Friday, August 31, 2012

Poetry Friday -- Crazy

i thank heaven somebody's crazy 
enough to send me a daisy
—E.E. Cummings

Here's a patch of daisies for you (Black-Eyed Susans [Rudbeckia hirta], actually) I guess that makes me the crazy one. Yup. Feels like that might be true at the end of the first week of school!

Sylvia has the Poetry Friday roundup this week at Poetry for Children.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

AWESOME AUTUMN by Bruce Goldstone

When Beth (at Cover to Cover) walked over to hand me a new book about autumn, my first thought was that I was not interested. But I should know by now that Beth only hands me great books!  The book she handed me was Awesome Autumn by Bruce Goldstone. The Subtitle of this book is "All Kinds of Fall Facts and Fun".   I opened it up and knew I had to buy it.  Immediately.  Bruce Goldstone is the author of Great Estimations,  Greater Estimations and 100 Ways to Celebrate 100 Days. I love every one of his books and I love this new one too!

Each page in this book is pretty much a stand alone. Each page looks at some different aspect of fall-How Does Autumn Feel? In Autumn, Some Birds Leave Town, What Do People Do In Autumn? etc. The photos on each page make you want to spend a lot of time there.  Although some pages are mostly photos and labels, other pages have a great deal of text. Just the perfect amount of text for kids to dig in and read.

This is a gorgeous book that is packed with information.  It can be used as a read aloud and it will tie nicely into science units around seasons or weather.  I can see younger readers spending lots of time with the book and I can see my upper elementary students reading it from cover to cover. It is filled with so much to look at and to learn.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Plan Ahead for Poetry Friday

The Poetry Friday Anthology (Common Core ALL GRADES (K-5) e-book) (The Poetry Friday Anthology E-book Series (Grade-by-Grade)) is now available as an eBook in whole book AND specific grade level Kindle editions.

Why would you want the Kindle edition? Well, if you get the free (FREE) Kindle app for your computer (or iPad), you can project each week's poem for your class to read together and enjoy!

Why else would you want the Kindle edition? You will get it INSTANTLY and be able to start Poetry Friday in your classroom this week!

Monday, August 27, 2012


Thanks to Kellee and Jen at TEACH MENTOR TEXTS for hosting. Pop over there to see everyone's lists.

It's not been a huge reading week. Getting ready for the first day of school has pretty much consumed me this week. But I did fit in a little bit of reading here and there.  I've been thinking a lot about nonfiction reading and trying to find books that might make good read alouds or that kids might read that feel a little more like narrative. I find that these books discourage skimming and scanning and kids build stamina with nonfiction with nonfiction narrative.

A book I LOVED this week was Seed by Seed: The Legend and Legacy of John "Appleseed" Chapman by Esme Raji Codell is one of the best books about Johnny Appleseed that I have read. This is a gorgeous picture book that shares the stories and legends about this man.  I liked the writing in this one as well as the messages to readers. And the art is gorgeous.

I am a HUGE fan of the Scientists in the Field Series and one that I dug into this week was Extreme Scientists: Exploring Nature's Mysteries from Perilous Places (Scientists in the Field Series). This book takes a look at several scientists who work in dangerous places to do research needed.  I enjoyed the story about the storm chaser and I think my students will too. It really shows the research happen when it comes to weather.

Citizen Scientists: Be a Part of Scientific Discovery from Your Own Backyard by Lorree Griffin Burns was another that I think will be a great cover-to-cover read.  It tells the story of people who participate in collecting data right in their own areas. The message that everyone is a scientist is a good one.

And a new professional book I just received in the mail that I am anxious to start is Christopher Lehman's Energize Research Reading and Writing: Fresh Strategies to Spark Interest, Develop Independence, and Meet Key Common Core Standards, Grades 4-8. I'm not sure I'll have time to get to it in the next week or two with school starting but I am hoping to dig in soon!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Poetry Friday -- Poetry is the Main Line

"...I always loved English because whatever human beings are, we are storytellers. It is our stories that give a light to the future. When I went to college I became a  history major because history is such a wonderful story of who we think we are; English is much more a story of who we really are. It was, after all, Miss Delaney who introduced the class to My candle burns at both ends; /It will not last the night; /But, ah, my foes, and, oh, my friends— /It gives a lovely light. And I thought YES. Poetry is the main line. English is the train."

