Three on Thursday

1. Please welcome, Lucy!

Lucy is a nine week old yellow Labrador who became a part of our family on Sunday. Her birthday is September 13th. She loves to chew on woodwork, pounce on footballs and soccer balls, and snuggle in your lap for some serious loving. Lucy is learning to love the warmth of being a house dog but is still learning to only pee outside.

It only took a moment for us to fall in love with Lucy but of course it will take a lifetime of training and love to make Lucy a well-mannered member of our family. I’m pretty tuckered out from a week of night time bathroom breaks. It is like having a newborn again, but one that can run away pretty quickly.

2. Because of travel issues, my parents are arriving this evening with my hubby (who has been away this first week of puppy parenting). They will stay through the Thanksgiving weekend. Did I mention that all my energy this week has gone to this puppy and my human children. The house is a complete wreck. School paperwork and projects cover my kitchen counters, flies have made their way into the boy’s bathroom and died– littering the floor, My kid’s rooms are trashed. The office, where my sister-in-law is suppose to sleep next Wednesday is covered in books for my MFA. The laundry is done and has been wrinkling in the baskets that I’ve been dumping on my bed to fold and then shoving back into the basket at night when I finally hit the hay at after a day of puppy care. In addition to the messy house, my oil just ran out. Not entirely unexpected mind you. I tried to get oil last week but they didn’t take my check which has our Maryland address still. I found someone who will deliver this morning.

3. AND… I’m supposed to be prepping for my trip to NYC for the Jewish Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Conference this weekend. I have to pack and get color copies made of illustrations. It would be nice if I could update my portfolio a bit too. I should stick new mailing labels on my postcards too.

So you see, it is quite busy here. Hectic might be a better word. Frustrating? No, exhausting.

Book Review Wednesday: Bug Boy

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Luper, Eric. Bug Boy. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009.

The crafts people and artists who make up my circle of friends amaze me. I feel lucky and proud to have Eric Luper in this circle. I know that I said I would only review picture books and books for middle grade audiences. I know. But I just finished Eric Luper’s, Bug Boy (which is a Young Adult book) and I couldn’t put it down.

What’s really wonderful about this book is how Eric works the plot arch. First the reader learns to love the protagonist Jack Walsh, a shabby horse exerciser and stable cleaner. He makes Jack’s desires crystal clear and provides the main character with enough know how, personality, and drive to get the job done. The reader routes for Jack 100%.

Next, Eric immerses the reader in the horse racing culture of Saratoga Springs in 1934. From architecture to wardrobe, racing strategy to jockey speak, the historic and racing details are amazing. The reader can hear the sounds of the track: skirts rustling, hooves pounding, bookies gambling– cigar smoke mixes with whiskey and horse manure. Lovely!

Finally, Eric ratchets up the tension by inserting well-placed obstacles for our hero. The obstacles are physical, psychological, and ethical and force Jack Walsh to make grown up decisions. As the tension mounts (get it, mounts), Eric reveals back story as smoothly as a spider exudes her webbing until he catches the reader on the edge of her seat. At one point of the story, I actually said aloud, “Oh no she didn’t.”

While the book is written for Young Adults I highly recommend it for adults as well. If this book isn’t optioned for a movie in the next few years, I’ll eat my riding helmet.

Book Review Wednesday: Soap, Soap, Soap

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Dulemba, Elizabeth O. Soap, soap, soap = Jabón, jabón, jabón. McHenry, IL: Raven Tree Press, 2009.





Soap, Soap, Soap, tells the story of Hugo and his trip to fetch soap for his mother from the market. The only problem is that Hugo keeps forgetting what he is supposed to purchase. Soap, Soap, Soap (Jabon, Jabon, Jabon) is Elizabeth’s first picture book as both the author and the illustrator. Raven Tree Press publishes the book in an English only and a Bilingual English/Spanish edition.


I enjoyed the bilingual addition very much and was pleased with how seamlessly the Spanish vocabulary (printed in red) was included in the text. I was actually hoping for more Spanish, perhaps a side by side translation and wonder what the editorial decisions were surrounding this issue.


