Friday, August 31, 2007

Poetry Friday--First Week of School

Whose idea was it to have five days of school the first week? Three or four would have been plenty!

Here are the schedules I/we have worked to coordinate and finalize this week:

Special Education
Reading Intervention
Bubble activities (sounded great this summer, but a nightmare now)
Title One Math
Reading Assessments
Math Assessments
Spelling Assessments
Fire Drill

We have had various meetings before school every day, after school most days, and at our grade level planning period several of the days.

The poem for today and for this crazy first week:

by Stuart Kestenbaum

The only psalm I had memorized was the 23rd
and now I find myself searching for the order
of the phrases knowing it ends with surely
goodness and mercy will follow me
all the days of my life and I will dwell
in the house of the Lord forever only I remember
seeing a new translation from the original Hebrew
and forever wasn't forever but a long time
which is different from forever although
even a long time today would be
good enough for me...

(the rest of the poem is here)
(Roundup is at MentorTexts)

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Edward's Eyes by Patricia MacLachlan

I had to make one last run to Cover to Cover today to set myself up for the first few days of school--new books always help me get my head around where I hope to go with our talk. I picked up some great new picture books that I'll share later in the week. But, I also picked up Patricia MacLachlan's new book, EDWARD'S EYES.

EDWARD'S EYES is an amazing story about a family told by Jake--a child in the family. Edward is Jake's younger brother and Jake adores him. Edward is amazing and so are his eyes--something Jake noticed the first time he saw him.

This is a hard story. One I really wasn't ready for today--but since I didn't know it would be a hard story, it was too late. But, I am so glad I read it. The cover drew me in and I didn't put it down at all once I'd started it. Friendship, family, love, loss. All of life in a short, simple book.

Patricia MacLachlan is one of my very favorites. Ever since BABY, one of my very favorite books of all time. And this book was no disappointment. It was all that I love about MacLachlan. A great family. Great characters. Life told as life happens. And a message that is told through all of it together.

Patricia MacLachlan is somehow able to help us celebrate life in all of her books. And she doesn't do it by pretending that life is not difficult. Somehow she gives us characters to fall in love with and allows us to experience hardships alongside them. Her sincere nature and her sensitivity make her books what they are.

This is definitely a book that will stay with me. In terms of use in school, I will definitely put it in my classroom library. I may read it aloud to my 3rd and 4th graders--I'll have to see. Another family that will stay with me for a long while.

Ask The Right Questions

On the way back to our classrooms after dismissal yesterday, my colleague asked me, "Is it really quiet on your morning walks?"

At lunch, a whole table of us had been talking about how hard it is to preserve time for ourselves once school starts. There had been the usual surface level amazement that I continue to get up at 5:00 a.m. and walk for a half an hour at 5:30, even though there is no longer a dog to make such an activity mandatory.

My colleague's after school follow-up question was far from a surface level question. She came at my morning walk from an unexpected and thoughtful direction. And she got more of an answer than perhaps she expected, because when you walk in the dark, you pay closer attention to the sounds around you. My walks right now are loud with insect sounds -- crickets and tree crickets, buzzing, chirping and whirring. As winter comes, my walks will be more and more silent, until I have the chance to listen to the different sounds of snow underfoot. Late in February or early in March, I will hear the first robin singing in the dark, and my spring and summer walks will be loud with birds singing territory-marking songs.

Her question felt like the metaphorical unplugging of a dam of talk in me. I felt myself light up when I knew I had a great answer to her question. After I shared, her affirmation of my day-to-day scientific way of living in the world made me feel really really good.

And now I'm wondering, how can I do this for my students? How can I find the right questions to ask each one of them?
  • I know the lists of possible writing topics we are making and sharing in early writers' workshop will help me. I need to model listing in a way that gets beyond, "I love pizza. I play soccer."
  • I need to listen carefully. Then I will hear two boys singing songs from "baby TV shows" on the way to the buses, I can ask about this, and learn that when they go home, they have to watch Barney and Teletubbies with their young cousins.
  • I need to watch. I need to notice how my fourth grade siblings interact in such kind and thoughtful ways with their kindergarten brothers and sisters when they see them in the hallway.
  • And I need to learn to ask questions that go beyond the obvious or the surface, questions that dig into a topic, or approach it at a slant, or come in the back door so that my students can have the feeling I had of the dam breaking and the light coming on when they answer me.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Mind Your Manners B.B. Wolf

MIND YOUR MANNERS, B.B. WOLF is a fun new book by Judy Sierra. I am always looking for books that can start classroom conversations about reading and also books that extend what we know about well-known fairy tale characters.

In this story, B.B. Wolf is invited to a tea. But his friend reminds him that he'll have to behave so they learn good manner from an etiquette book. When B.B. A few of our favorite fairy tale characters make an appearance, some lines from well-known fairy tales show up throughout the story, and the ending is a happy one. Did I mention that the tea takes place in a library?

