Saturday, January 31, 2009

What Can You Do WIth A Rebozo? by Carmen Tafolla

During the announcements of the ALA awards on Monday, I was pleased to know so many of the books on the lists. But I am finding that it is just as fun to discover some of the books that I didn't know about. The Caldecott and the Newbery tend to get the most publicity that day, but so many of the other awards share such important pieces of literature for children. Discovering new titles has been fun for me this week.

WHAT CAN YOU DO WITH REBOZO? by Carmen Tafolla is a book I learned about when the ALA awards were presented on Monday. This book was a Belpre Illustrator Honor Book. A great picture book by all accounts. The book starts out with the title question, "What can you DO with a rebozo?" and then continues to answer the question of all of the ways you can use one. You quickly learn that a rebozo is a traditional Mexican woven shawl. Each page gives one or two new ways to use a rebozo--from keeping warm to making a secret tunnel.

The illustrations are stunning --a definite celebration of life and family.

So glad that I found this book! A great addition to the library:-)


Another reason I love Cover to Cover is that they had all of the ALA award-winning books on display at the store--right when you walk in the door. I knew lot of the books that were winners but I found a few that I hadn't seen. One of the books I picked up today was WOLFSNAIL: A BACKYARD PREDATOR by Sarah C. Campbell. What a great book. I had no ideas that there were snails that ate other snails. This book was named a Geisel Honor Book on Monday. I am SOOOOO happy to see nonfiction on that award list. And this book is amazing. I picked it up and immediately knew that it would be a great read aloud for all age levels. So many things make it an amazing book:
*Amazing photos and many of them take up the full page
*Simple text packed with information
*Great language along with introductions of topic-specific words
*Some extra info on the last page, because once you know about this wolfsnail, you want to know more!
*A glossary with some of the "snail words"

Really, this is a spectacular book. I so love a book that teaches me about something I didn't even know existed. I am pretty sure that the kids will love this one!

Friday, January 30, 2009


At least twice a week, one of the Kindergarten or first grade girls at school asks for a "princess book". That is what they look for and they are not easy to please. They want the new pink and purple princess of today. And these young girls seem to decide immediately by the cover, whether this is a princess that they want to read about.

So, I was very excited to find PRINCESS PEEPERS by Pam Calvert. The cover is perfect--pink and purple. And Princess Peepers is pretty fun. She wears glasses and loves to wear many different kinds of glasses. Quite the fashion statement. But then the other princesses make fun of her so she goes without her glasses. Well, as predicted it is a disaster and she can't see. All kinds of trouble occurs until she realizes that she does need her glasses. The ending is a good one and everyone, of course, lives happily ever after.

A cute book that will definitely make a good addition to the library!

(Thanks to Marshall Cavendish Children's Books for the review copy!)

Poetry Friday -- The Dog Wish

is troubled
by what might be called
the Dog Wish,
a strange and involved compulsion
to be as happy and carefree
as a dog.

James Thurber

The round up this week is at Adventures in Daily Living.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

2 New Picture Books

I didn't even have to read THE ODD EGG by Emily Gravett or THE GREAT PAPER CAPER by Oliver Jeffers when Beth showed them to me at Cover to Cover this week. I love both authors so much that I knew that I would want the books. So I bought them and read them when I got home. And I was not disappointed!

THE ODD EGG by Emily Gravett is a cute story of about lots of birds who have eggs. And Duck, who does not. But he finds an egg and waits anxiously for it to hatch. Gravett's illustrations are fun and the expressions on the animals' faces are worth a close look. There are some partial size pages that adds to the fun of the book. And of course there is a fun surprise at the end. A simple story with text that young children can tackle on their own. And of course, lots of Gravett's humor that makes this a book adults won't tire of. So glad I picked it up!

THE GREAT PAPER CAPER by Oliver Jeffers is the second book that I picked up. This book is a mystery of sorts. Tree branches are disappearing in the forest and the animals investigate. The language of a mystery (alibi, culprit, suspects) are used throughout which add to the fun. The clues come together for a happy ending. Jeffers great story, humor and unique art style combine to make this a great book to add to the library. Fun for all ages, I think!

Amelia Rules!: When the Past is a Present

Amelia Rules! Volume #4: When the Past is a Present
by Jimmy Gownley
Renaissance Press, 2008

This was my snow day gift to myself: curl up on the couch and read a book I want to read for me.

In this volume, Amelia's life is rocketing forward (her mom has a date, she's going to her first dance) and she's trying to make sense of how all that fits into her past.

Gownley's goal with the Amelia books "was to create a comic book with comic strip sensibilities that both traditional and nontraditional comic book fans could enjoy. He also wanted to provide good, solid entertainment for kids that didn't talk down to them." And he totally succeeds. He even made me cry.

In Part 3, "The Things I Cannot Change," Amelia learns why her friend Joan has been so sad and withdrawn even though she shares the news that she doesn't have to move. At the dance, it is announced that Joan's father is being deployed, and not to someplace fun like Germany. We feel Joan's pain, we see how Amelia and Joan's friend Hannigan cheer Joan up and get her back to the dance floor, and then in three pages of stark panels that march 3 by 3 across pages with empty, white backgrounds, we watch Joan say goodbye to her father.

This book is not a serious downer, just because there's a serious part. There's also a nod to comic strip history in the part where Amelia's mother and Aunt Tanner tell her their family's story. There's a hysterical babysitter-gone-bad part. There's a game called "Thank Goodness You're Open," and a definition of "Hangin' Out." What makes this book so hard to describe, and what makes it (and the rest of the Amelia books) so brilliant, is that all the random funny, weird, serious, thoughtful, historic, artsy, comic-y parts are woven and interconnected in ways that...well, suffice it to say: read it for yourself. Read them all.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

My Favorite Words from Governor Strickland's State of the State Address Today

Governor Ted Strickland's State of the State Address was today. So many favorite lines to choose from but these are the things that make me most excited as a teacher and as a mom. Great goals for education in Ohio:-) And check out the Wordle from his speech- love the big messages. My favorite lines from today --in no particular order...

