Monday, February 08, 2016

Cry, Heart, But Never Break

Cry, Heart, But Never Break
by Glenn Ringtved
illustrated by Charlotte Pardi
translated from the Danish by Robert Moulthrop
Enchanted Lion Press, March 2016
review copy provided by the publisher

When Death comes for the children's beloved grandmother, they try to keep him from his task by serving him enough coffee to distract him until dawn, when he would have to leave without their grandmother.

It doesn't work.

Though "Some people say Death's heart is as dead and black as a piece of coal...that is not true. Beneath his inky cloak, Death's heart is as red as the most beautiful sunset and beats with a great love of life."

So Death tells the children a story about two brothers, Sorrow and Grief, who wind up marrying two sisters, Joy and Delight. After a long life together, all four died on the very same day, because they couldn't live without each other. Death uses this fable to show children that life needs both light and darkness. And his last advice, after the Grandmother dies, is the title of the book: "Cry, heart, but never break. Let your tears of grief and sadness help begin new life."

It's never easy to have conversations about death in our classrooms, but I think this gentle and sweet book would reassure students.

Depending on the group, I might pair it with

Grandy Thaxter's Helper
by Douglas Rees
illustrated by S.D. Schindler
Atheneum Books, 2004

This book gives readers a more irreverent version of Death, but also a strong character who resists him. Grandy Thaxter enlists Death's help with her work on successive days -- the cleaning (including the windows), the laundry (including the making of lye soap), making dinner (including grinding the corn for mush), the dishes after dinner, and, the straw that breaks Death's back, the making of linen (of the piles of bundles of wet reeds, he learns "We're going to brake it and swingle the reeds to get the flax"... "We're going to hackle it and spin it"... "So I can weave it into cloth."). Death can't take any more, saying, "I will come back some time when you are not so busy."

Gotta love a woman who is just too busy to die!

Sunday, February 07, 2016

Pink is for Blobfish by Jess Keating

When I preordered Jess Keating's new book, Pink is for Blobfish, I accidentally ordered 2 copies. Lucky thing because the book became immediately popular in the classroom!  Take a look at the book trailer:

I shared the book with my 3rd graders this week.  We have been learning about informational writing and this one invited great conversation about the way Jess Keating chose the animals for the book, titled the book and organized the information. The book is packed with information about pink animals and the photos and layout make the book perfect for middle grade readers. From the cover, it looks like this might be part of a new series--if so, I am extra excited!  This is a fabulous informational book and will hook so many young readers.  You'll definitely want this book for your classroom or library. Not only is it a great book for kids' independent reading, there is so much to share with kids about good informational writing.

I love that Jess Keating is a zoologist turned author.  If you know her fiction series (My Life is a Zoo) you know what a fun writer she is.  Her middle grade series is engaging and accessible for middle grade and early middle school readers.  In both her fiction and nonfiction books, Jess Keating packs in lots of things to think about while giving us a humor break and some new ways to think about things throughout.

Jess Keating recently introduced a Youtube channel called "Animals for Smart People".  It is a great series of informational videos. I am going to share the channel with my students this week and we are going to study this particular video as we think about the choices Jess Keating made about the visuals she included.  These are great sources of information for everyone. And they are perfect mentor texts for our middle grade kids as they learn to write informational text and create informational movies.

On a sidenote, Jess Keating and I are both original members of the #nerdrun team, #TeamSaunter.  I am thinking that Pink is for Blobfish might inspire some great costumes for the 2016 #nerdrun.....

The 2014 #TeamSaunter at #nerdrun! (Jess Keating dressed as Beetle:-)

You can (and should) follow Jess Keating on Twitter (@Jess_Keating) and make sure to visit her website. It is packed with lots of great stuff!

Friday, February 05, 2016

Poetry Friday -- Found Object Poem Project

Yes, it feels a little nutso to be writing a poem a day again after only a month off since a haiku a day in December, but in the same way I've learned that if I don't go out and walk in the early morning I will never meet the deer and hear the owls ("Must Be Present to Win"), I know that for every day I don't write, those poems are lost forever.

Laura Shovan cooked up this Found Object Poem project. Here's a description, along with other February poetry projects she's done. Here is a post with links to all the poems the whole crew has written so far, and here's a link to all of my poems.

My favorite poem I've written so far is for this picture of moth eggs on a car window. Laura didn't reveal that's what they were until after we submitted our poems, but I was pretty sure I knew. Not sure enough to write a moth egg poem...although I alluded to a butterfly wing as a nod to my guess! I just left them as a mystery.

photo by Laura Shovan


The mysteries of the world are myriad.
Sometimes they look like little balls of butter.
Sometimes they clump together in the shape of South America.

