Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Teacher Tuesday with About Habitats: Polar Regions

Science Exploration: Grades 1-4

The About series has a new installment! About Habitats: Polar Regions details life in both the North and South Poles and shows how the two environments differ. Each page provides an interesting fact along with a beautiful illustration to provide context for the information.

After reading About Habitats: Polar Regions aloud with your class, try this activity for further study on Polar Regions and the animals and plants that live there.
  • List the animals covered in About Habitats: Polar Regions on the board after completing the book.
  • Split the class into groups of three and ask each group to choose one animal from the polar habitats.
  • Take a class trip to the library and have each group find a book about their chosen animal (If possible, ask the librarian to preselect books for the appropriate reading level).
  • Then, allow the groups to take turns reading the book aloud to one another. Two students will take notes while the remaining student reads. Notes should be about simple facts such as habitat, color, food it eats, size, activity level, time of day it’s awake, average litter size, etc.
  • Have each group create a poster about their animal using the simple facts that they gathered as well as images.
  • Allow each group to present and enjoy learning more in depth about the animals living in Polar Regions!
Click here for the full teacher’s guide for the About Habitats series.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

New Book Wednesday: Out of Bounds written by Fred Bowen

Eighth-grader Nate Osborne plays forward for his U-14 soccer team, the Strikers. Nate lives for the game of soccer, and his team is very competitive. Every game, every practice, and every P.E. running challenge provides Nate with a chance to practice his skills and become a better player. The Stikers’ game against their rival team, the Monarchs, is fast approaching, and Nate’s team wants to be ready.

When their first game against the Monarchs finally arrives, there is a moment during the game where Nate must choose between continuing to play—and possibly even scoring a goal— or pausing after a player from the Monarchs is injured. In an act of good sportsmanship, Nate sends the ball sailing out of bounds, much to the chagrin of his other teammates, particularly his friend Sergio. After the game, Nate struggles with his decision, but with the help of his Aunt Lizzie, an accomplished soccer player herself, Nate learns that playing fairly and to the best of one’s ability is what makes a true athlete.

What is special about this book is that the referenced examples of excellent sportsmanship actually happened. Aunt Lizzie emails a video to Nate showing how a professional soccer team allowed their opponent to score in order to make the game fair; this occurred in 2006 in the match between AFC Ajax and SC Cambuur. Fred Bowen, the author of this story, used other real-life examples as inspiration for the theme of the book. For example, during the 2014 World Cup qualifying rounds, the United States kept Mexico’s dreams of making it to the World Cup alive when the U.S. played their hardest against Panama, despite already qualifying for the World Cup themselves. The next day, Mexican newspapers ran headlines that thanked America for not giving up.

Teamwork and sportsmanship are two lessons that kids can take with them through the rest of their lives, and this book teaches that, above all else, it is best to win fairly rather than to take advantage of an unfortunate situation. Bowen gives excellent color to this lesson and truly exemplifies what it means to be an athlete.

Check out the rest of the Fred Bowen Sports Stories here.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Sunday Brunch with Cynthia Levinson

Watch Out for Flying Kids is the book I couldn’t write. I was so convinced—and kept telling my editor, Kathy Landwehr—that I couldn’t write it, she sent me a copy of this:

Text© 2007 by Watty Piper. Illustrations© 2007 by Loren Long. (Philomel)
How did I know it was impossible to write this book? Here are a few of the reasons:
  •  There are nine—9!—main “characters,” all of them real-life teenagers.
  • They speak three different languages—English, Hebrew, and Arabic. And not all of them speak English, the only language I know.
  • They live in two different countries—Israel and America—in way different time zones.
  • They’re experts in subjects I knew nothing about—diabolo, firestaff, the difference between rockets and missiles, the tensions in Ferguson.
  • Almost all of the information in this nonfiction book had to come from personal interviews because there were practically no secondary sources.
  • Did I mention that they’re teenagers, with much better things to do than talk with a nosy writer?
So, how did I finally write Watch Out for Flying Kids?
  • I spent weeks in St.Louis and in Israel with families in the Jewish town of Karmiel and the Arab village, Deiral-Asad.
  • I conducted over 120 hours of interviews, figuring out ways to communicate through translators over Skype, Facebook, telephone, text messaging....
  • I spent three straight months working here:
(The clown nose on my monitor kept me company the whole time.)
Given these complications, why did I persist?
Each one of the nine—twoIsraeli Arabs and two Jews plus threewhite kids and two black kids in St. Louis—tell fascinating true stories about overcoming personal, physical, and political obstacles. Iking Bateman, for instance, faced off against gang members. ShaiBen Yosef faced being teased. In the process, all of them became professional-level performers with CircusHarmony (in action here) and the Galilee Circus (in action here).