     "Under my plan, the Ohio Department of Education will set standards for Ohio schools requiring innovative teaching formats. Interdisciplinary methods, project-based learning, real world lessons, and service learning will be the norm."

     "Ohio’s current graduation test does not measure creativity, problem solving, and other key skills. We will make our assessments both relevant and rigorous by replacing the Ohio Graduation Test with the ACT and three additional measures.
     All students will take the ACT college entrance examination, not only to measure their high school achievement, but to help raise students’ aspirations for higher education. Students will also take statewide ‘end of course’ exams, complete a service learning project, and submit a senior project.
    These four measures will give our graduating high school seniors the opportunity to demonstrate knowledge, creativity, and problem solving skills, in short, to demonstrate precisely the skills that will help them succeed in life."

"Together we’ll make Ohio among the first states to place 21st century skills like creativity, problem solving, communication and leadership at the center of its curriculum."

"The learning experience will be built around the individual student. Lessons will not end when a fact is memorized. Students will be given a chance to interact with information, to follow up on the subjects that fascinate, to think critically and creatively and to use what they’ve learned to draw conclusions."

"Our schools are not assembly lines and our students are not widgets. We will teach to each individual student’s need because we recognize that it is the surest path to seeing our young people reach their full potential."


NCTE has announced the 2009 Orbis Pictus winners. I tend to look forward to this list each year for a variety of reasons. As a reader of children's books, I gravitate to picture books and fiction novels.

At our Cover to Cover visit on Monday, Bill from Literate Lives pointed out a few books that I purchased. Bill is a history guy so he notices books that I don't. He pointed out several nonfiction books that I hadn't paid attention to before. Once I took a few minutes to look at them, I realized that I needed them for the library.

The Orbis Pictus Award was one of the first ways I started to pay attention to nonfiction. And I have ALWAYS been impressed by the selections. At the NCTE Annual Convention where some of the Orbis Pictus winners are awarded and highlighted each year, I am always struck by how many more great nonfiction books are being published for kids.

I am struck by the difference in "nonfiction" and nonfiction children's literature. So many books in classrooms, libraries, and bookstores are so encyclopedia-like. So many "sets" of books that are such poor quality in terms of interest, layout and readability. So many that have the feel of textbooks. I think in elementary schools, if we can begin to replace those types of books with good, quality nonfiction for children, it would be a huge service to kids. Imagine how many biography readers we'd have if they had access to great picture book biographies all the time. The Orbis Pictus has always helped me to think through the kinds of nonfiction kids choose to read outside of school. That, to me, is a clue as to the kinds of nonfiction we should have in school!

I don't know many books on this year's Orbis Pictus list. I haven't even heard of the actual winner, AMELIA EARHART, THE LEGEND OF THE LOST AVIATOR but I do love some of the other books that received honors or recommendations--WE ARE THE SHIP,A RIVER OF WORDS, SISTERS AND BROTHERS. GEORGE WASHINGTON CARVER.

I love ALA's award day. It is so fun to predict winners, to listen to others thoughts, to try to read the year's winner, etc. But there are so many other awards that are given that really help me select good books for kids. The Orbis Pictus Award is one that over the years, has really helped me add nonfiction children's literature to my reading life.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Okay, Okay, Franki Won

Franki read the Newbery before it was announced today, so technically, she wins the friendly little non-competition (HA!) upon which this blog was originally based.

Here she is with Beth and Sally, the two other people in our world who read The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman before today's announcement.

I am going to claim a win of sorts this year too, because my prediction of the winner came true. I predicted that "the Newbery will be a book that hasn't darkened my door: Jimmy's Stars, Highway Cats, The Graveyard Book, The Porcupine Year, After Tupac and D Foster, Seer of Shadows, or The Trouble Begins at 8." There it is, the third one on my list. As a bonus, I have never seen the Caldecott winner, either! SCORE! (On a side note, I own a copy of the Caldecott Honor book, A River of Words, which is signed by both the author and the illustrator because I've had that one on my short list since last summer!)

But just to show that there are no hard feelings here we all are at Cover to Cover right before we left to go out to dinner:

Bestbookihavenotread, Literate Lives (minus Bill -- did your kid's team win the basketball game?), Cover to Cover, Creative Literacy, A Year of Reading, Authentic Learner x2, local author Amjed Qamar, and A Year of Reading.

Yes, blogging is fun, but it can't beat meeting at the best independent children's bookstore in our state on Newbery announcement day and then filling a huge booth at NorthStar and talking books!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Newbery Predictions from Friends

We asked some of our smart, book expert friends, to send us their recommendations for this year's Newbery award. We love hearing everyone's thoughts on the award. Some great thoughts on books in general:-) The conversation is always such fun! Here is what they said:

From Ray Barrett, one of the great children's librarians at the Dublin Library says:

"I've had a chance to finish "The Hunger Games" by Suzanne Collins and I enjoyed it more than anything else that I've read recently (Juvenile or Adult!). The themes that form the basis of the book are serious, but are handled in such a way that I don't believe it would be too much for an excellent Middle School reader to handle. After all, they are constantly surrounded and inundated by similar situations in the world in which they live today. The main characters are very well developed with individual personalities, beliefs, and observations on the state of their lives as they compete in the games. The main character, Katniss Everdeen, definitely evolves and grows throughout the course of the book, and she is the personification of self-sacrifice as she makes the difficult decisions with which she is faced. I found the book extremely difficult to put down and continued to think about it in the time between my reading opportunities. When I had finished it, and after re-reading the last few pages several times, I actually felt a sense of loss that my visit to this world was over! The good news is that it's the first book in a trilogy, although the reader is unaware of this until the last page. It was such a powerful reading experience, and it was written so effectively, that I believe it will appeal to both an older Teen audience as well as to younger Middle School readers who are interested in a book that stresses the values of personal identity, self-sacrifice, and resistence to the status quo. "The Hunger Games" is the type of book that could win the Newbery or the Printz (or both?), and it's my pick for this year!"

