Saturday, July 31, 2010

Much Ado About Nothing

There's a summer tradition in Columbus -- Actors' Theater performs three different plays throughout the summer in German Village's Schiller Park...for FREE (donations are encouraged). We saw Treasure Island earlier in the summer, and got a wonderful dose of Shakespeare last night with Much Ado About Nothing, performed in the round.

We started out sitting back there by the light/sound table, thinking we were on enough of a hill that we'd be able to see. Our picnic dinner from Whole Foods was spread and we were enjoying curried turkey salad and cranberry tuna salad (and looking forward to the Laceys), when a hoard of chickie-booms planted their chairs in front of us, effectively blocking the view. It was then that we decided to take the usher up on a seat on the stage.

This was our new view!  Much better!

A little bit of truth in advertising about me and The Bard. I don't go to Shakespeare Camp, like Sara Lewis Holmes does. I don't spend all of June brushing you up on your Shakespeare, like Kelly Fineman does. (Nor has The Old Spice Guy made a video response to any of my tweets, like he did for Kelly...)

In fact, on the way home from the play, I wondered aloud how it's possible that I can't understand half of the lines in Shakespeare, and yet I can perfectly follow what's going on in the story?!?! (It does get easier in the second half. It's like your ear gets tuned to Shakespearean English.)

I didn't get any pictures from the first half of the play, because I hadn't figured out how to silence my new camera, and what with sitting at the edge of the stage, I couldn't have all that beeping and booping. 

Needless to say, Don John was evil and meddling, Beatrice was sharp-witted and strong-willed, Benedick was so set against marriage that even the dullest audience member had to know he'd be hooked by the end of the play, and Hero was sweet and demure and so pure that when Claudio spurns her at the altar... want to get up there on the stage and smack him upside the head!

Here's when Benedick and Beatrice fall in love...but only because they each have been tricked into believing that the other is in love with them.

Now the "cops" have captured the meddlers that Don John hired to convince Claudio that Hero was not a pure woman. This little guy played Boy as well as "cop." In the program, his bio tells that this play "marks his professional debut, though he has appeared in a number of church Christmas pageants and school plays.  Favorite roles include the title character in the Gingerbread Man, 2nd Billy Goat Gruff and 3rd Angel From the Left. When not onstage he enjoys fried chicken, the Wii game system, and Cub Scouting. He begins fourth grade in the fall." (could he be in my room, please?!?)

This is the part when Dogberry (little guy's dad in real life) tries so hard to convince everyone that it should be written in the record that he's been called an ass. 

And then all the tangles get untangled and all the right people get married and the evil meddler is dispatched, the end.

But not quite the end. On the drive home, I checked to see if Kindle has Much Ado About Nothing. For less than a dollar, I downloaded it wirelessly to my iPhone Kindle (there's an app for that), and now I'll be able to go back and find my favorite lines and parts while they are fresh in my mind.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Poetry Friday -- Visual Verse

Last week, when I had a chance to spend the day in Denver visiting friends, Carol and I browsed the children's book section of Tattered Cover pointing to books we'd read, heard about, wanted to read, and loved dearly. Both of us were trying hard not to spend too much money, and the talk must have satisfied some kind of need, because we each only bought one book. Carol got Out of My Mind and I bought a 2005 Ed Young book that I had somehow missed.

The minute I opened Beyond the Great Mountains, I knew I had to buy it. You've made flip books with your students, haven't you? Check this out inside:

When the pages lay flat, you can read the poem -- each line is on the edge of the page. Open a page and you find the illustration and the Chinese characters (ancient and modern) that echo the image.

This book could be a mentor text for writing about a beloved place or person, or even about oneself. Research findings might be written poetically and illustrated symbolically. So much to love about this book!

Here is an excerpt from the Author's Note:
"Once, I asked a Western artist to use Western symbols to describe his concept of the word leisure. He immediately chose to describe it with a person floating on his back in water. The Chinese mind chooses to be less literal--for instance, one can place a moon between two panels of a doorway to show a state of mind by which one not only notices but also admines the quiet beauty of a moonbeam peeking in through that sliver. I think of this as visual verse. Rather than showing a particular instance of the idea, it reminds us that ideas are bigger than a single instance."
You can find a conversation with Ed Young at Chronicle Books.

The Poetry Friday roundup is at Irene Latham's blog, Live. Love. Explore!
Along with a Happy Poetry Friday, I'll make the name of her blog my wish for you today!

Thursday, July 29, 2010


Sassy: The Birthday Storm
by Sharon Draper
Scholastic, 2009
review copy purchased for my classroom
Sassy: The Silver Secret
by Sharon Draper
Scholastic, 2010
review copy purchased for my classroom

I'm thinking about starting the year in my fourth grade classroom with a unit of study on series books, so I'm gathering up a couple of books from a lot of new series this summer.

Franki reviewed the first book in the series, Sassy: Little Sister is NOT My Name!  I love Sassy for many of the same reasons: she's a spunky girl with a personality all her own. She's got this great "Sassy sack" that her grandmother made for her -- a purple, silver and magenta bag with lots of pockets and compartments that holds everything Sassy needs -- and it's as much a character in the books as Sassy is!

In The Birthday Storm, Sassy and her family go to Florida to visit their grandmother for her birthday. A hurricane changes all the birthday plans and makes it necessary for the family to help save a nest of sea turtle eggs on the beach.