The mysteries of the world puzzle us.
They make us take our glasses off and look so close
we dust our noses with them.

The mysteries of the world hold hidden ripeness.
Each might contain a new life,
or the possibility to change the weather patterns of the entire world.

The mysteries of the world cast shadows.
Hovering above, they block the sun
and send a chill through us as they pass over.

©Mary Lee Hahn, 2016

Tricia has today's Poetry Friday roundup at The Miss Rumphius Effect.

Thursday, February 04, 2016

Pig in a Wig

What This Story Needs is a Hush and a Shush
by Emma J. Virj√°n
Harper, 2016
review copy provided by the publisher

My wish came true! Another Pig in a Wig book! (My review of the first book here.)

This time, Pig in a Wig is trying to get ready for bed and fall asleep, but all of the farm animals pile noisily into bed with her (making their entrance through the window to cue young readers with a visual for the animal's sound). And the farm animals can not settle down, so Pig delivers the signatuer (title) line, and all the animals take their animal noises and go snuggle in a pile in the barn.

That's not quite the end of it, but this book is as perfect as the first in adding a twist.

Fun times for the youngest readers!

Next up later in 2016 -- What This Book Needs is a Munch and a Crunch. YAY! A picnic lunch!

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Digital Writing Workshop: Writers Create Plans

In our 3rd grade classroom, we've been working on Information Writing. We haven't been working long but we have done lots of Edcamps and blog posts, etc. so kids have been creating informational pieces all year. In order to help them better craft their writing, we've been learning how important it is for writers to plan.   So I've shared my own planning and how sometimes my planning comes after a first draft.  Planning is an important piece of revision, I think.

One lesson included sharing a blog post I wrote about a recent hockey game I attended.  I shared 3 different drafts of the blog post, explaining how I reflected and planned between drafts to make the piece better.

We've also been looking at mentor texts thinking about what decisions the writer made when creating the piece.(Katharine Hale shared some great student blogs that we used as mentors on her blog.) Whether it is a book, a video, a slide show or a blog post, we have learned that authors of informational writing have lots of planning to do.

These are the questions we've been asking as we look at our own writing and at mentors.
What is your plan for making your writing better?

What kind of research will you do next?
How will you keep notes in your research? 
How will you share/publish your informational piece?
What tools will you use to create a finished piece?
What visuals will you use or create to help your readers? Why?
Which nonfiction text features will you use to help your readers? Why?

How will you organize your writing to help your readers? 
What will your subheadings be? 
Will there be any sound or hyperlinks that will help readers understand?  

I can't tell you how happy I was when I received this tweet from one of our amazing Technology Support Teachers, Rhonda Luetje (@RhondaLuetje).

Rhonda had visited our classroom earlier to share the basics of Book Creator. I wanted my kids to have some experience playing with Book Creator before we created informational pieces. I knew some of my kids would want to use Book Creator for some of their informational pieces and Rhonda knows the tool well.

When she visited earlier this year, she shared a book she was creating about the Columbus Zoo. She shared the book which was really just a simple Book Creator demo. It had a few pages and a few features.

But in this tweet, I saw that Rhonda had really revised her book (Hurray! It's a Zoo Day!) and had made lots of decisions as a writer that we'd been talking about. So we studied her new draft and I asked her to come back and visit the classroom.

Rhonda created a piece that she thought could help students see all of the things that were possible in Book Creator. I also saw it as a piece that my 3rd graders could study as writers as they thought about the decisions she made when crafting the piece.

The way that we embedded the talk around the tool inside the conversation about decisions writers make was authentic and helpful to students.  The way that Rhonda worked to support writers in writing workshop has been critical.  Not all of my students will use Book Creator and that's okay. The conversations we are having are about the writing and the decision-making of writers. Book Creator just happens to be the tool we are using in this case and the tool gives the writer different options and decisions.

If you want to read more about Rhonda's process and her thinking from a technology standpoint, she has a post up about it on her blog today!

Monday, February 01, 2016

Every Child a Super Reader

I received the book Every Child a Super Reader from Scholastic a few weeks ago. I haven't had time to read it cover to cover yet but have spent lots of time flipping through it. Ernest Morrell and Pam Allyn are so smart about literacy and children. They are committed to making sure ALL children are super readers and have the experiences they need for this to happen.

I was able to listen to the Podcast, "Every Child a Super Reader" that they did a while ago and their commitment to children and their beliefs about what all children deserve when it comes to literacy were so powerful.

