Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Zero the Hero

Zero the Hero
by Joan Holub
illustrated by TomLichtenheld
Henry Holt, 2012
review copy provided by the publisher

My students and I loveloveLOVED E-Mergency by Tom Lichtenheld and Ezra Fields-Meyer!!

When I put the poster for Zero the Hero on the chalkboard, excitement was instantaneous.

E-Mergency was a funny look at the way the letters of the alphabet work together (and how our words suffer when the E cannot be used). In Zero the Hero, ("A Book About Nothing"), Zero has all the trappings of a hero -- mask, cape, and pointy boots -- but he doesn't seem to be able to do anything amazing (mathematically speaking) all by himself.

"The thought gave Zero a hollow feeling inside." So he runs rolls away. Without Zero, the other numbers realize they are severely limited. Then, when the Roman Numerals capture the Counting Numbers...well, Zero can finally be a true hero.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

James Preller Author Visit: An Amazing Day

We hosted James Preller at our school on Friday for a K-5 Author Visit. It was a great day to be the librarian at Riverside. A great day for kids and teachers!

James Preller has many books and I love all of them.  One of my favorites is JUSTIN FISHER DECLARES WAR. I think it was when I read this book that I realized how well Preller understands kids at this age.  What I learned today, is that he understands kids and people of all ages.  It is a gift and his writing shows that.

James Preller had every group of students engaged, thinking and laughing. He told stories of his life and stories of his writing. He told us about his family and he shared his first ever book with us.  He talked to us about the ways in which his real life plays into his writing by sharing specific examples.

As a K-5 librarian, it is sometimes difficult to find an author who really meets the needs of all K-5 students. James Preller certainly does. He has books for all ages and he has an amazing rapport with students of all ages. The Kindergarten classes had a ball and the older kids left saying, "Wow, that was great."

We really kept the visit simple and about reading and Preller's books. All of the kids in the school knew James Preller's work and I love the fact that they can grow up with his books. Our primary kids had a great time with A Pirate's Guide to First Grade. Talking in pirate talk is really pretty fun and kids had a ball with that. But the book is about school and literacy and lots of things so the book was a great anchor before his visit. During his visit, our 1st grade classes wore construction paper pirate hats. They were amused and had a fun time listening to his reading of the story in their hats (which was much, much better than mine--I guess I need to learn to talk from the back of my neck or something or other that Preller advised.). (If you do not know about Construction Paper Crayons, they were quite a hit for a few classes who decorated their hats. Thanks to our wonderful art teacher for sharing this great new type of crayon!)

We had lots of classes read Jigsaw Jones and I am sure they will all be checked out for the rest of the school year.  I believe strongly in series books for transitional readers and this is a perfect beginning mystery series. Now that the students have some insights into Jigsaw, they'll read them a little differently.

With our older kids, James shared some of his work around Six Innings and Bystander.  Our 5th graders just finished Bystander and were interested in all he had to say about bullying and being a bystander, about standing up instead of staying silent.

I bought many copies of each of Jimmy's books for our library. I imagine they will all be checked out tomorrow. I imagine they will be checked out all year as our students look for the books they know a bit more about.

The author visit was one of the best for lots of reasons.  James Preller is genuine. He is a great guy and very sincere. He let kids know who he was as a person and as a writer. And I think this visit really had an impact on their lives as readers. For our students, meeting James Preller was about meeting a rock star.  But it was also about reading and books and understanding the life of a writer better. The day was a joyful one and I would highly recommend James Preller as an author visit for elementary and middle school students. It was really a perfect day.

James Preller visited Bailey Elementary School a few years ago and Bill has been raving about the visit ever since. I can see why.

(I interviewed James Preller a few months ago for a Choice Literacy podcast. You can find that podcast here.)

Monday, February 27, 2012

It's Monday: What Are You Reading?

So, I haven't had time to read lots lately. But, the things i've read have been such fun. Here are some highlights!

I read Polly Horvath's new MR. AND MRS. BUNNY-DETECTIVES EXTRADINAIRE BY MRS. BUNNY.  It is absolutely HYSTERICAL. I LOVE Polly Horvath--I have ever since I read EVERYTHING ON A WAFFLE years ago.  I picked this one up on a whim because I was in a reading rut.  I found myself laughing outloud early in the book and quickly fell in love with both Mr. and Mrs. Bunny. I decided I was hooked when I read this:

"Yes, you do that," said Mrs. Bunny, who wanted to get back to her fitness routine. She didn't like Mr. Bunny around for this.  He tended to make remarks.


There are many surprising lines like this and I laughed aloud throughout the book. I have no idea if kids will catch the humor but I am pretty sure they will.

Even without the humor, this is a fun story and I highly recommend it. This book received several starred reviews so lots of people love it. A must-read, I think!

And, thank goodness for the CYBILS. I quickly ordered a few of the winners that were announced last week. It is always fun to discover new-to-me books and I thank the CYBILS for recognizing some great books I may have missed.  I read the nonfiction picture book winner,  I FEEL BETTER WITH A FROG IN MY THROAT: HISTORY'S STRANGEST CURES by Carlyn Beccia. This is a fun book that I am sure kids will love.  The book tells of various cures used throughout history and examines those that do/do not really work. I read it cover to cover and learned lots.

