favorite nocturnal bird is the owl. His ears are along the side of his face. The one pictured is from Siberia. The center takes in about 400 injured raptors a year. A center in your area is a call away should you find one injured.

Book Reviews for Kids

Saving Kabul Corner by N. H. Sensai   (Ages 9 - 12) 
     Digging into a new culture through fiction is a painless way to discover values, traditions, and family life. Our heroine, Ariana,  lives in a Afghani California neighborhood helping often in her family's grocery store. When a cousin, Laila, arrives from Afghanistan, with perfect manners, talent, charm, and command of the Pukhtun language - and moves into her room, Ariana finds herself feeling unworthy and rebellious. 
     A new family opens a rival grocery store in the same center and trouble begins. Ariana brings together an unlikely peer group and carefully pieces the clues together when serious catastrophic events begin to happen to both grocery stores, blamed on a feud from long ago. It is a wonderful story of friendship, family  - and a 'cliff hanger' mystery.

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson  (Ages 9 - 12)
    Woodson has written her childhood memoir in touching and powerful poetic prose. She tells her sensitive, factual story through the historical lens of the 60's and 70's segregation and racial tension. Her family becomes segmented, but their heritage remains strong, as they move from Ohio to Greensville, South Carolina, and finally New York City, documenting historical moments along the way. It's a beautiful story of a writer finding her voice from a child's perspective.

When Audrey Met Alice by Rebecca Behrens   (Ages 9 - 12)
    The subtitle, First Daughters Just Wanna have Fun, suggests the difficulties a young teenage daughter, living in the shadow of her mother, 'Madam' President, may face under pressure of the public eye, being uprooted to a new school, and trailed everywhere by Secret Service. Audrey arranges a special 'film' showing for classmate friends, but they are turned away at the last minute because of a security breach in the White House.
     She discovers a long lost diary of Alice Roosevelt, hidden under a secretive floorboard, which becomes her creative guide. She attempts rebellious antics to express her individuality which lead to hilarious results. There is a thread of history as we view life in the 1900's through young Alice's eyes, whose motto was: "To thine own self be true." 

A Single Shard by Linda Sue Parks   (Ages 9 - 12)
     This Newbery Award winner is a delightful way to explore 12th century Korea's customs and values. It is a glimpse into an ancient society through the eyes of a memorable young orphan boy, with the unlikely name of Tree-Ear. We meet his foster father, an elderly hermit, and the angry, 'unappreciative' master potter, that  he works for. 
     It is a timeless story of a boy with a dream of one day sitting at the potter's wheel and creating a beautiful vase - and how he changes life's 'anticipated' chain of events. 

In My Backyard    (I Wish)

The African Yellow-billed Kite
                                                                 by Joan Bock

A yellow-billed Kite is a sight to behold,

Its beautiful markings, a barred brownish gold.

See it gliding and searching, far low and up high.

Its long pointed wings help it soar through the sky.

Its sissors-like tail can maneuver 360 degrees,

Looking for bug, frogs, and snakes in tall trees.

It hovers quite motionless, hanging far up in the sky,

Sharp talons grab termites it eats on the fly.

Until next time. . . . . . .

Be Creative             Inspire Others                   Enjoy Life


Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Wolves, Reviews, and My Backyard by Joan Bock

Time to Explore
Saving Grey and Red Wolves

We’re all familiar with the grey wolf shown in movies – and sometimes, in the news. Did you know that it is an endangered species? After generations of killing wolves in North America, we now know that they are a vital part of our ecosystem. Our current generation has set out to ‘save the species.’ There were a few hundred left when the endangered Species Act was passed in 1973.  Now there are over 5000.

         My hubby and I just recently visited an environmental center
on the coast of South Carolina and discovered that red wolves, native to this area, are on the brink of extinction.  The Sewee center is one of several in the area that are captive breeding facilities – with the goal of setting them free in their habitat. We observed three red wolves – which resembled German Shepherds in appearance. And yes, we left our standard poodle, Jasmine, at home.
         In doing research, I did discover that coyotes, those clever
folktale tricksters, continue to be undesirable. They attack white tailed deer. It is difficult to tell the difference – quickly – between a wolf and a coyote. Maybe we should appreciate our wolf population. 

