Wednesday, September 30, 2009

September Mosaic

I can't believe September is already over! 237 days have been marked off the 2009 calendar...

There are lots of signs of the end of summer in this mosaic. There are the literal signs announcing the last Catholic church festival of the summer and fresh produce for sale, and there are the more subtle signs -- the sunflowers and the mums, the art at the Upper Arlington Art Festival and the end-of-summer feast.

We spent time with dogs this month. The puppies from the puppy video were at the same event as the poof-head Briards and the scruffy farm dog, Buster (Bess' brother).

As Saturn owners, we enjoyed our first Saturn Day at the Columbus Zoo. The baby elephant, Beco, is six months old, but still cute as a bug's ear. (Check out this video of Beco at the Columbus Dispatch.) My other favorite site was the orangutan chewing and playing with a piece of bubble gum!

The month's pictures end with a couple from the Casting For Recovery retreat. You can see all the retreat photos here. Thanks again to the Central Ohio Bloggers for their generous contributions to CFR last summer during the 48-Hour Read.

Project 365 on Flickr is one way I'm thinking about my own 21st Century Literacies this year.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Ask Dr. K. Fisher about Weather

Ask Dr. K. Fisher about Weather
by Claire Llewellyn
illustrated by Kate Sheppard
Kingfisher (an imprint of Henry Holt and Company LLC), 2009
review copy provided by the publisher

When last we checked in with Dr. K. Fisher, his advice column-style letters answered questions by and about creepy-crawlies.

Now Dr. K. Fisher is taking on questions from animals about different aspects of the weather. He advises a young stork that liftoff will come easier once the morning sun causes warming air to rise, then explains to a thirsty lizard how beetles drink fog that condenses on their bodies, and finally, informs a young orangutan that rain is a necessary evil. All this leads up to a diagram of the water cycle.

Through other examples in advice letters to ducks, meerkats, fish, elephants, hares, and foxes, Dr. K. Fisher explains ice and snow, dangerous storms, the seasons, and climate.

This is a fun book to add to your collection of weather books, and books written in letter format.

Monday, September 28, 2009


Food for Thought: The Stories Behind the Things We Eat
by Ken Robbins
Roaring Brook Press, 2009
review copy purchased by me after I saw Jama's review in June

Go over and check out the inside images Jama has of this book (I hope you're not hungry). I first fell for the gorgeous pictures, but after I got my own copy, for the informative, well-organized, conversational text. For each food there is historical information, information from around the world, and tidbits that make you go, "wow!"
  • Bananas are bushes that grow 20-30 feet in a year and die after producing just one bunch (100 total).
  • Before the Chinese even knew about tomatoes, they had a sauce named kat siap, made of the brine of pickled fish. This name and the idea of this sauce has spread around the world and has had a variety of main ingredients. The first tomato ketchup is about 200 years old. In the U.S., we now use more salsa than ketchup.
  • The grenade and the garnet both get their names from the pomegranate.
Every food does, indeed, have a story, and that's food for thought!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Composing Workshop

Franki's post, "How Did They Make That," has gotten several interesting comments. In the post, she tells about her students deconstructing the Scholastic Book Fair video, not in terms of content, as she expected, but in terms of how it might possibly have been made.

One responder declared the video a marketing failure because the students looked beyond the content. Others agreed with Franki's positive take on her students' point of view.

But the comment I want to respond to today, in light of the hour I just spent working in iMovie and GarageBand making a video I could upload to YouTube so that I can share some huggable puppies with my friends, is from takini8:
"I think this generation are creators and producers. They are moving beyond the viewing that I did as a child. I watched videos and enjoyed them, they view critically and with an eye to creating. I think that's because they can create and publish so easily. I think its a really exciting perspective and look forward to what they do in the future. My problem is what to call writing today. I originally started calling writing workshop, author workshop, because I was focusing on authoring but now... what do you call it when they are blogging, creating photo essays and music videos? It's so much more than authoring."
What do I call Writing Workshop now? I call it Composing Workshop.

It's that time in the day when we use a creative design process to make things we want to share with an audience for some purpose.

We get an idea, try it out, tweak it until we get it just right, look at it through as many lenses as we can, then share it out with an audience.

It might be paper and pencil, word processing, a music composition, a comic, a movie with narration or a sound track, a photo essay, or (insert project here).

Yes, there are times when my students attend to the genres of paper-pencil composing required by our district and the State Standards. But once my students have a firm traditional grasp on the standards as defined by the state, they are encouraged to work with the standards/genres in the media of their choice.

Another message I hope to be communicating with my "composing workshop" is that the processes and skills that my students are learning are not to be used solely within the walls of school. My students, too, can have a personal composing workshop on a rainy Sunday morning sitting at their very own kitchen table during which they put aside all their other work/chores to make a video and compose the music for its soundtrack.

And now, because I know you're dying to see it, here is the puppy video I made this morning:

Saturday, September 26, 2009

KidLitosphere Conference Panel

Mother Reader has asked me to join Jennie (Biblio File), Melissa (Book Nut) and Tricia (The Miss Rumphius Effect) in leading a panel discussion for book bloggers at the 2009 KidLitosphere Conference.

The big question is:

"What do book bloggers want to know more about?"

If you're a book blogger (and especially if you're a book blogger who's coming to the conference), what are the issues you'd like to discuss?

If you're a book blogger who's not coming, we'll report back on the discussion. If you could be a fly on the wall, what would you want to hear us chat about?

If you're a reader of book blogs, what do you look for in a book blog? What do you like or dislike? What is unclear or mysterious or wonderful or frustrating from your side of the blog?