I also read HAVE FUN, ANNA HIBISCUS! How have I missed this character?  WOW! I love this character--I love her like I love Clementine and Roscoe Riley. She makes me smile. I ordered every Anna Hibiscus story after I read this one!

Since I am trying to start this running routine, I am also reading a few books to keep me thinking about that.  HEALTH AT EVERY SIZE is a good read. Lots of interesting information about lifestyle changes. I like that one but I am LOVING WHAT I TALK ABOUT WHEN I TALK ABOUT RUNNING by Hakuri Murakami.  A great reflective, memoir-type book about running, writing and life. I am anxious to read more of this one this coming week.


Sunday, February 26, 2012

Dublin Literacy Conference 2012 Slides

This weekend, I gave a session on Comprehension in a Digital Reading Workshop. Below are the slides from the session.Dublin Literacy Conference 2012
View more presentations from Franki22.

The handout included these reflective questions for teachers about our workshops. They are questions I am using to think about digital texts across workshop routines.

What role do digital texts have in your reading workshop?

Read Aloud
Do I choose to read aloud only texts from traditional books or do I share digital texts, audio books, blogs, etc. during read aloud?
Do we use web resources such as author websites and book trailers to help us dig deeper into the book we are reading?
Do I read aloud from websites and blogs?

Independent Reading/Reading Conferences
Do we use online resources for book previewing and book selection?
Do I limit students' independent reading to traditional books or do they have a variety of options for their reading time?  Do I place equal value on reading on e-readers, reading websites, etc. as I do on reading novels?
Do I help my students use online tools to support their lives as readers? Do I value annotation tools, bookmarking tools, RSS feeds, etc. as part of my readers lives? Do I model these tools in minilessons?
Do I introduce digital pieces and discuss digital reading when conferring with students.
Have I updated my reading interview to include questions about digital reading?

Reading and Writing Minilessons
Do I use digital texts or pieces when teaching minilessons?
Do I rely completely on traditional text or do I use film clips, blog entries, podcasts, etc. when planning minilessons?
Do I share process in my minilessons? Do I tend to share process only as it relates to creating text-based pieces?
Do I share my own writing process?  Composing in several types of media?

Shared Reading
Have I reflected on the resources I rely on for Shared Reading?
Do I include web reading and viewing when thinking about Shared Reading experiences?
How can I include a variety of texts for students to process through together?

Content Reading
Have I found sources for content reading that go beyond textbooks and traditional text?
Do I rely on newspapers for talk around current events or do I tend to focus more on sites like DOGONews and other sites that combine text and video?
How am I supporting the importance of visual information in the content areas?

What We Did At #Dublit12

by Hugh MacLeod at

Friday, February 24, 2012

Poetry Friday: Testing

Revolution for the Tested


But don’t write what they tell you to.
Don’t write formulaic paragraphs
Counting sentences as you go
Put your pencil down.

Don’t write to fill in lines.
For a weary scorer earning minimum wage
Handing out points for main ideas
Supported by examples
From the carefully selected text.

Write for yourself.
Write because until you do,
You will never understand
What it is you mean to say
Or who you want to be.
Write because it makes you whole.

And write for the world.
Because your voice is important.
Write because people are hurting
Because animals are dying
Because there is injustice
That will never change if you don’t.
Write because it matters.

And know this.
They’ll tell you it won’t make a difference,
Not to trouble over grownup things,
Just fill in the lines
And leave it at that.
Tell them you know the truth.
That writing is powerful.
Just one voice on the page
Speaks loudly.
And not only can a chorus of those united change the world.
It is the only thing that ever has.


But don’t read what they tell you to.
Don’t read excerpts, half-poems,
Carefully selected for lexile content,
Or articles written for the sole purpose
Of testing your comprehension.

Don’t read for trinkets,
For pencils or fast food coupons.
Don’t even read for M&M’s.
And don’t read for points.

Read for yourself.
Read because it will show you who you are,
Who you want to be some day,
And who you need to understand.
Read because it will open doors
To college and opportunity, yes,
And better places still…
Doors to barns where pigs and spiders speak,
To lands where anything is possible.
To Hogwarts and Teribithia,
To Narnia and to Hope.

Read for the world.
Read to solve its problems.
Read to separate reality from ranting,
Possibility from false promise.
And leaders from snake oil peddlers.
Read so you can tell the difference.
Because an educated person is so much harder
To enslave.

And know this.
They’ll say they want what’s best for you,
That data doesn’t lie.
Tell them you know the truth.
Ideas can’t be trapped in tiny bubbles.
It’s not about points
On a chart or a test or points anywhere.
And it never will be.

Copyright 2010 ~ Kate Messner
(Poem used with permission of the author. Kate's website is, and the poem can be found on her blog.)

Nuff said, right? Do what you need to do or are required to do, but don't ever forget what reading and writing workshops are really about.

