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LinguaPhile, September 2003

A monthly e-mail newsletter nurturing the development and enjoyment of English language arts at home and at school.


Need English Books? Need Cash? Get Both at Once!

Would you like for your students to have personal copies of Hands-On English -- and for your school or organization to make money in the process? It can happen! Buy books at a discount and sell them as a fundraiser. It's a situation where everyone wins: The students get English books (which they'll use for years), and instead of having to pay for them, your school (or other organization) has actually made money.

For more details call 1-888-641-5353.

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Supplement Your Resources for the New School Year

If you're not already using Hands-On English materials as your principal language arts curriculum, why not order the "Package" as a supplement to your present program? The "Package" includes
Hands-On English (a handbook that provides quick access to English fundamentals and makes grammar visual by using icons to represent parts of speech)
The Activity Book (158 reproducible pages plus answer key)
• Hands-On Sentences (a card game that gives practice with parts of speech and sentence construction)

You can find a complete table of contents and a few sample pages from Hands-On English and The Activity Book on the books' respective pages. (Links are near the bottom of the pages.)

In addition to providing extra practice on familiar topics, The Activity Book includes activities to help your students
• explore word origins
• use a pronunciation key
• respond to literature
• become a community of readers
• revise and edit their writing
• do research and share their findings
• evaluate their study skills and set goals for improvement (handbook) (activity book)

If you have questions, or call Fran at 1-888-641-5353. (Use this same number for phone and fax orders.)

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Quote of the Month: The Beginning of School

. . . the first day of school is our second New Year's. It is our day to make resolutions, to look backward to former lapses and triumphs and to look ahead, usually with a mix of anxiety and hope, to the year to come.
-- Mark Edmundson, U.S. professor, editor, and author (b. 1952)

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Meeting Your Goals

As our Quote of the Month suggests, both teachers and students are likely to begin the school year with high hopes. Often we fail to achieve our objectives because we act as if setting the goal is all we need to do in order to accomplish it. We seem to forget that many goals require a plan, dedication, energy, and

For a systematic plan that will help you chart your course to your goal and monitor your progress, visit

Pages 155 through 158 of The Activity Book will help students evaluate their study skills and set goals for improvement.

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Expand Your Vocabulary: dumbledore

This month's vocabulary feature is taken from Michael Quinion's World Wide Words newsletter -- a delight for linguaphiles. To explore the meaning and origin of dumbledore, a word in its own right as well as the name of the revered headmaster of Hogwarts School in the Harry Potter series, visit

Hands-On English includes nearly 200 morphemes, along with their meanings and examples. Knowing the meanings of morphemes can help you unlock hundreds of words the first time you encounter them. Reviewers of Hands-On English have said that the vocabulary section alone is worth the book's modest purchase price. Learn more -- and place your order -- at

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Q and A: species

Question: I'm confused by the word species. Is it singular or plural? Is the singular specie?

Answer: Thank you for providing the opportunity to discuss a common error. Species [SPEE sheez or SPEE seez] can be either singular or plural:
At a zoo you can see many species that you don't have a chance to see in their natural habitat.
The cheetah is one species that is endangered.

"Specie" [SPEE shee or SPEE see], however, is a different word. It means "coin or coins, especially precious metal (such as gold or silver)":
When paper money is printed without specie to back it up, the currency is likely to lose some of its value.

Hands-On English will put a wealth of information at your fingertips so that you can quickly find what you need to know about grammar, usage, capitalization, punctuation, spelling, and more. Get details -- and place your order -- at

We invite your questions for this feature:

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Review: How to Get Your Child to Love Reading by Esmé Raji Codell

I cannot say enough about this book! I caught about ten minutes of Esmé's recent interview on NPR and was immediately captivated, not only by what she said but also by how she said it.

How to Get Your Child to Love Reading was conceived when Esmé was staring at a shriveled potato that was sprouting eyes. She wondered, " . . . if I had a potato, nothing but a potato, how could I teach a classroom full of children? Well, I could cut a potato in half. (I can use the paring knife from my own kitchen, right?) We could review fractions. With one half, I could cut a design and do potato prints. We could plant the eyes from the other half of the potato (it can have eyes, right?) and grow more potatoes, charting their growth." The ideas cascade: writing a story about a potato, making a book of potato recipes or potato poems, making potato stamps of all the letters, teaching reading, getting books from the library about potatoes, talking about the Irish potato famine, writing letters to executives about potato chips or Mr. Potato Head.

The preceding excerpt illustrates the boundless creativity of author Esmé Raji Codell. On this first page she establishes the metaphor that recurs throughout How to Get Your Child to Love Reading": "Children's literature is our national potato." It is the seed that, through its many shoots, can help our children become caring, educated citizens.

Although the cover dubs How to Get Your Child to Love Reading a "Parent's Guide," this book is a treasure trove for teachers, librarians, grandparents, anyone who cares about children and books. It provides "activities, ideas, and inspiration for exploring everything in the world through books." It is a valuable resource for nourishing juvenile readers, both the reluctant and the ravenous.