From Jen Allen, Literacy Coach in Maine and author of Becoming a Literacy Leader

"When Franki asked me my pick for this year's Newbery award I have to admit
that I took a deep breath. It seems like I am always in left field with
my selections. But with that said, I have to say that The Life and Crimes
of Bernetta Wallflower by Lisa Graff is one of my favorite reads of the
year. This story is all about the choices that we make and the
consequences for our actions. I especially like the story because it is a
real kid grabber and truly appeals to students in the intermediate grades.
I think too often I pick books that appeal to me as an adult and at
times lose sight of what kids want in a book. As my son often tells me,
he is not always looking for books with deep meaning. He just wants to
lose himself in the book with the characters. He helps me to remember the
beauty of being eleven and the power an adventurous and sometimes
outrageous storyline can have on the desire for kids to engage with books."

From Larry Swartz, our good friend from Toronto and author of GOOD BOOKS MATTER (review to come soon), LITERACY TECHNIQUES, and THE NOVEL EXPERIENCE has some predictions as well as some titles that can't win the award but are worth the read!

OK... once again I will give some thoughts to the Newbery.. but they never listen to me.. i'm still grieving over HOME OF THE BRAVE by Applegate not getting recognition last year.. it was the best, so there!...

I'd certainly give recognition to THE UNDERNEATH.. a beautifullly written book.. but a bit strange.. and somewhat schizophrenic... it's about many things.. and the illustratioins don't work.. and get rid of that cover.. the book, I think, is for a narrow audience (strong readers (girls) in grade 5 or 6)... but i enjoyed the read and it's layers.

Probably the award should go to SUNRISE AT FALLUJAH by Walter Dean Myers.. He really is a hero of young adolescent literature... this book is an encyclopedic... historic overview of the IRAQ war and for it's importance, I give it a vote.. will 'they' give it to a YA novel? assumption: a different intended audience for the newbery ...

I wouldn't mind if BROOKLYN BRIDGE by Karen Hesse or THE WILLOUGHBYS by Lois Lowry were recognized.. does the committee care if these were previous winners? do they care if they are authorspeople have heard of?

colleagues at the book store love THE HUNGER GAME by Suzanne Collins.. but I ain't a sci fantasy fan so it doesn't get a big rah rah from me....the books I particularly enjoyed this year don't qualify.. cuz they ain't american.. i really liked the Canadian book WORD NERD by Susin Nielsen... and the australian book NAKED BUNYIP DANCING by Steven Herrick... and Michael Morpurgo's (british)..BORN TO RUN
there's some monday morning thoughts from north of the 49th parallel...just

Friday, January 23, 2009

21st Century Thinking-My Blog Visits

I continue to stretch my thinking on 21st Century Learning thanks to so many great people who are writing about their own learning and thinking.  As I figured, many of these issues are not specific to technology or 21st Century.  Instead, they are about teaching and learning.  Not really different issues, but I think 21st Century tools give us a great opportunity to really rethink all that we are doing in education--what is our purpose? how do we best support kids? etc.
One of my favorite posts of the week comes from Generation YES Blog "Technology Literacy and Sustained Tinkering Time."  The article looks at the research about SSR and what that might tell us about the time kids (and all learners) need to play with tools.  I have been thinking a lot about this lately--the fact that we need time to "play" and learn these tools in a way that is fun and no-stress.  Definitely an article worth reading and thinking about. The title alone made me think!
There is a Guest Post on Learn Me Good from Kevin of Kevin's Meandering Mind called "Who's the Expert Anyway?", Kevin reflects on the fact that many of our students are much farther ahead than we are in their technology skills and understanding.  So, what does that mean for us?  How do we take what we know about teaching and learning and help kids grow who have experiences with 21st Century skills that we don't?

Wesley Fryer writes about Self-Directed Learning in his post "Professional School sand Self-Directed Learning".  My favorite line from this post is "Dependent learners remain limited learners."  So true and I think that our most struggling kids become the most dependent and then the most limited.  I worry about this often.  
I love David Warlick's post titled, "What is the Purpose of Education?" in which he reflects on his own answer to the question. He reflects on the recent post by Karl Fisch and says "What struck me in hindsight was that these students were earning respect." I think this is so much of everything about schools--are kids owning their own learning or jumping through some hoops that someone creates for them?  This is another reminder that 21st Century Literacy is so much more than technology.

Tim Tyson asks readers two great questions this week in his recent post. Do you sincerely believe that our students in today's schools can make the world a better place because of their school work? AND What percentage of students in your school actually sincerely made the world a better place because of their school work this year? Stop over and add your answers to the post. Definitely something to think about especially when added to David Warlick's post.

Why Do Some Kill Student Blogging? is a great post by Ryan Bretag. He writes about an issue that I have been concerned about for a while--how schools kill blogging when we ask kids to keep a blog. We often do this by making it formulaic--not the kind that we want to read. For me, this is one of the big issues of 21st Century Learning.  What good is using tools if the thinking and communication is taken away and students just follow our templates?  How do we help students use these tools in authentic ways?  I remember this early when kids were creating websites. I would go to classrooms where kids were "creating" websites, only to see that they all looked the same because the teacher created the template and told kids what to put where. As a writing workshop teacher, this issue that Ryan Bretag brings up is a writing issue--how do we take these new genres and formats-that are coming out because the ways we communicate are expanding-and keep them authentic for the kids. So that they actually think, write, create?