This is an excerpt from the prose poem "In Praise of a Teacher" by Nikki Giovvani. The entire poem can be found at The Writer's Almanac

Dori has the Poetry Friday roundup today at Dori Reads.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

KidLitCon 2012 -- New York City

At A Year of Reading, we are proud members of the Kidlitosphere. We've been blogging since 2006, and can remember when the term Kidlitosphere was invented. Mary Lee's gone to three of the KidLitCons-the original one in Chicago, which started off as kind of a joke, the one in D.C., and the one in Minneapolis. Alas, life and finances will prevent either of us from attending the New York City KidLitCon. Even though the conference is FREE this year. Yes, I said FREE. But don't let that stop YOU! Here are the details (borrowed and modified from the Kidlitosphere Central website):

The sixth annual KidLitCon will be held in the heart of New York City on September 28th and 29th, 2012. It will be held within the main branch of New York Public Library, the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building.
Your host will be Elizabeth Bird of A Fuse #8 Production) along with Monica Edinger (Educating Alice) and Liz Burns (A Chair, a Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy).
In the same vein as last year’s con, the conference is being expanded into two days with a special “pre-conference” on Friday.  Friday events will include special visits to the publishers of New York City with blogger previews of their upcoming seasons.  Publishers will be assigned on a random basis to all attendees.  The final list of publishers is currently being hammered out.
Registration will max out at 175 attendees.
Cost before September 21st:
  • $35 Pre-Conference without dinner
  • $0 Saturday Conference 
  • $55 Pre-Conference with dinner (special guest speaker: Grace Lin)
  • $50 Friday dinner (extra diner or only)
Please note that there will be no Saturday dinner.  However, there is a possibility of a Kidlit Drink Night that evening.  Information to come.
The last day to register is September 21st.
The Pre-con: Includes a dinner.
Conference Day: Lunch.
If space is still available, onsite registration will be possible for $80. Pre-con price remains the same.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

My Classroom Takes Shape

Here is Room 228 after summer cleaning, but before I really start to make it my own. On the left, cubbies are filled with picture books, poetry, and nonfiction. All of the chapter books are boxed and stacked, along with the shelves, to the right. My first decision -- where will the IWB go? I decide on the board near the TV, back on the left by the window.

I'm starting to get a sense of where the shelves will be. Picture books on the plank and block shelves left of the window and poetry in the white shelf to the right of the window. Nonfiction in the tall shelf to the left, chapter books left and center in the lower shelves. I have moved all of the chairs into the meeting area and will arrange the desks around that empty space.

The big L shaped shelf arrangement took up too much space and blocked the entry path, so it became a J. Four tables of six are ready for students. If I have more than 24 students, there are places at the "office" table straight ahead under the "pink" bulletin board, and at a table behind the camera view to the left, on the tile between the door and the cubbies. (You can see the end of it in the second picture, still stacked with boxes and tubs of books.)

Pretty much ready to go at this point. That corner where the chapter book shelves make their bend turned out to be the perfect place for the clipboards. The tops of the chapter book shelves are lined with tubs of popular series. Yes, I do have a little nook of a desk area in the bottom right corner. I try to take up as little real estate in the classroom as possible (and especially not the prime real estate of the window, in spite of the fact that Room 228 faces the playground and it might [ha--"might"] be a distraction), but I'm not "evolved" enough to give it up completely. I'm going to take everything off the top of the desk that I don't want to share, and it will be another place for a student to work when my computer is over at the IWB. Plus, I have a fun idea for how I want to use that whiteboard beside my desk, and it will require that students have access. (More on that in another post...)

This is the view from the window, looking towards the door -- the opposite view from those above. You can see just a bit of the poetry shelves to the left, then the office table. The built-in shelves along the left wall hold reference books (dictionaries, encyclopedias of all kinds, thesauruses). Next the chalkboard, my desk and shelf, the sink area and the door. Continuing to the right of the door, you see built-in cupboards in the back corner and the table on the tile and the cubbies are back there, but hidden in this picture. Continue around and you see the fiction, nonfiction, IWB, and picture books!


Well, the white board for the IWB (on the left) was longer than the space I left between the tall NF shelf and the picture books. So, the NF shelves moved straight ahead beside the poetry (covering half of that bulletin board...oh, well). Just goes to show that it's a work in progress, right up to the last moment!!