Please leave discussion topic ideas and questions in the comments, or send them via blog email. There are no trivial or stupid topics or questions except the one you don't ask!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Poetry Friday -- Georgia Heard (Blog Tour)

Recipe for Writing an Autumn Poem
by Georgia Heard

One teaspoon wild geese.
One tablespoon red kite.
One cup wind song.
One pint trembling leaves.
One quart darkening sky.
One gallon north wind.

Many of us know and love Georgia Heard through her poetry and her professional books about teaching poetry. Her new book, A Place for Wonder: Reading and Writing Nonfiction in the Primary Grades (coauthored with Jennifer McDonough and published by Stenhouse), is a natural extension of all she's taught us about developing our students' love of reading and writing poetry.

Here's the exciting news: Georgia Heard and Jennifer McDonough will embark on a three-stop blog tour starting 10/19.

October 19: A Year of Reading (right here!)
October 21: Miss Rumphius Effect
October 23: Carol’s Corner

In their book, Georgia and Jennifer discuss how to create a “landscape of wonder,” a primary classroom where curiosity, creativity, and exploration are encouraged, and where intelligent, inquiring, lifelong learners are developed. They provide teachers with practical ways – setting up “wonder centers,” gathering data through senses, teaching nonfiction craft – to create a classroom environment where students’ questions and observations are part of daily work.

As a special treat, Stenhouse will wrap up the blog tour with a live webcast with Georgia and Jennifer on Oct. 26th at 8 p.m. EST. This will be a great opportunity to join a small group discussion with the two authors. ***Five participants for this live webcast will be chosen (names-on-slips-of-paper-drawn-from-a-bowl kind of chosen) from the comments in this post and the blog tour post on October 19.*** If you would like to have your name thrown in the bowl, be sure you mention that in your comment and include your email address so we can contact you if you win! No special software or equipment are needed to participate in the webcast – just a phone and your computer!

From now until the beginning of the tour you can also receive free shipping when you order A Place for Wonder. Just use code “blog” at the checkout when you order from or by phone at 800-988-9812. The book will start to ship Sept. 25, so reserve your copy now!

For more information about Georgia Heard and her work:

The round up today is at Susan Writes.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

"How did they make that?"

We learn so much when we listen to the little things kids say. We are getting ready for our Scholastic Book Fair in the library next week. Traditionally, we spend some time the week before book fair sharing the video that shares some of the books, shows clips of authors talking about their writing, etc. Today, when the DVD was over, I expected comments and questions about the books and the upcoming book fair. Instead, one of the kids raised her hand and said, "How do you think they made that video?" Then other kids jumped in and said things like, "Well, they had to do something with animation.", "I bet they used a video camera for the interviews and then put that in the computer.", "They must have had a green screen. Where do you get one of those?"

I loved this conversation for a lot of reasons. First of all, the kids are looking at things like DVDs and naturally wondering how they made it---realizing that they can "make" these things too. As a writing teacher, I know that so much of our work with young writers is helping them to see what authors do and teaching them to ask themselves, "How did the author DO that?" when they find some great element of writing. The fact is that with the new tools of technology, our kids are asking these questions on their own--really looking at something and thinking about how the creators DID that--how they might do something similar. They are so ready to jump in and create. So ready to look not only at the technical part of how these things are created. But soon they'll be ready to look at the craft of these pieces.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Yet ANOTHER Book I Could Read a Million Times

It is not easy to find Books I Could Read a Million Times. Usually my posts about my finds are few and far between. It takes a lot for a book to make it to this list. I mean, really, even great books get a little old after a while.

But, this week, I am adding yet another book to the list-- GUESS AGAIN by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Adam Rex. My friend Maureen let me know about this HYSTERICAL book. And let me tell you, it is funny every single time I read it (which is what makes it a book I could read a million times). I don't want to give too much away. The product description says, "Here is a book that will keep you guessing again and again and...." Not much else to say. It is a rhyming book. A book full of surprises. And did I mention it is HYSTERICAL! I've read it to classes from 1st through 5th grade and the laughing is pretty consistent across ages. (And there is always one child in every group who just can't STOP laughing--totally cracks up.) I even had to read a few pages to my husband who does not often laugh out loud. Although he did not laugh aloud, he did grin a little. You can't not smile.

So, that's all I can say. It is a great book--as a read aloud for any age or to just amuse yourself.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

2 new dog books

I love Patrick McDonnell and absolutely LOVED his book SOUTH. So, I was thrilled to see his new book, WAG! This is a story about a dog named Earl. (I love that the dog's name is Earl--he is quite an adorable dog and the name is fitting.) The book answers the question, "What makes Earl's tail wag?" A great story with great illustrations. A perfect little dog story. And a great mentor text for young writers in writing workshop. Imagine what they could do if they learned from this author--a book to answer a question in a way that tells a story.

I also picked up LOST AND FOUND: THREE DOG STORIES by Jim LaMarche I am newly interested in finding more "collections" of short stories in picture book forms. I think these collections are a great tool to help kids think about story and theme.
In this book by Jim LaMarche, there are three dog stories. Each is short. 12ish pages each. Each one focuses on a different dog and his/her relationship. In each story, someone is
lost. In the first story, a little girl runs off with her dog and doesn't know the way home. In the second story, a little boy's dog sees something interesting, runs off and gets lost. In the last story, a child finds a lost dog. So many messages about the relationships between dogs and people. And so many messages about the ways we find our way back home, etc. A great read. I am sure the kids will love it!