Book Reviews for Kids

The Eighth Day by Diane Salerni   Ages: 8 - 12
     This seems to be my year to be attracted to fantasies. The story begins with 13 year old, Jax, living with his 18 year old guardian. His father was killed in an automobile accident and designated Riley as guardian. On his
birthday, Jax wakes up to what he thought would be a perfectly normal day, but discovers that he is alone in his part of the world. He believes that an apocalypse has happened – until life returns to normal the following day.  
     The author carefully weaves a plot encompassing ‘Grundsday’, a magical day sandwiched between Wednesday and Thursday and a heroine next door who is imprisoned to life on 'Grundsday'. We learn that Jax has a magical heritage, along with a host of other characters, dating back to the days of Merlin. There is plenty of mystery, suspense, and danger entwined, involving the reader in a quest to continually look for answers, that eventually lead to saving the world as we know it.  Middle grades and above will find this a fascinating, entertaining book that is based on folklore from King Arthur’s era. 

A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd     Ages 8 - 12
     Felicity loves words and puts her collection in a notebook she carries with
her. She visualizes words floating over people and things -  sometimes happy, sometimes sad. One word missing from her list is ‘home’. Her mother has a wandering heart - so Felicity and her little sister are continually moving from place to place. 
     They arrive at Mama’s hometown, Midnight Gulch, Tennessee – where  Felicity hopes there will be a new beginning – with roots. The town was once magical –before a curse drove two popular ‘strumming’ brothers apart. We learn that Felicity’s family is part of the magic – and part of the ‘curse’ on the town.  We follow Felicity, her new friend, Jonah, her Aunt Cleo, and a host of townsfolk and family, as they piece together the mystery of the curse. 
     The author’s use of words is poetic, creating unique images – sometimes with a glimpse of magic. Words become important to solving the mystery.  The story is set in a real world environment, but fantasy takes over -  finding ‘snickers’ of magic' in events, and the characters themselves, leaving us with a delightful story bordering on folklore. 

Just a Drop of Water by Kerry O'Malley Cerra            Ages 9 and up
     911 is not a vivid memory for middle grade students living today, so this book is an ideal, realistic introduction. The story is a riveting reminder of what a shock it was to our nation and how it touched individuals in so many different, personal ways.  
     Jake is best friends with a Muslim boy and we learn through his eyes just how unfair life can become. Bullying, a teammate’s father losing his life in one of the towers, his mom having memories resurface of losing her father as a Black September hostage in the middle east, are all events Jake must deal with. We are there with him as he struggles to make good decisions when his everyday world turns upside down. 

In My Backyard
   We have placed two new bird feeders in our backyard  which are appreciated by many varieties of birds - and ducks, geese, and squirrels scavenging on the ground. Now if someone could just tell us how to regrow our grass underneath, we would be golden. 

                        Keeping Birds in my Life
                                                      by Joan Bock
Whether at the big window or table,
I watch the neat birds when I’m able.   

Tiny wrens appear looking for seed
Then they flit to a bush or a tree.

I love when a woodpecker arrives
If there’s peanuts, he stays and thrives.

A cardinal comes to check things out
I know that its mate is somewhere about.

Two morning doves come and waddle up close
Waiting to see where the seeds are the most.

So many birds to put joy in my day,
I must put out seed if I want them to stay.

Until next time. . . .

       Be Creative . . . . . Inspire Others . . . . . Enjoy Life

Monday, October 20, 2014

Bison or Water Buffalo

Time to Explore

Finding Water Buffalo

     We are all familiar with the 'American' bison, often referred to as buffalo. Western movies wouldn't be the same without the shaggy haired beasts thundering along the prairie, chased by cowboys on horses. 

      Recently, I became acquainted with two calm, very bulky water buffalo. They live at a muddy water hole behind a stable yard at Middleton Place Plantation near Charleston, SC. 
     Their unique hooves are 'rock-like' and flat, allowing them to walk through sticky mud over long periods of time (such as in southern rice fields of yesteryear or rice paddies found in Asia). Recently, early Middleton letters revealed several were transported from Constantinople, Turkey, (now Instanbul) to Middleton in the 1850's. Until then, it was believed there were no 'working' water buffalo in America until the 1970s'. 
     The two residing at Middleton were donated by the president of the American Water Buffalo Association in 2007. There is a growing population in the United States in warm regions that offer plenty of water and mud. Currently about 20 American farmers have herds of 30 or more. In fact, there is a new trend of dairies, such as Bufala di Vermont in Woodstock, Vermont, to make mozzarella cheese from water buffalo milk. Originally, this delicate cheese could only be produced from water buffalo milk in Italy and Bulgaria. This mozzarella cheese is unlike what is made from cow's milk that tops pizza.

Book Review for Kids

Barbed Wire Baseball by Marissa Moss   Ages 8 - 11
   The true story of Kenichi 'Zeni' Zenimura is a delightfully satisfying read. The title gives away no secrets - at least for me. It became a story of fulfilling dreams and not allowing physical limitations, such as size, dictate one's future. In his darkest hour, 'fenced' in an interment camp for Japanese Americans, on an Arizona desert, Zeni's realizes his vision of building a remarkable baseball field in the middle of the camp. He organizes 32 teams, which include his two sons. He is recognized as the 'father' of Japanese American baseball. 