All of these panoramas were made with the Pano app on my iPhone.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Already Looking Forward to #NCTE12 !!!

As I mentioned in a previous post, NCTE's Annual Convention marks the end of fall for me.  I love the start of a new school year--August, September, October.  I love getting to know new students and families. I love the weather (not too hot, not too cold), and I am usually fairly organized after summer vacation.  Then when it's time for NCTE's annual convention, I am ready for new learning. I am ready to think hard about instruction with this particular group of children in mind. I am excited to pick up new books that this group of students will love. I am ready to reenergize and focus for the remainder of the school year. Absolute perfect timing for me.

So, I tend to get excited about the convention a little earlier than most. I spent some time this weekend really looking at the newest Council Chronicle with the Annual Convention Preview.  I also spent a little bit of time online looking at the searchable program.  Here are some things I am excited about already:

*There will be an App for the convention program this year. How convenient!  A good reason to purchase the iPad mini or the iPhone5  if they becomes reality before convention, don't you think?

*So many of my newest heroes will be there. I am excited about all of the experts around 21st Century Learning such as Sir Ken Robinson (Friday morning General Session) and Will Richardson. I was able to hear Will Richardson for the first time this summer and learned so much. And I've never had the opportunity to hear Sir Ken Robinson speak in person.

*Presenting with Sara Kajder, Teri Lesesne and Donalyn Miller will definitely be a highlight. These girls are brilliant and I always learn so much from them. And they are fun. What better combination is there?

*I will be doing one IGNITE presentation as part of a panel. I am excited about the challenge it will be to create my first real IGNITE presentation for an audience.  Harder than it looks, I imagine! And I love the IGNITE sessions. I am especially excited to attend the one on
BUILDING PROFESSIONAL LEARNING NETWORKS--to hear so many smart people in one session sounds too good to be true!

*There are so many great authors at convention this year. A few that I am especially excited about are
Jon Szieszka, Lemony Snicket, David Shannon, and Sherman Alexie!

*The exhibit hall is always great fun. There are lots of great new professional books out around convention time.  Kylene Beers' and Bob Probst's new Notice and Note: Strategies for Close Reading is one I can't WAIT to read.  These two are brilliant!  And I've heard Penny Kittle share a bit about her upcoming book, Book Love: Developing Depth, Stamina, and Passion in Adolescent Readers, and can't wait to read it!

*I loved Ralph Fletcher's Guy-Write: What Every Guy Writer Needs to Know and a looking forward to his session (with Chris Crutcher) on the topic.

*The Day on Early Childhood is always a great day for elementary teachers. I was thrilled to see Vivian Vasquez as the Closing Keynote for that day--LITERACY PRACTICES IN VIRTUAL WORLDS. I purchased her book, Technology and Critical Literacy in Early Childhood, the day it came out but haven't had time to dig in yet.  Such an important topic!

*There is a session on THE NERDY BOOK CLUB and a few on NOTABLE CHILDREN'S BOOKS.  COMMON CORE and MATH LITERACY are other topics I saw when flipping through the preview.

*Many friends and colleagues are participating in sessions that will be great learning for me.
*Katherine and I plan to run on the strip in Vegas. A little healthy exercise before the day begins. Maybe we'll all wear our Nerdy Book Club running attire?

*The exhibits already look like such fun. I am thinking that I should definitely have an empty suitcase for new books for the classroom this year!

*And of course, my favorite part of convention, is always learning informally with others attending the conference. Seeing old friends and meeting new ones--around the topic of literacy education--is always so energizing.

I am sure I won't get to see everything I've listed here and I am certain that I missed lots on my first look through the program. It is never easy to fit in every great learning opportunity at convention.  But the possibilities are endless. And this year's conference looks amazing!

By the way, the official hashtag for the NCTE Annual Convention this year is #NCTE12

Let the Tweets begin!

Monday, August 20, 2012


The last IT'S MONDAY! WHAT ARE YOU READING? of the summer for me:-)  Here are a few books that I've enjoyed lately.  (Visit Kellee and Jen at TEACH MENTOR TEXTS for the Round Up of posts.)