Love this post by Angela at The Cornerstone Blog called "The Internet vs. 'Real' Reading" because I think that many of us are feeling the same way.  We love books but are finding that more and more of our reading time is spent online.  How do we come to peace with that--get over some of the guilt?

The Partnership for 21st Century Skills released a report, asking us to reevaluate learning environments. A big task when small changes seem so hard. But a very important thing to think about--are we stuck in very old models for learning?

And one new tool I found this week that I am definitely checking out--hoping to buy one for home to play with this week--is Animationish.  I found it thanks to Tim Lauer. The kids at his school seem to be doing so many amazing things.  A fun thing about Animationish is that it was created by Peter H. Reynolds--you know, the author/illustrator of THE DOT, ISH and SOMEDAY. He is also the illustrator of JUDY MOODY.  Imagine what kids could do with this program.  One more possibility for kids as they create.

So, no answers. Just lots more to think about:-)

Poetry Friday -- Irony

There is some argument about what qualifies as ironic, but all senses of irony revolve around the perceived notion of an incongruity between what is said and what is meant; or between an understanding of reality, or an expectation of a reality, and what actually happens. --Wickipedia

by Joyce Kilmer

(For Mrs. Henry Mills Alden)

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

Laura Salas has the round up this week.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Black Book of Colors

The Black Book of Colors
by Menena Cottin
illustrated by Rosana Faria
translated from the Spanish by Elisa Amado
braille translations provided by the CNIB
Groundwood Books, first published in 2006, first English edition, 2008
review copy provided by the publisher

I rarely link to Amazon, but if you haven't held this book in your hands yet, you're going to want to follow the link and at least get a better look at the cover. You won't see much else if you "Look Inside!"

But that's the point.

This is a book about color that will help a sighted person understand how a blind person experiences color -- not visually, but through the senses of touch, taste, smell and hearing. For example, "Red is sour like unripe strawberries and as sweet as watermelon. It hurts when he finds it on his scraped knee."

This book is bilingual -- English and braille. Each page of text (the English is white on the black page with the raised dots of the braille above it) faces a page with a sensory illustration. The illustration page is all black, with a raised image of the description of the color. On the page about red, there are strawberries on a vine that you can feel with your finger tips (and which a sighted person can't resist looking at by tipping the book in the light to see the raised image).

This book meets the Diversity Rocks! Challenge in a myriad of ways. The author and illustrator are both Venezuelan, and the translator is Guatemalan. The book is bilingual in English and braille. I have never seen a mainstream children's book with readable braille. And it's not a book about blindness, it's a book about colors. Amazing. I can't wait to share it with my students. I would love to share it with a child sitting on my lap with her eyes closed, reading along with me with her fingers.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Round up: Inspirational Inauguration Posts

Carol's poem for her sons.

Stella's letter to the USA.

Leave a link to your favorite(s) and we'll round them up, too! 

Newbery: Predictions? Thoughts? Ramblings?

Mary Lee:
Franki and I had many years worth of Newbery discussions before this blog was ever born.

We started by trying to pick the winner. We were never right. I think my pick was an honor book once.

Then we decided you could count it a success if you had read the winner. We came closer those years.

The next stretch was "if you own it, you can count it." That was the year Franki claimed success because she had the winner in her shopping cart at Amazon.

Due to the avalanche of Notables Nominees that are shelved in my basement, I figure there's a pretty good chance the Newbery is in my house, so I'll be contrary this year and predict that the Newbery will be a book that hasn't darkened my door: Jimmy's Stars, Highway Cats, The Graveyard Book, The Porcupine Year, After Tupac and D Foster, Seer of Shadows, or The Trouble Begins at 8.

This year, I am going to think of it more as a wish, than a prediction.  There are lots of books that I would be happy to see win. I can't name them all but I had a great reading year and I think there are so many that could win. Narrowing it down to a few, here are my wishes for Newbery (in no particular order):

THE UNDERNEATH--really, nothing could compare to the writing.  I reread the lead the other day and it is definitely "distinguished".

GREETINGS FROM NOWHERE by Barbara O'Conner-a book that has stayed with me all year. Love the characters, the story and the writing.

MY ONE HUNDRED ADVENTURES by Polly Horvath--Horvath at her best.  She is amazing and quirky with great characters and amazing writing.

JIMMY'S STARS by Mary Ann Rodman  I just finished this one. If you haven't read it, it is a must-read. I can't explain the way I felt reading it--through the whole thing.  She captured the characters perfectly.

SHOOTING THE MOON by Frances O'Roark Dowell--another one that stuck with me all year. I could easily see this one winning.


There were so many others that I liked a lot!

And I'm not done reading for 2008! Next on my pile: ONE THOUSAND NEVER EVERS, THE UNNAMEABLES, ITCH, and EVER.

I think WE ARE THE SHIP can win every award out there. I would love to see it win the Newbery as well as others! An amazing book.

I would LOVE for PAPER TOWNS to win the Prinz. Love John Green and the book.  

Bottom line: in less than a week, we'll know who won for 2008 and we'll start reading the 2009 books!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

BLOG TOUR: Kelly Gallagher Joins Us Discussing His New Book READICIDE

Today, Kelly Gallagher begins his Blog Tour with a stop at A YEAR OF READING to discuss his new book READICIDE: How Schools Are Killing Reading and What You Can Do About It. We reviewed the book here last week and hope that many of you had a chance to check it out at Stenhouse. A much needed book at a time when testing seems to be controlling so much of what we do in our schools.

We had a chance to talk with Kelly about his new book. And many of you had additional questions that you sent in after we reviewed READICIDE last week.