Jone has the roundup this week at Check it Out. I won't be able to tour the roundup until maybe Sunday, or probably next week, seeing as this is Dublin Literacy Conference weekend. I'll be hanging out with Pete the Cat, Bob Shea, Sharon Draper, James Preller, Donalyn Miller, Ruth Ayres, Bill Kist, Bill Bass and lots of Tweet Peeps, Blog Friends, and Kindred Teaching Spirits.

Thursday, February 23, 2012


My favorite classroom phrase these days is, "What do you notice?"

For awhile, I was zooming right ahead to, "What are you wondering?" But I realized that before you can wonder, you usually have to notice.

This is a graph that Environmental Club students studied after a dusting of snow:

What do you notice?
Do you have to understand before you notice, or can your noticing lead to understanding?

More and more, our content learning begins with one or more images that are rich for noticing. These images and noticings build background knowledge and vocabulary for the entire spectrum of my diverse class of learners.

Ohio’s Native People in the 1600-1700s
from One State, Many Nations
What do you notice? 
As you notice, can you compare and contrast?

White Settlement Patterns in the Ohio River Valley During the 18th Century

from One State, Many Nations

What do you notice?
As you notice, can you infer any causes or effects? 
Why are so many of the settlements named Fort Somethingorother? What is a fort? Why did the settlers need forts to protect themselves? 

As I'm reading aloud, I ask students to notice evidence of the author's craft, times when the author defines an unusual word later on in the text, or actions that can tell us about a character's personality.

All of this noticing leads naturally to questioning, wondering, predicting, and connecting.

It's amazing that one of the smallest questions can yield the biggest rewards in terms of student engagement and student thinking.

That's what I've noticed, at any rate. What are you noticing?

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


My January reading has followed the same amazing path (see her post yesterday) as Franki's: The Fault in Our Stars, The One and Only Ivan, and Wonder (plus one she hasn't read yet, but should--an adult read: Unbroken).

When I put Wonder down last Saturday night after reading it straight through, I couldn't stop thinking about Auggie...and about all the other people in his life who had a voice in his story. I thought about how necessary it is that we help children learn to have empathy -- to "walk two moons in someone else's moccasins." I thought about the family I know whose son is profoundly stare-inducing, and all that they have gone through to advocate for him and include him in every part of their life.

I started thinking about other books that evoke empathy -- A Long Walk to Water and Home of the Brave came to mind immediately because of recent conversations with colleagues about the power of these two books as read alouds in their fourth and fifth grade classrooms. And I decided to start a new shelf in Goodreads: Empathy. Here are the books I tagged (some are adult/YA):

Home of the Brave, Applegate
The One and Only Ivan, Applegate
Because of Mr. Terrupt, Buyea
Iqbal, D'Adamo
Wit, Edson
No Ordinary Day, Ellis
Flying Solo, Fletcher
Eleven, Giff
The Thing About Georgie, Graff
The Fault in Our Stars, Greene
Uprising, Haddix
Unbroken, Hillenbrand
Rules, Lord
Larger Than Life Lara, Mackall
The Gold Threaded Dress, Marsden
We Are the Ship, Nelson
How to Steal a Dog, O'Connor
Greetings From Nowhere, O'Connor
Wonder, Palacio
A Long Walk to Water, Park
Beneath My Mother's Feet, Qamar
Anna Hibiscus, Tobia

It's not a perfect list because I haven't been particularly perfect about keeping track of my reading on Goodreads, but it's a start.

After spring break, I plan to ask my students to put their other reading aside and read from a collection of (age-appropriate for 4th graders) books I gather so that we can use literature to help us learn about, experience, have conversations about, and practice EMPATHY.

What books would you add to the list? (It occurs to me that the set of picture books I use at the beginning of the year to build community and introduce theme -- especially the ones about names -- would be perfect to revisit as we begin to understand the concept of empathy...)

Leave your suggestions in the comments -- picture books, poetry, middle grade, YA, adult...all suggestions are welcome.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012


So, I admit that I bought 2 copies of THE FAULT IN OUR STARS the day that it was released.  I was really looking forward to this book.  So was my 21 year old daughter. And I really wasn't in the mood to share this one. And I figured having two would allow me to share it with lots of people. Anyway, I read the book and loved it.  I couldn't even start another book for a while because of the impact it had on me.

I decided I wanted my husband to read it. My husband reads a lot. He reads James Patterson, Harlan Coben, Dan Brown. He reads a bazillion sports blogs and anything Phillies. He reads tech articles and tech magazines.  But I decided it was time that he read a book that would change him. So I recommended THE FAULT IN OUR STARS and told him it was time for him to start reading books that changed him.  He rolled his eyes but picked up the book.  He read the first few chapters and I asked, "So, has it changed you yet?"  He said, "No,"

My 12 year old (who had not read the book) jumped right in, "It had to have changed you by now!!" We proceeded by asking him lots of questions.  We asked him if he met some characters that were different from people he knew in life.  We asked him if he understood anything about a character that might help him understand someone else someday. We asked him if it made him think about something he had never thought about. Or made him think of something that had ever happened to him with new insight.....Of course he said yes.  Of course the book had already changed him.  He read the book quickly and quietly and although he is not one to talk as much as I do (hah!), I know it changed him and I predict he will read more life-changing books in the near future.