Think Bigby Liz Garton Scanlon and illustrated by Vanessa Brantley Newton is a book I've looked at and loved a few times. I finally purchased a copy this weekend and think it will be a great one to use to start discussions about things we love to do, things we make, etc. It is meant for a younger audience but I think it will definitely spark great conversations, writing. I love this author and illustrator team!

If You Find a Rock by Peggy Christian is one that I discovered during 10 for 10 Picture Book Celebration. I purchased a copy right away and love it.  It is a great book of photographs describing the various kinds of rocks you might find. It goes beyond observation and will be a great one to use as a mentor text in Writing Workshop this year.

C. R. Mudgeon by Leslie Muir is one I picked up because the title made me smile. I think this will be a fun story to use during word study and talking about characters--and how characters' names are often chosen by the author for a reason:-)

National Geographic Kids Chapters: Ape Escapes!: and More True Stories of Animals Behaving Badly is the first in a great new National Geographic Kids series that I just discovered. These are chapter books with true stories about animals.  Each story is told in three short chapters.  This is engaging nonfiction for middle grade readers. I can't wait for more in this series to become available!

I ordered Annie Sullivan and the Trials of Helen Keller (Center for Cartoon Studies Presents) when I saw it. I've loved the other graphic novel biographies in this series and I enjoyed this one as well. As with the others, the story goes beyond what we already know from other typical stories about Annie Sullivan. I always have so many students who are interested in Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan. I love that I can add another good biography in graphic novel form to the classroom library.

One other biography I loved this week was Words Set Me Free: The Story of Young Frederick Douglass (Paula Wiseman Books).  It is a great story about Frederick Douglas written by Lesa Cine Ransome and illustrated by James E. Ransome.  The power of reading is a clear theme through the book and the story is one that will engage readers and help them understand some important issues around slavery.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

A Plan for Maintaining Running/Exercise Through the Fall


I've been slacking, as I am sure you can tell. It's August and I can already see that exercise is getting harder to make time for.  As you know, the life of a teacher is a bit crazy. The cycles are very predictable. There are times when we are so busy working and thinking about working that it is hard to be balanced. Then we seem to get a long weekend here or there or a vacation that we just crash for a few days.  I have talked to lots of my teacher friends who have not exercised as much as usual during these last few weeks of summer. It isn't just me.  And it isn't really about time-I think it is more that our work with children is a job that we think about a LOT--not only when we are at school. So the times when we are overwhelmed and consumed are not necessarily because we are working more physical hours. I think it is more that our brain is constantly thinking about what we can do to make learning better for kids. It is hard to justify exercising when you have a kid whose learning you need to support in better ways.

And the Summer Goals didn't go so well. I did the Color Run but pretty much just walked it and hung out with friends. I decided not to do the COLOR ME RAD (although I will be thinking about my friends who are doing it, friends who I let down, cheering them on from home:-)  because the races seem to be a stress for me right now. And I end up getting off of my exercise routine after a big run like that.   I lasted about 2 days on Another Mother Runner's June Challenge. I lasted about a week or two with #bookaday. And I am not sure I've finished a book yet in August. My house is clean enough but there are still summer projects that I didn't get to.  So, my point is, I am not in some great exercise routine that I just need to keep up. I need to actually bump it up for the fall.

I personally define fall as the time between now and NCTE's Annual Convention. The annual convention to me marks the time when the first parent conferences, first grading periods, first units of study are over. It is usually around that time that the classroom is working well, routines are set, there is strong community. NCTE's annual convention is always kind of a turning point in the school year for me. It moves me from "Beginning of the Year Crazy" to the next phase of the school year.  So, to be honest with myself, the beginning of the school year--when it is most difficult to keep up a healthy eating and exercise routine- is not merely the first few weeks.   It is really the first  2 1/2-3 months.  That is the time I am thinking about in terms of keeping a healthy, balanced life-complete with running and exercise.

So, what did I do?
Now that I have been honest about all that I didn't do, I have to think about what I did accomplish this summer. I did exercise and although I am in no better shape than I was on June 1, I am not much worse. (a little, but not much)
I have a different attitude about running. Since reading RUNNING FOR MORTALS, I really try to push myself, but not so hard as to hate running.  I am going slower and that seems to be a good step for me.
I cleaned my closet and found I have gone down about 1 size. I got rid of lots of clothes and bought a few new things ( a size smaller).
I moved in and organized my classroom. A new role and a new space so a lot of time was spent in the classroom getting organized this summer.
I completed the copyedit of my upcoming Minilessons book with Choice Literacy which will be coming out soon.
I did lots with family and friends.
I tried a few new exercises.
My house is more organized than it was in the spring. (not a ton, but enough..)
I did workshops for Choice Literacy and All Write.
I attended All Write and the Ohio Innovative Learning Conference and learned lots.
I participated in the NCTE Executive Committee retreat in July.
I read about 40 books.