This is a fun book--appropriate for children of all ages. My third and fourth graders loved it when I read it aloud on the first day of school--lots to see in the illustrations that connect to favorite stories.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Happy New Year!

In homes all around our school community, parents are asking students, "How was your first day of school? Do you like your teacher?"

In fewer homes scattered throughout the school community and beyond, spouses are asking the teachers, "How was your first day of school? Did you get a good class this year?"

It's good to be back. It's good to quit trying to pretend I can really be ready for a group of strangers and just go for it. Just jump in the water, no matter how shocking the temperature or the current, and start stroking hard and sure for the island in the middle.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

2 New Picture Books

I found two great new picture books this week. I think both will be great additions to classroom libraries--especially K-2 classrooms. Both will also make GREAT baby gifts. I had no idea that Mem Fox had a new book coming out. WHERE THE GIANT SLEEPS is a great bedtime book for young children. Older readers will find lots to love about the book too. Just like in TIME FOR BED, Mem Fox gets readers ready to sleep but this time, she tells us where giants and fairies and other fairy tale creatures sleep. The pictures are peaceful and colorful at the same time. And Mem Fox's rhyme and rhythm is unmistakable--she is brilliant at this. (Mem Fox is a favorite at our house. Each of us has our own favorite--my youngest daughter's favorite today is THE MAGIC HAT but WHERE IS THE GREEN SHEEP is a very close second for her. I bought this new one for myself and one for a gift! THAT SPECIAL LITTLE BABY is a new book by Jane Ann Peddicord. It will make a beautiful baby gift for a new baby girl. It is a story of a baby and all of the things she does and learns. Through the book, we see her as a baby and as she grows. The repeated text will be fun for young children ("That special little baby, always up to something new..."). And the illustrations are colorful-set on white. It is a great book about a baby who is loved very much!

Saturday, August 25, 2007

The First Day of School

A great piece in The Columbus Dispatch today about the first day of school--as a child, parent, and grandparent. It was written by Lisa Pettit. A perfect piece for this weekend! Enjoy!

Friday, August 24, 2007

Welcome Back to School

If you have never visited Bruce Lansky's poetry site, it is a great one to bookmark in the classroom. So many fun poems for both kids and adults. There are lots of great things to read and to try. A favorite poetry site!

I thought this one by Kenn Nesbitt worked for this week.

Welcome Back to School by Kenn Nesbitt

“Dear students, the summer has ended.
The school year at last has begun.

But this year is totally different.

I promise we’ll only have fun.

“We won’t study any mathematics,
and recess will last all day long.

Instead of the Pledge of Allegiance,

we’ll belt out a rock ’n’ roll song.

Read the rest of the poem here.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Why I'm Like This

Praise for Why I'm Like This by Cynthia Kaplan:
"Striking a note somewhere between David Sedaris and Anna Quindlen, Kaplan spins traumas personal and professional for maximum laughs..." --People

A blend of David Sedaris and Anna Quindlen? Two of my favorites...SOLD! (You want to know what a blend of Sedaris and Quindlen sounds like, and by proxy what Kaplan sounds like? Mother Reader. Check out her Tinkerbell post and her tooth fairy post and then read Kaplan and tell me if I'm not right.)

Kaplan's new book,
Leave the Building Quickly was the one that originally caught my eye in the new nonfiction display at the Tattered Cover in Denver, but you might know how I am about reading books in order. I had to buy and read Why I'm Like This first. I will be buying Leave The Building Quickly as soon as I'm in a bookstore again.

I'm only about halfway through Why I'm Like This, but it gave me the first cosmic reading event of the summer. I was reading it on the plane on the way home from a "Care For An Elderly Parent" trip. Only recently have I begun to be able to consistently act like an adult when I'm back home with my mom. I've finally figured out how not to revert automatically back to a surly 13 year-old. In the nick of time, I might add. So I've just had a stressful, but successful week, and I read this:
"One of the hardest things about growing up is how one day it suddenly dawns on you that your parents are human. It hadn't occurred to you before. Why should it have? But then something happens, some thing happens, and the veil drops...These are just moments, really, blips on the parental screen, during which they reveal their humanity, and that they are in the world, flailing about as helplessly as everyone else, everyone who is not your parents. Blowing it. Surviving. Hanging on by their nails. That they are at once more spectacularly resourceful and more deeply flawed than you might have ever imagined inspires both scorn and admiration, two emotions you'd always reserved for nonrelatives. But, happily, between the blips, they are just the same as they have always been...and you breathe a sigh of relief. It is too painful for them to be human."

(I know, that's not a particularly Sedaris/Quindlen/MR-sounding quote, but it was my cosmic reading event. Go get the book, either one, and read some whole essays. See if you can read them without snorting, smirking, guffawing, or having one of your own cosmic reading events.)

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

If a Tree Falls at Lunch Period by Gennifer Choldenko

I was excited to see a new book by Gennifer Choldenko--If a Tree Falls at Lunch Period. Her book, Al Capone Does My Shirts caused amazing conversation in my 5th grade class a few years ago. Her topic in that book had depth and was quite surprising. The same is true for this new book.