This all happened in January.  As we were all anxiously awaiting the announcements of the ALA Youth Media Awards. As I was waiting for the award announcements I had already decided that THE FAULT IN OUR STARS had to win something big NEXT January. How could it not?

Then I read WONDER by R.J. Palacio and THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN by Katherin Applegate.  Two more unbelievable books that changed me. Books that I will never forget.

What a lucky month January was. Three books that will live with me for a very very long time.  Three books that I want to tell everyone about. Three books that truly changed me. New characters who I came to love and who I think about often, long after finishing their stories.

These books have already touched so many readers in so many ways. Teri Lesesne wrote about THE FAULT IN OUR STARS and Colby Sharp shared his thinking about WONDER.

So, I have been thinking about the awards and the disappointment that often goes along with the announcements. I know that I always hope for those books that have had a powerful impact on me to win and I am often sad when they don't. (Although I do get over it and I often see new things in the books that do win and usually acknowledge that they too, are amazing books:-)

But I am rethinking my approach to the awards from now on. I will always love the ALA awards, but I think this January's reading helped me to realize that although the awards are nice, the books that didn't win anything, still had a powerful impact on me and on so many other people. Award or no award, those books matter incredibly.  Nothing can change the power they have to change lives.

So, 11 months before ALA announcements in 2013, I am already anticipating a few books I hope to see on award lists. And I am assuming (from my history) that a few of the books I fall in love with will not be awarded anything.  But I am also realizing that some books are so amazing that it really doesn't matter if they win an award or not. The power they have to change lives is what matters most.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Read Across America: Who Are You as a Reader?

Read Across America Week will be here before we know it.  This is always a challenging week for me. I want to celebrate but I don't want the celebration to be about the week. I want us to celebrate literacy every day all year.  And I want whatever we do during Read Across America Week to be authentic. I also want it to fit into our bigger goals for our school reading community.

One thing we are doing this year is having staff begin a schoolwide conversation around living your life as a reader.  We want our entire school community to begin to think about who we are as readers. One way we hope to start this conversation is by hanging posters of our lives as readers. We are hoping that by having these posters in the library, the commons area, and around the building, lots of conversations will begin.  You can't help but look at some of the posters and begin to think about similarities and differences of people as readers.

As a classroom teacher I did lots of projects like this and have always found that these really helps readers reflect on who they are as readers and how they've changed. It also naturally invites goal setting as readers.  And they start great conversations. When I listened to Donalyn Miller speak at CCIRA and share her schools "My Reading Life" door project, I thought it might be fun to try something similar on a whole school basis.  Personally, creating this poster helped me to see how my reading has changed in recent years and how many different tools I use for daily reading. For students, we hope it opens possibilities for thinking about themselves as readers.

One of the things we are hoping with this project is that the posters show all of the ways we read. We want to value lots of reading--not only book reading. We want to see the impact of technology and we want to see how our reading lives have changed. We purposefully decided on construction paper  (very large construction paper) rather than asking readers to create digital projects. We believe that the conversations students and staff will have standing around looking at these posters will change conversations around reading.

This is the invitation we gave to staff:

Read Across America
Teachers as Readers

Read Across America Week is the last week in February (February 27-March 2). We would like to use this week as an opportunity to help our school community begin to think about who we are as readers. To begin the conversation, we’d love each teacher to create a poster--to be hung in the library or commons area—showing who you are as a reader. This can be as simple or as crafty as you would like it to be.  We are hoping once we have ours up, students will begin to create their own posters and begin to think about themselves as readers.  Below are some ideas to get you started. We’d like to start hanging these up as you finish.  Please don’t focus only on “book” reading. 

Some ideas to get you started:

Where do you read?
When do you read?
What kinds of things do you like to read? (Include not only books but also websites, blog posts, magazines, scores, etc.  Anything and everything)
What kinds of things are hard for you to read?
What is on your NEXT READ STACK?
What were your favorite books from childhood?
Who do you read with?
Who do you talk to about your reading?
What are you currently reading?
What are some favorite books?
Do you reread books? Which ones and why?
Do you listen to audiobooks?
Do you have an ereader?
Do you keep track of the books you read?
Do you set goals for yourself as a reader?
Do you have a favorite author or series?
Are there certain kinds of things that you don’t enjoy reading?
How has your reading life changed?

**Be Creative—use photos, book covers, screen captures, etc. to show us who you are as a reader.

We are just getting our first posters in this week and we are hanging them up as people finish them. It is already fun to listen to the conversations and I can't wait til the kids start creating their own.

Friday, February 17, 2012


Most people who know me know that I do not love the outdoors. I much prefer being inside, even in nice weather. A character flaw, I know.  But I did spend a great deal of my childhood playing outside. We lived in a house on the corner--which meant we had a big yard.  Our yard was a gathering place--for kickball, and swinging, for neighborhood carnivals, and playing "gas station" in the driveway.  We had Kool-Aid stands and we sold painted rocks.  We caught lightning bugs and played jump rope.  It was a good yard and I guess, there was a time when I did prefer to be outside. Who knew?