Monday, September 21, 2009


I love watercolors and painting with kids. Did a tiny bit of it last year in the library
but not enough. (Would love to have an easel for tempera but am considering the downside to this....) Anyway, when I saw this post by Bill last year, I decided that we had to paint more in the library in 2009-2010. Young children's art--especially around favorite book characters--is just a happy thing. So, I was all ready to just copy the idea Lori that Bill shared.

As I was taking out the paints, I realized that CAN YOU
MAKE A SCARY FACE? would be a great book for the kids to paint around. As you all know, I am a HUGE Jan Thomas fan and decided that being surrounded by Jan Thomas characters could only
be a good thing. I remembered something Mo Willems said in his new DVD and in a Scholastic Interview,

"I look for simplicity of line, partially to focus on the emotions of the book and partially because I want the main character of each book to be easily copied by a 5 year old. My books aren't made simply to be read; I want them to be played."

As with pretty much anything Mo Willems says, this makes total sense to me--when kids can draw a character, they can do so much with the character in terms of thinking, creating storylines, etc. So, I have been keeping my eye out for those characters--the ones kids can draw. The new character in CAN YOU MAKE A SCARY FACE see
med to be a perfect one to try! (I am thinking the RHYMING DUST BUNNIES would be fun too!)
So, we gave it a try. It was an option/choice during library time for 1st and 2nd grades and about 1/2 of the kids chose to draw and paint. They had a ball and I had a great time watching them. Really, is there anything like watching 6 and 7 year olds paint? And to listen to their conversations while they are painting? Always such a happy time for them.

So, now I am surrounded by many, many renditions of this great new character. The paintings are hanging on a wall by a door and a few people have already commented on them--if they don't comment, they certainly can't help but smile as they walk past. I may never take them down.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Poetry Friday -- Patriotism

by Ellie Schoenfeld

My country is this dirt
that gathers under my fingernails
when I am in the garden.
The quiet bacteria and fungi,
all the little insects and bugs
are my compatriots. They are
idealistic, always working together
for the common good.
I kneel on the earth
and pledge my allegiance
to all the dirt of the world,
to all of that soil which grows
flowers and food
for the just and unjust alike.

(the rest of the poem is here)

Unless you teach in a public school, you might not be aware that yesterday was Constitution Day. 222 years ago, our Founding Fathers signed the document by which our country is governed to this day. My Constitution Day lesson focused on the Bill of Rights and the UN's list of Universal Human Rights. We were more patriotic than usual yesterday, and more thankful than usual for our rights which are guaranteed and protected by the Constitution.

If you're working in the garden this late summer weekend, you can celebrate Constitution Day belatedly by pledging allegiance to the dirt under your fingernails.

The round up this week is at Becky's Book Reviews.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Two For the World...

How Many Donkeys?: An Arabic Counting Tale
retold by Margaret Read MacDonald and Nadia Jameel Taibah
illustrations by Carol Liddiment
Albert Whitman and Company, September 2009
review copy provided by the publisher

I can't wait to share this book with my class! For the first time, my Arabic-speaking students will be the experts as they help us to count to 10 in Arabic, moving across the page from right to left. ALL of the students will be delighted by this Saudi folk tale of a numbskull who can't keep track of his donkeys. He starts off with ten, but when he counts them as he's riding along, he only counts nine. Lucky him, when he gets off to recount the donkeys, the lost donkey reappears! (I LOVE stories where the reader is smarter than one of the characters!!)

One World, One Day
by Barbara Kerley
National Geographic, 2009
review copy provided by the publisher

With photographs from around the world, and sparse, but descriptive text, Barbara Kerley takes us around the world in one day, showing and telling us that the world's children have more in common than they might think. They all get up, clean up, and go to school. They all come home, and work and play and spend time with families. They all wonder, "What's for dinner?" They all rest and dream to get ready for one more day. Great for conversation starters about differences between classmates, as well as differences between cultures.

...and a bonus for Constitution Day:

Every Human Has Rights: A Photographic Declaration for Kids
National Geographic, 2008
review copy provided by the publisher

While you're talking about the Bill of Rights in the U.S. Constitution, you might want to read this list of rights for the citizens of the world, based on the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This book is illustrated with vividly descriptive photographs that are accompanied by poetry by children from around the world. Best for students in intermediate through high school (and beyond), this book is an important addition to upper level conversations about rights, freedoms and privileges.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Kidlitosphere Conference Meme

If you're still sitting on the fence, you've only got a couple of days to get your registration in for the 2009 Kidlitosphere Conference! Decide already! Come join the party!

I attended the first conference, but not last year's. I'll be there this year! YAY!!! Here's the attendee meme that Mother Reader started around:

Why did you decide to attend the Kidlitosphere Conference?
I wanted to be part of the "in" crowd and meet all the rock star bloggers! It also sounded daring and just a little bit risky to fly to Chicago to meet people in person who I knew only from their blogs.

Who was most like their blog? Who was least like their blog?
Go figure...EVERYONE was like their blog! We leak out so much personality when we write that this should not come as a surprise.

What surprised you at the conference?
How much fun it was. I'm not usually comfortable in a crowd of folks I don't know well, but it was truly like being with old friends.

What will you always remember about the conference?
Meeting Tricia of The Miss Rumphius Effect and Gregory K. of GottaBook, and making the contacts that resulted in presenting about blogging at NCTE with Jen Robinson, Liz Burns, and Susan Thomsen (and almost Kelly Herold, but work got in her way).

Did you blog about the conference?
Here and here.

