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Saturday, December 3, 2016

The End of Elephant & Piggie: Say It Ain't So!

Am I  the only one whose heart broke a little bit when Mo Willems announced that The Thank You Book (which was published last May) would be the final Elephant and Piggie book? Sure, I can sympathize with Willems' desire to spread his wings creatively (which he elucidates in this interview with The Washington Post). A huge part of me, though, wanted to throw a tantrum to rival that of any four year old and demand "More Elephant & Piggie now!".   

Gerald the Elephant and his best friend Piggie the pig were first introduced to young readers in 2007 with the simultaneous publication of My Friend is Sad and Today I will Fly. On a side note, I have always wondered why the elephant has a real name and the pig is just called Piggie. Well, I guess that I am not the only one curious about this because Mo Willems explains his character's names in the FAQ section of his website. According to Mo: Piggie does have a name. Her is "Piggie". She was named that because when she was born she looked just like a little piggie. Elephant Gerald is named after my favorite singer (say it fast).

All 25 books in the Elephant & Piggie series are easy readers done in a comic book style with Gerald's words appearing in grey speech bubbles and Piggie's in pink. Personally, I find the majority of easy reader books to be watching-paint-dry dull. Nothing against authors of easy readers but often the simplified text results in a story that is trite and boring. This is not true with Willem's Elephant & Piggie series. Yes, the text is appropriate for beginning readers, but the stories will have readers of all ages rolling on the floor with a case of the giggles. In fact, I have frequently used Elephant & Piggie books to demonstrate how to write dialogue with my young authors club.  The tweens and teens in my group love Elephant & Piggie just as much as any kindergartner. There are multiple printables online for older kids involving Elephant & Piggie such as this adlib and this fill in the  comic.

What better way to channel my grief than by throwing an Elephant & Piggie party at the library? Since our community did not have school on November 8th I went with an Election Day theme for the party. The library was decorated with Vote for Elephant and Vote for Piggie signs, Elephant & Piggie balloons and pictures, and we had a special Elephant and Piggie election booth.
After voting the kids were able to show further support for their candidate by choosing an Elephant or Piggie party blower. And just in case you are interested Piggie won in a landslide.

As far as other party activities, I was definitely inspired by some of my favorite Elephant & Piggie books.

Kids were able to pose for a picture as Gerald or Piggie in the We Are In a Book cutout that I made. I bought the pig nose at the dollar store and the elephant trunk was actually a clip on wolf tail that I found at Target around Halloween. I just turned it around and ran elastic string through so kids could put it over their face.

For a craft we decorated paper ice cream cones perfect for sharing (or not sharing) with Piggie.

One of the games that the kids seemed to enjoy the most was the bird nest balance walk. I made bird nests out of foam bowls and brown construction paper, and glued a paper Pigeon (another fantastic character created by Willems) in the bottom. The kids then had to race to a set of plastic cones and back while balancing the nests on their heads. I had kids of all ages at this party and I have to tell you that it amazed me how entertained the older kids were by this game. I had nine and ten year old boys that spent half the party walking around with bird nests on their heads.

Of course, no party would be complete without dancing! For extra fun I threw out a bunch of pink and blue balloons with Gerald and Piggie faces drawn on them.


Friday, November 4, 2016

Gilmore Girl's is back!

Gilmore Girls is back!
I can remember when I first watched Gilmore Girls, my husband wanted to watch wrestling and I was just looking for something to do, who would have thought it would have started a life long love affair!  My mother and I watched that first episode and we were hooked for life.  It wasn't long till we had a Tuesday night routine, grab a cup of hot chocolate (little late for coffee) and curl up on the couch and let the fun begin!  We laughed, we cried and we spent seven years with the Gilmore's.  It was a sad day when the show went off the air.  My mother and I gathered as many Gilmore snacks as we could and watched that last episode with tears flowing down our faces.  It's amazing how attached you can get to fictional characters, they become people you care about, people whom you love.  When Rory turned Logan's proposal down I was crushed, when Rory and Dean broke up, I'm the one who needed the tub of ice cream and to wallow, and when Rory and Lorelei didn't spend Rory's 21st together it was me who needed a drink,, perhaps one that was like drinking a My Little Pony. ;)  My mother and I watched every episode and bought every season when released on DVD, watching every episode over and over, my kids would even walk around the house singing the theme song.  When my mom passed away she left me her Gilmore Girl collection and her set of Harry Potter books her most prized possessions. For me November 25th will be full of joy and sorrow, as I'm eating my Luke's cheeseburger my heart will be breaking, for my mom for whom "never gave me any idea that I couldn't do whatever I wanted to do or be whomever I wanted to be.  She filled our house with love and fun and books and music...
I don't know if she ever realized the person I most wanted to be, was her.  Thank you mom, you are my guidepost for everything."

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Book Review: Ghost by Jason Reynolds

"You can't run away from who you are, but what you can do is run toward who you want to be."

I read a lot of middle grade fiction. Not only do I order books for that section of the library but, let's be honest, kids' books are sometimes just more fun to read than adult books. I must confess, though, that I would not normally choose a sports themed book.
Ghost by Jason Reynolds is one of those books that made me glad that I stepped outside of my elves-battling-dragons comfort zone.

Castle Crenshaw started referring to himself as Ghost the night his father went into a drunken rage and chased him and his mother with a gun. Three years after that fateful night Castle walks past the park and sees a group of kids on the track. Curious, he stops to watch because "running ain't nothing I ever had to practice. It's just something I knew how to do." On a whim, Castle decides to prove that Lu, the sprinter to beat, isn't "that fast" by running alongside. Blown away by Castle's natural talent Coach Brody convinces him to run with the Defenders. For the first time in his life Castle is part of a team, but only if he can stay out of trouble. Easier said than done for "the boy with the altercations and the big file. The one who yelled at teachers and punched stupid dudes in the face for talking smack. The one who felt...different. And mad. And sad. The one with all the scream inside."

Ghost is the first book in a four-volume series revolving around, the Defenders, an elite middle school track team. Ninety-nine percent of children's books about sports spotlight boys playing, football, basketball, or baseball. Reynolds went the unexpected route by writing about the less popular sport of track. I also love that the Defenders is a coed team and future books in the series will feature some of the female members of the team as main characters.

So, I have gone on and on about Ghost being a "sports" book but, obviously, it is much more than a book about track. Castle Crenshaw is such an authentic character and you will cry, cheer, and laugh as a he struggles to move beyond the shame of being poor and having a father in jail. Yes, Castle makes some serious mistakes. Like when he steals an expensive pair of track shoes or smacks the school bully with his lunch tray. But you also see the love Castle has for his mother when he sits and watches romance movies with her despite thinking that they are goofy and boring. Or how much Castle longs for his sober father every time he buys a bag of sunflower seeds at the corner store.

There is also a beautiful circularity to Ghost. The story begins with Castle remembering the worst night of his life when: "the shot--loudest sound I ever heard--made my legs move even faster. I don't know if that's possible, but that's definitely what it seemed like." At the conclusion of Ghost, Castle is in the starting blocks at his first track meet, but this time when the gun goes off  he is confident, eager, and proud.

Jason Reynold's writing absolutely shines and this exceptional coming-of-age story is sure to appeal young readers whether they are boy/girl, black/white, rich/poor, etc. Check out the amazing video below in which Jason Reynolds explains what led him to become an author of juvenile and teen fiction.