The new poetry book, A STICK IS AN EXCELLENT THING by Marilyn Singer (illustrated by LeUyen Pham) makes me happy.  It is all about playing outside. And it is about the real play that I remember from childhood.  Blowing bubbles and playing jacks. Hanging upside down on monkey bars and playing Monkey in the Middle.  Every page celebrates some part of play--the timeless games that kids have played forever.

The book begins in the morning and ends at night. It celebrates all of the play that happens on a perfect summer day.  Singer and Pham are two of my favorites and I love that they've paired up for this one!  This is a great book for the (hopefully) upcoming spring weather. A fun book to share with children as summer draws near and one they will enjoy throughout the year!

Myra has the Poetry Friday roundup at Gathering Books today.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Presidents' Day Picture Books

Looking at Lincoln
by Maira Kalman
Penguin Young Readers Group, 2012

If I had to pick one word for the feeling I get when I read Looking at Lincoln, it's meditative.

You open the book to Lincoln's Gettysburg Address printed on the endpapers. Then, the story begins in the voice of a small girl telling about seeing a very tall man one day who reminded her of someone, but she could not think who. Of course, it was Abraham Lincoln, sixteenth president of the United States.

The girl goes to the library to find out more about Lincoln. The facts she learns are printed in standard font, but her response / reflection / interpretation of the facts is printed in handwriting. The sort of conversation that the girl has with the facts is absolutely charming. It's like looking over her shoulder as she learns about this great man.

In the end, after Lincoln's death, she says, "But a great man is never really gone. Abraham Lincoln will live forever. And if you go to Washington, D.C. in the spring you can walk through the cherry blossoms and visit him. At his memorial you can read the words he wrote near the end of the war. '...With malice toward none, with charity for all.' And you can look into his beautiful eyes. Just look."

(Looking at Lincoln was more thoroughly reviewed at Jama's Alphabet Soup earlier this week.)

George Washington's Birthday: A Mostly True Tale
by Margaret McNamara
illustrated by Barry Blitt
Random House, 2012

George Washington gets the final word in this book. He tells the truth. He tells us that this book is a work of fiction, even though there's a lot of truth in the story. He goes on to tell us what parts are true, and to point out that "It's funny to think that a story about the truth was actually not true!"

This is the story of a 6 year-old boy who is afraid that everyone has forgotten that it is his birthday. On most every spread is a text box that explains a fact or a myth about Washington's life that is related to what's happening in the story. George gets so frustrated at one point that he loses control of the axe he's using to help his father prune cherry trees and he chops one down. (Myth. The truth, though, is that  Washington was always very truthful.)

At the end of the story, George finds out that no one has forgotten his birthday, and, of course, no has forgotten his birthday for hundreds of years now!

Happy Presidents' Day on Monday!  

Wednesday, February 15, 2012


What are the chances that I buy two books titled CHOPSTICKS on the same day?

CHOPSTICKS is a new book by Amy Krouse Rosenthal. Last year, when Amy visited our school, SPOON was a big favorite. Kids loved it!  Amy mentioned this companion book when she visited and it has been a long wait. (but well worth it!)  I picked up CHOPSTICKS at Cover to Cover this week.  It is a book full of fun. The story is about a pair of chopsticks who do everything together.  But then something happens and they have to separate a bit and explore the world on their own.  As with all of Rosenthal's book, there is lots of fun and subtle word play. For example, on the top corner of the cover, Spoon says, "Not exactly a sequel to SPOON. More like a change in place setting." Lots of other fun words spread throughout. Scott Magoon has done the illustrations for this one too so it is a great companion to SPOON. (And Spoon does make a few guest appearances:-)

This is a great story with a good message about friendship and life:-)

The other CHOPSTICKS I bought was a young adult novel. It is by Jessica Anthony and Rodrigo Corral.   I've read it once but need to reread it.  It is fascinating to me.  It not only looks like an amazing story, but the format is new and different. The story is told through photos and news articles and text messages and letters and more. It is different from any book I've ever seen and I am anxious for both the story and the experience of reading something in such a unique format.  There is also an app that is available which is another way to experience the books. The Youtube videos, etc. are embedded in the app. This was one of those books I have to reread.  I read reviews and saw some new insights and once I revisited a bit, I can see some new things. I am all about reading books with new formats so we understand what it is our kids are reading and what is possible, and that's why I picked this one up. But I loved the story and I loved Glory, the piano prodigy--the main character in the book.

You can see the trailer here:

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

2011 Cybils

The 2011 winners have been announced!

Go on over to the Cybils website, take a peek, and come back to comment -- Any surprises? Any particular favorites?

I was lucky enough to be able to work with Poetry Organizer Jone Rush MacCulloch (Check it Out), and Judges Julie Larios (The Drift Record), Diane Mayr (Random Noodling), Laura Purdie Salas (Writing the World for Kids) and Andi Sibley (a wrung sponge) in the final round judging of the Poetry category.