What made you write this book? How did you get to the point that you felt that you needed to write?
The idea for Readicide came out of my own classroom, where I have noticed that the number of students who like to read dwindles with each passing year. The only reading many of my students do is school-mandated reading—and frankly they don’t do academic reading very well. For the most part, my students can read text on a literal level, but when you ask them to think a bit deeper—to evaluate, to analyze, to synthesize—they really struggle. My current seniors have been under the NCLB testing gun for six years now, and beyond struggling when it comes to reading academic texts, they have lost their desire to read recreationally. In chasing test scores, we are killing the love of reading. We may succeed in raising our test scores, but we pay a large price to do so. The sad part, of course, is we have spent $1 billion on Reading First programs, and the students in this program did not score any better in comprehension than students who did not participate in the program at all.

Readicide is also influenced by the number of great teachers across this country who have shared their horror stories with me. The elimination of novels. Drowning students in worksheets. Scripted programs. Think about it. If you had to do what our students have to do, would you like reading?

What are you hoping that this book will accomplish?
To raise the consciousness of curriculum directors, administrators, and teachers. Most educators I know have a genuine desire to do what is best for our children. I am hoping that this book will start a conversation—a conversation about what the latest research has to say about developing the critical thinking regions of our brains, a conversation about how shallow assessments drive shallow thinking from our students, a conversation about how our classroom practices may actually be contributing to the role of readicide.

I want educators to ask themselves an important question: In the quest to raise test scores, am I damaging the long-term prospects of my students becoming lifelong readers? I hope the book generates hard talk between educators.

How would you prioritize the work we have to do?
First, the evidence is very clear: our students are simply not reading and writing enough. The National Commission on Writing recently noted that our students should be writing twice as much as they are currently writing, across all content areas. A number of studies have indicated that students are simply not getting enough reading practice. You have to play a lot of piano before you can play the piano, and you have to do a lot of reading and writing before you can read and write. Let’s put this question on the front burner: are our students reading and writing enough?

Second, the cliché is true: if you teach students to read and write well, they will do fine on tests. However, if you only teach students to take tests, they will never read and write well. We need to challenge them with the kind of reading and writing experiences that foster deeper thinking. As teachers, we need to move beyond being information dispensers and focus on getting our kids to be thinkers. This is not possible in a sea of worksheets.

Another thought: we cannot lose sight of the value of recreational reading (the kind of reading we want students to do the rest of their lives). Academic reading is important, but when schools emphasize only academic reading, recreational reading gets lost. Students need much larger doses of light reading, stupid reading, amusing reading—the kinds of reading that we, as adults, do when we are not at school. Schools who graduate good test takers who never read again are not doing anyone any favors.

How do you get these conversations going with teachers you work with?
Someone has to be the discussion director on your campus and in your district. I am fortunate in that I am in my 23rd year at my school, and I have a strong professional relationship with the staff on my campus. To be honest, however, I have not done as much as I would like with my own staff. This is due in large part, frankly, to having an administration that has not been real interested in doing the hard work required to implement authentic reading and writing. Fortunately, I have a new principal this year, so I am hoping this sets the table for real dialogue.

What do you suggest for teachers who feel like they are the one person who is carrying the flag for authentic reading?
Arm yourself with the research found in Readicide and in other places (see for some of these studies). Make it your mission to get one other teacher to see the light. Start a “school-within-a-school” movement. Ask to share some of the research on staff development days. Share your concerns with administrators, board members, and newspaper editorial staffs.
If you really are the Lone Ranger at your site, never lose site of what is best for your students. Resist the political in favor of the authentic.

What are the most important things you could do with teachers in a very short period of time (at staff meeting)?
Discuss the importance that assessment plays in developing deeper readers and writers. Earlier in my career, Jim Cox, who is a guru in assessment, heavily influenced me. Jim reminds teachers to never forget WYTIWYG (pronounced “witty-wig”), which stands for What You Test Is What You Get. If your assessment is shallow, it will drive shallow thinking. If your assessment is rich, it will drive richer thinking.

I always teach to a test. The key is teaching to a test that drives deeper thinking. When teachers spend hour upon hour preparing students for shallow tests, the effects are devastating. Test scores may rise, but in the process we are denying students the opportunity to develop the regions of their brains that are crucial to them becoming deeper thinkers. I would ask teachers to carefully consider their assessments. Do they drive deeper thinking? Let’s start there and work backwards.

From Dani in NC: Accelerated Reader program made me feel validated as a parent. I have seen firsthand how it has negatively affected each of my kids' opinions of reading over the years. Although AR is strongly emphasized here, it isn't part of their grade so I finally gave my kids permission to forget about it. Three of them have a renewed passion for books, but I still have one daughter who has become a reluctant reader and I don't know if I can change that.

Kelly:  Regarding AR, I think the first thing parents can do is challenge the school’s decision to use the program. Ask to see justification—studies that indicate that there is a long-term benefit from using the program. Share the McQuillan study (and others) cited in Readicide. Ask administrators what we are really teaching kids about reading when we tie all their reading activity to earning points from shallow multiple-choice assessments.
That said, both of my daughters were subjected to AR in school and survived as readers. However, they were already avid readers before being subjected, and they were surrounded by high-interest reading materials at home. This is not the case for many of the students under the AR treatment.

From Kathy:  I do have a question for him, even though I have not read the book, I would love to know his opinion on a school having a well stocked (and that also means have a certified media specialist in there) media center and if he thinks that has an impact on students reading.

Kelly:  It is critical that every campus has a well-stocked library with a librarian/media specialist. I know there have been studies that have found a correlation between the quality of a school’s library collection and its test scores. Libraries, and librarians, are the core of any school. My librarian is particularly helpful when it comes to finding books for my students that fit a particular theme or unit. She also helps by doing a number of book talks.
That said, I have also found that establishing a classroom library—where students have daily access to interesting books—may be the most important thing I have done as a teacher. Students need to be surrounded by books every day. It has been my experience that it is extraordinarily difficult to turn my reluctant readers on to reading by taking periodical trips to the library. For maximum effectiveness, I have found it better to bring the books to the students.