How to Get Your Child to Love Reading includes over 3,000 titles recommended for children from birth through eighth grade. However, it doesn't stop with mere recommendations. As Esmé says, "This book is a recipe book for children's literature: how to serve it up so it's delicious and varied."

After a section on reading with "the littlest bambinos," How to Get Your Child to Love Reading is organized by subject matter: social studies, math and science, story books, etc. Esmé subdivides the broad categories, however, so that book lists have very specific headings. She offers books for specific seasons, for special occasions (such as the arrival of a sibling or losing a tooth), for dealing with everyday problems (tattling or the hiccups).

Because the categories are so specific, many books are listed simply by title and author. That is sufficient. Sometimes Esmé adds just a word or two of description. For example, in the math section the note "place value" beside the title The King's Commissioners is extremely elucidating. For some books Esmé provides sentence summaries. For others she provides more information, even excerpts. She provides just enough information to whet our appetites.

But How to Get Your Child to Love Reading has so much more! Esmé's wisdom and revelry shine through on every page. Esmé includes dozens of articles, some on controversial subjects (for example, should reading be rewarded?). She has recurring features honoring "reading heroes" and addressing questions about various aspects of reading. She provides a list of benefits of reading aloud, a "Happy Childhood Checklist," a list of "Must-Reads by the Time You're Thirteen," six pages of story starters. She offers suggestions for integrating literature with life, often in celebration -- a parade of books, a storytelling festival, an unbirthday party. She recommends additional resources, many of them on the Internet.

Appendices and indices round out How to Get Your Child to Love Reading. The appendices include Newbery and Caldecott Award honorees as well as winners. Information about a specific book is easy to find since the books are triply indexed -- by title, author, and subject.

I am thrilled to have discovered Esmé Raji Codell. She is indeed an exuberant, eloquent young voice for promoting literacy through children's literature. How to Get Your Child to Love Reading may well offer the best hope for stemming the current tide of illiteracy.

Published by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill © 2003, 531 pages

Available from How to Get Your Child to Love Reading

You can get better acquainted with Esmé and see her book recommendations at

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Discovering Your Voice as a Writer

Although active and passive voice are important, they aren't what we're talking about here. In Finding Your Writer's Voice Thaisa Frank and Dorothy Wall define voice as "the way you, the writer, project yourself artistically. It's the way you draw on yourself as you write -- your sense of humor, irony, the way you see people and events, use language, and entertain. And it's the way you use these parts of yourself to tell a story -- just the way a singer draws on vocal chords, diaphragm, stomach muscles, and emotion to sing."

Frank and Wall also compare voice to a baby's cry (not a whimper). It is sound apart from meaning, coming from deep inside. It is raw, natural sound, a "harmony of body, heart, and breath."

It may be easier to think of voice in relation to fiction. Certainly more is written about voice in that context. All significant writing should have voice, however -- expository non-fiction, a newsletter, even an English handbook.

One thing that makes Esmé Raji Codell's writing so compelling is her mastery of voice. This is probably apparent even from the short excerpt in the second paragraph of the review above. You immediately know that these words came from a person, not an automaton. You can sense something of her personality. You get an idea of her tone, her pace, her phrasing. You can probably sense differences between Esmé's voice and that of Frank and Wall in the first paragraph of this article -- and that of Michael Quinion in the vocabulary excerpt.

A writer's voice is likely to change from one piece of writing to another. In addition to How to Get Your Child to Love Reading, Esmé has written two other books: Educating Esmé: Diary of a Teacher's First Year and Sahara Special, a children's novel about a fifth grader whose diagnosis indicates that she needs special education. The novel is told in first person from the child's point of view. As you might imagine, the teacher's diary and the student's account include some of the same events. Even if they didn't, these two diverse documents would provide an excellent starting point for examining the elusive entity of voice.

Here are some exercises to help you discover voice -- your own and others.

 1. Listen to the voice you use in everyday speech -- or the voices that talk to you inside your head. Try to channel this raw voice directly onto your paper. Notice things like length of sentence (and phrase), level of vocabulary, pace. (Even if you don't use this natural voice for all of your writing, capturing this one that's so close to you will be good practice for finding others.)

 2. Adopt a playful attitude toward writing -- and toward other things. Lock your inner critic (which may want you to sound just like everyone else) in the closet.

 3. As an exercise, write when you're feeling strong emotion -- when you're especially mad, sad, or glad. Strong emotion might help to propel that voice out of you and onto your paper. Study these voices as you studied your everyday voice in #1 above. Read aloud what you've written. Listen to it. Notice similarities and differences between the voices that emerge.

 4. Tell your story before you write it. Often we do this to get feedback from another person. However, this is solely for the purpose of rehearsing what you will write. You're expressing your ideas in a more natural voice.