Gone Fishing: A Novel in Verse by Tamera Wissinger 
      (ages 4 -10)
      It is unique to have over 100 pages of poems - especially ones that hold interest. The poems are cleverly tied together to create a story of Dad, Sam, and sister, Lucy, fishing for a day. The strong point for me was the titling of each poem in accordance with its type - such as lyric, ballad, free verse. . . at least 21 different forms. I highly recommend this book as a read aloud - as much fun as Shel Silverstein - and as an excellent introduction to writing/ appreciating rhyme and poetry.

The Swap by Megan Shull   (ages 10 and up)
     A swap - switching a girl to a boy's body - and vice versa?  I giggled my way through the entire book - and believe it may be one of the cleverest books published in 2014. Beyond the hilarity of an 8th grade boy and 7th grade girl swapping physical bodies, families, and routines, there are several emotional 'life-changing' moments that will touch your heart. They both discover that life is difficult whether you are a boy or a girl. 

Wonder by R.J. Palacio    (ages 9 and up)
     August (or Auggie) as his family call him, has had ten years of becoming immune to folks quickly looking away - or starring at his facial abnormalities - but is anyone ever ready? His mother decides it's time to face middle school (fifth grade) after being home schooled. The book is written from Auggie's perspective - his feelings, coping mechanisms, and perceptions of others - but several characters allow us to get to know them - and their feelings. There are humorous moments, but also scenes that brought on tears and I felt like I was on an emotional roller coaster. Although not action packed, it is charming, inspirational, and a valuable book that provokes thoughtfulness and kindness.

In My Backyard

     I am pleased to be a garden guide at Middleton Place Plantation and enjoy visiting the two water buffalos often. I am in the process of writing a narrative poem about them and want to share one short stanza.

Middleton's Water Buffalos

Middleton Place has two bulky males.
They are often seen switching their tails.
One is called Adem, that's turkish for 'earth'
The other is Berk, which means solid girth.
Salute water buffalos - 
         a source of wealth and pride.
They're farmed for their milk, meat, and leather worldwide.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

WV: Beyond the Highways; Treefrog Visit

Time to Explore

West Virginia: Beyond the Freeway

      My daughter's family took my husband and I on a WV adventure, beginning with 'highway' trails and ending with a multitude of cascading water falls. 
     One of my favorite stops was 'Beartown' - literally, a town of rocks. Boardwalks take you through 'sunken streets' where you find layers of delightful rock types, such as quartz, sandwiched within mammoth boulders. The area was once under sea, with geysers of water spouting up, creating large 'window holes.'
     Droop Mountain State Park, complete with a lookout tower used during the civil war, is worthy of a side trip. 
     Then, onto the Monongahela National Forest to find cranberry glades, with a number of cranberry bogs, accessed by a boardwalk to bring you up close to cranberry plants, birds, insect eating plants, and more. 

     Further along the national forest highway trail, is the 'Falls of Hills' Creek with three water falls. Following paths, stairways, and boardwalks, hikers are rewarded with a 63 foot falls. 

     On our return trip along HWY 60, our stops included: Hawk's Nest State Park with an overlook on the Gauley River - and bridge, Kanawha Falls, and finally, Cathedral Falls, a family favorite. It was great fun watching our granddaughters stepping along rocks in the river, climbing over boulders, and reaching that lovely falls before our return to Charleston, WV.

Book Reviews for Kids

Flora & Ulysses,            Ages:  8 - 10 
         The Illuminated Adventures    by Kate DiCamillo

     I'm not fond of squirrels (at least in my backyard), and I am not normally a lover of fantasy stories, BUT this book was great fun to read in spite of my qualifiers. First, picture a giant vacuum cleaner on the lawn - that scoops up a squirrel. Then, enters Flora, whose cynical world is ruled by comic books, such as, Terrible Things can Happen to You. She rescues the squirrel, even using resuscitation. 
     Clever cartoon strips are interspersed throughout featuring this super-cute squirrel as well as sophisticated words seldom seen by this audience. 'Ulysses' becomes a super hero who can fly, communicate, understand, and even type 'squirrel' poetry. 
     It is a 'laugh aloud' read with a host of memorable characters that we meet as the 'criminal elements' are unfolded. It is truly worthy of the 2014 Newbery Medal award. 