Some other memes to check out (did I miss any?):

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Another Book I Could Read a Million Times: Katie Loves the Kittens

Last year, my first year as a K-5 school librarian, I started a series of posts called "Books I Could Read a Million Times". I realized quickly--after reading the same book to several classes--that it took a very special book to hold my interest over many many reads. This is what I noticed last September:

"SO, sometimes I read the same book 20+ times over 4 days. Other books I read 4-8 times--to one or two grade levels.
What I have found is that one of two things happens quickly: Either I CAN'T STAND IT after the 2nd or 3rd read OR I love it every single time and never get sick of it. I look forward to reading it again."

I think these books deserve some recognition.

The first book of this year's "Books I Could Read a Million Times" is Katie Loves the Kittens by John Himmelman. I loved this story the minute I picked it up. It is such a sweet story. Katie--a great dog--is very excited because some new kittens have come to live at her house. And Katie LOVES the new kittens. But, she is so excited that she keeps scaring them without meaning to. Each time that Katie scares the kittens, she is VERY sad. She doesn't want to scare the kittens--remember, she LOVES them! The story continues on and gives us a very happy ending.

Looking out at the faces of the children when Katie is sad and then sadder is almost heartbreaking. I imagine my face while reading these parts is a little sad too. But there are funny parts too. Like when Katie gets excited, she howls, "AROOOOOOOO! AROOOOOO!" And the kids have great fun joining in on those howls! And their faces change when things finally work out for Katie and the kittens. It is one of the books that you want to hug when you are finished!

I could easily read this book a million times. Actually, I think it is a great book for lots of reasons. First of all it is a great story and that is enough. Kids love any book about dogs and pets and they loved this one. The illustrations are perfect--sweet and fun at the same time (my favorite is when Katie tries desperately to squeeze into the window:-) This would also be a great book to use as a mentor text when talking about story structure--such a great story with a sequence that works. One that kids can understand --see what the author was doing.

A great book overall! (It did received several starred reviews so lots of people agree that this is a great book!)

Monday, September 14, 2009

GHOST IN THE MACHINE by Patrick Carman

I just finished GHOST IN THE MACHINE by Patrick Carman. I LOVED Skeleton Creek and was thrilled to get a review copy of this book. It will be released in early October.

GHOST IN THE MACHINE is the 2nd in a 2 book series. Skeleton Creek started the story and this book finishes it. I was so worried that this second book would be a disappointment because I liked the first one so much. I was anxious to see where it went after reading the first book. I must admit, it was a pretty scary story. Not only was it a ghost story, but the format made it scarier than had it been text only.

For those of you new to this series, it is a new kind of book. Patrick Carman has integrated video and text to create a story. So, the book is technically Ryan's journal. Ryan was hurt in an accident at The Dredge in his city, Skeleton Creek. He was with his friend Sarah and because of the accident, he is no longer allowed to see her. But, she sends emails and videos. (Sarah films EVERYTHING!) So, when she sends Ryan a video, he writes that it has arrived in his journal and we are to go to the site, use the password and watch the video. The video and text work together to create the story. Neither is whole without the other. It is VERY well done. I find myself reading the book with book in hand and laptop on my lap, waiting for the next video from Sarah.

Although I considered it a ghost story when I read Skeleton Creek, I see now that this is more a mystery. And a really good mystery. A mystery that is perfect for kids in these upper elementary/early middle grades.

This is a hard review to write because I don't want to give anything away. I know you'll all want to read it, but this has everything that a good mystery has. Scary parts, codes, secret meetings, secret messages, and more. Carman does a great job of dropping just enough clues so that readers pay attention to something they may have missed. This mystery seems sophisticate and yet accessible for kids.

One of my favorite things-something I'll need to revisit soon--is the cleverness of the passwords that Sarah sends to Ryan for each video. They invite readers to do a little more research to see the connection. A fun code embedded in the story that adds new layers to the story. It is a great story, written well and one that you can't get through fast enough. Lots of suspense that kids will love. (You can see the first clip from Sarah-the beginning of the book--here.)

I was anxious to read this book for several reasons. First of all, I was dying to see what happened. But more importantly, I wanted to make sure this book truly was appropriate for the ages that it is marketed to. I worried a bit about how scary it was and the fact that it was a ghost story. For me, how the story ended was critical. As I said, this book is scary in different ways from the first--in this book, the kids are in dangerous situations but not always at the Dredge. But, it ended in a way that was satisfying, appropriate and believable. I think it is very appropriate for the 5-7th graders that it is marketed to--well, 5th-7th graders who enjoy scary stories with ghosts and bad guys. Definitely some bad choices on the part of the kids who continue to put themselves in dangerous situations but I guess when I think back to Nancy Drew and The Secret Seven--my favorite mystery series in 4th and 5th grades, those characters put themselves in danger too. I guess it is all part of the genre of mystery and kids know that.

I am still fascinated by Patrick Carman and the brilliance it took to write these books. Like I've said before, I am a book girl. The idea of a book/video combo seemed odd to me. But they worked together so well that I have totally bought into the idea that books can be a little different from the way they are now, from the way we've always experienced them. I just read about a video chip that will be part of a magazine ad and I can't even picture how that will be or how that will change my reading experiences in the future. So this whole idea of various formats together as one is pretty intriguing to me.

If you loved Skeleton Creek, I would preorder this one! Definitely not a disappointment!

Patrick Carman will be one of our speakers at the 2010 Dublin Literacy Conference on February 20, 2010!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

New Year At the Pier

New Year at the Pier: A Rosh Hashanah Story
by April Halprin Wayland
illustrated by Stephane Jorisch
Dial Books for Young Readers
on sale and in libraries now

Rosh Hashanah is the celebration of the Jewish New Year. In 2009, Rosh Hashanah begins the evening of September 18 and continues through September 20. The shofar (a trumpet made from a ram's horn) is blown, apples and honey (for a sweet new year) are eaten, and on the afternoon of the first day, tashlich is observed -- at a service beside naturally flowing water, one's mistakes are symbolically cast away for a fresh start in the new year.