In The Silver Secret, Sassy has to find her own way to shine in the fourth grade program because she has a terrible singing voice! She makes a fabulous stage manager and she even has a chance to let her "silver secret" -- her piccolo playing -- out of the bag to save the performance when one of the singers gets sick.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Let's Help Rebuild Her!

Andrea Ross of Just One More Book was diagnosed with breast cancer on October 6, 2009.  On October 3, 2010 she will run in Canada's version of The Race For the Cure.
In 8 days, she's raised over $2000. Let's give her a boost and see if we can get that number over $5000. It won't make up for all she's been through this year, but she and her family will know that there are bunches of Kidlitosphere friends who are throwing confetti for her first year and cheering her on as she begins her "me-ternity."

You can read Andrea's story here.
Go here to help her raise money for the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation.


by Karla Oceanak
illustrated by Kendra Spanjer
Bailiwick Press, 2010
review copy provided by the publisher

Aldo Zelnick is back with his second sketchbook filled with cartoons, rock-candy words starting with B (amusing illustrated glossary in the back of the book), and a mystery that's worth $1000 to solve: what happened to the ring he thought was bogus, but which has turned out to be quite valuable?

In Artsy-Fartsy, the first book of this alphabetic "comic novel" series (I reviewed it here), we met Aldo, his family and his friends. We found out how Aldo came to be writing and drawing in his sketchbook, and we fell in love with him, even though he's a little bit chubby, a little bit lazy, and he'd rather play video games than do anything else...except eat!

In Bogus, Aldo (somewhat reluctantly and very realistically) learns to put the needs of others before his desire for a giant flat screen TV. In book three, Cahoots, (out later this year) it sounds like Aldo is up for some more character-building when he has to spend time on his cousins' farm with no technology and lots of chores!

My fourth graders last year LOVED Artsy-Fartsy and were disappointed that Bogus would come out after they'd left my class. This new group is going to have two books in the series to devour and a third to look forward to by the end of the year!

Just for fun, you can follow Aldo Zelnick on Twitter: @AldoZelnick.
You can also check out his website:

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

2 New Games for the Library

I have been building our board game collection in the library over the last few years. Buffy Hamilton's recent mention of adding new games to her library this year inspired a quick shopping trip! Her post reminded me that I wanted to add some new games to our library too and I was near one of my favorite local toy stores.

When I think about my big goal for the K-5 library, I want kids to see it as a place for learning, thinking, exploring, discovering and creating. I want them to know that there are lots of tools for these things and that the library has a variety of tools to support the different learning they might do. Books, laptops, Legos, puppets, board games, cameras, magazines, and ipods are some of the tools available to kids in the library. I want them to think about which tool will support their learning and have access to a huge variety. I want them to see the library as a place that will support them with whatever tool it might be that they need and I try to fill the library with the best learning tools for elementary students.

In terms of games, some of the popular games that we have in the library are BANANAGRAMS, SCRAMBLED STATES, SET, and COUNTDOWN. Each of the games we have in the library supports learning in a different way. Some are strategy games, others connect to books. Some connect to specific learning that K-5 students do. Along with more strategy games (which I believe you can never have enough of!), I hope to pick up the new DON'T LET THE PIGEON DRIVE THE BUS board game as well as a FANCY NANCY board game for the younger kids. Some of the fourth graders asked about learning to play GO this year and having GO Tournaments, after reading HIKARU NO GO.

I picked up two new games that I am excited about today. The first is MULTIPLAYER PENTAGO. We have two of the regular (2 player) PENTAGO games in the library and they are a huge hit. If you don't know Pentago, it is a great visual strategy game for two players. Kids of all ages loved this game and after the first few days, I never won a game! This new 2010 version, is the same game but is made for more than 2 players. The board is colorful and up to 4 players can play this one. The 2 Pentago games were almost always in use so I am sure the kids will be excited about the new challenges and fun that this one provides. I also just discovered that you can play Pentago online--with a friend or against the computer. That will be another way kids can enjoy this great strategy game!

I also picked up SQUARE UP. It looked like a good game and I trust the Parents' Choice Award when it is on a game. This is a pattern/puzzle game in which two players race to slide cubes in order to match a given pattern. Although this is designed to be played with two players, it looks like there are ways for individuals to play and learn.

I also like to have some puzzles in the library. Most are either strategy puzzles or puzzles that go with books. I think puzzles encourage collaborative work in a way that other tools don't. When I saw the CRAZY CHEESE MATCHING PUZZLE, I thought it would be a great thing to put on a table during Student/Parent Walk-Through Day. I love to put things out that encourage parents and children to explore together. I think families could have fun with this one.

I don't have a huge budget for games but I do want to add a few more quality games this year. I would love to hear what other librarians are putting in their libraries in terms of games.

Monday, July 26, 2010

IN PICTURES AND IN WORDS: An Interview with Katie Wood Ray

If you have not had a chance to read Katie Wood Ray's new book, IN PICTURES AND IN WORDS: TEACHING THE QUALITIES OF ILLUSTRATION THROUGH ILLUSTRATION STUDY, it is a must read. As always, Katie has given us new things to think about when it comes to our writing classrooms. Her message is always about student ownership, teaching with intention and giving students the tools they need to be decision-makers in their writing.