I am anxious to dig into more of the book. We, as a country, have become so focused on skills and test scores and reading levels, that we have somehow lost sight of things that are really most important in helping kids live their lives as readers. Ernest and Pam talk about agency and choice and the limits of levels. They say, "Learning to read is typically defined as learning to control a specific set of skills. And while it's certainly true that children must learn to orchestrate a complex set of strategic actions that enable comprehension and decoding, it's equally true that learning to read is a social-cultural event.  In other words, learning to read is more than simple skill building."  They share the "7 Strengths Model" as important as children build their reader identities through childhood.

There is a lot of fresh thinking as we would expect from these authors. They move us beyond our thinking about what it means to become a reader and layers all that we know into ideas that help us see what is possible for every reader.  They take a look at access, schools, families, assessment and more.

It seems like this is another piece of Scholastic's commitment that started with Open a World of Possible.

This year, Pam and Ernest will be part of many of the Scholastic Reading Summits.  I went to one last year and it was an incredible and inspiring day.  I am hoping to get a chance to make it to one of the summits again this year. I am looking forward to spending more time with their book and hearing their message in person at one of the summits.

I am definitely looking forward to spending more time with this book and thinking about the ideas that Pam Allyn and Ernest Morrell share.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Poetry Friday and Deconstructing a Standard

RL.5.6. Describe how a narrator’s or speaker’s point of view influences how events are described.

That's the 5th grade reading (literature) standard we're just beginning to work on in my class. So that my students can better understand what's expected of them, we deconstructed the standard, brainstorming around these words: describe, narrator, speaker, point of view, view, and influence. Next, we rewrote the standard in our words. Then, I gave them this poem and a series of scaffolded questions that would lead them to describing how the speaker's point of view influences how events are described.

Flickr Creative Commons Photo by Robbphotos1


Outside my apartment
is a small patch of grass
and a parking lot.
Beyond that is a ditch
full of dirty snow and trash.

But across the road
are power lines
where a hawk often perches
long enough for me to sketch.

©Mary Lee Hahn, 2015

Lo and behold, it worked! Not all, but some, realized that the point of view of the speaker is that of an artist, and "they see everything that is ugly but they can make it beautiful." The speaker will "make things better in the picture." And "An artist can see in detail, and they can make art out of whatever they see." Not bad for a first try.

Catherine has this week's Poetry Friday roundup at Reading to the Core.

Monday, January 25, 2016

The Conversation Around A Birthday Cake for George Washington

Recently, I wrote about the controversy over the book A Fine Dessert. There was a lot to think about if you followed the conversation, and as teachers and librarians, I think it is imperative that we are not only readers of children's literature.  I feel like it's also important that we are aware of the books we are reading and the issues surrounding them.

This month, Scholastic published a book called A Birthday Cake for George Washington.  Shortly after it was published, Scholastic released a statement stating that it was decided that they would be pulling it from distribution.

This was a pretty unprecedented move, but the controversy surrounding A Birthday Cake for George Washington, regardless of Scholastic's decision to pull the book, addresses the important issues about the way slavery is portrayed in children's books as well as important issues that deal with diversity in children's books.

Below are the posts I found to be worthwhile reads over the past few weeks.

January 4
Smiling Slaves in a post Fine Dessert World, Kirkus

January 6
Andrea Pinkney wrote about the book before it was released in the post, A Proud Slice of History.

January 6
And Debbie Reese addressed the issues in the book before it's release in her post, What Will They Say?

On January 15 Scholastic responded to the feedback it was getting about the book.

On the same day, January 15 Teaching for Change posted a review, Not Recommended: A Birthday Cake for George Washington

On January 16, Children's Book Causes a Stir for Inaccurate Depiction of Slavery.

And on January 17 the issue was discussed on ABC News.

January 17

January 18
Amid Controversy Scholastic Pulls Book About Washington's Slave.

January 18
Smiling Slaves at Storytime

January 18
Hornbook: A Bumpy Ride (This one is an interesting read and the comments are also worth the read, whether you agree with them or not.)

January 19
Megan at Reading While White: No Text is Sacred

On January 20, award-winning author,  Kimberly Brubaker Bradley weighed in on the discussion.

On January 22, the National Coalition Against Censorship issued a statement about Scholastic's decision.

On January 23, Daniel Jose Older tweeted his response to the statements made relating to censorship. These are collected in a Storify: On Censorship and Slavery.

This has all given me a great deal to think about.  Two other pieces that I have revisited but that are not directly related to the Birthday Cake for George Washington issue are:

This amazing TED talk, The Danger of a Single Story

And this response to the reaction to the  diversity in this year's award books. January 17, Not Mutually Exclusive

Lots to think about and lots of change that needs to happen.