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If you are adventuring through our brand new unit, Taxonomy of Living Things: The Five Kingdoms of Life, meander with me for a moment...
Echinoderm? Whoever said, "It's all in a name," sure got it right. Echinoderms got their name because they are spiny-skinned marine animals. They possess radial symmetry, and many possess 5 arms (or multiples of 5). Sounds oh so scientific, but we've all seen these animals- sea stars, urchins, and sand dollars.
Collagraphy is printmaking process that is related to the art of collage. Do you see the connection between the words? It is sometimes called "relief printing" because the subject to be printed is raised from the print block. You can print anything this way, from fiber to sandpaper, feathers to paperclips.
Stopping to think about the word origin, one comes from the Greek word koala, meaning "glue" and graph, meaning "write". I thought to myself: "Glue...? Write...? ...WORDS!"
So our collagraphs were made by glueing words backwards and in reverse onto chipboard to create our print plates. The more words the merrier. Simple enough. From there, the possibilities are endless. Offer a variety fun colors and let students cloud words onto large scale paper in the style of pop artist Sister Corita Kent. The results will surprise you.
Aesthetics is a set of principles that inform the outcome of a work of art. Aesthetics taps into that part of our being that connects with beauty. Last spring, after reading The Mozart Season, I knew the section of the story that would inspire the most creativity. I know this because I have seen it here, and here, and here. And when readers stumble upon this three page passage, well, Section 5 happens.
As the story goes, when Allegra and her mother's friend, Diedre spend an afternoon in the Rose Garden, well, music happens. Nestled atop a hill in the park is a silvery aluminum sculpture. There are tall columns and arched columns, smaller columns and water uniting them all:
"It was Diedre who started the song. She began slowly, BONG bong Bong bong with her knuckles on the three big columns, walking between them."
Now I've seen some fantastic creative responses to The Mozart Season (some that have won awards), but when this past year, one of my students finished the book and brought in her Section 5 project to share, I marveled that, yet again, it was in response to this specific music making passage.
And the project she brought in was not only "nique" (as Allegra and her friends would say), but also a perfect opportunity to share some tips to elevate the Section 5 project artistically. So following is a little make-over:
With a cardboard box, some discarded bottles, aluminum foil, a few scraps of notebook paper, one green marker, Scotch tape, and a pitcher of water, my student made a musical instrument. While I have seen many musical instruments (even musical compositions) inspired by this little section of The Mozart Season, this one captured my imagination. Think "don't judge a book by its cover" for a moment. this little homely project surprised me with rich sounds made from filling the bottles with different levels of water and blowing gently across each the neck. Oh! I was simply tickled, "My favorite Mozart invention so far!"
But the poor dear was in desperate need of a makeover. So I gave the maker a simple lesson.
You don't have to be an artist to make your idea beautiful. And, think about it, ideas are meant to be appreciated. So, go on, beautify.
One last thought... There is a trend in all sectors of education to discount the reading of pure fiction. This is not wise. This quiet little story is, in my opinion, powerful proof why we all need to read across many genres, all kinds of stories. Every time I've led students through this purely fictional story set in a very real setting (the competition that Allegra is working toward is a real competition that happens annually in Oregon), they read a few pages and groan. But by the time they get to the end, they have a deep appreciation for the rich story and fodder for their creativity to unfold.
Before the observing begins, explore the science of clouds. The invisible air around us contains droplets of water we can not see until they mingle above to form a cloud. This formation is the result of warm water on Earth evaporating and condensing in cooler pockets of sky above. We've all interpreted the shape of clouds, but scientists have categorized and named them. There are cirrus clouds and cumulus clouds and others too, and there are variations in many combinations: altostratus, cirrocumulus, cumulonimbus.
Now you are ready to explore. Over the course of many days, observe the sky, making little sketches of what you see. You will discover that no two clouds are alike. Clouds may have similar attributes (puffy, streaked, swirling), but from there, when you look closely and really think about what you are seeing, the similarities disappear.
So how do artists recreate clouds in two-dimensions? They begin just as you've begun, by looking. Using chalk pastels is a fun way to capture the essence of a cloud on paper. Begin by sketching your cloud shape in white, then begin smudging shades of blue in your sky space and tinted white. Sometimes clouds have bits of pink, yellow, blue, even purple, look closely.