As the the rabbi in New Year at the Pier explains, "Tashlich is the time we apologize for things we wish we hadn't done. Taschlich means to throw...Taschlich is like cleaning your heart's closet. A new year, a clean heart."

So, not only is this a story about a Jewish holiday, it is also a story about the power of apologizing. And if April Halprin Wayland had her wish, teachers would use her new book not only to start conversations about the holiday of Rosh Hashanah in the fall and again in January when talking about New Year celebrations around the world, they would use it any time a discussion about the power of apologizing and forgiving are needed.

In the story, Izzy, who is too young to write down the things he's sorry for, counts his "I'm sorries" on his fingers. He has, four. The fourth one is the hardest for him to admit and apologize for. He broke the trust of his friend. He learns by apologizing, though, that his friendship is strengthened.

Watch the book trailer at April Halprin Wayland's website, and join in the tradition of Taschlich next weekend so that your heart's closet can be clean, too!

Friday, September 11, 2009


It's hard to tell, but this is a picture of a fairly steep hill. If you squint, you can see A.J. down at the bottom by the sign for the park.

About ten years ago, I rode my bike as fast as I could down this hill. It was exciting, exhilarating, and before I knew it, I was at the bottom where the street curves to the left. My turn couldn't quite keep up with the street's curve and I hit the curb and did a spectacular (and painful for days after) dive into the grass.

In the years since that crash, here's the lesson about life that I've learned: as much fun as those downhill-out-of-control times seem at the time, I am not at my best during them. Those are reckless times that result in either a crash or a near miss.

I have come to value the uphill climbs in life. Those are the times that challenge me to do my best. On the uphill climb, I have to work hard and smart and efficiently. I'm going slowly enough to pay attention to my surroundings on the uphill climb, and my tires stick to the road with traction -- I am grounded. On the uphill climb, I use all my gears -- I am willing to take all the help I can get.

Teaching is an uphill climb. It's incredibly hard work every single day, but I value the challenges that each new class brings through my door. At this point in the year, I am careful to glance only briefly and occasionally at the mountain ahead. Instead, I am deeply involved in learning about the pack of travelers that I'm leading up that mountain, and trying to find ways for us all to climb at our own rates and yet somehow stay together.

Based on the minute amount of time that I spend listening to mainstream FM radio, I have to believe that this song was sent to me: Miley Cyrus singing "The Climb." If this song hadn't been intentionally laid in my path, there's no way I'd be sharing these lyrics with you today. That's a little miracle that we can ponder another time. You can listen to the song here, but I encourage you to listen with your eyes closed so that you can think about what the words mean to you.

from "The Climb"

There's always gonna be another mountain
I'm always gonna wanna make it move
Always gonna be a uphill battle
Sometimes I'm gonna have to lose

Ain't about how fast I get there
Ain't about what's waiting on the other side
It's the climb

The struggles I'm facing
The chances I'm taking
Sometimes might knock me down
But no, I'm not breaking

I may not know it
But these are the moments that
I'm gonna remember most, yeah
Just gotta keep going

The Poetry Friday round up this week is at Wild Rose Reader.

Thursday, September 10, 2009


Operation YES
Arthur A. Levine Books
on shelves this month

Miss Loupe is a cool teacher (the most recent addition to our list) with a tough job. She is teaching on the Air Force base where she herself went to school when her dad was an instructor pilot. She is going to teach 6th grade, but she's also going to teach theater, "...the art of saying yes."

She is teaching the base commander's son, whose Plan A is to have a good year this year so he can meet the Flying Farmer at the base air show this year. She's teaching kids who have moved from base to base so many times that they are hesitant to become engaged. She's teaching a girl who has (reluctantly) come across the country to live with relatives while her mother is deployed to Iraq. She teaches until her brother who is in the Army Special Forces goes missing in Afghanistan.

But that's when her students come together to say, "YES." They use all she's taught them about theater and art and teamwork, and they hatch a plan to help Miss Loupe, her brother, and ultimately their school and community.

This is a fabulous book that sheds light on a culture that has been ignored in children's literature -- the culture of military families, military bases, military schools. This is a must-read. You will laugh, you will cry, and your heart will fill with gratitude and understanding, in a way that it perhaps has not before, for all those who serve for a greater cause.

Reviews and celebrations of OPERATION YES:

Wednesday, September 09, 2009


(This week, as many of us are in the midst of "beginning of the school year" stuff, we thought we'd spend the week celebrating teaching and teachers in different ways. Each day this week (through Friday), we'll have a post related to teachers--book reviews, reflections, etc.)

Not long after we started our blog, we worked with readers to think about and create a list of 100 Cool Teachers in Children's Literature. We got the idea from Jen Robinson who had created a list of 100 Cool Girls of Children's Lit. For our list we said "We're looking for thoughtful teachers who understand kids and learning and are active, intelligent people who love their work."

At this time of year, no matter where you are, if there are books, there is a "Back to School" book display. So many books for this back-to-school time of the year. It is funny how in tune I am to "cool teachers" when I read new books these days. What messages are we giving our kids about schools and teaching with the books we read? Does the teacher respect her kids? Is he/she a stereotypical teacher who has to be "in charge" and teaches from the front of the room. As we spend the week celebrating teachers, I spent some time looking back at the list. I thought about which of the books were keys to my own thinking of my teaching--what kind of a teacher do I want to be? I think stories are a great way for us to think about what is possible as teachers. I am not talking about Hollywood stories like Mr Holland's Opus (although I love that story). I am talking about the teachers who do the day-to-day work that makes a difference for kids.