I have been thinking a lot about what writing is today. There are so many ways to communicate messages. I worry that when we talk about 21st Century Literacy, we think that the inclusion of technology tools is the goal. Really, I think it is bigger than that. I think it is about expanding our definitions of writing to composing, but in a way that includes what we know about the process of creating. Two people who have helped me think through this are Bud the Teacher and Kevin at Kevin's Meandering Mind. I think we are just beginning to think about what this all means for young children. How can we expand the possibilities for our students while using what we know about early literacy? I think what Katie has done in this book is brilliant. When I think of the talk around visual literacy and composing, Katie has nailed this idea for young children. As always, Katie's work is about helping kids be intentional about their work, and sharing possibilities with children so that they can make wise decisions about whatever it is they are writing/drawing/creating. I was struck as I read this because I see the transfer of conversations with our youngest writers being very powerful. What they can learn through illustration study will help them create meaningful pieces no matter what the tools or format. To me, that's the key.

I had a chance to interview Katie about her new work. Her insights are brilliant, as always!

Franki: Your focus in all of your writing on helping students be intentional is one of my favorite things about your work. Students as decision-makers is key and I love the focus on illustrations for this one. Do you see illustration study as a separate unit of study or something that would be part of every piece throughout the school year?

Katie: Both. It certainly can stand alone as its own unit of study - we've studied it in Lisa Cleaveland's classes for years as its own study. But what happens is, after that initial study, talking about the illustrator's decision making becomes just a natural part of how books are studied in writing workshop, and it becomes a part of every future study as well.

Franki: How did you get interested in illustration study?

Katie: These last few years, spending so much time conferring with kindergarten and first grade writers, I just realized how much thinking there is that goes into the composition of a picture - especially for some children. I would marvel at it, really. And then more and more I began to think about what it would mean to get behind that thinking, name it and support it, and help them engage in it even more deeply. The desire to do that led me to study illustrations much more carefully, much as I did when I was first learning about the written craft of language. The more I studied illustrations, the better able I was to help children imagine new possibilities in their composition work around pictures.

Franki: How do you see illustration study supporting all students as writers?

Katie: When teachers teach into the composition aspect of children's illustration work, children are gaining valuable experience with all the processes of composing - planning, drafting, revising, editing. To experience this kind of compositional thinking in a parallel context no doubt supports the same kind of thinking in a different context - with written text. Also, as I try to make the case in the second half of the book, children can be introduced to many key qualities of good writing in the context of illustration study.

Franki: What have you found about students that struggle with writing? How does illustration study support them?

Katie: For many of them, it gives them a way to more fully express their meaning (as it does with all writers), and this can be very liberating for them. There is this idea that language is something you can either get right or wrong, and most children and adults don't have this same idea about illustrating, so this is what is so freeing about it. Of course, some children don't feel very confident as illustrators either, and in this case, they have to be supported to celebrate and understand the role of approximation in learning both illustrating and writing.

Franki: You brilliantly mention 21st Century literacies early in the book. Explain how you see illustration study as fitting into the bigger goals of 21st Century Literacy.

Katie: I believe that if the teaching focus is on composing - making meaning with whatever tools you have at your disposal (written text being just one of those tools) - we do a much better job of preparing children to make meaning in a world where tools and means for communication will likely be changing throughout their lives, as they have throughout ours. It's all about composing, really, and illustration study is just another avenue for teaching into this valuable thinking process.

Franki: How do you think a study like this is different for young children (K/1) than it is for older children (2nd/3rd)?

Katie: I just think it would get more and more sophisticated as children move along in their development, much as a writing study grows and gets more sophisticated with children over time. For example, Kindergartners and 3rd graders might both be studying how to write engaging informational text, but the study of it and the products students produce will be more sophisticated the further along in their development children progress. I also believe that as children develop and move through school, illustration study can eventually move out of picture books and into other kinds of texts in the world that are a mix of the visual and the verbal - magazines, newspapers, websites, etc.

Franki: You include 40+ Techniques Worth Teaching in the book. Can you talk about these - why you think they are important, how you think teachers might use them, etc.?

Katie: They're important because in naming them, they will help people see so much more in illustrations than they might currently see, because once you start noticing, you can't help but notice more and more. And of course, every illustration decision you can name and articulate its use becomes a meaning-making possibility you might offer a child. In teaching, I'm a strong believer that knowledge is power, and this section was written to empower teachers. By naming all these techniques, I hope I created a valuable resource for teachers to grow their own knowledge base about the decisions illustrators make when they compose with pictures. I also tried to show how these decisions have very direct parallels to the decisions writers make when they compose.

Franki: I love the section on design and layout. Often we are quick about that piece of writing when working with kids. Why do you think that is an important part of the whole process - one worthy of time and intention?

Katie: Design is everything in the world of texts these days. We know that readers respond not just to the meaning of texts, but also to the look of them. Just think about how many have so totally designed what their email messages will look like - something as simple as that. Unfortunately I'm not one of those people (mine are kind of blah), but I love when I get a message that has nice color and a pleasant font, and a little meaningful symbol or saying tagged to it. Layout and design are just so critical.

To read more about Katie's book,

Katie will be presenting on her new work at NCTE's Annual Convention in Orlando in November.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Poetry Friday -- What We Need

What do you need every day? Right now I'm wishing for faster, stronger Internet so that I can do the very visual, image-based Poetry Friday post I had planned. Grrr... Next week, I guess.

