07 Jul

At the Sea Floor Cafe – By Leslie Bulion

Posted in Book Reviews, Education, Poetry, Teaching

I first learned about At the Sea Floor Cafe: Odd Ocean Critter Poems by Leslie Bulion (Illustrated by Leslie Evans) at Book Expo America this past spring.  A book of poems about ocean creatures?  My inner poetry-science geek was instantly intrigued.

While the book is short (I read it in one sitting), you could spend an entire school semester with it and not run out of things to discuss.  In fact, what I liked about this book is that each poem opened up an entire world to the reader, not just with the science but with the poetry structure itself.  Each poem in the book represents a different form ranging from rhyming couplets to free verse, to a pantoum (my personal favorite).  With each poem comes opportunity for a unique lesson plan relating either to the poetry or the science, or both.

My one slight concern with the book is I wonder if it’s trying to do too much.  Reading it in one sitting, the poems began to run together and I felt I wasn’t able to fully appreciate all the detail that went into each poem, both in its structure and in the science behind the verse.  The concept for this book is so smart and unique, I would hate for readers to miss the nuances of each poem by glossing through this book too quickly.

My recommendation for parents and teachers: Ask readers to select one poem and spend time with it, rather than having them read through the book in one go.  The book is short, so the temptation to breeze through it is definitely there, but young readers will get more mileage out of this book if they read through it slowly, one poem at a time.  For each poem, I would encourage readers to do one or more response activities to help emphasize what they learn in the poem.


  • Draw pictures of the ocean critter in the poem.
  • Cut out pictures or search for pictures on the web and make a poster about the ocean critter (what it eats, what its habitat is like, funny behaviors, etc.)
  • Go to the library (or the computer) and look up three cool facts about the ocean critter in the poem.  One rule: These have to be facts not found in the poem.
  • Read the poetry notes about the poem and try to write your own poem in that form.


I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  It has lots of cool facts about ocean creatures, and the poetry notes at the end really show that the author knows her stuff.  Because this book is so full of opportunity for teaching, I would love to see a parents’ guide available to give parents ideas for activities that could go along with this book.  Good teachers will see millions of opportunities with this book and will get a lot of mileage out of it in their classrooms, but for kids reading it at home I think a guide with companion activities would be wonderful.

Overall, it’s a funny and quirky book.  When I teach another poetry workshop for kids, this one is definitely going in my repertoire.


27 Jun

What Makes a Book Educational?

Posted in Education, Teaching

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about educational content.  What does it mean exactly for something to be “educational” and how do we know if something is “educational” or not?  Back when I worked in toys, there were a lot of buzz words we used for marketing including that catch-all term: developmentally appropriate.  But really, what does all this mean?

When I wrote my Master’s Thesis for my psychology degree, I operated under the assumption that all toys and books are “educational” in the sense that kids can learn something from just about anything.  The question isn’t whether they’re learning something, but what they’re learning exactly.

Kids might learn colors and letters from alphabet blocks, but they may lessons about body image from fashion dolls.  They might learn their numbers by watching some TV programs but they might learn from superhero cartoons that it’s OK to hurt people if your intentions are good.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not placing value-judgements here.  I’m not saying some toys/books/TV shows are good and some are bad.  I just think we as writers need to be aware that kids will learn many things from our books.  That being the case, let’s make sure they learn what we intended and not some other hidden message that we didn’t mean to convey.  Books don’t need to have a “message” in order to convey one.  The important thing is that we create our work with our eyes open, aware that kids will learn from just about anything.

I’ve discovered a couple of books that make learning fun and are able to hide the educational “message” rather effectively.  I’ll be discussing these books over the next few weeks so stay tuned.  In the meantime, I want to hear your take: What do you think of “educational” toys/books/TV shows?  Are some things more “educational” than others?

And if you’re a parent or teacher, do you limit which toys/books/TV shows your kids are exposed to?  Why or why not?

Is limiting books that kids read the same as censorship? Why or why not?


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