Tuesday, August 31, 2010


When I taught Kindergarten and 1st grade, I had a huge collection of alphabet books in my classroom. They are such a great genre for young children.  Now that I am a librarian, I don't think we can have too many good alphabet books. So, I am always thrilled when I find a good new alphabet book to add to the collection.

Yesterday at Cover to Cover, I spotted A FABULOUS FAIR ALPHABET by Debra Frasier. The colors on the cover immediately caught my eye. Bright, bold colors against a white background.

Each page of this great alphabet book focuses on one thing that you see at the fair. Cotton Candy....Lemonade....Tractor. Alongside the illustration of the object is the word, made up of various letter styles from the fair.  Around the page are many versions of the letter that the word starts with. From reading the inside flap of the book, I learned that Debra Frasier loves the state fair and took photos of the lettering at the fair.  She used these photos to create this book and the end pages give a clue into some of her work. They are filled with photos of the fair--photos that include lettering and photos that do not include lettering.

I love so much about this book.  First of all, I love cotton candy and any book that includes cotton candy is a must-have for me.  But I love the letter and they way they are used on each page. So many different types of each letter.  For young children who are just starting to recognize the different ways one letter can look, this is a great resource. I can see kids wanting to create their own words out of letters they find in newspapers and magazines.  For older kids, this is an amazing piece of art.  So much to look at on every page.

I was thrilled to find a fun game and video from Debra Frasier connected to this book. If you visit her website, you can download a game card to take with you to the fair--looking for words all over.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Planning for My Professional Learning 2010-11

I am so energized by all that I have been learning lately.  There are so many exciting opportunities for our students. I know that, for me, my own learning is key to the work I do with kids. Even though so much of my learning comes from reading blogs and finding resources on Twitter, I like to go to a few conferences every year.  I have always found it important to keep up with the thinking and learning through these kinds of events.  They all help keep me focused on the right work. There are so many opportunities for learning and I want to take advantage of those that I think will support my goals this year. There are so many great opportunities, it is always hard to decide on the most worthwhile and doable events. Luckily, most of these events take place on weekends. I have always thought it was well worth it to spend a few weekends dedicated to my own learning. I can also take a personal day or two each day to attend conferences if I need to.

I am taking another course via distance learning (University of Alberta's amazing program) toward a degree in Teacher-Librarianship.  My fall course focuses on Web 2.0 and it is right where my thinking is right now. Talking and thinking and learning with others on this topic will be great fun and I am hoping to figure out what all of this means for the elementary library.

On October 2, The Literacy Connection is sponsoring a daylong workshop with Christian Long on Designing a 21st Century Learning Environment.  This will be perfect timing for this thinking.  As you know if you read this blog, it was Christian Long who introduced me to The Third Teacher and I have had the opportunity to hear him talk at the Ohio Summit and at Dublin City Schools' Opening Day Convocation. He is grounded in his beliefs about kids and I am anxious to learn from him for a full day at this event.  Plus, I love the Literacy Connection events because I love having time to learn from and with this group of people.

Jennifer Branch of the University of Alberta told us about the 2010 SLJ Leadership Summit-The Future of Reading in Chicago this fall.  The speakers look amazing. There are a few of us from my district who will attend and I'll also get to meet the people I am taking classes with--face to face! I have already learned so much from my online course that it will be nice to get to meet "in real life". This summit looks to be packed with information and new learning, specific to school libraries.

Of course, my highlight of the fall is always NCTE's Annual Convention in November in Orlando.  It is always the place where I reconnect with others and learn from amazing educators each year.  I went to my first NCTE convention about 20 years ago and have been hooked ever since.  As a literacy educator, this is the place where the best thinking comes together and grows each year.  This year, I am looking forward to Thursday's sessions with Bud Hunt, Troy Hicks and Sara Kajder. I am also thrilled to be able to be part of the Elementary Section Get-Together in which Philippa Stratton will be honored. On Sunday, I'll be presenting with Mary Lee, Donalyn Miller, and Aimee Buckner.

I have been wanting to attend Educon at SLA for a few years . This year, I am planning to attending Educon 2.3 in January. I so appreciate that the bulk of this conference is over the weekend.  I have learned so much from the work of Chris Lehmann and all of the others who have been part of Educon that I am looking forward to hearing their latest thinking and in participating in this event. (If you have not heard Chris Lehman's TED talk or his graduation speech, they both give you a sense of what SLA is about.

In February, we will host the 22nd Dublin Literacy Conference. This year, professional speakers include Kelly Gallagher, Patrick Allen, Troy Hicks, and Christian Long. Children's authors include Brian Pinkney, Amy Krouse Rosenthal, Wendy Mass and Loren Long.  (Site for that will be coming soon.)

In April, I will have the opportunity to hear Debbie Miller in Columbus. Debbie will be the speaker at The Literacy Connection's yearlong study. We will begin the year in October and we will study Debbie's newest book,  Teaching With Intention. In April, Debbie will do demonstration teaching as well as a workshop for participants. This yearlong study is always a highlight.  Last year, Samantha Bennett was amazing and I am so looking forward to learning from Debbie Miller this year.