I always love to look over the list of books and remember those favorite teachers from children's lit. Each has taught me something different about the kind of teacher I hope to be. Depending on the day and my mood, different books stand out to me and help me reflect on my own work with students. For me today, these are the books that remind me of what is important for me as a teacher.

I love Mr. Fabiano in Ralph Fletcher's book Flying Solo by Ralph Fletcher. Mr. Fabiano is not really even "in" the story. If you don't know this book, it is about a classroom (Mr. Fabiano's classroom) on a day when the substitute doesn't show up. Instead of letting someone know, the kids decide to run the day on their own. I love this story and this teacher because to me, this is the big goal of teaching. Can my kids learn without me? Have I taught them to be independent and engaged that goes beyond them playing the game of school. Mr. Fabiano has definitely created a classroom of independent learners.

Mrs. Olinkski in The View From Saturday by E. L. Konisburg may be one of my favorite teachers of all time. She is brilliant. This is the story of children who are part of an academic team. Each child brings different strengths and weaknesses to the group and they become an amazing team. Mrs. Olinski's gift is for helping each student find his voice and helping the kids build community between them. What they can do together is far more than what each can do on his or her own and that is the lesson I learned from Mrs. Olinski.

I love Mr. D'Matz from The Clementine Books by Sara Pennypacker. Clementine is a great character. One of my favorites. But it is clear throughout the books that Clementine has a bit of trouble staying still in school. She is smart and busy. A child that not all teachers would understand. But Mr. D'Matz does more than understand her. He genuinely like and values her for who she is and celebrates that. And Clementine knows it.

And I like Mrs. Mallory from The Last Day of School by Louise Borden. Mrs. Malloy is not a huge character in this book. But it is clear through the story that she has created an important relationship with each of her students. That even with the excitement of the last day of school, there is sadness in the end to the relationship that has developed between teacher and student.

And a new book that I think deserves to be added to the list is WILLOW by Denise Brennan-Nelson. This book was introduced to me by a teacher in my school who had brilliant conversations with her students after reading it. For me, this teacher reminds me that teachers are learners first. We can and should learn from our students. We can't keep doing things the way we always have. Instead we have to celebrate the things that the kids bring to the community and invite them to be themselves in our classrooms.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009


As part of our Celebrating Teachers Week at A Year of Reading, we wanted to let you know about the 21st annual Dublin Literacy Conference that will be held in Dublin, Ohio on February 20, 2010. This conference (in Dublin, Ohio) has been run by teachers for 21 years. This year, we are focusing a bit on 21st Century Literacies to celebrate our 21st Year. Speakers include professional experts Tim Tyson, Katie Van Sluys, Ann Marie Corgill, and Kevin Hodgson. Children's authors include Melissa Sweet, Patrick Carman, David J. Smith and Denise Fleming. We are excited about the conference. Anyone who is interested in submitting a proposal can find the form on the Dublin Literacy Conference website. A complete program with more speakers and sessions will be released in early December. It is always a great day of learning.


(This week, as many of us are in the midst of "beginning of the school year" stuff, we thought we'd spend the week celebrating teaching and teachers in different ways. Each day this week (through Friday), we'll have a post related to teachers--book reviews, reflections, etc.)

So much of who we become as teachers has to do with our first few years in the profession. I was lucky to get my first job in a great school with a great staff. My mentor and team of teachers were supportive and I always felt like I had a voice--that my ideas were valued. I started teaching long before we had any formal mentoring program but my mentor was the best--she brought me plants, shared ideas, gave me advice on challenges I was having, helped me get over the mistakes I made, asked for my ideas, and supported my ideas. She treated me as a colleague--a colleague who she enjoyed working with--from Day One. But more important was the fact that she got to know me as a person. She invited me to dinner, stayed after school to chat and shared her own struggles and challenges with me. I really couldn't have had a better mentor those first few years. Now, I oversee the Entry Year Program in our district so I have been thinking back to my mentor and my first team of colleagues. I could not have known then how lucky I was to be able to find my professional voice with such an amazing group of people. I have learned, over the years, that it is the relationships we build and the professional voice we find those first few years that sometimes mean the most in terms of our future as teachers. As a veteran teacher, I hope that beyond the formal mentoring programs that are now set by the district and state, I hope I can be the kind of mentor to new teachers who helps them feel valued, gives them a voice, and supports them along the way.

As part of my thinking about new teachers, I have found books to help me think about my work with them. One of the first books that I loved was TENSIONS AND TRIUMPHS IN THE EARLY YEARS OF TEACHING. Susi Long and the early career teachers who wrote the book spoke at a summer institute that I attended. You can hear a bit of their talk here.
I continue to learn so many valuable lessons from this group of teacher researchers. I learned that we often, unintentionally, silence our new teachers and many of them leave the profession because they don't get the support they need to make the vision that they had when they entered the profession a reality. It has been a book that I go back to as I think about how best to support new teachers.

Another book that I am VERY excited about is a new one by Jen Allen called A SENSE OF BELONGING. If you know Jen Allen's work (BECOMING A LITERACY LEADER), you know that she is a brilliant coach--working for years to learn how best to support teachers at all levels in their teaching. In this new book, Jen Allen focuses specifically on the needs of early career teachers. Jen knows that there isn't one thing that we can do to help teachers find their voice in the classroom. Instead, she has learned that there are several things that can work together to support new teachers and she shares each of these strategies in depth.

