Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Cybils Picture Book List

The Cybils fiction picture book list is up for anyone interested. 111 titles! Such a great year for picture books:-) Whether you are interested in possible award winners or just excited about great new books for kids, check out the link. Lists are also posted for other genres on the Cybils site. (I am just especially excited about the picture book category since I am part of the nominating committe!) Thanks again to Kelly Herold of Big A little a who has been coordinating so much of this! (The list is posted on her site too!)

Friday, November 24, 2006

Poetry Friday

by Billy Collins

Why do we bother with the rest of the day,
the swale of the afternoon,
the sudden dip into evening,

then night with his notorious perfumes,
his many-pointed stars?

This is the best—
throwing off the light covers,
feet on the cold floor,
and buzzing around the house on espresso—

maybe a splash of water on the face,
a palmful of vitamins—
but mostly buzzing around the house on espresso,

dictionary and atlas open on the rug,
the typewriter waiting for the key of the head,
a cello on the radio,

and, if necessary, the windows—
trees fifty, a hundred years old
out there,
heavy clouds on the way
and the lawn steaming like a horse
in the early morning.

Thursday, November 23, 2006


The NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) Convention was great! Like Mary Lee, I went to lots of great sessions. According to Chicken Spaghetti, lots of us were there! It is a great convention for fans of kid lit! We also heard Bruce Degan and Joanna Cole talk about the 20th anniversary of The Magic School Bus. It is pretty amazing that it is 20 years old! They were great speakers and the 20th anniversary book looks like it might be my favorite in the series. The Books for Children Lunch is one of my favorite sessions every year. We get a great speaker (children's author, we get to sit at a table with a children's author AND we get free children's books! Sharon Taberski, author of On Solid Ground, was the opening speaker for "A Day of Early Childhood". It was a great talk about appropriate comprehension instruction in grades K-2. 

Lots of talk about No Child Left Behind and the harm it is doing to children. I went to a session and heard Susan Ohanian. She has an interesting website that I would suggest visiting. Lots of interesting things going on around this NCLB stuff. She has several initiatives and lots of info on her site. In the name of children, lots of bad things are going on that are getting in the way of student learning. My favorite adult author, Ann Patchett spoke on Thursday evening but I missed her. There were also lots of other sessions with children's authors. I tend to go to teaching sessions but for those of you interested in children's books, you could technically go to 3-4 days' worth of author sessions. I heard that the ALAN (The Assembly on Literature for Adolescents) sessions were amazing on Monday and Tuesday but I couldn't stay for those. Next year, NCTE is in New York City! I would highly recommend it!

Saturday, November 18, 2006

More News From Nashville

My brain is overwhelmed.

Instead of attending sessions that sounded interesting because the presenters were talking on topics near and dear to my heart, I've been going to sessions that are pushing me way out onto the edge of my learning curve. Because of that, I am drowning in information that needs to be absorbed and sorted and linked to what I know. In other years at this point in the conference, I would be giddy with the obvious possibilites for applying new ideas to what I already do in my classroom. This year, I feel like I need to go back and completely reinvent my classroom.

Examples: Bud Hunt (aka Bud the Teacher), Bill Bass and Greg VanNest talking about blogging and podcasting with their students. How am I going to get started blogging with my 5th graders? Scott McCloud talking about comics/graphic novels/manga. A whole body of literature I'm just beginning to read. How will I ever catch up? An amazing 11 year-old speaking passionately and knowledgably about social networking on Club Penguin. What aspects of my students' lives are invisible to me?

Friday, November 17, 2006

News from Nashville

We're blogging this weekend from NCTE in Nashville, TN at Opryland. The hotel and conference complex is an over-the-top tropical theme park sort of experience, but we'll try not to let that get in the way of the important work of the conference -- learning from/sharing with others how we can become better teachers.