And, I would LOVE to attend November Learning/BLC 11 again next summer. BLC10 was the best learning I've had in a long time and I find myself reflecting on the speakers there often.  Alan November and his group put on such an amazing event.

So, my year is packed with great learning opportunities already. I am sure some new events will pop up as the year goes on, but I find that a monthly dose of great thinking and learning is perfect for me.  It helps focus my thinking a bit when working with students.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Four More Cool Teachers

Keep those nominations for Cool Teachers in Children's Literature coming in! These newest Cool Teachers bring us up to 139!!

•Mr. Tripp in Justin Fisher Declares War by James Prellar, reviewed by Franki here.

•Mrs. Peterson in The Junkyard Wonders by Patricia Polacco, to be reviewed by Karen at Literate Lives soon.

•Miss O'Grady in Busing Brewster by Richard Michelson, reviewed by Carol at Carol's Corner.

•Mr. Boldova in the Charlie Bone series by Jenny Nimmo, nominated by Tabatha at The Opposite of Indifference.

Patrick at All-En-A-Day's Work sent along a link to his review of Word After Word After Word by Patricia MacLachlan to stand in for the woefully missing review here.

Mister Gee in Once Upon an Ordinary School Day was already on our list, but you can check out this review from Playing By the Book to see why Mister Gee's a Cool Teacher (and to get some ideas for extending the book with music and art).

Friday, August 27, 2010

Poetry Friday: Twitter Search Poem

I've searched every poem site I know for poems about voice (lost mine on the second day of school) or hot tea (I'm drinking some now, with lemon and honey and a little extra sumpin' to help me sleep).

Nothing spoke to me, so I invented a new poetry form: the Twitter Search Poem. (Googled it; can't find any. I claim the invention.)

Here's how I wrote my Twitter Search Poem: I searched "laryngitis" on Twitter. I wrote/found this poem using bits and pieces of actual recent Tweets:

How's Ur Voice Dear?
found on Twitter by Mary Lee Hahn

Feels like I've been hit by a bus,
Sounds like a chipmunk with laryngitis.

If I have laryngitis I will GET. CRAZY.
I just want to be able to speak again.

Even with laryngitis I WILL WIN.
I beamed laryngitis rays at him; I laryngitis you.

Right now I wish dogs could get laryngitis...
Can cats get laryngitis?

Skillful listening is the best remedy for
loneliness, loquaciousness, and laryngitis.

Kate has the Poetry Friday roundup this week at Book Aunt.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Some Great New Middle Grade Novels

I have read quite a few amazing middle grade novels this summer.  I am thrilled with a trend I am seeing with authors expanding the notion of what it means to be a family.  I am also excited about the way children are being portrayed in some of the books I've read. I am also thrilled that many of the books deal with looking beyond a child's disability or life circumstance.  These things do not define the child. So often, a book about a child with a difficult life circumstance focuses on the challenge or issue the child faces.   Since I am late on reviewing these, I will connect you to lots of others who have reviewed these books. They are all definitely worth reading if you are a teacher of middle grade/middle school kids.

OUT OF MY MIND by Sharon Draper
This story is told by Melody, a child who is in a wheelchair and cannot talk.  The story deals with her struggles and accomplishments and the frustrations she often feels at not always being able to communicate.  The book definitely looks beyond Melody's disability to all that she is. 

TOUCH BLUE by Cynthia Lord takes place on a small island in Maine. Because the island school may close due to the small number of children on the island, several families decide to take in foster children to keep it open.  This is the story of Tess's family and their foster child, Aaron. A powerful story of wat it means to belong. (Great reviews of this book at Carol's Corner and Sarah Laurence Blog.)

KEEPER by Kathi Appelt is the story of a little girl named Keeper. Keeper's mother left when she was three and Keeper believes that she is a mermaid. Keeper goes looking for her mother when things go wrong, hoping she can fix things.  She learns that the people who love her are the ones who are right there.  
(Reviews at Reading Nook and A Fuse #8 Production.)

In MOCKINGBIRD by Kathryn Erskine, Caitlin's is dealing with the loss of her older brother in this story. Caitlin is a child with Asperger's Syndrome and her brother was the person who helped her make sense of the world.  As Caitlin and her father work through their grief, they also learn to understand each other better.

AS SIMPLE AS IT SEEMS by Sarah Weeks takes on a different issue. Verbena discovers that she was exposed to alcohol before birth and begins to wonder about the effects of fetal alcohol syndrome.  Although it explains her small size and learning difficulty, she worries about what else it means about who she is.
(Reviews at Literate Lives and Library Voice.)

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A Great Day at Princeton Day School

Bev and Rebecca enjoying some lemonade before dinner!
A few weeks ago, I spent a day working with teachers at Princeton Day School in New Jersey. It was a great day put together by 3rd grade teacher, Bev Gallagher. If you don't know Bev, she is an amazing 3rd grade teacher who is also committed to quality professional development. I had met Bev several times and had heard about the work of the Princeton Day School from others who had visited. As I expected, Bev organized an amazing day for teachers. We met in a great room and had energizing learning and conversations all day. It was such a brilliant group of teachers. So much powerful discussion on so many topics connected to literacy.