Kelly has a busy week--touring at several blogs for the next several days.

Just like band groupies, we know that some of us will follow Kelly to each of the spots on his blog tour.

Monday, January 19, 2009


I finally saw this book I had heard about when I was at Cover to Cover yesterday.  A large book--one that I think kids may have trouble fitting in their book bags when they decide to check it our from the library. But, after reading it, I decided it would be well worth it--carrying this large book around!  

THERE'S A WOLF AT THE DOOR: FIVE CLASSIC TALES retold by Zoe B. Alley is quite amusing. You know I love new versions of old tales and this book has 5 classic tales--The Three Little Pigs, The Boy Who Cried Wolf, Little Red Riding Hood, The Wolf In Sheep's Clothing, and The Wolf and the Seven Little Goslings--all starring The Wolf. 

The illustrations are done in comic book/graphic novel form. The stories follow the traditional tales but add quite a bit of humor throughout. My 9 year old was reading the book last night and I overheard her reading it aloud and then cracking up-all by herself with the book.   This book is on several Mock Caldecott sites.

I also think it is a great model for kids--a new way to think about writing  a story they know.  Since the kids at our school have access to Comic Life, I can see something like this as another possibility for them--putting stories they know into comic form.  It does change things, just a bit.

So, I a fun book. One that I am glad I purchased.  My 3rd grader loved it and  I am pretty sure that it will be quite popular in the library with all grades.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

CHICKEN CHEEKS by Michael Ian Black

How could I not get this book called CHICKEN CHEEKS by Michael Ian Black?  I have a lot of books that I use to talk to kids about words and I had to add this one to my collection.  What can be funnier than lots of words used to talk about bottoms?  The inside flap of this book says, "This is a story with a beginning, a middle, and a whole lot of ends."  And that it is!  A bear is trying to get honey from the top of a VERY tall tree. So, he gets the help of lots of friends, piling one on top of each other until the reach the top.  On each page, the bear has the view of yet another"bottom".  So, each page consists of only 2 words--Such as "moose caboose" and "flamingo fanny".The bright amusing illustrations add to the fun.  Definitely hysterical if you ask me!  It will be a fun one to just read for fun.  It would also be a fun one to use when talking about words, word choice, synonyms, etc.  

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Local News

A block of downtown Grandview burned today. At the time these shots were taken, they'd been working for 3 hours and they were trying to save Z Cucina.

I am a 21st Century Reader

In the Choice Literacy newsletter last week, Brenda shared a link to the website What Should I Read Next. This website cracked me up. I need one more way to figure out what to read next? Give me a break.

My adult reading these days is all iPod "reading" on the commute to and from school. I just finished listening to Zorro (Isabel Allende) for book club and now I'm catching up on podcasts of This I Believe, This American Life, and the Princeton Review Vocab Minute. (In another post I'll tell you about an amazing connection between two of these podcasts.) I just "borrowed/ripped" the cds of Son of a Witch (Gregory Maguire) and The Middle Place (Kelly Corrigan) for future book club meetings.

In the mail this week was yet another box of 2008's to add to the avalanche of Notables Nominees that I MUST read, along with all the other nominees that I need to be reading, and re-reading.

Also in the mail this week was a box from Amazon -- books I WANT TO read to stay current with my students. (In another post I'll tell you about the Flip video that also came this week.)

I just spent two hours reading email, Tweets, blogs (Poetry Friday only -- I'm hopelessly behind in regular blog reading), The English Companion Ning, and Goodreads updates.

On the top of my bedside pile of books right now is Billy Collins' new volume of poetry, Ballistics. If I'm lucky, I can read one or two poems before I fall asleep at night.

My basket of magazines and professional journals is overflowing. I am months behind in all of them.

We just decided not to renew The New York Times Book Review print edition at $91 per year because we no longer get anywhere near that much worth out of it and we almost never get book recommendations from it anymore.

After I finished cracking up about the thought of going to a website to find out what I should read next, and after I did the run-down of all my reading options, I realized that I am a 21st Century Reader. I read print (books, magazines, newspapers), I read digital (online newsletters with crack-me-up links, blogs, Tweets, Nings, etc.), and I read audio. I read children's books, adult books, professional books and articles, poetry, reviews, news, and more. I "manage, analyze and synthesize multiple streams of simultaneous information."

I am a 21st Century Reader. Are you?

Edited to add: Angela at The Cornerstone Blog sure is. Go read her post.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Literacy Today

A great post by Millie Davis on the NCTE Inbox blog about what it means to be literate today. Lots of great links and things to think about.  One part that I particularly liked:

   ." be literate today one must read and write; speak, listen, and view; think critically, act creatively and collaboratively; and manage, analyze and synthesize multiple streams of simultaneous information."

Poetry Friday -- Part For the Whole

by Robert Francis

When others run to windows or out of doors
To catch the sunset whole, he is content
With any segment anywhere he sits.

From segment, fragment, he can reconstruct
The whole, prefers to reconstruct the whole,
As if to say, I see more seeing less.

A window to the east will serve as well
As window to the west, for eastern sky
Echoes the western sky.

(go to the Poetry Foundation to read the rest...)

I took this picture of last night's sunset. My classroom window to the east showed me the sunset first, reflected in the snow on the rooftops and in the windows of the condos that stand directly across from the school's side yard. I grabbed my camera and ran to the other side of the building. As I stood and watched the sun set, this column of light developed and magnified and intensified.

In this particular case, I would have to say that the whole was greater than the parts. The view to the east had nuthin' compared to the view to the west. I never could have reconstructed that column of light.

Later last night, when I was checking the day's Tweets, I followed Cloudscome's link to her photo blog and found that she had taken almost the exact same picture.