Here's the thing. I tend to over plan and tend to think I can do more than I actually can. I like to do lots of things and I tend to say yes to anything that sounds interesting. I am also not so good at not overdoing. I seem to overdo things because they sound like good ideas at the time.  I want to do really good work but not spend time doing worthless things that take lots of time.  In teaching, there is always more than can be done but sometimes I over plan, over think when my first idea and plan was best anyway.

So, I am trying to learn how to deal more rationally with my never-ending TO-DO list. I HATE having things to do that I am not doing. I have trouble relaxing or having fun when I know there is something I should be doing. I cannot pace well--I like to get everything done all of the time.  Clearly, this does not work. Last year, I found a system that seemed to work. I plotted out my to-do things by week so that I could spread out my to-do list a bit. That seemed to help. But with school starting, my lists are again becoming unrealistic.

I do not give myself much time to do the things I enjoy by myself...baking, exercise, reading, etc. Then I get very cranky.

And one more thing--Ialready have a full fall planned:
I am starting with a new class of 4th graders in a week. I am VERY excited about this and having been out of the classroom  for 4 years, I want to give it lots of time.

I am participating in two sessions at NCTE that I'll need to prepare.

I am doing a one-day Choice Literacy workshop in Maine in October. I'll be gone for most of that weekend.

I will participate in the yearlong Literacy Connection.

I oversee the district new teacher/mentor program.

There are things like curriculum night, Ana's curriculum nights., parent conferences, first trimester school events, etc.

Ana turns 13 this year so there are birthday parties to plan.

So, even if I don't add one more thing, I am busy enough.  So this fall, I am giving myself permission to say no to things I enjoy but don't really have time for. For example, Jack Gantos is speaking in Columbus in a few weeks. I would LOVE to hear him. Cover to Cover has several authors coming this fall who I will want to hear.  There are Saturday local workshops that sound interesting. Writing group is meeting.  There will be blog events and other things.  I have gotten better at saying no to things I don't want to do, but this fall, to keep up with exercise, I am going to try to say no to work/literacy related things that I WANT to do, but just don't realistically have time for.

I also found that adding a 4th run to my weekly goal was too much for me. I actually ran less because I had no flexibility in the schedule. 3 runs is perfect and then if I can fit a 4th in, great.

I find that I like to do the extra work but not on a set schedule..Too many scheduled events make down time and exercise time hard to find.  I am learning this about myself slowly. When I am too scheduled, even with things I love to do--exercise is the first thing to go.

So, here is how I will measure balance each week this fall--these are the questions I hope I can say yes to every week.

Did I exercise 3-6 days per week? (ideally 3 days of running and 3 days of something else.)
Did I do really good work?
Did I have fun? Did I do some things for myself (read a good book, spend time with friends, etc.)
Did I get some non-work things accomplished (laundry, cook dinners, etc.)
Was I organized for the  week?
Did I spend time with my family?
Do I have energy? Did I have enough down time to remain positive?

Originally, I decided that I would schedule fall. I would decide on 3 days to run in the mornings, 2 days to go to Harbor Yoga for a hot yoga class, and one day to do something else. And I would stick with it all fall. But then I reflected. And I realized that every week is different and what worked best for me last winter was looking at my week each Sunday and planning accordingly--it was easy to decide when I could plug in exercise each week. Rather than skip a workout because I had a meeting after school, planning each week as they come up gives me a better chance of exercising lots.

I am still debating on doing the PUMPKIN RUN. My gut says to sign up and make this the 5K that I actually complete and enjoy.  I haven't totally decided yet because I haven't had the best luck with races and since I am still running a 15-16 minute mile, I am worried about being too slow for a race that is really about running.

Ideally, I'll run 3 days (2 in the morning before school and 1 long run on Saturday) and I'll go to yoga twice. And then once a week, I am hoping to walk with friends or  do something low-key.