One of the highs of the day was hearing Rebecca Kai Dotlich read from Bella and Bean. Bella and Bean is one of my all-time favorites. Love those girls! So, imagine how thrilled I was when I found out that I'd get to meet Rebecca during my day at PDS. Well, not only did I get to meet her, but I got to hear her presentation and we had lots of time to chat on the way to/from the airport, etc. What a thrill! To hear an author you love read a book you love, what could be better!? I am waiting patiently for the next Bella and Bean book to be published. I have hoped that these girls become their own series since the first time I read the book. Still crossing my fingers!

Rebecca reading from BELLA AND BEAN!
I was also thrilled to discover that IN THE SPIN OF THINGS: POETRY IN MOTION has been released in paperback. Rebecca was kind enough to share a copy of the book with me. I have a copy from long ago but its availability in paperback opens so many doors. Having several copies of this book in a room would be great for poetry reading and writing. This poetry book, if you don't know it, is a book filled with poems about ordinary things. Rebecca brings a joy to these things that only her poetry can. The rhythm and surprising word choice makes these fun for kids of all ages. If you know WHEN RIDDLES COME RUMBLING by Dotlich, this book has a similar feel to it. I am excited to know that it is out in paperback.

I feel so lucky to have spent the day at Princeton Day School with such amazing teachers. I learned so much from Bev and Rebecca. But I also learned from all of the participants of the workshop. I was lucky this summer to be part of some amazing professional development sessions across the country. To end the summer at Princeton Day School was quite a treat!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Justin Fisher Declares War by James Preller

JUSTIN FISHER DECLARES WAR was my last read of the summer. I am a huge James Preller fan but this may be my favorite from his list. Most of my teaching life has been in grades 3, 4, and 5. I feel very at home in 4th and 5th grade classrooms. I love the age and James Preller must also love this age. He really understands them and the struggles they deal with. Over the years, I have learned what a huge transition this age is for kids. They go from being little kids, to being big kids and it is sometimes a little confusing.

In this book, we learn that since 3rd grade, Justin Fisher has been the class clown. He is always up to something. He has good friends but in 5th grade, that seems to be changing. His friends and classmates have had enough and are starting to keep their distance. For me, this book is about figuring things out. Things that are cute and funny when you are 8, are no longer cute and funny when you are 11. This is a hard lesson for kids and finding their place in the world gets trickier. But Justin finds his way, thanks to an amazing young teacher (one that clearly deserves a spot on 100 Cool Teachers in Children's Lit!).

If I were in the classroom this year, this would probably be my first read aloud. The first read aloud has always been key and the choice is always a hard one but there are so many reasons that JUSTIN FISHER DECLARES WAR would make a great first read aloud. First of all, it will appeal to both boys and girls. Justin is a character that you cheer for and also one that does some crazy things that make you laugh. For me, laughter is always important in that first read aloud. It helps the community grow and helps everyone feel comfortable. The message "we will laugh here" is one I want kids to know right away. Secondly, the conversation that would happen around a book like this would be powerful. And this book will only provide the beginning of these conversations. James Preller understands this age level and kids will see themselves and their classmates in this book. Finally, the book's length would give lots of time for discussion--135 pages makes it short enough to set the stage for great books and great conversation. I am so hoping someone reads this book aloud early in the year and blogs about the conversations!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

More Cool Teachers

We're up to 135 Cool Teachers in Children's Literature on the list we started in 2006.

Here are the most recent additions:

Ms. Mirabel in Word After Word After Word (how have we not reviewed this?!?!)
Madame Lucille in Brontorina by James Howe (reviewed here by Franki)
Miss Palma in After Ever After by Jordan Sonnenblick (to be reviewed soon by Mary Lee)
Ms. Raymond in Dotty by Erica S. Perl (to be reviewed soon by Mary Lee)

Have you met any cool teachers in the books you've read recently? Let us know!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Poetry Friday -- First Day

In memory of my
fourth grade teacher
Faye Bryner

For the 32 First Days in your career,
and especially for the one we shared.

author unknown

and what are the important questions anyway
on this first day of school after a night of no sleep
wondering even fearing how this day will go and all the rest
hoping it unfolds neatly as lesson plans promise
probably not and in that thought works a hint of unreadiness
and a quiet panic that hovers through the black coffee
yet later when we gather in first morning expectancy
we do manage to breathe though not deeply
my years are useless I am as new here
when the bell rings as all those now looking at me
but what is this day and all the rest about
not of course rules and study habits or even
a bag full of knowledge somehow packed
in all those books tidy on each desk
rather an urge to know that pushes us into wondering
about clouds becoming raindrops
from another side of the world or why the flower
outside the window blooms at this precise moment
where the songs in my heart come from
and where they are going all those questions
not in my curriculum guide
but that I now see in a new girl who can't stay
in her seat and dances an interruption around the room
negotiates attention midsentence and at the end of my wits
tells me a story during lunch that is dazzling and profound
and in one brief moment I see her soul in love with imagination
that must move and wave and try to fly
and this is what I must relearn on this first day
that in our remembered self is an urge to create
I can look for it or not but my choice had better
be made with love and reverence for what we all want is to express
our unique genius no matter what
because that is who we are
and after all the only question worth pursuing anyway
no wonder the night is full of sleeplessness
this is a question of life nothing else comes close
I remember now why I'm here and frightened
and so in awe of this moment
and these children

To all the teachers who already have or who will welcome a new class of students in the next days or weeks, and to the family members sending us their beloved ones to care for and nurture and teach, and to our students, "alive with imagination" -- LET'S MAKE IT A GREAT SCHOOL YEAR!