Last night at the Elementary Section Get-Together, Shelley Harwayne received the Outstanding Educator in Language Arts Award. Her speech was thought-provoking and inspiring. She talked about four things we need to reclaim in our teaching:

1. More playfulness and less formality. Teaching is an ART, not an industry; we need predictability, not precision; and we need to follow students, not scripts.

2. Follow students' leads. We need to adjust our teaching to fit the child's needs.

3. Treat children as children.

4. Remember we have an artful profession. We need to use improvisation, not indoctrinization.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Big Time!

The Cybils have made it -- there's a mention (albeit at the bottom of the page) in the Publishers Weekly Children's Bookshelf e-newsletter!

Thanks to the folks at Finding Wonderland for the link.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Poetry Friday: Kay Ryan

Listen to Kay Ryan read and discuss her poem on this podcast.


by Kay Ryan

Who would be a turtle who could help it?
A barely mobile hard roll, a four-oared helmet,
She can ill afford the chances she must take
In rowing toward the grasses that she eats.
Her track is graceless, like dragging
A packing-case places, and almost any slope
Defeats her modest hopes. Even being practical,
She’s often stuck up to the axle on her way
To something edible. With everything optimal,
She skirts the ditch which would convert
Her shell into a serving dish. She lives
Below luck-level, never imagining some lottery
Will change her load of pottery to wings.
Her only levity is patience,
The sport of truly chastened things.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Check it out!

Our interview with Amy Bowllan, the SLJ Blogger, is here and here.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006


I can tell that interims are out, parent-teacher conferences are over, and everyone has more or less settled into the school routine. How do I know? I have time to read again!

The literature circle/book club group of 5th graders in my classroom finished TIME CAT by Lloyd Alexander last week. I can't count how many times I've read that book, but I'm always amazed at how much world history (and world history of the cat) Alexander weaves into a time travel story about the boy, Jason, and his cat, Gareth. I'm forever reminded of WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE at the end because when he gets home, dinner is just being served. If you haven't read it, or if it's been awhile, you should read this book.

The literature circle/book club group's next book is THE LAST TREASURE by Janet Anderson. We had our first discussion today. This one I've only read once, so it's like that Billy Collins poem I featured on Poetry Friday a while back -- it's like a brand new experience for me! The kids are having a hard time keeping all the names straight (as am I), and we are all going back to the diagram of the sward and the family tree often as we read. It's pretty obvious that Ellsworth and Jess will go into the middle house on the south side of the square and find the treasure, but they know that it's going to take a whole book-worth of story to accomplish that. This is a great mystery for a reader who will have patience with a complicated plot line, flashbacks, and lots of characters.

My adult book club is reading RIDING THE BUS WITH MY SISTER by Rachel Simon. This is not a book I would have picked up on my own, but that's what book clubs are for -- stretching us as readers! It's a fun story of self-discovery. Simon uses flashbacks that start in early childhood and gradually become closer and closer to the time period of the story. They are like stitches that sew together the events of the story into a satisfying whole. Reading this book was like going along on the bus ride, and I was a little lulled by the ride, so I was surprised at the last "stop" (the end).

I'm still picking away at STUDY DRIVEN by Katie Wood Ray. I read just enough to jumpstart my thinking when writing workshop is at a crossroads.

And I have a HUGE stack of graphic novels piled up in preparation for my work on the nominations committee of the Cybils. If you've read a great 2006 GN, head over to the Cybils website and nominate it now!

Sunday, November 05, 2006

My Current Pick for the Newbery

by Katherine Sturtevant

I shouldn't be reviewing this book without having my copy right here in front of me. The reason I don't have it? As soon as I was finished, I handed it to an Amazing 5th Grade Girl Reader (AGR for short) who had snatched up and gobbled up AT THE SIGN OF THE STAR, which was in my New Books tub when school started. I gave A TRUE AND FAITHFUL NARRATIVE to her and told her that she had to read it, and she had to convince her very busy Amazing 9th Grade Girl Reader of a sister (who had been in my 4-5 loop) to make time to read it, too. AGR is done with the book, and I suspect that after this weekend, her sister will be, too.

