Saturday, March 27, 2021

Text Set: Keeping Track of Characters

 Texts for this Text Set have been posted daily on Instagram. 

Follow @TextSets there to get daily updates!

Knowing and keeping track of characters is important for readers at all levels.  There are many ways to think about character, but one challenge readers sometimes have is keeping track of characters across a book. Keeping track of characters requires readers to know characters and to slow down and think about them. This week's text set will focus on books to support conversations on ways to keep track of characters across a text. 

When we talk about keeping track of characters across a text, I love to begin with books that have two characters who have a strong relationship. Often in books with 2 main characters, the two characters have similarities and differences and those differences often become important to the story. Using books such as Ginger and Chrysanthemum and Ling and Ting start great conversations about stopping to think about each character individually as we read. Sticky notes on the cover with things we learn about each character as we read is one way to make this thinking visible.

Making sure to include nonfiction in conversations around characters is important. This fabulous nonfiction picture book--Game Changers: The Story of Venus and Serena Williams-- would invite conversations that build on the work in fiction. Keeping track of people in a story requires that you pay attention to the details about each character.  Connecting the strategies readers use for fiction to nonfiction is important. 

I like Salma the Syrian Chef as part of this study on keeping track of characters because Salma is clearly the main character but she has several people who support her.  These characters are typically flat characters who help the main character solve her problem in different ways. As readers move into more complex texts, flat characters and those in supporting roles become more and more important. These characters are often hard to keep track of because readers don't get to know them well.  Charting these new characters as they come up is a good way to keep track of characters when there are several. 

One of my favorite graphic novels, The Cardboard Kingdom, is one that is filled with interesting characters. Not only are there many characters to keep track of but they also have fictional characters they portray in their play throughout the book. So, to understand each character, you need to know both of the characters identities.  This is a more complex book and probably best for grades 3-6. 

Operation Frog Effect is perfect for middle grade readers to think about characters and keeping track of different characters by knowing them well. This story is told from several perspectives--students in a class- and each is a different writing style, a different font, etc. Hearing from characters in their own voices makes this perfect for this conversation and learning. 

This week's books were linked at Cover to Cover Children's Bookstore. If you are looking for a fabulous children's bookstore to support, this is an amazing one. We are lucky to have them in Central Ohio!


Friday, March 26, 2021

Poetry Friday -- Writing From a Mentor Text

photo via Unsplash

Here is the version we know and love. At the same time I was using this as a mentor text, my students and I were delving into "Nothing Gold Can Stay" by Robert Frost. I think I understand WCW's poem better for reading it alongside Frost, and I think the two poems can be a text set.

This Is Just To Say
by William Carlos Williams

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

Here's my version:

This Is Just To Say -- I'm Retiring
by Mary Lee Hahn, 2021

I have taught
many decades
mostly in
this district

and now
you are probably
for next year

this work is important
so energizing
and so necessary

Yup. I'm done. I have eaten the plums and they were delicious. Spring break begins tomorrow, and after next week, forty more days of being a teacher. It still seems a bit unreal.

I'm looking forward to hosting the First Friday of Poetry Month here next week. I'm really sorry about the hassles of this blog's endless loading. I've tried everything I can to fix it. Thanks in advance for your patience.

Susan has this week's Poetry Friday roundup at Soul Blossom Living.

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Text Set: Word Study and Vocabulary

 Texts for this Text Set have been posted daily on Instagram. Follow @TextSets there to get daily updates!

We want to have joy and inquiry at the heart of our word study and vocabulary work. This week, I'll share a set of books that will celebrate words in various ways. Word study cannot happen without understanding the power and impact of words. 

The Great Big Animal Search Book is a fun book, and at first glance I had no idea all that was in here connected to words and vocabulary. This is a giant search book with really fun illustrations and so many facts about animals. It is a book readers can spend hours and hours with. AND it ALSO introduces readers to a variety of collective nouns (a WADDLE of penguins, a HERD of cows). Such a great way to discover the fun in collective nouns and to explore new vocabulary in the process. 

The Invisible Alphabet gives readers a unique way to think about words. This book is full of words that are invisible--things you don't see (such as AIR).  Reading through this book and then playing with other types of alphabet lists you could create based on a unique category like invisible would be great fun!

I love Ambitious Girl and they way that it takes a single word--ambitious-- and defines and expands on the definition through the whole of the book. Thinking deeply about the perfect word and all that it can be in descriptions and actions is worthy of conversation. 

This book could be used throughout the year for so many things. Just as the previous book explored one word, Dictionary for a Better World explores and deeply digs into several words using poems, quotes, and more. And each word fits under the topic umbrella of a better world. I want young readers to go beyond a dictionary definition of a word and to really think beyond a one-phrase definition. This book invites readers to think about powerful words in a variety of ways to build understanding. Discussing each word as well as its inclusion in the book's theme will add to any word study conversation.  

Of course you'd have to spend weeks with Have I Ever Told You Black Lives Matter before you brought it into word study. The book is powerful and says so much. The fact that there are only words and no illustrations is powerful. The way the words are set on the page is powerful.  So many Black voices are shared in this book.  A perfect book for talking about the power of words, the word we remember, the power of quotes, whose words have power, whose words do we study and remember, etc. could all be important conversations using this book as an anchor. 

This week's books were linked at Cover to Cover Children's Bookstore. If you are looking for a fabulous children's bookstore to support, this is an amazing one. We are lucky to have them in Central Ohio!