IF A TREE FALLS AT LUNCH PERIOD is told in two voices--kind of. There are alternating chapters. Every other chapter is told by Kirsten--a 7th grader who is not fitting in with friends the way she used to. Her parents are having some marital problems and she is having a hard time. The alternating chapters focus on Walk. Walk is new to this mostly white school and is very well liked by classmates. As an African-American, he is dealing with fitting in in different ways.

Kirsten and Walk develop a great friendship.

But that is just the beginning. Gennifer Choldenko throws the reader with a huge surprise midbook. At first, I thought it was unrealistic, but now that I've finished the book, it makes more sense to me.

This book had depth. The title alone and the tree metaphor throughout is well done. I would say this book is for early middle school readers--maybe 5th grade mature kids. It is full of some big life issues as her other book is.

I read for character, not plot. I liked this book because I believed in the characters. They were real and very likable. I wanted them to be okay. I think they are characters who will stay with me.

Here is a link to a great interview with the author about the book.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Choose Your Own Adventure for Grown-Ups

A new fun book for adults (thanks to Today I Like for the recommendation).

Pretty Little Mistakes: A Do-Over Novel by Heather Mcelhatton is a fun read and one that you can read for a few minutes each day--although it is a bit addicting and you can find yourself spending lots of time reading and rereading it-creating a new adventure each time.

I have only spent a bit of time with this book but it is quite fun! A Choose-Your-Own-Adventure for grown ups. It does have a bit of a different feel when you are all grown up, reading a book like this. You know that choices are big once you've been through a bit of life. When I read some, I found myself wanting more information before I made decisions!? Overanalyzing the choices. But the fun is that you can go back to the beginning and make new choices and change your life's course.

You Read To Me, I'll Read To You: Scary Stories

I was so happy to see a new book in the You Read to Me, I'll Read to You series. This one is on very short scary tales to read together. How fun is that for a theme?

These books have been favorites every year during our weekly Poetry Friday celebration in our classroom. (We read poetry together while enjoying a morning treat--often donuts--with friends during the first 15-20 minutes of class each Friday.) My kids will be VERY excited to see this new book in our classroom library. I think it will quickly be a class favorite.

The book follows the same format as the others--poems for two voices. These poems are a tiny bit scary (tiny being the key word). Topics of ghosts, monsters, and other scary things will be fun for kids to read without having to worry about any nightmares. They are all in good fun.

This looks like a Halloween book and it will be fun to read then. But it will be one that is fun to read all year round.

If you haven't checked out the others, there is the first one of Short Stories, one of Fairy Tales, and Mother Goose Tales.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Summer Book Party Reflection

In June, I told you about our first Summer Book Party. My good friend Maureen, had this great idea to have "book parties" every few weeks during the summer--a fun way to keep the girls reading and to get them together.

Well, we had 5 book parties--once every few weeks. Since people are busy during the summer, we had anywhere between 2 and 7 girls at each party. They were all quite fun! And very easy to pull off. We set up books all over the house and made (or bought) some type of snack. The parties lasted one hour which was perfect to read a few books.

Today was our last book party. We asked the girls what they thought. They wanted to have them again next summer. They liked reading with friends. Even if they read quietly by themselves, they liked "having people around when I read". They loved reading in different places (on the patio, on the tent, the couch, comfy chairs, and lounge chairs. And, of course, they LOVED the snacks (making ice cream sundaes was a favorite). As Colleen said, "When you read a good book, it kind of makes you hungry, especially if it is a book about food!"

Hosting a few of the book parties was part of the fun. Deciding which books to put out for friends to read, what to have for snack, where we could read....

Maureen and I were laughing today as she left-- Just like us, the girls liked the fact that they could be with friends and eat good food. Good friends--Good Books--Good Food--What more could you want at any age?

The Gorgon's Gaze

The Gorgon's Gaze
Book Two in The Companions Quartet
by Julia Golding
US publication date: October 2007
review copy courtesy of Marshall Cavendish Children's Books

Connie Lionheart is no ordinary member of the Society for the Protection of Mythical Creatures. She is the only universal companion -- she is able to bond with all of the mythical creatures (dragons, pegasi, wood sprites, sirens, etc.) that live secretly in our world. To protect the mythical creatures, Society members protect the last wild spots on earth in which the creatures can survive. In the Gorgon's Gaze, that wild spot is an ancient wood (including a huge oak rumored to be the tree where Merlin was imprisoned by Nimue) threatened by a road to the new oil refinery from Book One, Secret of the Sirens.