Laura has the Poetry Friday roundup today at Teach Poetry K-12.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010


I took a chocolate tasting class a couple of months ago (planned and taught by Reference Librarian extraordinaire Bill Meltzer at Old Worthington Library). I decided then and there that I wanted my students' experience in our classroom to feel like, if not taste like, the chocolate tasting classroom that night.

Here's what I learned about my fourth grade classroom at the chocolate tasting class:

I understand that not every child loves school the way I did (and still do), but I hope to make my classroom so safe and inviting that my students look forward to our time together.

Although we can't work with chocolate in our classroom every day, I will do my best to build hands-on activities into every day, if not every lesson. With a new SmartBoard, and Franki's brilliant thinking about learning to use it WITH the students, I think I've got a pretty good head start on this one.

Scaffolding. I want stay focused on scaffolding, not on rescuing. (see also Risk-taking below)

I don't want to be the kind of teacher who must have absolute control over every moment of every day. First of all, I'd go crazy, and second of all, how would the children learn to control themselves? Since I won't have absolute control, I'll have to lighten up and not sweat it when the students...improvise, shall we call it.

Learning is social. I will honor that. Nuff said.

No matter how hard we work every day to learn and grow and achieve and improve and succeed...we also need to have FUN.
Every. Single. Day.

I will work hard to be a valuable resource to my students in their learning, and to make sure that they see me learning right alongside them.

I will remember the importance of detailed planning. I WILL remember the importance of detailed planning. Every Sunday night, I will REMEMBER the importance of detailed planning.

Some teaching is about instruction, but a goodly amount of it is simply about invitation. Rather than finishing units or even lessons, I'll do my best to point to the resources that students can us to continue their learning and exploring.

We started by eating a half of a piece of Dove dark chocolate. Then we went on to taste chocolates of increasing amounts of cocoa. Each time we moved to the next level, we learned how to identify and name the new flavors and "notes" we were tasting. The next-to-last piece we tasted was 100% cocoa. I wouldn't care to sit down and eat a whole bar of it, but I had learned, step by step, to appreciate it for what it was. We ended by eating the other half of the Dove. It just tasted sweet. There were none of the nuances of flavor and texture that we had learned, in one short hour, to appreciate.

And so we circle back to my first point -- I want my students to WANT to come to school because of the fun and fascinating learning we'll be doing. I want them to be willing to take risks. Cheese tasting is very risky for me, especially since I know how much Bill knows about cheese. I'm a little leery of tasting some of the cheeses he thinks are luscious...but I'll take the risk and try to learn what I need to know to enjoy them.

Here's to a delicious new school year!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Adventures of Ook and Gluk: Kung-Fu Cavemen From the Future

The Adventures of Ook and Gluk: Kung Fu Cavemen From the Future
The second graphic novel by George Beard and Harold Hutchins,
the creators of CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS (aka Dav Pilkey)
Scholastic (Blue Sky Press), 2010
Review copy purchased with my very own money.

I'm sorry to have to tell the Newbery Committee this, but I'm afraid that while this book will never even be considered for the Newbery Medal, it is likely to be the most popular book in my fourth grade classroom in the first weeks of school.

As a public service to all nervous teachers, parents, librarians and grandparents, I have read this book cover to cover and I pronounce it to be hysterically funny.  Laugh out loud funny. I also would like to assure the above audiences that I do not believe that the spelling mistakes that George and Harold make in their comics will in any way cause children's brains to rot and impair their ability to learn to spell correctly or write coherently. If the children who read this book don't know that there are misspelled words, they'll still be able to understand and enjoy the story. If the children who read this book DO know that there are misspelled words, well, hooray that they can recognize the misspellings. They'll still be able to understand and enjoy the story.

And while we're on the subject of spelling, phonics, and understanding a story, Pilkey totally rewards his readers for sounding out long (but not hard) words. One character is named Chief Goppernopper.  He is variously referred to as Chief Grasshopper, Gobstopper, and Gumwrapper (to name a few).  Pilkey goes off on extended riffs of rhyming with Gluk's name (rhymes with duck, stuck, truck...) and Ook's name (rhymes with duke, spook, kook...).

There are kid-level allusions to popular culture: the whole section where they learn Kung Fu in the future hearkens back to Karate Kid, and there are chapter title pages that are Star Wars and Jurassic Park take-offs.  There are puns, like on Flip-o-rama #8:  "Mechasaurus Wrecks!" (Tyrannosaurus Rex?) where the robot dinosaurs destroy a tower. There are, as in the Captain Underpants books, billboards that get their meaning changed, in this case when they are zapped by futuristic ray guns in a chase scene. For example, "I went to BOB'S POOLS to buy my pool! Now I dive in my pool, swim under the waves, and wear a BIG smile!!!" becomes "I went POO poo in my underwear".  Besides the potty humor, there is a decent amount of barf humor. Kid humor. Spot-on kid humor.