In the mean time, what do I need every day? A cup of tea. Moments of quiet. Classical music. Thankfulness, friendship, love, and fresh air. An apple whenever possible, but bing cherries or blueberries will suffice when in season. And of course, books.

What We Need
by David Budbill

The Emperor,
his bullies
and henchmen
terrorize the world
every day,

which is why
every day

we need

(Great cliffhanger, eh? You'll have to click here to find out what Budbill says we need! I think you'll agree...)

The Poetry Friday Roundup is at Language, Literacy, Love this week.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Reading Brings the World to Our Doorstep

Bamboo People
by Mitali Perkins
Charlesbridge Publishing, 2010
review copy provided by the publisher

It's one thing to read about the current conflict in Myrnmar (formerly Burma) in the news, but it's another when the world comes to life through the characters in the book you're reading. If middle school students could read this book at the same time they are studying some of the historic conflicts in US history -- the Civil Rights Movement and race issues, the removal of native peoples to reservations -- they might better understand the warning about history repeating itself.

Chiko, son of a doctor, is hoping to become a teacher. When he answers an ad for a teaching job, he is conscripted in the Burmese army. Chiko's story is contrasted with that of Tu Reh, one of the ethnic minorities on the other side in the conflict. Their stories intersect. Choices must be made. Both boys grow in understanding and compassion.

Boys Without Names
by Kashmira Sheth
Balzer + Bray (HarperCollins), 2010
review copy provided by the publisher

Middle schoolers studying migrant labor or homeless issues in the US could read this book and expand their study to include child labor and third world sweatshop industries.

Gopal's family moves from rural India to Mumbai to escape debt. They become separated from his father and Gopal wants to try to earn money for their family. He meets someone who promises him a factory job, but who drugs and kidnaps him to work in an attic sweatshop with 5 other boys making beaded frames. Through storytelling, the boys learn to trust one another enough to escape from their cruel boss.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Do You Know Adora Svitak?

I had the opportunity to hear and to meet Adora Svitak at BLC10 last week. (She is pictured here with Meredith Melragon.) Adora is a 12 year-old girl, committed to making sure kids have the voice they deserve. I think as teachers, Adora is someone we need to know. Her work and message are important. Adora spoke in Ohio this winter but I was unable to hear her talk. I did get to watch her TED Talk. WHAT ADULTS CAN LEARN FROM KIDS and I so loved that I got to hear her in person. Adora gave the closing keynote on the first day of BLC10 and her message was powerful. She is working to help everyone, especially educators, see the need for students as real leaders. She began her talk by asking us what we think of when we think of leaders. She then went on to show us the definition of leadership and reminded us that nowhere in the definition does it say that leaders need to be adults. Instead, leadership is the ability to guide, direct and influence people. She continued with her beliefs about why kids can and do make wonderful leaders. She told us about FREE THE CHILDREN, KIDS VS GLOBAL WARMING ALEX'S LEMONADE STAND, and the DAYFINDER app created by a 15 year old.

Adora also told us about an exciting TEDx conference that will be held on September 18--TEDx REDMOND: Power to the Students . Adora is hosting this conference and it sounds amazing. Take some time to learn about the speakers at TEDx Redmond. I plan to spend some time today learning about these amazing people. This talk resonated for me because if you saw my slides from my Literacies for All Session, you know that one of the things I am most excited about these days is the voice that children have and the difference they make in the world. I believe this time in the world is amazing because kids have the tools to be given the global voice they deserve. They are finding passions and doing things that matter. It is something I believe strongly in and something I am committed to. I don't think it is enough to have kids collect pennies or winter coats for a cause teachers determine matters. I agree completely with Adora when she asks us to question the quote, "Children are the leaders of tomorrow." She asks, "Why shouldn't children be leaders today?"

Adora is also a writer. She has published several books and articles. She wants kids to love reading and writing and has created pieces to help do that. I picked up DANCING FINGERS: SELECTED POEMS AND WRITING INSPIRATIONS FROM TWO SISTERS, a book that she wrote with her sister, Adrianna. The introduction to the book begins with these words, "Adora and Adrianna Svitak believe that age should not be a limiting factor when it comes to expressing creativity and imagination through writing and music." This is a book of poetry--but it is more than an anthology. The book is filled with poems written by Adora and Adrianna, but it is also an inspirational book for writers. The book is divided into sections such as Animal Poems, Poems about the wild, Poems inspired by olden times and more. Each section has inviting readers to try different things in their writing. Then the sisters share poems of their own. An amazing book packed with great writing and great inspiration. I am looking excited about adding this book to our school library. Adora also has a book called FLYING FINGERS: MASTER THE TOOLS OF LEARNING THROUGH THE JOY OF WRITING when she was seven.

I feel honored to have heard Adora speak, to have met her in person, and to know more about her work.

Planning for NCTE in November

The Children's Literature Assembly of NCTE hosts a one-day workshop the Monday after the annual conference (this year: Monday, November 22, 9:00-3:30). The theme of this year's workshop is

Literacy and the Arts:
Books that Inspire the Visual Artist, Poet, and Musician in All of Us.