The story is a rollercoaster of YAYs and UH-OHs that keeps the pages turning:
YAY! Connie's new companion will be a rare golden baby dragon.
UH-OH! Connie's great aunt is going to isolate Connie from nature and from the society members to "cure" her of her "sickness."
YAY! Two unknown-to-her-aunt members of the Society manage to get Connie out of the house and to Society Headquarters.
UH-OH! Mr. Codderington at the Society Headquarters is surely a bad guy. Watch out, Connie!
YAY! Argand, the baby dragon, comes to visit Connie.
UH-OH! Col's (Connie's friend and fellow society member, companion to pegusi) mother is companion to a gorgon.
YAY! Uncle Hugh unknowingly gives Connie information on how a Universal can protect herself from hostile mythical creatures. (One of Connie's ancestors was a Universal, and Uncle Hugh gives Connie some of her papers from a trunk of family heirlooms.)
UH-OH! Aunt Godiva is really mad when she finds out what Uncle Hugh gave Connie and she cracks down on Connie like never before. At the same time, Col is taken by Kullervo, the ultimate evil. (Kullervo is Connie's Voldemort -- her true companion. Her good and his evil are intimately intertwined. "He was part of her -- and she was part of him.")
YAY! With the help of Skylark, Col's pegasus, Connie goes to the rescue of Col.
UH-OH! It's a trap! Connie is taken by Kullervo!

You'll have to read the book to find out how it all turns out. I predict that the new character, a boy nicknamed "Rat," will feature prominently in the next book.

Here's my review of the first book in the series, Secret of the Sirens.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Violet Bing and The Grand House

Yes, there is another great character to love in this early chapter book by Jennifer Paros. There is lots to love about Violet Bing and The Grand House:

1. The size totally matches the character and the story. It is small book-- a small size and about 100 pages.

2. Violet Bing is VERY lovable. Violet Bing does not like to do much. She "does not have time" or so she says. She does not like surprises or things that are new or unplanned.

3. The plot is simple, yet fun. When Violet decides that she is not going on vacation with her family, she spends the time with her aunt in the Grand House instead. Because Violet says no to so many things, she is on her own a lot (with her aunt watching close-by). A little girl in a big, old, colorful house makes for a great story.

4. The illustrations throughout the book are fun. Violet has a triangular body and string-like hair. The illustrations are spread throughout the book to give the reader a better sense of what is happening. (And often the author refers to the illustrations by saying something like "Look at all of the things she has on the floor.")

5. Some surprises are in store for Violet--a lost dog, a sun room, and a secret passage.

All of this makes for a very fun book! A little girl who is a bit like all of us.

I have heard that this is going to be a series but I can't find any information on this. The end is written in a way that Violet Bing can easily visit The Grand House again soon.
I certainly hope so.

Friday, August 17, 2007


In June, we participated in a Summer Goals meme and set goals for the summer. The 2nd day of summer--so much seemed possible. I thought I could accomplish so much. So today, with just a few days left of summer vacation, I thought I'd go back and see how I did.
1. Get back to exercising 5-6 days a week
I exercised 2-3 times all summer.
Not so good.
2. Read Lots
I read lots of kids books--more than ever-- but did not read the two adult books I was hoping to read.
3. See family and friends often.
I saw many old friends and caught up with people so I'll consider that the best so far....
4. Get organized for the fall
I am feeling okay about the fall. Not as organized as I'd like to be but in okay shape. I am going to work on organizing the house this weekend so I am kind of caught up.
5. Learn how to make and decorate a few really good kinds of cupcakes.
I found a great mix at Williams-Sonoma and a page from a magazine that shows me how to make sunflower cupcakes. Not exactly the gourmet cupcakes I had planned but I will make them for our next book party this weekend so I can maybe meet this goal before school begins...
6. Writer's notebook
Hmmmm...I bought a new one and only have one small entry..not good.
7. Clean every drawer, cupboard and closet in the house
What exactly was I thinking? I did a few but most of the ones I did at the beginning of summer need to be cleaned again. We are in better shape than in June so I am okay on this one.
8. Nap often.
9. Weight Watchers--

Okay, so, I did TERRIBLE in accomplishing my goals. But, overall the summer was good. We had good family time, got good work done, feel semi-organized and refreshed to start the year, got together with some old friends.

TAGGING ANYONE WHO SET SUMMER GOALS WITH THIS MEME TO REFLECT--I am confident that you all did better than I did!

Poetry Friday -- Back to School Song

You can hum along with today's Poetry Friday. I've been singing this song to myself in late August of years now. This one goes out today to any first year teachers, and especially my former fourth grader, Courtney, who begins her career as an art teacher this fall.

From "I Have Confidence" (The Sound of Music)

Oh, I must stop these doubts, all these worries
If I don't I just know I'll turn back
I must dream of the things I am seeking
I am seeking the courage I lack

The courage to serve them with reliance
Face my mistakes without defiance
Show them I'm worthy
And while I show them
I'll show me

So, let them bring on all their problems
I'll do better than my best
I have confidence they'll put me to the test
But I'll make them see I have confidence in me

Somehow I will impress them
I will be firm but kind
And all those children (Heaven bless them!)
They will look up to me

And mind me with each step I am more certain
Everything will turn out fine
I have confidence the world can all be mine
They'll have to agree I have confidence in me

All of the lyrics are here.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

New For the Youngest Readers

Here's a stack of new books from Marshall Cavendish that are sure to make our preschool or kindergarten teachers very happy!