I had a great time following the main character as he tried to accomplish his mother’s task through Elizabeth’s wavy, whimsical town, but I had a hard time believing that the main character would loose his train of thought so quickly. How could someone be so forgetful? However, this past week I have misplaced my keys, and my cell phone, forgotten an oil delivery, and left my wash to mildew for three days. I also had to have my own kiddo repeat, “Get dressed, collect my laundry,” three times this morning. And he still needed to be sent back upstairs to get pants. Hugo’s journey seems more believable now.


Elizabeth Dulemba’s digital illustrations have appeared in trade and educational titles and the SCBWI national bulletin. In Soap, Soap, Soap, Elizabeth creates a wonderful array of diverse and true-to-life characters. Hugo and his friend, Jellybean Jones, are especially animated. I love their expressions as they navigate the mud puddle (charco de barro.) Elizabeth uses her character’s body positions (angle, arm position, and visual balance) to convey their inquisitive attitude wonderfully. Perhaps my favorite image is of Hugo on the back cover hanging on the clothesline after his bath. His body is delightfully relaxed and shows so much movement. Kudos to the designer, I love the details in this book: the text design, the endpapers, the soap bars on the pagination.


Elizabeth is well well known on the blog circuit. She has designed cyber-school "Virtual Visits" so that schools with smaller travel budgets can access guest speakers. Parents and teachers can take advantage of her extensive activities and coloring pages also available on her website and the Raven Tree site.


Whatever you do, make sure that Soap, Soap, Soap is on your holiday shopping list. Don’t forget!

Book Review Wednesday (on Thursday, oops!)

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Sidman, Joyce and Zagarenski, Pamela. This Is Just To Say. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co, 2007.

Perhaps it is fitting that I begin this post with an apology. I’m so sorry that I missed Wednesday. It startled me, then melted away like the first snow. (Responses welcomed in the comments.)

In the first section of Joyce Sidman’s poetry collection, This Is Just To Say, fictitious sixth grade students and their teacher are inspired to write poetic apologies after reading William Carlos William’s (often anthologized) “This Is Just To Say.” In the second half of the book, those they have injured answer with poetic responses.

The whimsical collage illustrations by Pamela Zagarenski fit the collection perfectly. The student introduction tells us that a student and the art teacher created the images and Zagarenski’s minimalist drawing approach makes this believable. I especially applaud her use of school related papers in the images. Houghton Mifflin editors chose the same illustrator for Sidman’s, Red Sings From Treetops, for her wonderful ability to create fantastical settings.

The subject matter of these poems is enough to evoke emotion in the reader: a dying dog, a hurt sibling, an absent father, a missing class pet. However, some of the apologies are lighter: a stolen jelly donut or brownie, a hard hit in dodge ball, a loved school statue.

I suppose I am a little bit of a poetry traditionalist but I thought that the poems that employed more formal devices were the most effective. “The Black Spot” uses an imbedded dot of pencil lead as a metaphor for the simmering anger between siblings. “Dodge Ball Kings” a poem in two voices that captures the excitement and energy of the boys with onomatopoeias. “Haiku for Carmen” which follows the traditional 5-7-5 syllable form. “What Girls Want” in which the student poet uses a series of metaphors and parallel phrasing that builds to a final contradictory line that really packs the emotional punch of the poem.

When the poems are less formal in their organization the collection lags. Many of the poems are prose poems and I felt that the line breaks were somewhat arbitrary. Many of them could have used more condensed language and the line breaks could have been better chosen to create more impact. If you read some of these poems aloud the listener might think you were just reading a paragraph.

That said, I highly recommend this book for any middle grade reader. By immersing the reader in the characters that people Mrs. Merz sixth grade class, Ms. Sidman makes each of these situations relevant and readable to a child audience. If children visit her website, they can hear Ms. Sidman reading her poems.

The book, published in 2007, has won many awards including:

Claudia Lewis Poetry Award

Cybils Poetry Award

Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award Honor Book

IRA Teacher’s Choice Book

Texas Bluebonnet Award Nomination

New York Public Library’s "100 Titles for Reading and Sharing"

School Library Journal Best Book of the Year

Book Links Lasting Connection Book

If you are looking in your library for This Is Just To Say, it is probably housed in the juvenille poetry section where some of the most wonderful and overlooked books are just waiting to be rediscovered.