Authors and illustrators that will participate this year include: Bryan Collier (Uptown), Doreen Rappaport (Jack's Path of Courage: The Life of John F. Kennedy), David Diaz (Me, Frida), Laban Carrick Hill (Harlem Stomp), Hester Bass and E.B. Lewis (The Secret World of Walter Anderson), and Marilyn Singer (Mirror, Mirror: A Book of Reversible Verse).

Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

November Learning--Building Learning Communities 2010

I attended one of the best conferences ever last week. My husband, Scott and I attended November Learning's BLC conference in Boston. WOW! It was an amazing experience. Every minute was worth it.

Alan November and his staff ran an unbelievable conference for educators across the world. This conference was one that I had heard about for a while and one that seemed worth going to. I had heard so many good things. When I first heard of Alan November and had the chance to hear him when he spoke in Ohio, my friend, Bill Bass said he was a "Presenter Ninja"! After hearing him speak and hearing more about BLC, I knew I had to go. Not only is Alan November a Presenter Ninja, but he is also a Conference Planning Ninja. He runs a conference that is life-changing for many who attend. It was not my usual--I typically attend literacy conferences and have been immersed in the literacy world for a while. One of the things I love about what Web 2.0 tools are allowing us to do is to connect groups of people that might not normally connect. So this was a new kind of learning for me and I am so glad I stretched myself a bit.

The conference was really not a tech conference, but more about learning and education. One of the things that was important to me was that every speaker had the same beliefs and philosophies about education and the same optimism about what is possible. Technology was definitely a part of everything, but the way tech is being used by the experts here is based in good learning theory. The belief in children and learning was ubiquitous.

Every minute was amazing. Every single session that I attended was worthwhile and gave me so much to think about.

All of the keynote speakers that we heard were amazing. The morning keynotes were given by Mitch Resnick, Michael Wesch, and Rahaf Harfoush. I can't even begin to share all of the thinking these people inspired. Adora Svitak was an afternoon keynote that I heard. I will post more about Adora later this week.

The conference also gave me an opportunity to hear, in person, some people who I have been learning about through blogs and twitter for a while. It was such a great experience to hear presentations given by so many people who have shared their work so willingly online. I will share more as I make sense of all I learned, but if you are looking for new people to follow or learn from, the people I heard have so much to offer through their blogs, twitter accounts, etc.

Since I took the semi-new job as a librarian, Joyce Valenza's work has been so important to my own thinking. Even though she is a high school librarian, her vision for her role has been very inspiring to me. I was able to hear two of Joyce's sessions at BLC and they were amazing. She shared about 10,000 new things--tools, sites, ideas that I need to explore further. If I could just be like Joyce Valenza in my own role...She definitely gave me so much to work toward.

I have been an Angela Maiers fan for a while. We share similar beliefs about elementary literacy instruction. She was actually one of the people who encouraged me to attend the conference and it was great to meet her in person. I was able to attend her session on writing (which I will write more about later this week). She has so many great resources on her site and it was powerful to hear her thinking in person.

I was also able to hear Lee Kolbert. So many of us in Dublin follow her on Twitter and read her blog regularly. It was great to hear the honest work that she is doing with kids. She is doing such amazing things with her students and was honest about the challenges that come with web 2.0 and elementary kids. Loved meeting her too!

I was also able to hear Marco Torres and Jeff Utecht. Marco gave me so many ideas about film and documentaries and Jeff Utech spoke about blended classrooms.

I also found new people to learn from:
Kathy Cassidy, an amazing 1st grade teacher.
Sue Miller and Valerie Becker from who shared the work done in Sue's 5th grade classroom. (4 students presented with them in this session.)

Zoe Sprankle (Bob Sprankle's daughter) was a part of Angela Maiers' session. I will be sharing more about what I learned from her later in the week.

Shelley Paul shared her work with teachers and her course on teaching Web 2.0 tools. I had not heard her before but it was clear that her work is so powerful for teachers.

I captured pages and pages of my thinking on Evernote and can't wait to dig in and make sense of it all. I also took lots of pictures, as did other BLC10 participants.

I will be sharing more about the conference throughout the week. I have not had a learning experience like this one in years. I am anxious to make sense of it all and to continue my learning. The dates for 2011 are already set for late July and I am already looking forward to it. This conference is rather addicting. I would HIGHLY recommend it to anyone who wants an amazing learning experience.

Monday, July 19, 2010

10 Things that I am Excited About When It Comes to Teaching and Learning

I put together this slide show for a presentation at Literacies for All Summer Institute in Indianapolis. I loved putting it together. Here is my thinking behind it. Sometimes it feels like it is a hard time to be in education. But it is also the most exciting time to be a teacher. There are so many things to be excited about. I realized how many new things I am excited about these days and I wanted to share them in my talk. I think as teachers we need to find a bit more time to share the things we are exciting about--new things we are discovering, new learning, etc. So, I am making that a mission for the year--paying more attention to the things I am excited about in education today and sharing those with others.

Below is the slideshow I used at the conference a few weeks ago. I am not sure how much sense it will make without the story behind each slide. But maybe you'll find something worthwhile there. All of the links that go with the slides are on my website ( If you see a slide that you want to know more about, go to the site and find the link. Some slides show videos, some have information on a new tool for kids, etc. All of the links to those things are on the site. Hope you find something to get excited about and then share it out. Then maybe someone else will find something to be excited about and they'll share it....