Boy at the End of the World by Van Eekhout   Ages: 10 & Up

     Fisher awakens (from a pod in a laboratory) into the world (as we know it) collapsing all around him. Science fiction is brought to a new level (at least for me), as the robot, Click, installs intelligence, knowledge, and other desirable traits into Fisher. Click tries to keep him on track as he learns and uses his knowledge with the sole purpose of keeping him (and therefore, the human race) alive.  
     Van Eekkhout expertly blends new concepts; serious 'earth' messages, humor (dry with a touch of sarcasm), and adventure into a very readable tale of survival. Unlikely characters, such as the ancient mammoth, become Fisher's friends, and unlikely machines, birds, and insects, become his enemies.
     It is no wonder that this book has received such rave reviews from pre-adolescent boys (but certainly not limited this audience).

Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote: A Migrant's Tale 
       by Duncan Tonatiuh   Ages: 8 & Up

    This folktale, in picture book format, wallops a punch with a direct message on the woes of immigration. Papa rabbit journeys north to rich carrot and lettuce fields in the hopes of bringing money home to his family.
     Papa is due back for a celebration and doesn't return timely. His son, Pancho, decides to go find him. Enter the clever coyote who offers to show him a shortcut. As the story evolves, Pancho's food is devoured by the coyote in payment for each leg of the journey - and eventually, Pancho's life is threatened. Papa comes to the rescue to provide a happy ending. 
     There is a lengthy author's note on the book's relevance on today's life-threatening journeys by young families crossing over our borders. I picture this book as a straight forward springboard for timely conversation either in the classroom or home on this national dilemma. 

In My Backyard

     There he was on the door of the gazebo - just a little speck. It was a  treefrog, green with iridescent stripes along its body. Treefrogs are native to SC and like to be near ponds and trees. They are attracted to light and are nocturnal. I was surprised it was so tiny. 
    I will close with a short poem.

   Little Green Treefrog

Little treefrog, hidden in the trees,
Brilliant green like springtime leaves.
Sticky toe pads and eyes shiny bright,
Watching for bugs that pass in the night.
Treefrog's sticky tongue shoots out,
Finding mean bugs that are flying about.

                                        By Joan Bock

Be Creative         Inspire Others       Enjoy Life


Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Unique Luna Moth

Time to Explore

A Luna Moth at the Front Door

     One morning in the Hills of Charleston, WV, my daughter discovered a beautiful moth in her front walkway. It turned out to be a Luna Moth - also known as a 'moon moth' or 'giant silkworm moth.' Her daughter, Madison (10), was intrigued and did research on it. The following description was taken from her notes. 
     The life cycle begins with an egg on the underside of a leaf. It then morphs into a caterpillar that immediately eats leaves of trees - its favorite are nut trees such as walnut or hickory. It creates and sheds its 'exoskeleton' 5 times as it grows, finally spinning a silk cocoon where it stays about 2 weeks.
     The Luna Moth emerges on an early spring morning. Its wings are short, stubby, and soft. It climbs some place safe until the wings fill with body fluid and become larger and solid so that it can fly away.  It's wing  span is approximately 4 and 1/2 inches.  
     It lives approximately one week in early spring or summer and is active at night (nocturnal). It has no mouth to eat with. It's solve purpose is to mate and lay eggs. Their predators (enemies that eat them) are owls, bats, and hornets.  

Book Reviews for Kids   

Dog Diaries, Togo  by Kate Klimo 
                 (Middle grade readers)   
     Togo, a Siberian husky, narrates his own true story. The vocabulary, emotions, and loyalty to his master, are 'dog like.' His communication with other dogs - and his own thoughts - are italicized. Barks, nips, and yelps make it even more realistic. 
     The Appendix elaborates on the facts of this amazing story of Togo and his role in transporting serum to patients during a dreadful diphtheria outbreak in Alaska during the early 1900's. 
     Other wonderful true dog stories in the series include: Ginger, a golden retriever 'dog mill' survivor; Buddy, a German shephard eye-seeing guide; and Barry, a St. Bernard rescue dog in the Alps. A 5th book in the series will be coming this summer: Dash is about an English springer spaniel during the Mayflower era.

At the Same Moment Around the World by Clotilde Perrin
      (Challenging for younger readers without knowledge about countries in the world, but appropriate for all ages)
     Characters are introduced in different parts of the world at specific times in 24 different time zones with daytime or nighttime activities for each. This book brings awareness of how complicated time zones are as well as an extremely brief introduction to various countries and their people. I believe it is a great catalyst for triggering interest in countries featured and viewing the 'big' picture of our world. A colorful time zone map with the countries and its characters is very helpful in connecting the dots.