My Big Rig by Jonathan London. A little boy imagines his trip across the country in his big rig. He's home by dinner time!

Firefighters! Speeding! Spraying! Saving! by Patricia Hubbell. This is a very "noisy" book, perfect for before and after a visit to the fire station that is just down the street from our school.

Shells! Shells! Shells! by Nancy Elizabeth Wallace. Lots of information about shells is given in the course of a story about Buddy (a teddy bear) and his visit to the beach. The illustrations were made using recycled paper, markers, crayons, colored pencils, and actual shells.

And what would the start of a child's school career be without a book about adjusting to leaving mommy? In Eliza's Kindergarten Surprise by Alice B. McGinty, it turns out that perhaps mommy was missing Eliza, too!

Monday, August 13, 2007

Finding Myself in the Classroom Library

I haven't seen my class list for this coming year, but I am almost sure to have students from Mexico, Japan or Korea, the Indian subcontinent, and perhaps several more countries or cultures. It is a struggle to make sure that every child I teach can find him or herself in the books in my classroom library.

Several new picture books from Marshall Cavendish will help me with this goal.

The Furry-Legged Teapot by Tim Myers is a version of a Japanese folktale in which a tanuki (a Japanese raccoon-dog) transforms himself into a teapot. In Myers' tale, the tanuki gets stuck in teapot form until he meets the Emperor and his grandson.

The Three Cabritos by Eric Kimmel is an original retelling of The Three Billy Goats Gruff, "with a Texas twist." A cabrito is a "young goat" in Spanish, and the monster under the bridge in this tale is a chupacabra, a legendary "goat sucker" or vampire monster first reported in Puerto Rico.

I'll have to get some help from my students (if they are literate in Spanish) or our ELL teacher with Sopa de Cactus, also by Eric Kimmel. This one is written in Spanish! In the author's note (Nota del autor) I see something something Revolucion Mexicana, something something Pancho Villa y Emiliano Zapata. So besides being what appears to be a folktale, perhaps a Stone Soup variation, this one might have some Mexican cultural and political history woven in.

The House Takes a Vacation by Jacqueline Davies

I am always looking for books with word play to share with my students. Often, the humor in language often goes right past them when they don't realize how playful language can be. I have books like Agatha's Featherbed and Tough Cookie in my classroom library. Sharing these books filled with puns, gives students new ways to think about words and often this shows up in their own writing.

THE HOUSE TAKES A VACATION by Jacqueline Davies is one that I am happy to add to my collection (thanks to Marshall Cavendish Children's Books). What a find! The concept is a fun one--a family takes a vacation so the house decides to do the same. The chimney complains in a "smoky voice". The roof is sore after the long trip and says, "Man, am I sore. I feel like I've got shingles." This picture book is full of puns and word play--new things for readers to discover with every reread. (I am still finding things I missed during the first few reads!)

The illustrations add to the fun of the book--they are done by Lee White.

Definitely worth checking out to add to your word study basket if you teach middle to upper elementary grades.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Cultural Literacy

Another summer of classic movies (CAPA's 38th season) at the Ohio Theater is almost over.

Slowly but surely I am attempting to make up for a lifetime of movie illiteracy. Once, and sometimes twice a week all summer, we go downtown to the gorgeous old Ohio Theater, hear live organ music on the Mighty Morton Theatre Organ (it raises and lowers near the orchestra pit and organist Clark Wilson performs with several silent films each season) and fill some of the gaps in my out-of-school education.

This summer we have seen
"North By Northwest" with Carey Grant,
"Treasure of the Sierra Madre" with Humphrey Bogart,
"Dr. No" with Sean Connery,
Alfred Hitchcock's "Rope" with Jimmy Stewart,
"12 Angry Men" with Henry Fonda,
and in a couple of weeks, this summer's education will end with
"Charade" with Carey Grant

It was interesting to see "Dr. No" in the same summer as "The Bourne Supremacy" (dvd) and "The Bourne Ultimatum." In my mind, James Bond doesn't hold a candle to Jason Bourne.

My other movie this summer was "The Simpsons Movie." Not sure where that fits in the big picture of cultural literacy, but having seen it will probably get me brownie points with my students!