That's my plan. I'll keep you posted....

Friday, August 17, 2012


Nothing fancy. I'm just going to throw a blanket down under the tree. Come and join me! I bought some snickerdoodles at the farmer's market after this morning's hike that I'll share. Here's some poetry to savor while we sit in the shade and chat:

Sylvia at Poetry For Children

Lori Ann Grover at On Point

Iphigene at Gathering Books

The Dodge Blog

Heidi at My Juicy Little Universe

Maria at Teaching in the 21st Century

Through the Looking Glass

The Write Sisters


Katie Ford Hall at Uneasy Pink

Carol at Carol's Corner

Diane at Random Noodling

Julie at The Drift Record

Jason at JMK

Kerry at Picture Books and Pirouettes

Ben at The Small Nouns

Joy at Poetry for Kids Joy

Debbie at A Journey in Learning

Jone at Check it Out

Kurious Kitty's Kurio Kabinet

David L. Harrison

The Slow-Dripped Life

Dori at Dori Reads

Laura at Author Amok

Amy at The Poem Farm

Ruth at No Such Thing as a God-Forsaken Town

Charles at Bald Ego and The Father Goose Blog

Tabatha at The Opposite of Indifference

Laura at Writing the World for Kids and 15 Words or Less

Irene at Live Your Poem

Linda at Teacher Dance

Robyn at Read, Write, Howl

Jama at Jama Rattigan's Alphabet Soup

April at Teaching Authors

Little Willow at Bildungsroman

Liz at Growing Wild

Douglas at Florian Cafe

Oh, yeah. My post is here.

Here's a Poetry Friday poem that came to me from the parent of a child I taught more than 18 years ago (don't you LOVE the connections that LAST?!?!) Powerful.

Here's the video response. Equally powerful:

The Poetry Friday Anthology

The Poetry Friday Anthology: Poems for the School Year with Connections to the Common Core
compiled by Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong
Pomelo Books, 2012 -- official release date September 1

The PFA by the numbers:

218 previously-unpublished poems by
75 poets.
36 poems for each grade level K-5 -- one for each week of the school year.
5 quick tips for each poem: bringing the poem to life, ways to read the poem with your students, open ended discussion prompts, a specific language arts or poetry skill that fits the poem, and a connection to another poem in the anthology or a different poetry book.
6 grade levels, all sharing poetry on the same theme every week throughout the year. The Week 1 poem in each grade level is related to the theme of "School." Week 8, where you will find my poem (squee!!!) "Bluejay Sings Two Different Songs," has the theme "In the Air." Week 26, K-5, is "Nonsense" week. Let's plan ahead for that one!
PLUS lots of poetry resources, and a special nod to Poetry Friday in the Kidlitosphere.

Teachers, you will want this book. You will need this book. You will USE this book.

Three cheers for Poetry Friday -- on the blogs, in the book, and coming soon to classrooms across the country!!

As for the roundup...I'll put together an informal one HERE. Don't worry about sending me links. I'll do a Google blog search and find you!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Where do You Get Your Ideas: Options for the Writing Studio

In your writing studio, there are always going to be those days when (or those kids for whom) "I don't have anything to write about" is the song of the day.

Because I personally know how helpful it is choose a photo from my iPhoto as a writing prompt, I will have a basket full of pictures cut from magazines and catalogs for students to choose from if they need a visual prompt.

I will share the strategy of picking a random word from the dictionary as a way to get the writing ideas flowing.

And I will introduce these two resources:

StoryWorld: Quests and Adventures: Create-A-Story
by John and Caitlin Matthews
Templar Books (Candlewick Press), 2012
review copy provided by the publisher

This is one set of cards in a series that includes cards that help you write a story that has fairy magic, is a legend of the sea, or is set in a haunted house. There is also a basic storytelling box.

Each card has an illustration of a character, a setting, a creature, or a prop on the front. On the back is a bit of information about the front of the card, and some open-ended questions to get the writer or storyteller thinking and imagining. The set comes with an instruction booklet that emphasizes that there is no right or wrong way to use the cards. They can be used by one person or a group; they can be used one at a time, or in combination; they can be used for acting, as well as for writing...the possibilities are endless.