Eye to Eye How Animals See the World by Steve Jenkins 
     This book was the 2014 Caldecott Honor Winner. The wonderful illustrations of animals eyes, beginning with the simplest and describing the evolution of four types they became more specialized in their purpose, was an 'eye opener' for me.   
    What a wonderful introduction to research on differences in the animal kingdom. I will never take an animal's eyes at 'face value' again. Some can see patterns in ultraviolet light or body heat - or have pairs of eyes with specific purposes. Can a snake sense movement - or a crab see 360 degrees? Even cats have overlapping vision to improve nighttime hunting.

Angel Island Gateway to Gold Mountain by Russell Freedman
     (Middle Grade Readers)
     We all know about Ellis Island, but who knew about California's detention center for immigrants coming into America from Asian countries? 
     It began with a shed at the end of a wharf where Chinese were sometimes kept and interrogated for weeks in the late 1800's. In 1910, the Angel Island Immigration Station opened as the immigrants' gateway to America on the Pacific coast. Over the years, frustrated Chinese detendees wrote on the walls - particularly poetry - which is what led to the writing of this book. 
     It was recognized as a National Historic Landmark in 1997 after a long fight. It is not easy to read about this part of our history, but it is an important piece that all should be aware of. 

In My Backyard

     Last year at this time I wrote about bluebirds and their houses.  Clemson radio talk series mentioned today how many backyards now have bluebird houses. We did not put one up, but I will definitely consider it another year. We took down the winter feeders, and tomorrow I will put up feeders for goldfinches and hummingbirds. 
     I would love to hear which birds are attracted to your backyard. 

Until next time . . . . . .
                                                      By Joan Bock

Be Creative                Inspire Others                            Enjoy Life


Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Time to Explore

     It's finally spring! I want to explore the other type of spring! My 'hubby' and I headed to the beach last week, but. . . it wasn't beach weather. . . so, we explored several natural Florida springs. We began in St. Augustine where the 'World Famous Fountain of Youth' resides. (It's really a historic landmark honoring the arrival of Ponce de Leon in 1513, but that's for another day.) I took a drink from the fountain - loaded with minerals - and am still waiting for magical results (never might be a good word to use).  The highlight of the visit was the white peacock. 

Book Reviews for Kids

     My two granddaughters recommended the following two series.

     The Lemonade War Series by Jacqueline Davies was recommended by the fifth grader.
The Lemonade War (first in the series) introduces Jesse and Evan. Evan is in fourth grade and his very smart sister, Jesse, is skipping a grade and will be in the same classroom come September. Evan sets up a lemonade stand, but excludes Jesse. It explodes into a war. . . the winner take all. 
     There are four other books in the series: The Lemonade Crime; The Bell Bandit; The Candy Smash; and The Magic Trap. The books deal with difficult issues, such as divorce, bullying, autism, and dementia, in a straight forward - yet gentle manner. I highly recommend this series for the middle grade reader and am pleased that my granddaughter discovered it.  
     My third grade granddaughter discovered the My Weird School series by Dan Gutman. Miss Daisy is Crazy is the first book of the series. Miss Daisy is a  second grade teacher who cleverly comes up with an idea of getting her class to read a million pages so they can rent the school for one night and turn it into a video arcade. This is just one example of the ways Miss Daisy finds ways of convincing her class that they are coming up with great ideas for 'teaching' her how to read and do math. 

The first series has twenty books promising to delight beginning to middle grade readers. In Dan Gutman's second series (twelve books), the Weird School Daze, A.J. and his classmates move up to third grade with more classroom humor (particularly directed at boys). His most recent is My Weirder School Series (2011 - 2013) - fourteen books. The third grade dilemmas continue as funny things happen. These series are easy to understand and build up confidence at a comfortable reading level.

     What I am reading: Hope Solo, My Story - a young readers' edition adapted from: Solo: A Memoir of Hope. In honor of soccer fans of all ages, it is refreshing to read about a gold medal winner in the summer, 2012 London Olympic Games. 

In My BackYard

      As I sit beside the pond in my backyard, I reflect on the sparking clear fresh water springs we observed in Florida. I want to end with the words of Margaret Ross Tolbert who dived in the Florida fresh springs and painted them for over thirty years. 
     In her book, AquiFERious, she writes, 
". . .the continuous flow of water gives the impression that the springs . . .  are eternal, perpetual. But many are in danger of disappearing in our lifetime. . . .The demands of a growing population, combined with a poor water management policy have accelerated their decline."
     I challenge you to cherish the beauty while it exists. 
                                                                      Joan Bock
Until next time. . . . .

Be Creative. . . . . Inspire Others. . . . . Enjoy Life