In this particular case, I would have to say that the parts are greater than the whole, or at least equal to it: two pairs of eyes (probably more than two pairs, how can we ever know?) seeing the same sunset in two different places, cameras ready and aimed, capturing and recording one moment of our planet's great beauty.

Now the really amazing part. I found this poem by searching "frost on the window" because it is so cold here (windchills of 20 or more degrees below zero) that the typical condensation on the inside of the kitchen window is frozen. On the INSIDE of the window. I intended for my Poetry Friday entry to be about the cold. But I guess that sunset wasn't quite done with me. I leave you to ponder whether that is the whole speaking directly to one of the parts through poetry.

The round up today is at Karen Edmisten's "Blog With a Shockingly Clever Title."

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


I just picked up a great little book by Kadir Nelson:  CHANGE HAS COME:  AN ARTIST CELEBRATES OUR AMERICAN SPIRIT.  Kadir Nelson's drawings of the American spirit accompany Barack Obama's words.  A tiny inpsirational book with words that serve as a reflection and a celebration.  It is a pretty amazing little book that I just needed to have.  It might be a good one for some to read on Inauguration Day.  Really, I am not sure how Kadir Nelson is doing it these days.  Every time I turn around, it seems that he has another great book out there and each one is as amazing as the last one.  We are lucky to have him in the children's book world.

Readicide -- by Kelly Gallagher

Readicide: How Schools are Killing Reading and What You Can Do About It
by Kelly Gallagher
Stenhouse, February 2009

Kelly Gallagher is a full-time high school teacher in Anaheim, CA. His message about how schools are killing reading is one that every teacher and administrator at EVERY level needs to read. After every teacher and administrator reads this book, they need to put his suggestions about what we can do to prevent or reverse this trend into action.

Gallagher defines readicide this way: "Read-i-cide n: The systematic killing of the love of reading, often exacerbated by the inane, mind-numbing practices found in schools." He outlines four factors that are primarily responsible for readicide:
  • schools value the development of test takers more than the development of readers
  • schools limit authentic reading experiences
  • teachers are overteaching books
  • teachers are underteaching books
On the first point: amen. We are lucky to teach in a district where it is still possible to focus on the development of readers. Teachers like us are not always popular for focusing more on the readers than on the tests, and teachers like us are not always in the majority in our buildings or our grade levels, but there have been no district mandates that make it impossible for us to stay true to our belief in the fact that, as Gallagher puts it,
"If students are taught to read and write well, they will do fine on the mandated reading tests. But if they are only taught to be test-takers, they will never learn to read and write well."
On the second point: we've made it our life work to surround children with the best books and give them big chunks of time in the school day to learn to become real readers: readers who choose books, read widely, talk and write about their reading, and belong to a community of readers. We believe, as Gallagher does:
"Children grow into the intellectual life of those around them." --Vygotsky
And again, we are lucky to teach in a district that supports these values.

His next two points, about teachers who either over- or underteach books takes a little more introspection. When does breaking into a read aloud for discussion or teaching become overteaching? What kind of support does that fourth grader need to read The Giver, or will she realize on her own that she's over her head and abandon it? When do we need to use role sheets for literature circles, and if we use them, how soon should we abandon them?

One of the things that makes this book so powerful is the amount of research that Gallagher weaves into the book. With every issue he discusses, he reminds of us several research studies that point to giving our kids more authentic reading experiences and providing time for their own personal reading. The research we need to back the argument is embedded throughout the book.

READICIDE is due out soon. In the meantime, Stenhouse has posted the entire book on its website for your enjoyment! We'd suggest you take a look.

And, Kelly will be doing a Blog Tour starting here next week. During his visit, he will do an interview with us and answer questions from blog readers. So, if you'd like to take a look at the book and ask Kelly a question, post it in the comment section of this post before 1/20/09 and the answer will be part of his stop here on the 22nd.

Throughout next week, Kelly will be stopping at some other blogs too!
Kelly's Blog Tour Schedule
1/20 - Here at A YEAR OF READING!

READICIDE gives us lots to think about. We think it is one of those books that can start a national conversation about how to give students the reading experiences they need and giving them the skills they need to do more than pass a test.

Monday, January 12, 2009

21st Century Thinking-My Blog Visits

I love when Jen Robinson shares her daily visits on her blog. She gives us so many great links and we get a little window into her thinking about literacy. I thought I would begin to do the same type of thing with my 21st Century Thinking--posting about my current thinking and linking to some great posts that helped my thinking each week-- or whenever I seem to be finding lots of good stuff around the topic.

If you don't know the work of Michael Wesch, his video "A Vision of Students Today" was one of the first that got me thinking that this was something I needed to think about! This week, I found his post entitled, From Knowledgeable to Knowledge-able: Learning in New Media Environments at Academic Commons. My favorite line from this article "Nothing good will come of these technologies if we do not first confront the crisis of significance and bring relevance back into education."

I have found it interesting lately that the technology piece seems to be growing critical at a time when our schools are focusing more and more on testing and skills. So much bigger than technology is the issue of significance and relevance in our schools. But, my thinking is these new tools can encourage us to think harder about significance.

On another topic, there has been a lot of talk about blogging on the blogs this week. Is it already an outdated thing? Will people stop blogging soon? This article by Will Richardson addressed the issue of why blogging is still hard. He says, "Blogging isn’t about what I know as much as it’s about what I think I know, and I find that to be a crucial distinction. For me, it’s the distinction that constantly makes this hard. It’s also the distinction, however, that makes blogging worth it."

I agree and hope that blogging stays around for a while. For me, it is a way to make sense of my own thinking about books and teaching and it has also been a way for me to expand my network and learn from and with others.