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Read Alouds With a Global Perspective on Choice Literacy

Choice Literacy has a follow-up article to Shari Frost's Read Aloud article. This one focuses on great beginning of the year read alouds with a multicultural/global perspective. A great list by Mary Ann Reilly. The article has books for K-3 and for 4-6.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Me and the Pumpkin Queen by Marlane Kennedy

Beth, at Cover to Cover told me that this was a good one. And, of course, I did! ME AND THE PUMPKIN QUEEN by Marlane Kennedy (Class of 2K7) is a story of Mildred. Mildred lives in Pickaway County Ohio and dreams of winning at the Circleville Pumpkin Show. This is a great story--the author's first book. It has the feel of a Deborah Wiles book--great characters, small town charm, grief, family and friends. As an Ohioan, I love this book. A great Ohio story, based on the best Pumpkin show ever. Since I have never been to the Circleville Pumpkin Show, it was fun to learn all about it and the time and commitment it takes to grow giant pumpkins. I think I may have to attend the pumpkin festival this year. I had no idea these giant pumpkins were over 1000 pounds!? Whether you are from Ohio or not, this is a great story with great characters. The themes of family, healing, and friendship are strong and the info about pumpkin growing are woven throughout in a way that helps you cheer for Mildred to grow the biggest pumpkin. Kids will love this story--everything about it! A great story for upper elementary school. Believe me, you'll want to make a trip to Circleville for the annual pumpkin show after you read this book. And you'll be looking for the Mildreds in the crowd. (To read about the real winners of last year's pumpkin show, visit here.) Pretty cool stuff!

Poetry Friday -- Back to School

One of the books I reread almost every year in August to get myself jived up again for the new school year is Educating Esme by Esme Raji Codell.

Here is one of her poems from the book:


Sing it
Seal it in an envelope
Twist it under a bottle cap
"You are a winner!"
Tie it to the leg of a carrier pigeon
and let it soar
Hoard it greedily, with your back turned
Then share it with magnanimous grin
and glittering eyes
Make it a surprise
shining like a quarter
under a pillow
Whisper it
like the tow of summer's breath
through the willow
Hide it
just between the tart skin and sweet flesh
of an apple
Make it forbidden
Make it delicious
let the children

Used with the blessing of Esme Raji Codell.
Used with apologies for Blogger's erasure of line indents. (Has anyone figured out how to get around this?)

Big A, little a has the roundup this week.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007


It was totally my lucky day! I was at a Choice Literacy Workshop last week and met someone who loved MOXY MAXWELL DOES NOT LOVE STUART LITTLE as much as I did. She had loved it so much that she had found the author's email. She happily shared it with me and Peggy Gifford agreed to a blog interview. Since Moxy Maxwell Does Not Love Stuart Little is my most recent favorite children's book, this is great fun! (As you all remember, I made a call in my first post about Moxy to find the author and tell her to write more!) Well, read away and get the latest scoop on Moxy Maxwell and Peggy Gifford.
Franki: So many people love Moxy already. Is Moxy a character who was like you growing up or is she based on someone else in your life?

Peggy: When I was interviewed by Kirkus they asked the same question and my response was that Moxy is based on Everychild - of which I am one.

Franki: Tell us a bit about your childhood.

Peggy: I spent my summers (2nd through 5th grade) in the basement writing plays. When they were finished I would recruit reluctant adults and children to be in them. I was always the director and the star.

Franki: How did you decide to write about Moxy? Can you tell us a bit about the process?

Peggy: I was in a steam room taking a break from a long nonfiction piece I had been working on, when I noticed that I was noticing my toes. It occurred to me then that I had spent a fair amount of my childhood doing that very thing. What, I wondered, was I doing all those years looking at my toes and then I remembered that I was actually doing very little. As soon as I got home I wrote the first line of Moxy.

(I had tried writing a few times prior to that but now I see that my mistake was in trying to 'sound' like a children's story rather than telling the story I knew in a voice that was most natural for me.)
Franki: The photos in the book add so much and are such fun! How closely were you able to work with the illustrator/photographer on those? How did that piece come to be part of the book?

Peggy: As I was writing, Mark kept creeping in there with his camera taking photographs and I kept writing captions for them, the entire time thinking well, if an editor does like this book, they no doubt will want to cut them. (I thought this because I had never seen fiction illustrated in that way.) When Anne Schwartz and Lee Wade decided not only to keep them but to hire the extraordinary Valorie Fisher to take the pictures as well, I was truly shocked....utterly pleased.

Franki: We are SOOOO happy that there are more books about Moxy Maxwell coming out soon. Can you tell us a bit about the next books in the series.


Franki: Will all of the Moxy books have photos?

Peggy: I've just seen the photographs from the Thank You Note Moxy and they are SO FUNNY.

Franki: What kinds of books do you like to read in your free time? What kinds of books did you read as a child?

Peggy: As a child, I was a very eclectic reader picking up this and that.... among the most memorable: Eloise; THE LITTLE LAMB ON WHEELS; A Wrinkle In Time and Don Quixote, which was read to us by my sixth grade teacher over the course of the year. It (subconsciously) introduced me to the wide range of narrative voices; subject-matter and irony that are possible in fiction.

Currently I am staring at the face-down, spine-broken, two-thirds read GRAPES OF WRATH. There is nothing like The Grapes of Wrath to give you a little perspective.

Franki: Do you have a web site where people can learn more about you and your books?