The Scary Places Map Book: Seven Terrifying Tours
by B.G. Hennessy
illustrated by Erwin Madrid
Candlewick Press, 2012
review copy provided by the publisher

Each of the seven terrifying tours in this book (The Ghostly Galleon Cruise of the Seven Seas, Land of the Mythical Monsters, Roundup of the Western Terror-tories, Tour of the Wicked Woods and Witchfield Village, Trip Through Transylvania, Sleepwalking Tour of Nightmare House, and Museum of Haunted Objects) begins with some information about the setting and directions for the tour.

There is a labeled cut-away diagram of the Ghostly Galleon to go with the Ghostly Galleon Cruise, and the maps for the Sleepwalking Tour of Nightmare House and the Museum of Haunted Objects are labeled cut-aways of the house and museum. Every map is gridded with numbers and letters around the edges, and of course, they each have a map key, including a scale that matches the map (1/2 Hercules Strides for the Land of Mythical Monsters map). Here is a sample of the directions from the Land of Mythical Monsters:

  • Begin the tour at Athena's Temple (E3). Look for the peak of Mount Olympus to the west (G4, H4).
  • Follow the footpath from Athena's temple southwest for 3 Hercules strides to Heras Secret Garden (J3).
  • Then travel east 2 Hercules strides for a stop at the Stables of King Augeas, site of Hercules's big cleanup (G2). Then head southeast 1 1/2 Hercules strides to Nemea (E1). Watch for the famous lion.
Even if a writer did not want to tell the story of the tour in the book, each of the maps gives him/her a rich setting with which to begin a story...or a mentor text for their own imaginative maps and tours!

Hopefully these two resources will help some of our writers get "unstuck" this year!

Monday, August 13, 2012

It's Monday! What are you reading? FLYING THE DRAGON

Thanks to Jen and Kellee at TEACH MENTOR TEXTS for hosting IT'S MONDAY! WHAT ARE YOU READING?

Flying the Dragon
by Natalie Dias Lorenzi
Charlesbridge, 2012
review copy provided by the publisher

This book hooked me by page 9, after two short chapters.

Throughout the book, the chapters alternate between Hiroshi and Skye, cousins who, at the outset of the book, have never met. Hiroshi lives in Japan with his parents and Grandfather. Skye lives in Virginia with her Japanese father (Hiroshi's father's twin brother) and her American mother.

Hiroshi is focused on competing in the upcoming rokkaku kite battles. "A member of the Tsuki family had always won the master flier title ever since Grandfather had first entered as a boy." This is the year that Hiroshi will enter the competition on his own.

Skye is focused on securing a spot on the All-Star soccer team.

And Grandfather needs cancer treatments that are available in the United States, not in Japan.

So Hiroshi, his parents, and Grandfather move to Virginia to live in a house down the street from Skye's family. No rokkaku kite battles for Hiroshi, and no All-Star team for Skye, unless she can pass into the advanced Japanese language class after Japanese Saturday school.

Natalie Dias Lorenzi is an ELL teacher. She gets the conflicts of language and culture spot-on perfect, both for Hiroshi, who is struggling to learn English, and for Skye, who is struggling to learn Japanese and accept her family's culture.

This interaction between Hiroshi and his ELL teacher broke my heart. I have had conversations like this so many times. Times when I know that there is a wealth of information and intelligence locked behind the barrier of language:

" 'I like kites.' 
But he wanted to say so much more. He wanted to tell Mr. Jacobs about the kite battle he had to miss because he'd moved to America. He wanted to explain that the dragon kite was the first one he had made himself. Well, mostly himself--Grandfather had helped a little. He wanted to say that grandfather was a rokkaku champion and Hiroshi's best friend. And that he hoped Grandfather would get better soon so they could keep flying kites together. 
'Yes,' Hiroshi repeated. 'I like kites.' "

One of the things I love best about this book are the believable ways that both Hiroshi and Skye grow and change. I love wise, wise Grandfather, and his role in bringing Hiroshi and Skye together.

I am in awe that this is Lorenzi's debut novel. I wish there were a William C. Morris Award, not just for YA authors, but for middle grade authors as well.

I've already picked my first read aloud for this year, but I'm pretty sure this will be my second. Check it out -- you'll be glad you did!

Author's website: Natalie Dias Lorenzi | Author
Author interview at Read, Write, Repeat
One of Jama Rattigan's amazing Book Birthday posts at Jama's Alphabet Soup