AGR loved the book. When I glanced over her shoulder during writing workshop and saw her plotting out a story in which an apprentice plays a big part, I knew it had soaked in deep. You see, AGR is a writer, as well as a reader. She loved the themes of the power of reading and of writing that are in INKHEART and INKSPELL, themes which are recurrent in both of Sturtevant's books.

Meg Moore, the main character, lives in England in 1681. Her father is a bookseller, which at that time also meant that he was a publisher. Meg's mother died when she was young, so she has an unusual childhood for the time -- she grows up in her father's bookstore, reading, listening in on literary conversations, meeting famous authors, and even learning to write. In A TRUE AND FAITHFUL NARRATIVE, Meg's passion for her literary life becomes the fulcrum upon which she must balance her affections for her father's apprentice, and for her friend Anne's brother Edward. The reader experiences Meg's passion for writing by looking over her shoulder while she struggles to write about Edward's experiences as a slave in a way that will capture the attention of her readers, and yet remain true to Edward's desire to describe the positive aspects of the Muslim culture -- a truth that apparently was as hard a sell then as it is now.

And that's another reason I like this book. It is historical, and it is simultaneously current. Meg is very much a girl of her times, and yet she is a girl for all times. Sturtevant is as masterful as Karen Cushman in the way she teaches the reader history by inviting us to live in the past in our imaginations while we read. (I was delighted to see a positive quote by Cushman on the home page of Sturtevant's website!)

Monica Edinger loves this book, and so does Nina, and Fuse8...but you'll have to dig for her review!

Saturday, November 04, 2006

BOY WRITERS by Ralph Fletcher: Author Interview

Ralph Fletcher's new book BOY WRITERS just came out from Stenhouse Publishers. It is a GREAT read. I have to admit that I am a huge Ralph Fletcher fan and he is a friend of mine, so I pretty much like anything that he writes, but I love this one. I think the boys and literacy issue has gotten much worse since the testing craze. There are so many books out there that address Boys and Reading but this one focuses specifically on writing and what teachers can do to help boys become writers. It really talks to teachers. I had an awful writing conference with one of my boys a few weeks ago. A few days later I read the chapter on conferring in BOY WRITERS. I immediately saw myself in the conference and realized where I had gone wrong. Somehow Ralph is able to talk to us, letting us know what we can do to support boys, without being critical of the mistakes we may be making. I learned a ton and it is an interesting read. Here is an interview with Ralph Fletcher about the book. 

A YEAR OF READING: What is the big message that you want readers to leave with in Boy Writers?

RALPH FLETCHER: Many of our writing classrooms are not meeting the needs of boys. They are not inviting, stimulating places for boy writers. We don't welcome the strengths, passions, and quirks of boy writers. No wonder test data show that boy writers perform far below girls. If we don't do a better job of engaging boys and pulling them into our writing community, well, we're going to lose them. We already are. Test results nationwide show boys performing far below girls on writing tests. 

A YEAR OF READING: As the dad of 4 boys, how do you hope that classrooms will change to meet the needs of boys? 

RALPH FLETCHER: It's probably too late for my sons. Joseph, my youngest, is in 8th grade. But there are other Josephs coming up. This book is for them. There is a scene in the movie "Big" where the toy company executives explain a new toy to the character played by Tom Hanks and he frowns: "Well, that's not fun!" Boy writers feel something similar. They quickly learn the limits of the school writing game. Can't write fantasy. Can't write comics. Can't write stories with any fighting, hitting, weapons, farting, war. Can't draw illustrations. That's not fun! No wonder so many boys turn off from writing and see it as a "girl thing". I'm proposing what may seem like a radical idea: Each one of us should look at our writing classrooms from a boy's perspective and honestly ask ourselves: Does this environment engage boys? If not, let's make some changes. In BOY WRITERS I suggest many ways we need to alter our classrooms. My friend Don Murray says "Do the writing only you can do." I'd like to see writing classrooms where teachers don't merely tolerate but encourage boys to do the kind of writing only boys can do. I'd like to see boys allowed to write stories along the lines of Jack Gantos' books and the Captain Underpants series, to name a few. Boys' pieces would include war, humor, adventure, danger, sarcasm and satire. 