Peggy: My web site will be up by the first of September. Perhaps you would be kind enough to post the address for me when I have it?

Franki: We would love to--can't wait!

More Back to School Books

Hornbook's Monthly Special is Back to School Books that received starred reviews in recent years. Everything from picture books to YA.

Also, the theme of Hornbook's 2008 special issue is...School!

(Thank you, Read Roger, for these news items.)

In local back-to-school/book news, I have added about 1200 titles (more like 1800 books, when you consider multiple copy sets for literature circles) from my classroom library into my LibraryThing. (search the tag "school" to see my classroom library) When I get back to it tomorrow, I will tackle my nonfiction shelf. Right now the mission is to catalog all the books in my classroom library. More later on how I intend to use this behemoth database.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007


We just discovered a new favorite blog--right up our alley. Ruth and Stacey have started a blog for writing teachers and it is full of great stuff. It is called Two Writing Teachers. This is their mission:

Good teaching is good teaching. Too often we get caught up in what's
happening in our own classroom walls or in the faculty lounge of our own
school building. This blog is a place that erases all of those barriers
and focuses simply on teaching kids to write and catching minds in the
midst. It's happening not only 872 miles apart, but in classrooms beyond
our Midwestern town and East Coast City.

I don't think we realize how important this is in these political times--to connect with other teachers and to learn together without the politics/specific stresses of our own spaces.

Another thing that I love is how they came to blog together (didn't you wonder when you read that they lived 872 miles apart?) Well, here is how it happened:

Ruth and Stacey met in March 2007 at the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project’s Saturday Reunion. Ruth attended Stacey’s session, which was about grant writing. Even though Ruth and Stacey live 872 miles apart, they’re in touch daily.

Gotta love that! We all know as teachers how we often find others we connect with and can learn with and from. There is no better way to learn about teaching.

So, check them out. It is a great site--one I will definitely visit regularly! There is lots more I can say, but I think it would be more fun for you to visit for yourself!

Girl With 500 Middle Names by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Since we have been talking about good beginning-of-the-year read alouds and since this is our 500th post(!!!), I thought I would review a book that goes with the theme of the moment!

by Margaret Peterson Haddix would be a great read aloud. It is an early chapter book with lots to talk about. This is the story of Janie who moves into a new school. Her mother knits sweaters so that Janie can attend the school. But it is hard for Janie to fit in at a school where everyone lives in a big house and has new clothes. Janie has to wear the sweaters that her mom knits--those that were returned with names already on them--and she tells her classmates that she has many middle names. This is a very short chapter book and can cause lots of good discussion about fitting in, etc.

Isn't it coincidental that we posted our 500th post AND Alex Rodriguez (Yankees) hit his 500th career homerun this week? Rodriguez is the youngest in history to accomplish his milestone. And I am the YOUNGEST of A YEAR OF READING bloggers.

Wicked Cool Overlooked Books

Today is the Zombie Ass Kicking Edition of the monthly Wicked Cool Overlooked Books event at Chasing Ray.

I don't have a particular book to share this month, but I was thinking of doing something with the news that FirstBook had interviewed a bunch of people about the book(s) that hooked them on reading. (Here's the list of the top 50 books or series.) In true blogger form, Blog From the Windowsill turned the list into a meme. If you want to play, copy the list and put a + in front of the books that hooked you as a reader. What are some of the books that hooked you that DIDN'T make it on the list? (This is the part that connects to WCOB, in case you were wondering!)

- Nancy Drew by Carolyn Keene
+ Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss
+ Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
- Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
+ The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss
- The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner
- Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
- The Poky Little Puppy by Janette Sebring Lowrey
-Go, Dog, Go! by P. D. Eastman
+ Are You My Mother? by P. D. Eastman
+ Curious George by Margret and H. A. Rey
- Black Beauty by Anna Sewell
- The Little Engine that Could by Watty Piper and Loren Long
- Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown
- Dick and Jane by William H. Elson
- Ramona Quimby, Age 8 by Beverly Cleary
- The Bobbsey Twins by Laura Lee Hope
- To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
- Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls
- The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
+ The Black Stallion by Walter Farley
+ The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
- Heidi by Johanna Spyri
- The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams
+ A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
- Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling
- Clifford the Big Red Dog by Norman Bridwell
- Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren
- Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery
- Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret by Judy Blume
+ Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder
- The Hardy Boys by Franklin W. Dixon
- One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish by Dr. Seuss
- The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis
- Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein
- Winnie the Pooh by A. A. Milne
- The Baby-sitters Club by Ann M. Martin
- Horton Hears A Who by Dr. Seuss
- Amelia Bedelia by Peggy Parish
- Hop on Pop by Dr. Seuss
- Mother Goose's Nursery Rhymes and Nursery Songs
- Encyclopedia Brown by Donald J. Sobol
- Mrs. Piggle Wiggle by Betty MacDonald
- The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
- The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
- Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans
- The Bible
- Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson
- Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
- Ramona the Pest by Beverly Cleary

A Wrinkle in Time is the book that launched me as a reader. I got it from the book order in 6th grade. It was the longest, most challenging book I had read up until that point. It was also my introduction to fantasy. It really made me think. No book had done that up until then, and once I had that experience, I expected it out of every book I read. (I either wanted the book to make me think, or make me feel. I spent many a Sunday afternoon rereading sad books and crying -- Little Britches, Love Story, Where the Red Fern Grows...)