With a handful of chalk pastels, a small stack of 3 x 5 rectangles of bristol board, an aerosol of spray fixative (to spray on completed drawings so they won't smudge), pre-cut mat board, and your head in the clouds, you too can create a wonderful little museum of clouds.
Get to know the elements!
Chemistry is much more than complicated theories and experiments in the lab. Chemistry is the foundation of literally everything we know. But for our children, chemistry is at best a daunting subject, at worst downright boring. Mention the word chemistry and they will run!
Honestly, chemistry is no more daunting than any other subject to be mastered. And chemistry is certainly NOT boring! Developing an imaginative view of chemistry is the key to unlocking its wonders.
This discovery journal will guide students on a wonderful voyage through the mysteries of the periodic table. Over the course of a year students curiosity will be piqued as they will research and catalog their findings of 42 of the 144 known elements. Elemental Journal is an interesting and broad introduction into the fascinating realm of chemistry.
Purchase now through October 1 for back-to-school and use the code FALL RESEARCH for a 10% discount!
There are two types of things in the world: Living and Non-living!
Everything you can imagine is either...
We are pleased to announce a brand new addition to our selection of Research Discovery Guides: Taxonomy of Living Things: The Five Kingdoms.
All living things can be ordered according to their common biology. Classification allows scientists to explore levels of similarity, dissimilarity, and interconnectedness of cells, systems, and structures. The first level of classification is the Kingdoms. There are five: Protista, Monera, Fungi, Plantae, and Animalia. Over the course of 7 weeks, as students explore the diversity of the animal kingdom, they will gather knowledge that will connect to many corners of the field of biology.
During weeks 1 - 3 of this 8-week unit, our scaffolding will guide students independently through reading, gathering information, and thinking activities. Then, during weeks 4 through 8, students will engage in the deeper research of delving into the specifics of each kingdom. They research specific species, making an independent and observational entry as they acquire vital research writing skills.
Purchase now through October 1 for back-to-school and use the code FALL RESEARCH for a 10% discount!
Hear the tale of Pocahontas as only she can tell it... Experience the wit and wisdom of Ben Franklin... Sail the seas with Leif... Join the Pony Express with Buffalo Bill, the man in the buckskin suit... Join the adventures of the great mariner Columbus... Follow George Washington from the little red brick house where he was born to the White House.... and climb upon the shoulders of our beloved Abe Lincoln. And who better to tell the tales than Ingri and Edgar Parin d'Aulaire? We are so thankful to our BFFs at BFB—Beautiful Feet Books—for keeping these beautiful pockets of history in print.
Blackbird & Company's brand new History Discovery Guides will inspire your students to engage in meaningful research activities. As students are encouraged to independently investigate, they will gain a greater depth of understanding, and a broader knowledge base of the great men and women who have shaped our history. Use one guide of your choice in the fall and another guide in the spring in conjunction with our year 2, Level 2 or year 1, Level 3 Literature and Writing Discovery Guides and your student will have a seamless transition to the entry level Introduction to Composition: The Essay during middle school to fully prepare them for Level 4 in high school.
Our History Discovery Guides provide the scaffolding your student needs to successfully craft a biographical essay. Each week, for three weeks, the student will examine rich vocabulary to describe character traits exemplified by the historical figure, respond to comprehension questions designed to help them extract details that matter, and craft one body paragraph that will later become part of the culminating essay. During the fourth week, students will be guided through the process of composing a simple three-sentence-with-a-punch introduction and a simple-three-sentence-with-a-punch conclusion. They will put the components together and, viola, an essay! There is a fifth week creative project, of course, that offers directives to tap into the students imagination.
Honestly, the d'Aulaire books have been part of my personal library since childhood. I read them to my children when they were small enough to nestle on my lap during story time. Later they read them again silently, on their own cozily snuggled in our living room armchair. As a writer and an educator, I am happy to offer this opportunity for your students to not only experience these wonderful stories, but also to glean from their riches and to offer in response their own original insights inspired by our rich history. So challenge your students to raise their voice! Challenge them to write authentically so their ideas will Take Flight!