Doug Noon at Borderland writes about What We Measure. This post addresses several of the things that have been concerning me lately--especially those dealing with testing and literacy. If we only teach what is easily measured, we are in huge trouble. When you look at those skills needed for 21st Century learning, the problem gets even bigger.

Chris Lehman "Motivation, Motivation, Motivation", Chris Lehman writes about motivation and the ways so many schools are running these days. He says, "If we want to move away from Theory X, we have to offer a different vision of our schools. We have to create a vision of schooling that does not assume that accountability trumps responsibility."

This may be one of my favorite posts of the week. For me, I loved seeing this profile of Rachel, all of the ways that this 5 year old is making sense of her world--using the tools that she needs. From a dad who can see all that she is capable of and who celebrates her many literacies. I was drawn to the post because I always love to see writing and drawing by young children. It will always amaze me. But the tech and movies that were also part of her day made the post complete. A 5 year old in a 21st Century world, learning and growing in a place that values what she has to say. What could be better than that?

An older posts that I just discovered hit on my own thinking this week--much of which came from talk at the English Companion Ning. So many of us, who have just joined in on blogs, twitters, nings and more, are often the only ones in our schools or districts who are excited about the possibilities for our classrooms. Ryan Bretag shares his thinking about Local, Global or Glocal on his blog. He says, "Many of us are excited about Global possibilities but sometimes at the expense of local collaboration." This post helped me to realize that for me, it is about both. Networking with colleagues from across the country and world gives me energy and helps me see possibilities. But I also need a group of local colleagues to think with--to go through the day-to-day struggles with. It can't be an either-or for me. And I imagine that is true for many of us. Both of our networks and the ways that they come together, are needed for our personal learning.

That's it for this round. Hope you found some links that helped stretch your own thinking. It seems like information-overload some days but I think it is well worth it!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Newbery Appeal--The Conversation Continues

Lots of talk about Newbery appeal this week that I think needs to be addressed.

Monica at Educating Alice says, in her post today, 
"In two weeks and a day, the 2009 Newbery Awards will be announced.  There will be delighted cheers, shocked silences,  and polite clapping at the press conference.  Criticism will be cautious as, of course, no one will want to insult the winners or the hard-working committee. But it will be there, I'm sure.  Is there ever a winner of any award without it?"

We all have our Newbery stories. Favorites that actually won.  Disappointments about what didn't.  Children who have never finished a book but who fall in love with OUT OF THE DUST.  Mary Lee and I actually started this blog after years of trying to figure out which title would win.  For me, it is the conversation and anticipation is as fun as the announcement itself.

When Kira-Kira won the Newbery a few years back, I was disappointed. I had had my favorites and had not heard of this title.  Because my 5th graders at the time were anxiously awaiting the news of the winner and to see the new winner, I picked it up, read it quickly and brought it into the classroom.  I thought it was good, but not "Newberyish". I shared it with my students--said that I had read it, it was good but not my pick for the Newbery and offered it up for anyone to read.

Katie picked it up immediately.  The next morning she came to me with the book filled with sticky notes. She said, "Mrs. Sibberson, this book is amazing. I think you must have missed some lines when you read the book.  Listen to this.." and she proceeded to read me a brilliant line from the text.  She continued, "This definitely deserved the Newbery and I am marking places in the book so that you can see what I mean. Obviously you missed some of these when you read it."  And she had--she had marked line after line of unbelievable writing--things that I had missed because I was unhappy that the books I loved had not won the award. She was clearly disappointed in the fact that I hadn't given the book a chance and wanted me to see that it did, in fact, deserve this award.  A book I thought was lacking "kid appeal".   KIRA-KIRA went on to be quite popular in the classroom--making its rounds as Katie talked it up.  I also came to love the book and it is now one of my favorite Newbery titles. (How could it not be?)

I learned a lot about the Newbery that year.  First of all, who I am to say if the winner will have "kid appeal"?  Just because it isn't my favorite or just because I may not have appreciated the book as an 11 year old, doesn't mean anything.  I think sometimes, we are so hoping that our very favorite book will win, that we don't actually give the winner a chance.   Lucky for us, the kids do.

Susan Patron in today's LA Times writes about this issue in "Don't Discount the Newbery". In the article, she states, (my favorite line of this whole child appeal debate!):  "Were these librarians looking at a demographic such as income level and determining that none of "their" children would respond to the challenge and reward of what I thought were generally excellent books?  That would be a terrible disservice, this undervaluing of kids' intelligence and curiosity, a devastating insult."

I think we all have Newbery stories like my Kira-Kira story. I think this conversation is a good one --just because it makes me think hard about my own work--putting books in kids' hands. This year, I will give the Newbery a chance. I will certainly be cheering for my 2008 favorites but I won't discount the winner  as I have before.  

Saturday, January 10, 2009


The brochure for the Dublin Literacy Conference is available online. This year, we have lots of great speakers.

Children's Authors:
Johanna Hurwitz
Grace Lin
Asma Mobin-Uddin
Barbara O'Connor
Amjed Qamar

Professional Authors:
Samantha Bennett, author of THAT WORKSHOP BOOK
Ruth Culham, author of 6+1 Traits Writing
Pat Johnson, author of ONE CHILD AT A TIME
The 2 Sisters, Gail Boushey and Joan Moser of THE DAILY 5 and

Come join us! It is always a fun day!

Friday, January 09, 2009

Poetry Friday: Winter Trees

by William Carlos Williams

All the complicated details
of the attiring and
the disattiring are completed!
A liquid moon
moves gently among
the long branches.
Thus having prepared their buds
against a sure winter
the wise trees
stand sleeping in the cold.

Poem found here.
Image found here.

The round up this week is at Picture Book of the Day.

Thursday, January 08, 2009


A little Sneak Peek into the Newbery process--what it must be like in the room as they are deciding on the winners! Thanks Nina at Heavy Medal!