Monday, February 13, 2012

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This is my first time to take part in It's Monday! What Are You Reading, sponsored by Teach Mentor Texts.

My current audio read is Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand. It's been rough going the past couple of weeks, with Louie Zamperini on a raft in the Pacific and then in Japanese POW camps.

I'm not sure what my next audio read will be...Bill Bryson? The Art of Fielding? Black Swan Green (re-read/listen)?

On my to-read pile are a couple for my classroom:

I'm an avid reader of the Magic Tree House series. This one will be a quick 15-20 minute read.

One of my students read No Ordinary Day, and we compared notes on what it was like to read a book that wasn't particularly fun to read. For V., this book started out hard, but got better and happier as she read. For me (listening to Unbroken), the reading started happy and then got hard. On her recommendation, this book has made it to my TBR pile.

Another recommendation has come from my brother. He saw the play Wit and then read the script twice through, in back-to-back readings. It's been since college that I have read a play, but I'm intrigued because of David's strong recommendation. I have the movie on reserve from the library, but I won't watch it until I've read the play.

The final recommended book on my TBR pile comes from Franki -- the ARC of Wonder is tempting me, but I'm going to make myself wait to read it until I've finished the other three.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Poetry Friday -- It's Not Easy Being Me

by David Ignatow

For Harvey Shapiro

I stand and listen, head bowed,
to my inner complaint.
Persons passing by think
I am searching for a lost coin.
You're fired, I yell inside
after an especially bad episode.
I'm letting you go without notice
or terminal pay. You just lost
another chance to make good.
But then I watch myself standing at the exit,
depressed and about to leave,
and wave myself back in wearily,
for who else could I get in my place
to do the job in dark, airless conditions?

No photo, no commentary, no connections. Just the hope that you, too, gave a little snort of laughter at the end, and made the same promise to treat your self a little nicer today.

Laura Purdie Salas has the roundup today at Writing the World for Kids.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Ignite Presentations With 4th graders

Our 4th grade team is working on a 4th grade project around Making a Difference in the World.  We began this project last year and it was inspired by Amy Krouse Rosenthal.  The project combines social studies (citizenship, economics, etc.). literacy and art.  This year, we've changed a few things and added a few things.

Our 4th graders are busy creating products to be sold at our annual Art Show in March.  Students are using art time to create their own products that will be marketable to the audience. I can't wait to shop!  Last year, each child donated money earned to an individual cause--one that they cared about and had researched. We changed this a bit this year. Our entire 4th grade will be donating one cause for the money. But we wanted kids to know that money was not the only way to make a difference. We want the to understand there there are lots of ways to make a difference and raising awareness about an issue is one of them.

So, each child has been researching a cause that matters to them. These topics range from homelessness to distracted driving to foster care to pediatric cancer.  Kids have spent the last several weeks learning about these issues and collecting information using diigo (more on that at another time!).

This week, kids will begin to create IGNITE-type presentations to educate others about these important issues.  As a team, we decided on an IGNITE presentation for several reasons.  If you aren't familiar with IGNITE presentations, they are similar to Pecha Kucha sessions but in Ignite, presenters use 15 slides and each slide is up for 15 seconds.The Ignite tagline is "Enlighten us, but make it quick." I love that and it seems that there is a lot to learn when given these parameters.  This seems doable for 4th graders and it is an authentic genre.
We knew that this format would support our teaching goals--research, nonfiction writing, visuals to support message, etc.  We have noticed that although our students used keynote, the presentations are text, rather than visual driven. We knew that an assignment like this could really improve the way they thought about creating presentations of all kind.

One challenge was to find samples for the students. Since many of them were not familiar with Ignite presentations, we wanted them to spend time studying the craft of the format before they jumped in. Finding Ignite presentations (or PechaKucha) so students could get a feel for the type of work they would be doing was a challenge--many are geared to adults and not appropriate for children. However, we did find several that we used and the conversations around what was possible with these have been wonderful. One of my goals when it comes to digital writing is to collect great mentors for kids--pieces that writers can study as they think about their own decisions as writers. For this project, I found four very different presentations that have helped us think through decision making when creating this type of piece.  Each of these four slideshows is very different and each opens up different possibilities for our stuents.  The four we have focused on are:

Clowns Without Borders: Pecha Kucha

Why Blog? Ignite by Chris Lysy

Ignite: Jessica Harvey: My Beautiful Wheelchair

And, How and Why to Make Video Games by Peter Justeson

This week, students will begin their work on their Ignite presentations.  I am working on one myself and we've created some planning templates to help students move forward with these projects.

This page has 15 squares on 2 pages for students to think through and plan their presentation as a whole.
Each student will receive 15 of these half sheets for detailed work---visual, script, and notes.

I think that this project will help students learn a great deal as researchers and writers, but I think they will also learn a great deal about visuals, creating powerful presentations, and presentation skills that they will be able to carry with them no matter what they create in the future.