Find out more at Dav Pilkey's website, and at the Scholastic website. But most of all, don't be afraid of this book.

Monday, August 16, 2010

BRONTORINA by James Howe: A Great Book (with a great message to teachers)

If you have been reading the blog over the summer, you know that I believe strongly that design and environment are critical to children's growth as learners.  I believe wholeheartedly that if a child isn't successful in school, there is something in the environment that can be changed to better meet the child's needs.  So, I was THRILLED when I found the book BRONTORINA by James Howe.

Brontorina, a very large dinosaur, had a dream. She wanted to dance.  Even though she did not have the right shoes (they don't make them in her size after all), she knew that in her heart she was a ballerina.  So, Madame Lucille lets Brontorina join her dance class. But, Brontorina's head hits the ceiling, her tail hits things it isn't supposed to, and she almost falls on a piano.  Madame Lucille realizes that she can no longer help Brontorina learn to dance--she is just too big.  But then a Clara's mother surprises Brontorina with a pair of specially made shoes.  And Madame Lucille realizes that the problem is not that Brontorina is too big--rather her studio is too small!  So, they find a place where everyone can be a successful dancer.

This is a great fun story, one that reminds me of others written on the topic of believing in your dream. Kids will love the hopeful story, the fun illustrations and the clever talking bubbles throughout the book.

For me and for teachers, this book reminds us of the importance of creating a space that helps every child be successful. Just as it was very easy for Madame Lucille to begin by putting the blame on Brontorina for being too big,  we often put the blame on students who are not successful. This is a great reminder that if we create the right environment, all learners can be successful.  Madame Lucille definitely belongs on our "100+ Cool Teachers in Children's Literature" list. Rather than blaming the student, she takes responsibility for creating an environment in which every student can be successful

I watched a great video that would work nicely to begin conversations with colleagues about our role in not blaming the children. "It's Never the Kids' Fault" by Greg Whitby is a short, powerful clip that reminds us that theory-based practice works with all students.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Two From the Columbus Zoo

Frenemies for Life
by John E. Becker, Ph.D.
School Street Media (for the Columbus Zoological Park Assn.), 2010

The Columbus Zoo is famous for its cheetah conservation program. Anatolian Shepherd Dogs have begun to be used in cheetah conservation, and this book explains how these natural enemies have become so important to each other. The dogs are bred and trained to protect herds of livestock (goats or sheep). When a cheetah approaches, the dog scares it away. No livestock are killed and the livestock owners do not feel the need to kill any cheetahs. The Columbus Zoo has raised two Anatolian shepherd pups and two cheetah kittens together to use to educate the public about this unique cheetah conservation effort.

This is a great little book with one- or two-page chapters and fabulous photography. It's the kind of nonfiction book a 3rd-5th grader could read cover to cover. We are always on the look-out for nonfiction our students can READ and not just BROWSE.

Beco's Big Year
by Linda Stanek
School Street Media (for the Columbus Zoological Park Assn.), 2010

If you live in Central Ohio and didn't know that there was a new baby elephant at the Zoo last year, you must have been living in a cave!

This book by local author Linda Stanek documents Beco the baby elephant's first year. I just dare you to read this book without saying, "Awww..."! The book is organized like a diary or journal, by date, and the entries are short and illustrated with lots of pictures. There are information boxes throughout that give general elephant information to go along with the milestones of Beco's first year.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Exploring Science

The Big Idea Science Book
DK Publishing, 2010
review copy provided by the publisher

I think this encyclopedia of science has a lot of potential for discussion and browsing in the upper elementary and middle school classroom. The basic premise is that there are 24 key concepts or "Big Ideas" in science ("Based on a revolutionary new approach to learning by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe..." -- of Understanding By Design fame.) There are 8 Big Ideas each for Life, Earth, and Physical Science. Each two-page spread (very DK-ish with eye-catching photography, short article in the top left corner, lots of graphics and smaller pictures with captions) tells which of the Big Ideas relate to that topic.  Cell Division relates to three Big Ideas; Coral Reefs relate to eight Big Ideas. The book has a website with related content -- movies, interactive illustrations, some worksheet-ish kinds of things -- that seems to still be under construction. There are some movies that have "part one" but no "part two."  I really wish these resources were complete because I'd use them in my classroom. I do think I'll post the 24 Big Ideas for our reference as we go through our year of science.

I'm a Scientist: Kitchen
DK Publishing, 2010
review copy provided by the publisher

Here's one that would be great at a science center. The materials for each experiment are common items, and the instructions are easy enough for older elementary kids to read themselves, and illustrated with clear enough pictures for younger kids to figure out.  There is a cool fold-out flap on each right-hand page that gives the scientific reasons behind the experiment, as well as some follow-up activities. Some of the experiments need a grown-up, but lots don't. There are experiments for density, static electricity, physics/structures, chemical reactions, magnets, states of matter, and light.