The other books I marked with a + are books that I remember being in my life as I grew up. I read a lot as a child and we took regular trips to the library. All that reading got me ready for A Wrinkle in Time, so I won't dismiss it as water through a sieve, but it was definitely not memorable.

This was also the first time my reading life outside of school had intersected with reading inside of school. Up until that point, reading at school was a basal reader and SRA cards. I was a good reader according to all of that, but none of my teachers knew me as a reader. None of my teachers ever asked me, as I will ask my students in a couple of weeks, to tell them about my reading history. None of my teachers ever gave me a list like this and asked me which books had hooked me on reading.

We survived our schooling. It was something that was done to us. How much better it is now that students actively participate in their learning. Now that students are asked and can answer, "Which books hooked you on reading?"


Susan, at Chicken Spaghetti, has real, live chickens!

Monday, August 06, 2007

More First Read Alouds

Franki got us thinking about first read alouds when she pointed us to Shari Frost's Choice Literacy article.

Here are some of the picture books I read in the first weeks of school, and that we revisit at the end of the year or the end of the loop.

Ish by Peter Reynolds
I value approximation.

The Wonderful Happens by Cynthia Rylant
I celebrate each unique student.

The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi
We honor diversity, and recognize the importance of names.

The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper
Stamina and persistence are positive traits.

The Secret Knowledge of Grown-ups
by David Wisniewski
Humor is valued in my classroom.

How We Are Smart by W. Nikola-Lisa
Everyone is 100% smart, even if we are different mixtures of the multiple intelligences. (I finally got my ginormous Powells order -- in it was this one that I bought based on the Poetry Friday review at Tea Cozy.)

Sunday, August 05, 2007

A Mama For Owen by Marion Dane Bauer

I purchased Owen and Mzee as soon as I saw it. I loved the book and so have all of the children I've shared it with. A fascinating and heartwarming story.

I was glad to see this new version of the story, A MAMA FOR OWEN by Marion Dane Bauer. This picture book is categorized as fiction. It is a more simple story of the relationship between the baby hippo and the old turtle. The illustrations are done in earth tones, ad the text is more poetic.

The reason I bought this book is to share with my students as a sample of writing--it is not often that I find a fiction story based on a true story that is also available. We do quite a bit of nonfiction writing in 3rd and 4th grades and this will be a nice piece to add to the books we study--it will be interesting to see what the kids notice when comparing the two accounts, when we think about how this author made decisions as a writer, etc.

I am excited to have two versions--one nonfiction, and one based on the true story, to share with kids about an engaging topic.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

First Day Read Alouds at Choice Literacy

There is a great new article at Choice Literacy about great read alouds for the first day of school. It is written by Shari Frost--thought since we were chatting about the beginning of school, some of you might be interested. I already ordered one of the books on the list!

Any Advice?

I'm going to switch our template (finally) from Old Blogger to New Blogger.

Based on your experience, do you have any suggestions or warnings? Or will it be easy and trauma free?!? (What big change ever is?!?!)

While I'm asking for advice and suggestions...I'm back at the beginning of a loop and thinking about how I will introduce myself and my classroom to a new set of parents and students. Those of you who do that every year (I'm a 2-year looping teacher, so it's every other year for me), what kinds of things do you do to introduce yourself and your classroom before school starts, in the first weeks, and at your Curriculum Night/Parent Information Night?

Friday, August 03, 2007


I picked up this new book, MEOW RUFF: A STORY IN CONCRETE POETRY by Joyce Sidman, last week at Cover to Cover. What a great book. I needed to spend some time with it--it didn't make a lot of sense to me when I browsed. I was expecting a regular poetry book. This one is concrete poems. But the best thing is that the concrete poems go together to tell a story. It almost reads like a graphic novel. As a reader, I had to pull together what was going on in the pictures with the words all over the page.

Different from other concrete poetry books, each page consists of several concrete poems--nearly every object in each illustration has some type of words or poetry connected to it. I can use it with DOGKU by Andrew Clements since they are both stories about dogs talk in different types of poetry. Fun writing for kids to play with.

The pages go together to tell about a new friendship between a dog and a cat. The illustrations are colorful--younger kids would love the story. Older kids could really study the writing and the way the pictures and words work together.

Definitely glad I picked this one up.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

No Talking

Fuse is right.
Maybe Clements' best.
Too didactic?
Awaiting kids' reactions.
Note to self:
Read aloud contender.

(Why three words?
Read the book!
I'd participate willingly!
Would you?)