Most of all, I kept on because of what these young people taught me:
  • “There’s a universal language between humans, and it’s not necessarily through speech.” (AlexGabliani)
  • “I learned how to rely on myself and believe in me.” (HalaAsadi)
  • “Arabs and Jewish people can be together. There’s nothing impossible.” (HlaAsadi)
  • “Circus is not about competition.” (Shai Ben Yosef)
  • “Without boxes, borders or boundaries, I built dreams.” (Iking Bateman) 

Click here for more information about circus and how Cynthia wrote this book.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Teacher Tuesday with The Library Dragon

Respecting Property: Grades 2-4

In this colorful book, Sunrise Elementary School needs a thick-skinned librarian to take care of the books in their school. Miss Lotta Scales is immediately hired upon responding to the school’s advertisement for someone who is “on fire with enthusiasm.” Who could be better for this job than a live dragon? Miss Lotta Scales takes her job very seriously, but upon hearing young Molly Brickmeyer reading aloud to other students, Miss Lotta Scales learns the value of sharing these precious books and transforms into Miss Lotty, the lovable librarian.

This book is a wonderful read aloud that will keep the entire class engaged. The book also includes a variety of lessons applicable to a typical school day for elementary school students. Try this activity with your class after reading The Library Dragon together (this activity works particularly well before a class trip to the library).
  •  Discuss with students why they think the Library Dragon was overly protective of the books. What may have caused her to become this way? What could she have done to make sure the books stayed safe?
  • Talk with students about book care and why it is necessary to follow rules created for the school library.
  •  Bring copies of books that have been mistreated to use as examples for what happens when one or a few people choose to not treat a school book with care.
  • Discuss the Library Dragon’s rules. Which rules were useful? Which were not?
  • Finish off by discussing all of the wonderful things the school librarian does to make the library great.
  • Take your class to the library and enjoy!

You can find a complete summary of The Library Dragon here, and for the full teacher’s guide, click here.  

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Saturday Afternoon Picnic with Alice Ratterree

I am thrilled to be a part the Saturday Afternoon Picnic blog series by Peachtree Publishers. Since Atlanta is close to home, I have been able to take a break from my studio and drop by and visit. Every time I have been greeted with warm smiles. Usually we gather around a large table framed by a wall of windows that let in that famous Georgia sun. In addition to talking about the manuscript, it has been wonderful to hear all their amazing stories and easy laughter that is shared in our circle. In the afternoon when I depart, I drive home with the feeling my day was spent in the company of a family of friends.

When I think back about picnics, my grandfather’s farm is the first thing that I remember. Each summer on the Fourth of July, our family and friends would gather at the top of his hill underneath a large tree. Stretching out before me was only the sloping landscape, with a rocky path that led into a small patch of woods. He had a secret pond that I believed to be a magical door to another world. Standing on that hill looking out at the glorious horizon, I felt small and brave at the same time. I believed in a bigger world out there, and felt compelled to unearth its surprises.

Lilliput inspired me because it is a story about those kinds of horizons, and the transformation that happens within us when we are taken outside of what we know. Author Sam Gayton captivated me right away by harnessing that sense of wonder in Lily’s discovery of a larger world. As an illustrator, it was fun to play with physical scale and action for an adventure story about a small person in a big world. I admire Lily’s bravery and how she harnesses the courage to face her enemies, trust a friend and ultimately forgive her captor. Sam created such fantastically distinct characters throughout his book that I think my favorite part of the process was coming up with the appearance for each of them and “casting” the story with my first character sketches.