Nature Explorer
DK Publishing, 2010
review copy provided by the publisher

This activity-filled book is divided into the categories Birdwatcher, Bug Hunter, Star Gazer, Rock & Fossil Hunter, Nature Ranger, and Weather Watcher. Each category gives background information, tells what equipment you might need, and gives lots of activities that demonstrate many concepts in each category. This is a book for upper elementary and middle school classrooms. It's a good book for browsing, and for activities teachers might want to add to their weather or plant units. (um...that'd be me!)

Friday, August 13, 2010

Poetry Friday -- In The Wild

In The Wild
by David Elliott
illustrated by Holly Meade
Candlewick Press, August 24, 2010
review copy provided by the publisher

I don't usually review books for Poetry Friday, but if you loved this team's first book of poetry for younger children, On the Farm, (my review is here) you're going to want to see/get their new one!

Holly Meade's woodblock illustrations pop off the page and pull the reader in, and David Elliott's poems make you look again and think and sometimes laugh out loud. The wild animals featured span the globe and a variety of ecosystems. You start with your typical lion, elephant, giraffe, zebra, rhino, but then you get sloth, jaguar, panda, tiger, orangutan, kangaroo, buffalo, wolf, and finally, polar bear.

Every one of Elliott's poems captures the essence of the animal in description (giraffe is "Stilt-walker/Tree-topper/Long-necked/Show-stopper), or in comparison ("...Who would have guessed/the Elephant/is so much like a cloud?"). His poems are short and accessible and perfect for reading aloud.

Here are my two favorites, the first because it is also a letter (...and how about that rhyme of forest and before us? Kay Ryan would like that...), and the second because of the nod to William Blake:

Dear Orangutan,

Three cheers to you, man of the forest.
You arrived here long before us.
You paved the way; you saw it through.
How nice to have someone like you
sitting in our family tree.

Sincerely, from your cousin,

We can never touch them,
so we love them from afar;
they are wild and distant ---
the Tiger and the star.

We can never know them;
they are not what we are;
fire, fire, burning bright ---
the tiger and the star.

7-Imp talks to illustrator Holly Meade here.
On the Farm reviewed at Becky's Young Readers, Anastasia's Picture Book of the Day, and Elaine's Wild Rose Reader.

The Poetry Friday round up is at the Stenhouse blog today. They have a new Georgia Heard poem to share with us, so scoot over and check it out!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Why I Don't Like Reading Mysteries

At the end of my post "Mini Lessons From My Summer Reading," I said that reading THE THOUSAND AUTUMNS OF JACOB DE ZOET had clarified for me why I don't generally like reading mysteries.

It seems to me that in a mystery, the author and the detective character are working together to solve the mystery. As the reader, I'm in on lots of the clues, but often, I doesn't have access to all of the clues that it takes to solve the mystery. It frustrates me to no end when the mystery gets solved with information I never had access to.  Because I know that the author will make it impossible (or nearly so) for me to solve the mystery based on the clues provided in the book, I don't really try. I disengage as a reader. For me, reading a mystery is like watching a movie -- I'm on the outside looking in, an observer but not a participant.

In a novel like JACOB DE ZOET, it feels like the author is working directly with me, the reader, to make sense of the story. Every (non-mystery) novel is still a kind of a mystery because the author gives me all the clues or information I will need to make sense of the story.  However, I'm working with the author because it's up to me to pay attention to the clues s/he gives me, to follow the bread crumbs that are dropped for me to follow so that I can construct the story together with the author.  The author trusts me, the reader, to be clever enough and observant enough to make sense of it all.  I like the kind of book where I collaborate with the author to make meaning and solve the puzzle of the story s/he is telling.

What do you think? Agree? Disagree? Is there some joy in reading mysteries that I'm missing?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

A Few Fun New Picture Books

I just found three great new picture books for the library. I think each will make for a fun read aloud. Primary kids will love them.

THE COW LOVES COOKIES is by Karma Wilson, who our students LOVE. This book will definitely be loved. The story takes place on a farm. The farmer goes around the farm to feed the animals.  Each has a special thing to eat, especially the cow.    There is enough rhyming and repetition that it will make for a great read aloud or shared reading. And it is a fun story.  At the end of the story, we learn WHY the cow loves cookies.

I am loving the new Amelia Bedila picture books so I was happy to see AMELIA BEDELIA'S FIRST APPLE PIE by Herman Parish. This book has the usual Amelia Bedelia humor. I love these books because they are so accessible to kids. The words and phrases that confuse Amelia Bedelia are those that they hear often and may need clarification on.  A great character to start conversations about this. This book also includes information about apples, the types of apples, and making apple pie.  A recipe is included at the end of the book!

BEAR IN UNDERWEAR by Todd H. Doodler is a fun book due to the topic of course. Bear is playing hide-and-seek with a bunch of friends. On his way home, he stumbles on a backpack and takes it home.  When his friends convince him to open it, it is filled with a variety of underwear.  Bear tries some on--one pair is too big, another is too small, another is too silly, etc. He finally finds a pair that fit him just right--the tighty whitey underwear.  Amazingly enough, his friends decide they need underwear too and each finds a pair that fit perfectly. Really a hysterical book--what a concept.  Kids will love that the whole book is about underwear and the illustrations are perfect for young children--bright and fun.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

10 Picture Books I've Loved for 10 Years (or more)

It was NOT hard to find books I've loved using in my classroom for 10 years (or more).