A YEAR OF READING: Do you see the same patterns in boys' reading? 

RALPH FLETCHER: Well, I'm not a reading specialist but there are strong parallels between reading and writing. Writers like Jeff Wilhelm have pointed out that boys are drawn to texts we may not value: comics, video game guides, etc. It bothers me that my son Joseph would rather watch TV than read. Yet this morning before the bus came, he sat reading his Lacrosse magazine. Reading is reading, right? Sadly, I think we often give kids MORE choice in reading than we do in writing. Many teachers allow students to choose their books but give them very little choice as to what to write about. If we believe young readers need to choose books that interest them, shouldn't the same thing be true for young writers? 

A YEAR OF READING: What role do teachers play in helping boys become writers? 

RALPH FLETCHER: It's huge! Every day we give kids explicit and implicit messages about themselves as writers. The boys may not show it but they are listening. They want our acceptance and approval. We haven't talked much about praise, but I think it may be more important than we imagined. As a parent I used to take my 3 or 4 year olds to Chuck E. Cheese's. Did I like those places? No! I find them loud and frantic. The canned music is obnoxious. The food is pretty bad. But my boys wanted to go. Did I judge them, or criticize them for wanting to go to Chunk E. Cheese's? No, I took my kids there because I know that little kids honestly and sincerely like the Chuck E. Cheese environment. It engages them. It's a place tailor-made for their raucous energy. They feel at home when they're at Chuck E. Cheese's. In a similar way, we shouldn't judge boy writers negatively for their zany choice of topic, their earthy humor or violence. This is who they are. This is where they live. Ultimately every teacher plays the role of host of the classroom. Will boys feel welcome, or unwelcome, at the party? If they don't feel welcome, they won't write. It's up to us. 

A YEAR OF READING: What were your best and worst experiences as a boy writer in school? 

RALPH FLETCHER: I'm a bit suspicious of globalizing my experiences. Whatever writing woes I may have had (especially due to my horrific handwriting), I eventually did become a writer. But as I reflect, two things seem worth mentioning. First, I wrote a great deal at home. That was where I discovered the fundamental pleasure of putting one word after another. That's where I found my stride as a writer. Interesting that at home I really didn't get encouragement from my parents; nevertheless it was a safe place where I could write for myself. Second, I must say honestly that I had many writing teachers who weren't very effective but they didn't deeply injure my psyche as a writer. Since I didn't have lasting writing scars, when I finally did encounter a few strong writing teachers (in high school), I was ready to bloom.

Blog Article for Choice Literacy

I just wrote an article for Choice Literacy that you might be interested in. It gives the history of our blog as well as info about some other blogs that help me keep current on children's books. I listed several blogs that I follow in the article. Choice Literacy is a great new website for educators. Check it out:-)

Friday, November 03, 2006

Great article on Books for Gift-Giving

The new issue of The Horn Book has a great article by Roger Sutton on "What Makes a Good Gift Book?". Definitely worth reading, especially at this time of year. A fun read too. (By the way, Roger Sutton's blog is the first blog that I ever discovered and it totally hooked me to blogs and blogging.)

Poetry Friday--Nikki Grimes

Nikki Grimes is this year's winner of NCTE's Award for Excellence in Poetry. NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) gives this award every 3 years to a children's poet. It is for their whole body of work. I love her new book WELCOME, PRECIOUS. And I love all of her poetry.

Here is a poem from her website:

I stretch a map
across my desk,
find where X
marks the spot:
"New school" it says.
That's my destination.

Get the rest of the poem here.

Nikki will receive her award at the Books for Children Luncheon at the NCTE Annual Convention in November.