Friday, July 16, 2010

Poetry Friday -- Going Back Home

by Gregory Djanikian

We have been cruising, half a block
at a time, my wife, my two children,
all morning, and I have been pointing out
unhurriedly and with some feeling
places of consequence, sacred places,
backyards, lush fields, garages, alleyways.
“There,” I say, “by this big cottonwood,
That’s where I dropped the fly ball, 1959.”
“And in 1961,” I say, “at this very corner,
Barry Sapolsky tripped me up with his gym bag.”
My son has fallen asleep, my daughter
has been nodding “yes” indiscriminately
for the last half hour, and my wife
has the frozen, wide-eyed look of the undead.

(the rest of the poem is at the Poetry Foundation)

I'm leaving tomorrow to go home for a week. I will walk and drive around town remembering the minutiae of my growing up years in much the same way Djanikian remembers his. The Ben Franklin where I worked one Christmas break and where I bought macrame and decoupage supplies. The sewing shop where I took lessons. (I think we made halter tops.) The monkey bars Jay fell off head first in 4th grade. The smell of Orth's Department store. The library (now the City Offices). The swimming pool where I spent most every waking hour of every summer from ages 5-18. The alley where we detonated Matchbox cars with firecrackers every Fourth of July. The lilac bushes I picked flowers from on the walk to school to take to my teachers, assuring them that yes, the flowers were from our yard, when they knew good and well that there were no lilacs in our yard. And places that now exist only in memory: the pond at the old golf course, the old swimming pool, the bowling alley/roller skating rink, the Dairy Queen.

What's your favorite memory of your hometown?

Heidi has the Poetry Friday roundup this week at my juicy little universe. Head on over and leave your links there.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Poetry Friday Roundup

Change of plans:

Heidi at my juicy little universe has the roundup this week!

Learning History Through Story

WOODS RUNNER and STORYTELLER are two very different books that have compelling similarities. Both are set during the American Revolution, and both have young main characters whose families are torn apart by the war and who must overcome extraordinary odds in order to bring their families back together.

Between many of the chapters of WOODS RUNNER, Gary Paulsen weaves short chunks of nonfiction about a variety of Revolutionary War topics that pertain to the story -- frontier life, the weapons used in the war, who fought for each side and why and how, the roles of the civilians, the treatment of prisoners, and more.

Patricia Reilly Giff weaves the stories of two girls -- Elizabeth in modern times, and her ancestor Zee in Revolutionary War times. As Elizabeth learns more about her ancestor and about the war, she learns to value herself and her family.

Neither of these books gives their readers a complete and encyclopedic knowledge of the entire Revolutionary War, but they both do what a text book cannot do for a beginning historian age 9-14 -- they invite the reader into the period through story and help the reader to understand at a human level how war changes lives in immediate and long-lasting ways.

Woods Runner
by Gary Paulsen
Wendy Lamb Books, 2010
review copy provided by the publisher

Other reviews:

by Patricia Reilly Giff
Wendy Lamb Books, 2010
on shelves in September, read in ARC received at ALA

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


We visited Kids Ink Children's Bookstore in Indianapolis this week. It was a great bookstore with so many great books.

I was excited to pick up BANANAGRAMS FOR KIDS--a puzzle book to go along with the Bananagrams game. The Bananagrams game was popular with lots of kids in the library last year. Kids who played it often became quite hooked to the game. I think this book might get even more kids interested in the game. We have 6 sets of the game in the library and there is usually one being played by someone.

There are 130 puzzles in this book. Each page has a different type of puzzle. The directions on each page vary. For example, some ask you to use all of the letters to solve a riddle while others ask you to use letter tiles in different ways. (You can see some examples if you go to the "Search Inside" link on amazon.) Kids can use the Bananagrams tiles to solve the puzzles. There is a huge variety of things they can do and I imagine some kids will begin to create their own riddles. I plan to cut this book apart so that it is more usable for kids. I am thinking it would make a great beginning of the year wall display--set up with the game. I envision a wall with several of these mounted inviting kids and families visiting the library to give them a try. Then a basket with the remaining pages (laminated and placed in a cute basket) on the table with the games.

Just another invitation into the game and into word play for kids!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Literacies For All Summer Institute

The theme for NCTE's Whole Language Umbrella "Literacies for All Summer Institute" was

Reflecting on Our Practice: Pathways and Possibilities

Kathryn Mitchell Pierce, a writing teacher, and Edward Kastner, a computer art and photography teacher kicked off the conference with a description of a collaborative PhotoVoice project they did with middle school students. What a fabulous project with so many possibilities for students of all ages. I'm inspired to figure out how I can get digital cameras for my students to take home...

Friday's featured speaker was Eric Paulson, who showed us a fascinating "map" of a reader's eye movements when reading a variety of texts. He discussed the implications of eye movements on miscue analysis. Fascinating!

NCTE past president Kylene Beers and her colleague Robert Probst talked about "a new set of strategies we'll call Notice and Note Mini-lessons that we're using with struggling readers to help them read a literary text more critically." I can't wait to try these strategies with my fourth graders! Here I am with Kylene, Robert and Katie Van Sluys, solving Kylene's Google Reader problem.