After creating the characters, I moved onto a series of thumbnails for various scenes in the story. This involved branching out to visualize the environment, which was inspired again by the author’s ability to create a particular mood and setting. From these thumbnail images, I made some further edits and drew more detailed drawings. At times, it was helpful to think about envisioning an image from different perspectives.

Once my final drawings were complete, I added a watercolor wash. With a middle-grade novel, the interiors are often printed in black and white. Since my color palette was limited, my main focus was on the values ranges between light and dark. This was a challenge because a lot of the story happens in the shadows. Lily spends most of her time in a setting where it is either at night or she is confined to an enclosed interior space. Throughout this story, Lily clings fiercely to hope and I tried to associate that emotion visually with elements of light. Many times that moment of light appears as something just out of reach…a distant star, a candle burning from across the room or indirect light cast from a window. I approached all of this if I was in a dark theatre and was being asked to bring up the lights one by one, then making a decision when it was time to stop.

Many of you might be interested to know that I started my career as a classical singer. I received my MM in Voice Performance from Boston University and was very fortunate to have some success performing in opera, musical theatre and oratorio. As an illustrator, my visual influences come from my experiences on the stage. There is a familiar process in the decisions that happen in casting roles, designing costumes, creating sets, establishing the correct lighting and directing the action. It has been an adventure to embrace the life of an illustrator after spending so much time in another world. In both of these endeavors my goal has always been to create a sense of wonder and magic. I have been so lucky to have great mentors and heroines that I’ve found through the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) – none bigger than my agent Marietta Zacker of the Nancy Galt Literary Agency. She has inspired a sense of discovery of the untapped potential in me, and the hope of new possibilities that lie ahead.

Do you have heroes and heroines? Is it someone close to you, or do you find your inspiration from someone in a book like Lily? Feel free to post below, or visit me at www.aliceink.com

I look forward to hearing from you!

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

New Book Wednesday: Lilliput Written by Sam Gayton and Illustrated by Alice Ratterree

Imagine a world where people wear iron shoes in order to avoid losing a foot to a crab’s claws. A world where the people are as small as spoons, but their courage is larger than a lion’s. Lily is a young citizen of such a world—of Lilliput—when she is taken from its familiar shores and smuggled into the enormous, yet suffocating, city of London by a man literature has seen before: Lemuel Gulliver.
Eighteen years prior, Gulliver stumbled upon the island country of Lilliput only to return to London and be ridiculed for his claims of miniature communities, floating cities, and more. Being a man of science, Gulliver feels that upon publishing his book detailing his travels, he must also present the public with living proof of his story: a Lilliputian. Unfortunately, Lily suffers from Gulliver’s obsession with the truth and becomes his prisoner for half of her life. Lily must find a way to escape from Gulliver and to return to her home before time runs out; a year in her life is, after all, only a month’s worth of time.
Gulliver’s Travels is one of the first novels that inspired the phenomenon known as fan fiction. Lilliput gives life to a new perspective on the classic story; Gulliver’s adventures are not quite over and Lily’s are just beginning. This book encourages readers to use their own imaginations in creating back stories or sequels to some of their favorite novels, consequently allowing readers to develop creative and innovative minds.  

Lilliput also provides fantastic imagery throughout as Lily is constantly coming up with comparisons that reflect the differences between her world and Gulliver’s. Imagine Gulliver’s tears as bucketfuls of water or being able to drink clouds from a straw; this is Lily’s reality. Throughout her journey, Lily discovers what it truly means to hope for something. Finn, her friend and rescuer, continually helps Lily to not lose sight of what she is working towards: her freedom.

Join Lily and Finn as they fight against cruel masters, controlling clocks, and their own doubt in order to find their homes and discover where they truly belong.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Happy Fourth of July!

Click here for full recipe: http://www.werecallingshenanigans.com/2013/06/14/red-white-and-blue-strawberries/

Summer is in full swing, and we hope your July Fourth weekend is filled with sparklers, fireworks, picnics, and maybe even a day at the beach!
As a special treat, here is one of our favorite Fourth of July recipes that kids will be sure to love!