I'll keep you posted!

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

CCIRA Slides on Slideshare

I finally had a chance to post my slides from CCIRA to my Slideshare account. You can find them there now.


I Am Different! Can You Find Me? 
by Manjula Padmanabman
A Global Fund for Children Book
Charlesbridge, 2011
review copy provided by the publisher

Recently named on USBBY's 2012 list of the 36 most outstanding international books for children and teens, I Am Different! Can You Find Me? is a celebration of languages and differences.

Each double-page spread features an illustration that has some sort of repeating pattern, and a page about one of 16 different languages spoken in the US. In each illustration, one part of the pattern is different. On the language page, the sentence, "Can you find me?" is written in the featured language.

On the language page, readers are given the sentence in it's own alphabet, transcribed into English, and with an English pronunciation guide and a note when the script reads right to left in the native language. There is also a short paragraph about the language and a bit about the culture of the people who use it. Where applicable, several English words that come from that language are given.

I love it that some of the indigenous languages of North America have been included, as well as American Sign Language.

The afterword states, "Language helps people connect with one another. How we name things -- people, places, animals, toys, even thoughts and feelings, can create special bonds within our communities. By learning languages that are different from the ones we grew up speaking, we can better understand how others see the world."

Spreading better understanding about how others see the world could be the mission statement for The Global Fund for Children, which is the nonprofit organization who developed this book and many others. For more information, check out their website: Global Fund for

Other reviews:
Paper Tigers

Monday, February 06, 2012

It's Monday: What Are You Reading?

It's been a while since I've participated "It's Monday: What Are You Reading?" hosted by TEACH MENTOR TEXTS! I haven't read a ton in the last few weeks but wanted to recap the last few weeks now.

I read two books that are MUST READS--OPENING MINDS by Peter Johnston and WONDER by R.J. Palacio.

CHOICE WORDS by Peter Johnston is one of the most powerful professional books I've ever read. It is a book that changed who I am as a teacher and it is one I revisit often.  So, I was thrilled to see that Peter Johnston had another book about the language we use with children.  OPENING MINDS: USING LANGUAGE TO CHANGE LIVES is out this month from Stenhouse and it is brilliant. I had planned on reading it quickly--in a sitting or two.  But I found that I had to read it over a week or two. That I had to read and then reflect and process.  Just as in Choice Words, Johnston packs a ton into a small book.

I didn't have huge expectations for this one.  CHOICE WORDS was so life changing for me that I would have been happy had Johnston have rehashed that. But this new book is just as powerful of a read, if not more powerful.  Johnston talks again about the messages our language gives to our students. He talks about the subtle differences in the things we could say to children and how they impact their learning, most particularly their sense of agency.   He focuses on learning but he also focuses on giving kids a voice. He talks about collaboration and creativity. I need to revisit this book after I've lived with what I've learned for a bit. I am already paying closer attention to the things I say to children every day and how I could rethink some of the phrases I use.

With OPENING MINDS, Johnston adds a new layer to what we already learned from him about the importance of the language we use with children.  This new layer has given me a great deal to think about and it will definitely make me a better teacher.  I so love this book. (You can order it directly from Stenhouse and preview the entire book online there.)

Another must-read in my eyes is WONDER by R.J. Palacio.  I have only been hearing wonderful things about this book so was excited to read an ARC.

Several others have written about the book:

Here is the official Book Trailer for Wonder:

This book would make a great read aloud or book club book. So much to think and talk about.  A definitely 2012 favorite already:-)

I also read an ARC of Patricia Maclachlan's upcoming book, KINDRED SOULS. This book reminded me of the books I read when I fell in love with Maclachlan years ago.  This book is about a little boy and his grandfather, two kindred souls.  The book has themes of joy, loss, family and love.  It is a quiet book, and reminded me a bit of reading Sarah, Plain and Tall.  I love how Maclachlan keeps coming back to the same life themes in different ways over the years.

I also read a few picture books.
EXTRA YARN is a great story with a great message. Not only that, but it was great to see that even after the bear ate the rabbit in I WANT MY HAT BACK, that it was only a temporary thing and they are now friends again. See, they were merely playing. That Jon Klassen is genius..

DEAR CINDERELLA by Julie Olsen is a book of letters between Snow White and Cinderella. It is a fun "retelling" of the stories. And I can never have enough pink/purple sparkly books in the library. I try to only pick those that are quality and this one fits both categories:-)

I read two ALA award winners.  TALES FOR VERY PICKY EATERS was a Geisel award winner and a Pura Belpre Honor for illustrations was THE CAZUELA THAT THE FARM MAIDEN STIRRED by Samantha Vamos.

I'm not sure what's up next. Some books I've previewed/read a bit of include BEAUTY QUEENS, THE MIGHTY MISS MALONE, THINKING FAST AND SLOW, SIX INNINGS and WHAT I TALK ABOUT WHEN I TALK ABOUT RUNNING.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

January Mosaic and A New Photographic Focus

This year, my Project 365 has a new focus.