 5. Try writing in different places, especially places where you feel emotionally comfortable.

 6. Forget clichés and generalities. Be descriptive and specific.

 7. Consider who will be your audience for the piece of writing. Imagine one person in that audience. Tell your story to that one person. (For example, if you want an intimate voice, imagine you are talking to your best friend. If you want to sound motherly, imagine talking to one of your children.)

 8. Listen to the voices of people around you in the way that you listened to your own voice in #1 above.

 9. When you notice writing that has a resonant voice, read it aloud. Better yet, read it into a tape recorder and play it back so that you can concentrate on listening. Analyze the writing a bit to see what makes the voice shine through.

10. As you discover various voices through these different activities, create characters to go with them. (Even if they have characters, you might want to create new ones.) Imagine what the characters would look like, how they would dress, what jobs they would have, what problems they would have, etc.

11. Have a conversation with one of the characters that you created in #9 above -- your own voice and his (or hers). After you have had the conversation orally, write it down -- maintaining distinct voices, of course.

12. When you feel you know one of these characters pretty well, have the character (in his or her voice) speak -- and then write -- on a totally different subject. You might have the character write an op-ed piece, write a personal letter, explain how to do something, etc.

13. Going one step beyond #11, have two of the characters you know well converse with each other, each in his or her distinct voice. Listen to the conversation before you write it.

14. "Translate" a passage from one voice to another. In other words, express the same ideas with a different voice.

For more information on voice, see Finding Your Writer's Voice or other resources.

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Looking Ahead to National Newspaper Week

National Newspaper Week (October 5-11) will be upon us before you receive your next issue of LinguaPhile. Here are some activities you might want to use with your students to celebrate this event.

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Puzzler: Voice

I. Here are six introductions to young narrators, most of them from children's literature. Identify the source of each passage. (If you need some hints, you can turn this into a matching activity by looking at the list below the passages.) To better notice and savor the differences in the voices, read each passage aloud.

1. You don't know about me, without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, but that ain't no matter. That book was made by Mr. Mark Twain, and he told the truth, mainly. There was things which he stretched, but mainly he told the truth.

2. It was a quiet morning, the town covered over with darkness and at ease in bed. Summer gathered in the weather, the wind had the proper touch, the breathing of the world was long and warm and slow. You had only to rise, lean from your window, and know that this indeed was the first real time of freedom and living, this was the first morning of summer.

3. Why did I write them? Love letters to nobody, nobody who loved me back. They made me feel foolish and better at the same time. I didn't know where to mail them, so I just saved the letters in my desk.

4. Once when I was six years old I saw a magnificent picture in a book, called True Stories from Nature, about the primeval forest. It was a picture of a boa constrictor in the act of swallowing an animal. . . .

In the book it said: "Boa constrictors swallow their prey whole, without chewing it. After that they are not able to move, and they sleep through the six months that they need for digestion."

I pondered deeply, then, over the adventures of the jungle.

5. The morning it happened -- the end of my lovely world -- I did not water the lilac bush outside my father's study. . . . I was ten years old and took it quite for granted that all over the globe people tended their gardens on such a morning as this. Wars and bombs stopped at the garden gate, happened on the far side of garden walls.

6. Coach Jamison saw me in the hall and said he wanted to make sure I'm trying out for the track team!!!! Said my middle school gym teacher told him I was really good!!!! Then he said that with me on the Harrison High team we have a real shot at being county champs. Fantastic!!!!!!

Need a clue? Here are the six authors and books (not in order, of course).

A. Avi, Nothing But the Truth
B. Ray Bradbury, Dandelion Wine
C. Esmé Raji Codell, Sahara Special
D. Esther Hautzig, The Endless Steppe
E. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince
F. Mark Twain, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

II. For a higher challenge: Use these passages to develop voice.
    A. List traits of each character that the passage reveals.
    B. "Translate" the message of one passage into the voice of another.
    C. Have each of these voices communicate an identical message. Start with something short, such as "How are you?" Proceed to a paragraph, perhaps something even longer.

Answers to August Puzzler:

 1. moon starer (1) astronomer
 2. they see (2) the eyes
 3. partial men (1) parliament
 4. Tokyo (1) Kyoto (formerly the capital of Japan)
 5. tender name (1) endearment
 6. It eggs us on. (1) suggestion
 7. restore plush (1) upholsterers
 8. no city dust here (2) countryside
 9. name for ship (2) HMS Pinafore
10. no wire unsent (2) Western Union

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Thank you for reading. If you find LinguaPhile helpful and interesting, don't keep it a secret! Consider which of your friends would also enjoy it, and send them information about subscribing. Those receiving this forwarded message can subscribe at . People who have e-mail but do not have Internet access can subscribe by clicking on this link and requesting to subscribe: .

We welcome your comments and suggestions:

The index to LinguaPhile, which is updated monthly, is now available in either a text or .doc format on the GrammarAndMore Web site:
This makes the information from previous issues readily accessible. You are encouraged to print the index for your convenience or to share it with friends. Why not send them the URL of the text version?
It's a gift you can give, yet still have for yourself!

© 2003 Fran Santoro Hamilton


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