Jen starts the book by reflecting on her own first year in the classroom. For many of us, we haven't thought about that first year in a very long time, but for most of us, it was not an easy year. Jen is honest in her struggles and the questions she had about whether she wanted to stay in the profession. Luckily at the end of her second year of teaching, she was invited to join a group teachers who were working together to create a school within a school and was then able to feel energized by her work.

Jen uses her own experiences as well as the experiences of other new teachers and her work as a literacy coach to design routines to support new teachers in her district. She sees the issue of teacher retention as an important one and one that can be fixed with the right supports. This book shares the strategies and stories that have worked for her. She takes us through all of the ways that she supports new teachers--from building relationships to analyzing assessments to planning curriculum. She understands the kinds of things that new teachers are feeling at different points in the year and has learned to support them through some of these stages. Jen believes strongly in beginning teachers and she also believes that they deserve support those first few years in the classroom. She says,

"Teaching is too hard to go about it alone. It is too easy to lose momentum for our new ideas and become discouraged with the profession that at one point were were so excited to join. I believe that built in layers of support within schools can make a difference in our ability to retain new teachers within districts and our profession."

Jen also has a DVD set called LAYERED COACHING that ties into the work in this book. You can view a clip of the book on the Stenhouse website.

Jen Allen is committed to supporting new teachers. She knows that new teachers can't do it all alone and that there are ways to build a community that supports these new teachers in a school. For anyone who works with new teachers, this is a must read. For administrators, teacher mentors, people in state departments who work to design programs for new teachers, this is an amazing resource. We can all learn so much from the experiences she's had learning from and with new teachers in her schools. This book is invaluable.

(You can read Jen Allen's entire book online at the Stenhouse site. You can also join an online study group that Stenhouse is offering on the book.)

Monday, September 07, 2009


(This week, as many of us are in the midst of "beginning of the school year" stuff, we thought we'd spend the week celebrating teaching and teachers in different ways. Each day this week (through Friday), we'll have a post related to teachers--book reviews, reflections, etc.)

I am mentoring an entry year teacher (EYT) this year. We never seem to have time to sit down and talk about who we are and where we've come from. This post is for my EYT.

When I started teaching, there was no formal mentorship program. I went straight from a private university in Denver to a federally listed low-income school in Dallas. Fireplace to fire kind of experience. I remember standing with my across-the-hall neighbor, Jim, looking out at the students walking up to the school on the first day, and saying, "I have no idea what I'm doing." To which Jim replied, "Yes, you do. Just wait and see. You'll be brilliant." Jim became my informal mentor for the first two years of my career. He believed in me. He taught me the importance of caring for each child, meeting the students where they are, and saving time for myself. EYT, I hope to pass these lessons on to you. (Jim also tried to teach me to appreciate a well-made martini. I never got past the olives, so this will be one lesson I won't be passing on!)

In my first year of teaching in Dallas, the Dallas Museum of Art opened its new building, which included an entire wing devoted to educational programming. I asked my grade level team how to go about taking my students on a field trip, and they told me it wasn't done. Luckily, I bypassed them and asked the principal about field trips. He bent over backwards to help me arrange a trip with my students to the new Dallas Museum of Art. EYT, you already know you're not working with that kind of grade level team. What I want you to learn is to take risks. Also, try to connect student learning to local current events and to your passions. Bring yourself and the world into your classroom. Last of all, bask in your ignorance and self-confidence -- when I look back on taking a busload of inner city kids to the Art Museum BY MYSELF (no parent volunteers) I can't believe that nothing went wrong. But what made it a success was that the same was true at the time: I didn't believe that anything would go wrong...and nothing did. Believe in yourself. You'll make great things happen.

After two years teaching in Dallas, I came to OSU and got a Master's Degree in Children's Literature. I was lucky enough to be invited to join a group who reviewed and wrote about children's books for a now-defunct publication called The W.E.B. Sitting around a table month after month, year after year, listening to them talk about books and authors (and eventually being able to join in) was an amazing mentorship. It started me on my mission of reading 52 children's books every year. EYT, I encourage you to read, read, read. There is almost no better way to prepare yourself to teach a reading workshop where the students' independent reading is the key ingredient: know books.

When I started teaching in Dublin, my grade level team, and one key person in particular, Karen, of Literate Lives, mentored me. Actually, we mentored each other. We learned together. We bounced lesson and unit ideas off each other in the morning and got back together after school to see what worked and didn't work. We were a PLC before the term had been coined. I look forward to doing this kind of work with you, EYT. Right now I know it seems like all we're doing is putting out fires, but we'll get to the point where we we share ideas. I may have an overwhelming number of years of experience, but you are the one who is most likely to have really fresh new ideas. (Just for instance, your choice of first read aloud was BRILLIANT! If I had known, I would have so copied you!)

Another landmark mentor for me was a passionate first grade teacher. I would wander down to her room many afternoons at (or after) 5:00 and find her still working there, sorting through student work and happy for someone who would listen to her talk about the amazing thinking that her students were doing, or the amazing writing they were doing, or the amazing conversation they had during read aloud. If there's absolutely nothing else I hope that you will learn, EYT, it is to celebrate your students. Try to remember to be amazed by them every day. And tell them about it. And then come down to my room and let's tell each other about our amazing students.

Sunday, September 06, 2009


(This week, as many of us are in the midst of "beginning of the school year" stuff, we thought we'd spend the week celebrating teaching and teachers in different ways. Each day this week (through Friday), we'll have a post related to teachers--book reviews, reflections, etc. To kick off the series, we want to share a new book by Teacher Jennifer Scoggin that celebrates the joys and challenges of teaching today.)