It WAS hard to choose only 10.

I could have picked the books of 10 visiting authors from all those years ago (oh the memories): Jean Craighead George, Cynthia Rylant, Moredcai Gerstein, Ron Hirschi, J. Patrick Lewis, Robert D. San Souci, Seymour Simon...

But here's what I wound up with -- 2 poetry, 3 nonfiction and 5 picture books. Remember, it was really hard to pick only 10!!

Funny poetry that wasn't Shel Silverstein!

If You're Not Here, Please Raise Your Hand
by Kalli Dakos

Fresh metaphors. Her polliwogs are "Chubby commas..."  So perfect!

by Kristine O'Connell George

Picture books have never been the same...

by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith

A concise history of the Eastern U.S. that shows the interconnectedness of times and peoples.

by George Ella Lyon

Wordless picture book. How humans change a place over time. Hmm.  Just realized it's the opposite of Lyon's book -- hers goes back in history, this one goes forward in time. Hmm...

by Jeannie Baker

Fun for questioning, predicting, and studying the intricate illustrations.

by Mem Fox

All the small moments of life should be celebrated.

by Byrd Baylor

Thanks to Percy, this book enjoyed a resurgence of popularity this year.


by Leonard Everett Fisher

Was there a time before The Magic School Bus? (And looky there -- it's autographed by both Joanna Cole and Bruce Degen! Wonders never cease!)

by Joanna Cole

Mary Pope Osborne has opened many windows and doors for children. The more diverse my classes become, the more I need this book every year. So that we can learn to understand each other and empathize with each other. (btw -- Ramadan begins the 11th/12th of August this year and will continue until September 9th/10th)

by Mary Pope Osborne

Check out all the 10 for 10 Picture Book posts at Reflect & Refine (Cathy's blog) or Enjoy and Embrace Learning (Mandy's blog).  Join the fun!  Which 10 picture books are the ones you couldn't live or teach without?

10 Picture Books I've Recently Discovered

I love the idea that Cathy and Mandy had for today's picture book celebration--choose 10 picture books that you couldn't live without in your classroom. As I started my list, I realized that I could NEVER narrow it down to 10 so I decided to focus my list a bit. Today, as part of August 10 for 10, I am sharing 10 picture books that I have recently discovered-those that I can't live without. They are not the only 10, but they are 10 newer ones that I have fallen in love with.

CITY DOG, COUNTRY FROG is my favorite book of the year. At first, I wasn't too thrilled to see that Mo was writing about characters other than Pigeon, Piggie, and Elephant. But this book is amazingly powerful for so many reasons. I have read it to children and adults and love it more and more each time I read it.

OTIS by Loren Long is another that is already well-loved in the library. This is a story of Otis, a tractor who is so happy with life until the new big shiny tractor comes to the farm. This is really a story of friendship and loyalty. You will LOVE the characters.

KATIE LOVES THE KITTENS by John Himmelman is a great story for dog lovers. Katie is a dog who gets new kittens at her house. She LOVES the kittens but they don't love her right away.

BELLA AND BEAN by Rebecca Kai Dotlich is a book that I carried around with me for weeks after I discovered it. These two girls are two of my favorite characters of all time and the fact that these girls are poets just adds to the fun.
HOW TO HEAL A BROKEN WING by Bob Graham is one that I read to several grade levels. A great
story about a boy who helps a bird to heal. But if you dig beneath the surface, there are so many great messages in the story and the illustrations. The writing is amazing--not one word wasted.
PETE THE CAT: I LOVE MY WHITE SHOES by Eric Litwin. All you have to do to fall in love with this book is to watch the video of the author sharing it with kids.

I KNOW HERE by Laurel Croza is filled with beautiful writing of home, the place the narrator knows best. Remembering what she loves about her home, she prepares to move to a new place. The writing makes this a great mentor text for kids.

A SMALL BROWN DOG WITH A WET PINK NOSE by Stephanie Stuve-Boden is one of my all-time favorite books about a girl trying to convince her parents that she wants a dog. This little girl is quite clever!

GUESS AGAIN by Mac Barnett is a great rhyming book that is full of surprises!

WAITING FOR WINTER by Sebastian Meschenmoser is a fun book about 3 animals who want to see winter so instead of hibernating they look for snow. Lots of humor in this one too!

Check out all the 10 for 10 Picture Book posts at Reflect & Refine (Cathy's blog) or Enjoy and Embrace Learning (Mandy's blog). Join the fun! Which 10 picture books are the ones you couldn't live or teach without?

Monday, August 09, 2010


If you have not seen Ralph Fletcher's new book, PYROTECHNICS ON THE PAGE: PLAYFUL CRAFT THAT SPARKS WRITING, it is a must-read for writing teachers. In this new book, Ralph shares his wisdom about the need for word play in our work with children. We had the pleasure of interviewing Ralph about the ideas in his new book.