July 4th Chocolate Covered Strawberries


12 large strawberries
4 ounces of white chocolate
1/4 cup blue sprinkles

  1. Cover a cookie sheet with parchment paper and pour blue sprinkles into a small bowl; set aside.
  2. Melt white chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl. Heat for only 30 seconds at a time and stir in between to avoid burning. The chocolate is ready when it is melted and smooth.
  3. Hold strawberry by the stem and carefully dip about 2/3 into chocolate. Make sure to leave a portion of the red strawberry visible near the stem.
  4. Right after covering the strawberry with white chocolate, dip the fruit halfway into the blue sprinkles so that blue, white, and red are all still visible on the strawberry.
  5. Place strawberries 1-2 inches apart on the parchment paper and refrigerate until chocolate is set.
  6. Enjoy! 

Friday, July 3, 2015

Free Book Friday: Lilliput

Free Book Friday is Back!

In Lilliput, Lemuel Gulliver returns to London after his travels with more than stories in tow, he brings back proof. Lily, the tiny but fierce Lilliputian, spends half of her life in a birdcage as Gulliver's captive. In this adventurous tale, Lily must race against time to return to her family and break free from the clutches of Gulliver himself.

Inspired by Gulliver's Travels, this work of fiction is sure to excite any young reader's imagination. Enter to win your free copy today!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Teacher Tuesday with Murphy, Gold Rush Dog

Historical Fiction: Grades 2-4

In this suspenseful tale, Murphy and Sally are brought together by fate and they always protect each other in the face of danger. This dynamic duo is driven not only by a need to survive, but by a fierce love and loyalty for one another.

This action-packed story demonstrates the power of friendship, loyalty, love, and perseverance, while also conveying historical information about the gold rush itself. Historical fiction can help students to realize that learning—no matter what the subject matter—can be fun. Try the following assignment with your class after reading Murphy, Gold Rush Dog together. This activity may also work well when reviewing social studies lessons for the semester or quarter.
  •   Ask your students what other history lessons they remember from the semester so far.
  •  Ask each student to write down the historical topic that they enjoyed learning about the most.
  • Once everyone has chosen a topic, explain to the class that they will write a story about a fictional character during their chosen time period.
  • Suggest that the students use any notes or handouts from their chosen unit
  • Encourage imagination and creativity in creating a fictional story within a true one.

This assignment will provide practice in both social studies and writing. If time allows, students might also visit their school library or computer lab as a class to research their chosen topic.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Father's Day Roundup

Happy Father’s Day!

We would like to say thank you to all of the incredible fathers and father figures out there who have made a difference in so many lives.

From Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird  to Mr. Weasley in Harry Potter, fathers have always played an important role in literature. As a special tribute to fathers around the world, we want to give a shout out to some of our favorite fathers and father figures. Who’s your favorite literary dad? Let us know in the comments!

  • Papa from Flying Written and Illustrated by Kevin Luthardt

  • Text© 1988 by Harper Lee. Illustrations©1988 by Grand Central Publishing. (Grand Central Publishing)

  • Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird

  • Father from Dad, Jackie, and Me Written by Myron Uhlberg and Illustrated by Colin Bootman

  • Text© 2013 by Victor Hugo. Illustrations ©1985 by Cameron Mackintosh. (Signet)
  • Jean Valjean from Les Miserables

  • Father from Into the Woods Written by Elizabeth Spurr and Illustrated by Manelle Oliphant

  • Text © 1998 by J.K. Rowling. Illustrations © 1998 by Mary GrandPre. (Scholastic)
  • Mr. Weasley, Sirius Black, and James Potter from Harry Potter

  • Father from The Printer Written by Myron Uhlberg and Illustrated by Henri Sorensen

  • Text© 1983 by Stan and Jan Berenstain. Illustrations © 1983 by Stan and Jan Berenstain. (Random House)
  • Papa Bear from The Berenstain Bears

  • Mikey's Dad from That’s Not How You Play Soccer, Daddy! Written by Sherry Shahan and Illustrated  by Tatjana Mai-Wyss

  • Text© 2005 by Cornelia Funke. Illustrations © 2005 by Carol Lawson and Ian Butterworth. (Scholastic) 
  •  Mo from Inkheart

  • Text©  2002 by Jane Austen. © Illustrations 1825 Sir Thomas Lawrence. (Penguin Classics)
  • Mr. Bennet from Pride and Prejudice