A while back, I somehow came across the blog IT'S NOT ALL FLOWERS AND SAUSAGES. I don't quite remember which post I first discovered but I became quite hooked on reading this blog. I was a little surprised at myself. Mrs. Mimi's tagline for her blog is, "This is a blog for TEACHERS WHO ROCK and are frustrated by the day to day drama that gets in the way of our interactions with children. Don't get me wrong, I love my job, but sometimes a girl has gotta vent..." Mrs. Mimi certainly knows how to vent and she is HYSTERICAL when she is venting. And she has an avatar that moves--which I find fascinating on every visit. So, I read the blog for a while. It was my guilty pleasure--not really admitting to anyone that I was reading it. Then I became curious--how does she get away with saying some of the things she says? Come to find out that she is very sneaky about her anonymity. There was no way I could figure out who she was or where she taught. Brilliant girl. I ended up sharing blog posts with lots of friends and everyone who reads her seems to become a fan. So, when I found out that she had a new book coming out (titled IT'S NOT ALL FLOWERS AND SAUSAGES: MY ADVENTURES IN SECOND GRADE), I pre-ordered it right away! My book arrived last week and I finished it on Thursday.

Here's the thing--I usually stay away from negativity and venting. It brings me down. But Mrs. Mimi's venting is often right on--venting about things that are unfair to children and teachers. She manages to stay focused on what is important in teaching and vents about those things that get in the way. She believes that the classroom and the classroom teacher are key and that too many things get in the way of that. She cares deeply about her students and works hard to do the right thing for them, regardless of what gets in the way. She isn't one of those lazy teachers who whines and complains. She is honest about the frustrations of being a teacher and how she deals with the frustrations--how she manages to remember what is important.

I love this book. If you like her blog, you will love this book too, I think. The book is a kind of extension of the blog. In it, Mrs. Mimi (whose name we learn is Jennifer Scoggin who teaches in New York) takes us through a year in second grade. She is honest at the beginning to tell us that names have been changed, characters collapsed and stories have been dramatized. And she is clear that she is not attacking the place that she works. She loves her work and her school but wants to share the frustrations that she deals with. And how it is her students, "her little friends", who are often the ones who save her in the day-to-day of teaching.

You can tell right away what kind of book this will be because the first chapter is called, "Holy Crap, It's August!". (See how hysterical she is!) This is how the book begins. Right away, she dismisses the teacher stereotypes--teachers with theme sweaters who sit around and do nothing all summer. "Well, first we have the stereotypical image of an elementary school teacher who loves terrible thematic sweaters, sensible shoes, and necklaces made exclusively from dried pasta products and Tempera paint. This teacher may be sporting some sort of dangly thematic earring that may or may not blink. Perhaps she is brandishing a pointer as well. I think this teacher's soundtrack might include hits from artists such as Raffi. Fortunately, she exists mainly in the cloudy, and very delusional, childhood memories of the classroom held by many who seem to think they went to school in a Norman Rockwell painting or something." She puts it all right up front when she shares how much work she does to prepare for a new school year. She then continues through the year, sharing the joys and challenges of spending the year as a classroom teacher. The stories of her children are great--all of us who work with children have these stories. The small moments that happen in a classroom that remind us of how lucky we are to do the work we do. Mrs. Mimi shares lots of these. Each one made me smile.

Mrs. Mimi continues to take us through the school year-sharing the struggles she has with balancing home and work, dealing with crazy interruptions to her teaching, paperwork and data overload, and the difficult colleague. She shares the highlights too--"An unsung bonus of the teaching profession is the ability to rationalize the need for back-to-school clothes." She shares those moments when something makes sense to a child--those moments that can keep us energized for months. And she shares this importance of her "Super Colleagues".

This is more than a book about a teacher---it is a book about a teacher in this era of teaching. She says, "Right now, however, it feels like I get paid to be a human shield to protect my friends from all the chaos and drama that happen outside the walls of the classroom." Mrs. Mimi is a teacher who is trying to do all that is being asked of us and to still be the best teacher possible for her students. A teacher who knows that scripted curriculum and crazy mandates make our work so much harder and less effective. Mrs. Mimi understands and celebrates the fact that classroom teachers all have their own ways of doing things--and that there are many ways to be FABULOUS and to meet the needs of your children. She talks about every day stresses (field trips gone wrong, fire drills in the middle of great lessons) and the bigger frustrations that sap our energies.

I imagine this book will offend some people. She is honest and sometimes negative. She complains about some of the people she works with. And she swears a bit. But it didn't offend me. For many reasons. First of all, Mrs. Mimi works hard. She puts her all into the work with her kids and believes in every one of them. She is a champion for teachers and can't understand why the needs of the classroom aren't put first. Most importantly, Mrs. Mimi clearly believes in her kids and never says a negative thing about one of them. Mrs. Mimi is also a learner. Although she makes jokes throughout the book about how arrogant and fabulous she is, she is also the first to admit her weaknesses and to tell readers that she is a learner, trying to figure things out and doesn't have it all figured out. She is the kind of colleague that I love to work with. And, if I am honest with myself, I know that we all have stories like the ones she shares--the frustrating things that happen to us as we work to keep our students' needs first. And, we all (thankfully) have Super Colleagues who keep us energized and keep us focused on the things that are important. We all live similar joys and frustrations every day.

This book is definitely Fabulous. It was a reminder to me, that this work is hard. Really hard. So hard that it is often HYSTERICAL. But, in the end, we know that as teachers, we are lucky to be able to spend our days with children in elementary schools across the country. Love this new voice for teachers. I consider myself an official Mrs. Mimi fan.