During summertime I read. Double time. I read trends in education. I read about the brain and I read about arts. I read biography. I read about sorrow. I read seed catalogues. I read inside pockets of history. I read about words. I read fiction, the classic or soon to be classic variety where sheer genus leaves you awestruck. And I read the guilty pleasure variety too. The kind where the story is a supercilious and satisfyingly contented diversion.
Something bespoke is made to order. Made by hand. Bespoke used to be a common thing, but now is, well, "Wow." Think hand-thrown ceramic dish ware. Think commissioned art. Think a one-off-racing bike. Then you'll be in the contemporary realm of bespoke.
Last week I had to purchase a book of stamps to send off checks to a handful of wonderful musicians who brought music to the Guild, musicians who were not part of our direct deposit program. I marveled in my mind that so much time had passed since I last purchased one. Had it been months? Years?
Honestly, I was tickled to have stamps in hand and decided to make a celebration of this opportunity.
After crafting little notes of gratitude and purchasing a coffee cards to tuck into personalized envelopes (each a unique bright color so that the recipient would know that what they offered our group was better than an anemic #10), I went to work at practicing penmanship, using the art of typography to send the little packages into the wide world on their way to the hand of a real live recipient.
There are 11 stamps left in my little book. Eleven stamps that I am planning to utilize well. More on that forthcoming.
Think DaVinci. DaVinci summer. Unplug Send a bespoke letter from your hand to the hand of an other.
Common milkweed, when broken, drips a milky sap. Likely this is how it earned its name. The caterpillars of the Monarch butterfly feasts on this particular plant. The nectar of Milkweed is precious. Anyone who has studied this butterfly knows that is is resilient.
Jerry Spinelli's Milkweed opens from the point of view of an orphaned boy on the streets of Warsaw at the dawn of World War II. The metaphorical connection between the title of the book and the resilient young protagonist is not lost on the reader: "Call me thief. Call me stupid. Call me Gypsy. Call me Jew. Call me one-eared Jack. I don't care. Empty-handed victims once told me who I was. Then Uri told me. Then an armband." Read on to discover how resiliency transforms this Monarch of a boy. In the process, you might plant some Milkweed and consider its connection to the story for your Section 5 project.
Three of the saddest three words are: out-of-print.
Perloo the Bold is a terrific fantasy tale for our Level two readers. I can't tell you how sad I was to learn this news! Immediately Memory Lane was flooded by my tears.
Five years ago...
Five years ago my son Søren was 10 and Perloo the Bold was a book in print. He identified with and was truly inspired by the reluctant hero, introverted scholar of this wonderful fantasy tale. The two hit it off from page one. Looking back, I did not have to encourage Søren to bring shape to his creative ideas, I simply had to provide the opportunity and the space for him to be creative. His little fimmaking experience inspired by this terrific story, was one of the moments in time that blossomed his unique individuality.
Section 5 of our integrated Literature and Writing Discovery Guides will help you establish a tradition of creativity.
If you elevate imagination, provide opportunities to generate creative work, and your children will celebrate accomplishments that stand the test of time.
Three more words (sad to read):
Perloo's been shelved!
Sad, but true.
While we will not discontinue selling our Perloo the Bold Guides, we will no longer be selling the books (you will certainly find this book in libraries, or second hand online for years to come). When we first received the news of the book going out-of-print. we stocked up. We even purchased as many gently used copies as we could find. But now, our supply is down to single digits. So, while supplies last, Perloo the Bold bundles will be sold for a mere $10 — a 50% markdown! So take your child on an incredible journey with Perloo and see where the path leads!
It is one of those moments where you realize you've lost something precious. You know the moment. Shoulders shrugging. Eyes remembering. Breathless.
Enter the bear. The bear who lost something precious.
The bear who lost his hat is at once endearing.
The bear whose emotional gesture does not change.
Does not change that is until his epiphany, "I HAVE SEEN MY HAT."
At which point he runs.
Runs to his treasured hat.
But this is not your typical illustrated story.
This tale is a tale with a twist.
A smart, thought provoking, hat-wearing twist.