Franki and I took a little field trip to Indianapolis' independent children's book store, Kids Ink. We also visited the cupcake shop next door to the bookstore, and the bistro next door to the cupcake shop. It's a marvelously dangerous little neighborhood!

On Saturday, we started the day with children's author Kevin O'Malley giving us a "funny and irreverent look at the world of boys and men in publishing."

Bess Altwerger, Brian Cambourne and Richard Meyer led a fascinating discussion on the future of whole language.

Beatrice Mazoyer, Hadley Smillie and Katie Van Sluys gave their perspectives on the importance of share time in the writing workshop.

We ventured into downtown Indianapolis for dinner Saturday night with David and Pat Schultz. What a fun restaurant!

Franki closed the conference on Sunday morning by "Making the Joy of Teaching and Learning Contagious." You can tell by the joy on the faces below that she was successful! (With Dorothy Watson and Rudine Simms Bishop; with Bess Altwerger and Katie Van Sluys; Katie Van Sluys and me.)

Monday, July 12, 2010

2 New Books from Cover to Cover

I went to Cover to Cover to pick up two middle grade novels that are on my To-Be-Read pile. If you have not been following Donalyn Miller on her Book Whisperer blog, she is finishing a book a day this summer. This has been costing me a bit of money so after this new update, I had to order COSMIC and THE WATER SEEKER. I am excited to read them both.

I wasn't in the mood to buy much else. My house seems to have been taken over by books that I don't have time for. So, as Beth showed me several new books, I told her that I had to REALLY REALLY love them if I was going to buy them. Well, I found two that I just LOVED LOVED LOVED--I totally needed them.

The first was a nonfiction book called ORANGUTANS ARE TICKLISH: FUN FACTS FROM AN ANIMAL PHOTOGRAPHER by Steve Grubman and Jill Davis. The cover makes you want to pick it up--a great photo of a fun orangutan! This is a great book that I am sure kids of all ages will love. Each spread focuses on one animal. Against a white background, the animal photos are amazing. A few paragraphs of a good size print accompany each animal. The writing is fun and includes lots of fun facts about each animal. My favorite part is the photography info. As an introduction to the book, Steve Grubman tells about his life as an animal photographer--what is involved, how he prepares, the number of people who help at a shoot, etc. Then throughout the book, Steve gives a little tidbit about each animal photo shoot. He says things like, "I had to lie on my belly to get this shot." The final pages of the book include more fun facts. This is a great book in so many ways. The photos are amazing. But the writing is fun. It would be a great mentor text for kids doing any research writing on animals. Each animal has a few paragraphs of writing next to the photo. They are good samples for kids to learn from. I also love the photography piece--I love that it is embedded in the text. Kids can really enjoy the book but also stop to think about how they created it. It is a great combination.

The other book I picked up was SWIM! SWIM! by Lerch (a snazzy, handsome, charismatic fish). I was drawn to this one because it is a great picture book in graphic novel form. If I find great graphica for young children, I like to buy those to add to the collection. This is definitely a picture book but it is set up in graphic novel/comic form with frames and talking bubbles to tell the story. This is the story of Lerch--a fish in a bowl who is desperate for a friend. He looks everywhere and almost gives up. (Even though he is by himself, his words and thoughts give you an insight into his amusing personality:-) Finally, when he has almost given up, he has a friend. The ending leaves readers with a bit to wonder about. There is lots to love about this book too. First of all, the illustrations are great. Great colors. Huge characters whose eyes and facial expressions tell so much of the story. The text is simple enough for newer readers but the story is interesting enough to hold the attention of older kids. An all around fun book.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Poetry Friday -- I Learn By Going Where I Have To Go

by Theodore Roethke

We think by feeling. What is there to know?
I hear my being dance from ear to ear.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Of those so close beside me, which are you?
God bless the Ground! I shall walk softly there,
And learn by going where I have to go.

Carol has the Poetry Friday Roundup today at Carol's Corner.

The 7/16 Roundup is at my juicy little universe with Heidi Mordhorst

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Clementine, Friend of the Week

Clementine, Friend of the Week
by Sara Pennypacker
illustrated by Marla Frazee
Disney*Hyperion Books, on shelves July 27
review copy read in ARC received at ALA

Don't worry. There won't be a single plot spoiler here. Instead, let's consider the craft of a writer who can keep the fourth book in an "ages 7-10" series just as fresh and delightful as the other three.

1. She assumes you know the characters, so she digs deeper into what makes each character tick. She continues to make her characters more and more three-dimensional, not just "the younger sister who takes risks and the older brother who carries his backpack and research books everywhere." (Sorry Jack and Annie, but it's true. Except Jack left his backpack at home in the latest book, so that's a start!) Clementine and Margaret are complicated, quirky characters who make surprising and heart-rendering choices. Even Mitchell, Margaret's brother who is N-O-T not Clementine's boyfriend, comes into clearer focus in this book. (Margaret...Mitchell. I just noticed that. A quiet little homage by Ms. Pennypacker, or just two alliterative names?)

2. The plot structure of ALVIN HO seems to me to be "random and vaguely related stuff happens." (If I'm wrong, please enlighten me.) On the other hand, Sara Pennypacker has used plot and subplot in as sophisticated a way as Stieg Larsson. Pennypacker uses ONE plot (friend of the week) and ONE subplot (Moisturizer the kitten), rather than six or seven of each, but she makes plot and subplot mirror and resonate and foreshadow and dovetail.