I'm going to collect photos of numbers and letters (actual and representations). By the end of the year, I'll be able to make my own Alpha-Numeric picture book through the iPhoto store!

Top row:
0 (garden stepping stone)
0 (knot in wood)
0 (classroom sink strainer)
00 (rings around the moon)

Row two:
00 (condensed milk can)
00 (goofy glasses)
1 (hemlock cone)
2 (hemlock cones)

Row three:
3 (oak leaves on the oak that's growing in the geranium on my classroom windowsill -- formerly the geranium on my front porch!)
3 (hemlock cones -- one of my favorite pictures of all time -- love the light and the sky...)
4 (acorn split by squirrels)
4 (number on sign at the deaf school soccer field)

Row four:
5 (sweet gum leaf)
12 (bloggers + 1 big red dog)
A (fence along McConnell walking trails)
Avocado Mismatch (not really part of the ABC/123 project)

Row five:
S (vine along McConnell walking trails)
W (tree trunks along McConnell walking trails)
Winter (not really part of the ABC/123 project; along McConnell walking trails)
Y (rabbit track in the snow along McConnell walking trails)

Friday, February 03, 2012

Poetry Friday -- A LEAF CAN BE...

A Leaf Can Be...
by Laura Purdie Salas
illustrated by Violeta Dabija
Millbrook Press, 2012

In a rhyming text, accompanied by luminously illustrated pictures, Laura Purdie Salas explores all the things a leaf can be throughout the seasons.

"A leaf is a leaf.
It bursts out each spring
when sunny days linger
and orioles sing.

A leaf can be a...
soft cradle
water ladle
sun taker
food maker
tree topper
rain stopper"

Each pair of words invites the reader to think again about all that leaves can do. In the back of the book, there is a bit more information about each of the leaf jobs in the book, written with young scientists in mind:

"Food maker: Along with sunlight, leaves take in air and water. They turn these things into food for the plant or the tree. This is called photosynthesis."

There's so much to love about this book! I keep going back over and over again to the illustrations. ("Snake concealer" is my favorite!)

It makes me want to try to write a series of rhyming word pairs -- I'm pretty sure it's not as easy as Laura makes it look!

I want to pair this book with A Sock is a Pocket for Your Toes by Liz Scanlon and have students compare and contrast the way these poets crafted their metaphors.

In fact, this book is a great example of an extended metaphor, and I'm always on the lookout for ways to help readers understand and identify metaphors, and to help writers try to incorporate them in their writing.

Another great addition to my classroom library from Laura Purdie Salas!

Karissa has the Poetry Friday roundup today at The Iris Chronicles.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Getting Started with QR Codes

I promised in my "What's On My Wonderopolis iPad" post that I would tell about the little project I did with my students to show them the power of QR (Quick Response) codes.

What is a QR code? It's a little like a bar code, only it's square, and it contains a maze-like design of black and white cubes that are an information code. (more details here, on Wikipedia)

There are lots of QR code generators out there. I picked

The steps on the generator page are really straightforward and easy to follow. The type of data we used was plain text. (A QR code can also take you to a website, a YouTube video, etc.)

My students were going to be reading picture books with pretty obvious stated or implied themes. (See yesterday's post for the newest book in the theme tub in my classroom.) Their job was to write a very short summary of the book and identify what they determined to be the theme, and I wanted a fun way for them to share their writing and their thinking about themes.

After writing a draft in their writer's notebook, they went to the generator page, typed the book's title and author, their summary, the theme they identified, and their name. They downloaded the code, we printed it, and now the page with the code lives inside the front cover of the book. 

Students love grabbing one of the iPods or iPads and scanning the code (before or after reading the book for themselves) to see what their friend wrote for the summary and what they thought the theme could be.

And now they are finding QR codes EVERYWHERE and bringing them in to scan! A QR code from a pizza advertisement took us to the company website. Another was found on the tag of an Annoying Orange toy. If you're not on the school's server, it takes you to some really annoying Annoying Orange videos. There's even one on the back of Melissa Sweet's BALLOONS OVER BROADWAY that takes you to her website.

This is a tiny little quickie project with QR codes. Check out this amazing project that Julie Johnson's  3rd graders did. It integrates their local history unit, video-making, and using QR codes to take their work to an authentic public audience! Thanks for ramping up my thinking, Julie!

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

PLANT A KISS by Amy Krouse Rosenthal

Plant a Kiss
by Amy Krouse Rosenthal
illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds
Harper, 2012

One of my favorite songs as a child was "Lollipop Tree" sung by Burl Ives. I loved the idea that you could plant a lollipop stick and grow a lollipop tree that would produce candy in good weather and ice cream cones in the winter. (Matter of fact, I still love that idea!)

In this sweet, simple and GLITTERY book by the sure-fire team of Rosenthal and Reynolds, Little Miss plants a kiss. She cares for it and waits, waits, waits. Finally, there is a sprout. Everyone comes to see, and Little Miss shares it all. But it's not really gone. "...she learned...from one little kiss...endless bliss!"

This is a great book for my theme tub. Our students need experience with books like this whose themes are stated as well as those with themes that are implied.