The 2012 Theodore Seuss Geisel Honor book, I Want My Hat Back is a must read for children and grown ups too, but especially for wearers of hats.
And, when you are ready for the next hat book, you will want to read 2013 Caldecott Winner, This is Not My Hat, about a hat steeling fish.
And when you have completed these two enchanting hat books, you will have to wait for fall, when the trilogy is to be completed.
Sent from my iPad
I was drawn to this book because of its intriguing illustrations. Looking closer I realized its look was intriguing because it was crafted by the likes of Jon Klassen.
Think The Folk Keeper.
Now, think Coraline.
What happens when the hero of the story is an anxious child? One who cocoons beneath his covers each night and cannot commit to sleep until he’s recited his litany of gratitude—twice.
Add to this drama the fact the fragile protagonist has a brand new baby brother who is desperately ill.
What happens when that protagonist, once he’s finally drifted off to dreamland, encounters the queen-of-all-angel-wasps whose come to “save” the baby?
But for upper elementary and middle school level readers, this is a book worth reading to glean, among other treasures, its message of perseverance in the face of fragility is heartening.
The lexicon here is simple, but I found it deceptively and wondrously so.
“I knew I wouldn’t get back to sleep—didn’t even want to—so I pulled on jeans and a T-shirt and went outside to the backyard. It was early to be cool still, though you could feel the heat already clenched up in the earth and air, just waiting to unfurl” (70-71).
There is something magical about the way the author uses the words “clench” and “unfurl” to surprise the reader, to turn the tone of this statement.
And here too:
“I hated it when her eyes got wet. It made me scared. Like she wasn’t my mom any more but something fragile that might break” (41).
In two small sentences leading up to a third longer statement, we sense the drama of this family who is thin with worry for the sick baby. We readers are invited to experience the story’s main conflict through small turns in simple language. These three small sentences, all straight forward on the surface, demonstrate the inviting voice of this book. Here, the building of rhythm, the sensory information—those wet eyes—and, the last statement beginning with that awkward prepositional phrase, “Like she,” work together to give us a fresh understanding of a child responding to a mother’s tears.
While it is not likely The Nest, by Kenneth Oppel will make it to our Level 3 or 4 lineup in the near future, it is a recommended read for those interested in magical realism, especially for those who like the genre best when it is pushed toward the realm of science fiction or fantasy as this book pushes in both directions.
Are you following our Write it...! board on Pinterest? This images is all inspiration and puddles, perfect for February poetry.
Take a rainy day walk (imagine weather if climate does not permit) around your neck of the woods. Go people watching like this artist did. Write about a particular person or group you come across. What do you think that person’s backstory might be? Who are his/her friends? Where is he/she going? What does he/she hope for? What is he/she afraid of? Does that person call to mind certain memories, either childhood memories or recent experiences? Weave those memories into your narrative!
Bagpipes and Pajamas
Perhaps my craziest memory
is that of the man who sat in the quad
sometimes, playing bagpipes in his pajamas.
I don’t remember why he would do that—
perhaps I never knew. Perhaps
he was a transfer from Scotland,
and missed home while walking in the tangle
of graffitied metal of downtown warehouses.
Perhaps he always wanted to travel abroad,
and spent his nights drinking in the sound
of shafts of sunlight breaking through grey clouds
onto green hills: all I can recollect is his music
wafting around town at midnight some nights,
hearing those sweetly broken bagpipe
notes float out into the night,
starless with impenetrable smog.
“A capacity, and taste, for reading, gives access to whatever has already been discovered by others. It is the key, or one of the keys, to the already solved problems. And not only so. It gives a relish, and facility, for successfully pursuing the unsolved ones.” -Abraham Lincoln
Celebrate a birthday this month as you begin your year in books.
on the first Langston Hughes and Jerry Spinelli
on the fourth Paul O. Zelinsky
on the fifth David Wiener
on the seventh Laura Ingalls Wilder
on the tenth E.L. Konisgsburg
on the eleventh Jane Yolen
on the twelfth Abraham Lincoln
on the fourteenth Frederick Douglass
on the twenty-seventh Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
and, this year bing leap year, on the twenty-nineth, poet Howard Nemerov