3. She tackles big, serious issues in a way that makes it fun and unthreatening to think about. In this case, Friendship: what does it look like, sound like, act like? what is it? what is it not? how do you grow it?

(On a side note -- over the course of writing this post, I am hatching an idea for a beginning-of-the-year fourth grade unit of study on series books. If we can talk about plot and subplot, character development, and theme with Clementine (or Cleo, or Jack and Annie, or Alvin Ho, or Ting and Ling, or Sassy...), aren't children more likely to notice these things themselves when they read longer, more complicated chapter books? The catch-words "scaffolding" and "differentiation" are ringing in my ears...)

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

ROCKY ROAD by Rose Kent

I have been anxious for this new book by Rose Kent to be released for a while. After having read and loved KIMCHI AND CALAMARI, I was so happy to receive a copy of ROCKY ROAD from Random House.

ROCKY ROAD is the story of Tess Dobson and her family. Her mother, who has patterns of good and bad days, decides to move the family from Texas to Schenectady, New York to open an ice cream shop. Tess is worried about the plan and has trouble supporting it at first. But, they make the move and start working on the shop that mom has decided to name, "A Cherry on Top". Lots of obstacles and surprises are in store. Tess isn't immediately happy with the apartment that they've rented as it is in a senior citizen building. Tess is the one who has to do most of the caring for her younger brother, Jordan, who is deaf, while her mother gets the shop ready to open. And the downtown area where Tess's mother has decided to put the ice-cream shop is a run-down part of town which might make it hard to find customers.

But, slowly things start to come together for Tess and her family. She makes great friends in the apartment building--a genuinely caring community who takes in and supports Tess and her family. Tess finds friends and a place to contribute in school and she eventually gets involved in helping out with "A Cherry on Top." And Tess's mother does amazing work to pull together a unique business that brings energy back to the city. Although everything isn't perfect and the problems Tess faces are big ones, things get better for her and she grows up a bit through the process.

Rose Kent does a great job of dealing with hard issues in the context of a middle grade novel. In this novel, Kent addresses many hard issues that are part of life. She does so in a way that makes them very accessible to 9-12 year olds. She helps us, as readers, see people for who they are beyond the troubles they have. She is brilliant at creating characters we care about. I found myself not only caring deeply about Tess, but also caring about the community that is supporting her.

The ice cream theme throughout the book is a fun one. My family, like Tess's, loves ice cream. It was fun to be part of a family creating an ice cream shop similar to those we love around here! Throughout the book, ice cream shop tips are included and at the end of the book, recipes for some of the ice cream treats sold at the store are shared. Rose Kent also includes information about what your favorite kind of ice cream tells about you!

I love the way that Rose Kent combines something as fun as ice cream with difficult life issues. A great combination that works well. I think this would be a great book for book clubs in upper elementary classrooms. I am sure kids will have lots to think and talk about. And they would have no trouble deciding on a snack for the book club to enjoy while chatting!

Rocky Road Book Trailer from Rose Kent on Vimeo.

Monday, July 05, 2010


I received BUG ZOO from Dorling Kindersley Publishers. It immediately caught my eye as a great one for kids and every time I pick it up, I notice more about it that I love.

Kids love the outdoors and anything having to do with it. This book invites kids to begin their own "Bug Zoo" and includes all of the information they need to do so. The author begins with an introduction and his experience as a child who built his own bug zoo. He is really inviting them to be scientists, which I love. In the introduction, he says, "Building a zoo means you can become an explorer, a hunter, a collector of fine zoological specimens, and of course, a zookeeper." The author follows the introduction with a list of supplies you need. The tools needed include a notebook (for observations, measurements, etc.), a USB microscope, a tea strainer (to serve as a net), and more. Except for the microscope, the list of supplies includes things that most kids have around the house.

Before the book gets into specific bugs, there is a page on how to catch and keep the bugs for your bug zoo. Ways to capture bugs and types containers to keep them in are the focus for this section.

The remainder of the book focuses on bugs readers can collect for their bug zoos. Each two-page spread includes information on the bug, great photos, where to find them, what they eat, and more. Each page has information that is unique to that bug. A good combination of text and photos make this seem doable.

I am not really a person who would want to create a bug zoo. However this book makes it seem doable and fun. I can see this as something kids can do to explore the outdoors in a way that lets them really examine and care for bugs. I can imagine a bug zoo on the shelf of the library or in a classroom. The author is so detailed in sharing ways to create the right environment, securing the container so the bugs don't get loose and more.

This book seems like one that would appeal to kids of all ages. I can see all K-5 students in the library picking this up. Even if you have no intention of starting a bug zoo, you can learn so much about the bugs included by reading the book and looking at the photos. This book has many options for readers.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Doo Dah Parade Silliness

This parade makes fun of just about everything. It is freedom of speech and expression in action. Happy Independence Day!

Measuring the Amount of Summer We Have Left

At the beginning of June, the vines in the Old Worthington flower baskets
have just begun to grow.

At the beginning of July,
the vines are halfway to the ground.

When we turn the calendar page from July to August,
and our thoughts from summer to school,
the vines will be all the way to the ground.

This is one way to measure
how much summer we have left.

(Enjoy it while you've got it...independence from schoolwork, that is!!)