FRANKI: It seems that, although your book is about playing with words, your message is bigger than that. You address the absence of play throughout the day. Can you talk a bit about your concerns with that?

RALPH: Yes. I don't think we value play as a learning environment anymore. We are not teaching corporate executives but, rather, children. Kids love to play. And many researchers have shown that play is a rich learning environment.  Why shouldn't we take advantage of kids' affinity for play?

FRANKI: Why do you think play is important in writing? How can playing with words improve student writing?

RALPH: Strong writing is always fresh and memorable, never formulaic and predictable. When a student writes playfully, he/she imbues the writing with those qualities that make us sit up and take notice.

FRANKI: Talk a bit about how playing with words has been important to your own writing?

RALPH: I play with writing every time I sit down. I'm always wondering: how can I say this in a way that's never been said before? How can I find a new arrangement of words, a new phrase? Wordplay is very important in poetry and picture books, but it's also important in my novels and even my professional books.

FRANKI: When in the process is your language most important? At the beginning or during revision? Do you think all writers focus on language at different times in the process?

RALPH: I once would have answered that question by saying: during revision. Katie Wood recently attended one of my presentations and she stated that she doesn't really think of the stages of writing as being distinct. I realized that she's right! They are all mixed together. I'm thinking about language while I'm drafting, while I'm rereading, and also while I'm revising. So I would say that language play is important throughout the process. It's not confined to any one particular part of the writing process.

FRANKI: You include several lessons in the book to support word play. Do you think there are particular things that kids need to know or be invited to do?

RALPH: Children need lots of examples of wordplay, both from literature as well as from popular culture. They also need to get from their teacher an unambiguous signal to be playful.

FRANKI: Do you think it is more important that children play with words orally or in their writing?

RALPH: Hmmmm, interesting question! I think kids do play with their language in their talk. When they do so, the teacher could "bracket" it, point it out, and invite students to do similar things in their writing. But yes, if we want kids to "have a go" at wordplay, they could try it verbally with another student. Talk gives kids a low-risk high-comfort place where they can begin to experiment with playing around with words. .

FRANKI: You talk about the danger of “naming”. Can you talk a bit about that?

RALPH: When it comes to naming vs. usage I vote with usage every time. Unfortunately, I think we often go no further than having students name the technique. It's nice if students can define alliteration or metaphor, but if they can't use it in their writing--so what?

FRANKI: What is the one thing you hope teachers who read your book walk away with? What is your hope for kids in writing classrooms?

RALPH: I don't know if I can distill it to just one thing. Here are two. First, I think strong writing contains an element of surprise. Wordplay--the surprising, unexpected effect that happens when words rub together--is a great way to create surprise.

Second, it's tempting to look at wordplay as some kind of exotic side dish rather than the "meat-and-potatoes" of real writing. I disagree. I see it as central. It's not merely a way to show off or be clever; rather, it's a way to powerfully hone what you want to say. For instance:   Recently at my sister's wedding, my 80 year old father got up to speak. Here's what he said:

"You know the Wizard of Oz, the moment when the movie goes from black and white to color? Well, the first 22 years of my life were black and white. But when I married my beloved wife Jean, my life switched to brilliant color. I had 52 years of glorious technicolor.  And when she died in 2004 my life went back to black and white."  

When my father finished speaking, everybody had tears in our eyes. His wordplay wasn't merely clever--it created a powerful moment we will never forget.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

SEASONS by Brenda Power

If you subscribe to THE BIG FRESH, Choice Literacy's free weekly newsletter, then you know how wonderful Brenda Power's leads into the week's articles are. Some weeks (many actually), it is like Brenda knows exactly what is going on in our professional lives and she seems to know exactly what to say to help us. Whether it is setting up the school year, dealing with difficult colleagues, balancing our work and family lives, Brenda has stories that help keep us all grounded in good work.

I was thrilled when Brenda decided to compile the best of these pieces into SEASONS: LITERACY LEADERSHIP WISDOM FROM CHOICE LITERACY. I love having these all in one place. And, although I know I have read all of them, or at least skimmed them when they appeared in my Inbox, there are some that I feel like I missed. I imagine I read them quickly as I was trying to juggle many things on a Saturday morning. It is like I have new pieces to discover. For others, I am thrilled about revisiting again and again. I love having them in book form so that I can mark up and tab my favorites.

Brenda gave these out at several Choice Literacy workshops this summer. As I used various pieces to start off workshops, introduce some thinking and give teachers time to talk around issues, I realized how valuable this book is for many. This is a great gift for teachers--essays that span the cycle of the year we know so well. It is also a great thing for administrators, coaches, librarians, and teachers who are always looking for a piece of text to share at staff meetings, student celebrations and study groups. I can see a few of these used in Back-to-School Parent Nights, others used in staff meetings mid-year, and others put in someone's mailbox at just the right moment.

I have read it cover to cover but find myself going back to it often. I will be working with new teachers and mentors this year. I will be scanning it again for a few pieces that would be great to share with those groups.

This tiny book has so many possibilities:-)