You can find a downloadable pdf of this list at 

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Poetry Friday -- A Poetry Challenge

My students love Poetry Friday. They've never experienced it the way we did it in the past -- browsing for a book on the tall white shelf full of poetry, sitting with a partner or two, heads bent over the book, looking for just the right poem, practicing until it could be said just right, then standing in front of classmates to read with loud enough and expressive voices...and getting the feedback of laughter for the funny poems, or sighs for the beautiful ones, and always the finger snaps of appreciation.

Poetry Friday these days is flying through the interweb to a breakout room, pulling up Irene Latham's or Amy LV's rich online resources, choosing a poem, practicing, then flying back to perform from separate squares in the Google Classroom.

Last Friday, several groups chose the same poem on Irene's site. Hearing the poem over and over again gave us a chance to think about the meaning of the title in relationship to the poem. Maybe you saw it? The poem is called WHY RIVER SMILES IN WINTER, but the poem is mostly about the snow. We wondered why the river was smiling, and figured it was kind of sneaky, greedy smile, since it is gulping the fair snow. A casual "We would love to know why you chose that title" resulted in an explanation and an invitation to join Irene for her last winter poem which uses Sleigh Ride by Winslow Homer for inspiration. (Thank you SO MUCH for your generosity, Irene!) One student took the challenge with me. Here are our poems:

picture via wikimedia commons

Sleigh Ride
By: J.L.
For: Irene Latham

Here we go, very fast
Off to make the good times last.
Our sleigh is zooming,
Our fun is blooming,
Out on our wondrous Sleigh Ride.

No need to hide,
No need to cry,
As we ride our worries away.
Here we go,
Happy today.
Out on our wondrous Sleigh Ride.


say the runners
sliding through the snow

say the reigns
asking horse to go

ching ching
say the bells
on the harness and the sleigh

flap flap
say the wings
of the crows that show the way

say moon and clouds
thanks for coming out to play

© Mary Lee Hahn, 2021

Linda B. has a TIMEly post at TeacherDance for our Poetry Friday Roundup, and be sure to check in with Susan at Soul Blossom Living to share your NPM project and logo. She'll be doing the NPM project roundup this year because of some tech issues Jama's having. 

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Text Set: Metaphors

 Texts for this Text Set have been posted daily on Instagram. Follow @TextSets there to get daily updates!

When we think about teaching metaphor, it has to be about more than naming a metaphor and far more than knowing the difference between a metaphor and a simile. Metaphors help us think about bigger meanings in text. They help us understand at a deeper level.  This week, I'll share a set of texts that starts this bigger conversation about metaphors.

I have been using Marla Frazee's book Walk On: A Guide for Babies of all Ages for years.  This is the perfect introduction into metaphor because it is scaffolded so well. I read the book first and discuss with kids what it is "about". Then we go back and visit the author's note at the beginning of the book--"To my son Graham, off to college" and think about what the author was REALLY saying. What is "walk on" a metaphor for? Because the text is so simple, readers can go back into each line to discuss the intended meaning of each line within the bigger metaphor.  

If You Plant a Seed by Kadir Nelson is another great book based on the metaphor of planting a seed.  This is a very accessible metaphor for young readers so going page by page and discussing intended meaning will help readers see how to gain deeper understanding of an author's message through metaphor.  

Lift has a graphic novel feel and is an immediately engaging story. Once children understand the possibility of metaphor in text, this is an easy transition to discussing the two (or more) possible meanings of the title word "lift" in this story. With some examination, children should see the idea of lifting people in ways beyond the literal one. 

This powerful new picture book, Standing on Her Shoulders celebrates women who have made a difference in our world.  The title is explored throughout the book as we are introduced to various women who have paved the way for so many.  Each page helps us understand what it means to stand on someone's shoulders.  (At the end of the book, you learn more about each woman introduced throughout.) A fabulous book for so many reasons.  

Short films are such a powerful way to explore metaphor with students. A new favorite for me is Pixar's Float by Bobby Rubio. The metaphor of float can mean different things to different people and the author has his own reasons for using it which you can find in several online articles and interviews. 

This week's books were linked at Cover to Cover Children's Bookstore. If you are looking for a fabulous children's bookstore to support, this is an amazing one. We are lucky to have them in Central Ohio!

You can find a downloadable pdf of this list at

Friday, March 12, 2021

Poetry Friday -- Momentum


When you take your foot off the gas pedal
and roll to a stop in front of your house.

When you stop pumping your legs on the swing
and enjoy the ever-shortening trips back and forth.

When you stand still on your skates and just roll
feeling every pebble and sidewalk crack under your wheels.

When you sit at your desk and stare at the ceiling
and let go of the task at hand.

When you know there is a mountain of work to be done
and you deliberately choose not to do it.

Since when did loss of momentum
become equated with some kind of failure?

Today I will reclaim loss of momentum
as a form of pleasure.

I will savor the slow down and the pull back
the drifting and the regathering of strength so I can begin again


©Mary Lee Hahn, 2021 (draft)
(totally a Lamipofri...but I like how it flowed out!)

Heidi has the Birthday Edition of the Poetry Friday roundup this week over at my (her) juicy little universe.

Saturday, March 06, 2021

Text Set: Middle Grade Graphic Novels Texts for this Text Set have been posted daily on Instagram. Follow @TextSets there to get daily updates!

This week's Text Set is a set of Middle Grade graphic novels. I try to keep up with my middle grade graphic novel reading because so often I am working with a reader who loves graphic novels.  And graphic novels are often so important to a reader's growth--these are the books that help many readers fall in love with reading.  The books I'll share are perfect for independent reading and they'd also each make for a  fabulous middle grade read aloud if projected on the screen. Each graphic novel in this Text Set features strong characters. Enjoy! 

Twins by Varian Johnson will have wide appeal for readers. It is realistic fiction and a great story of sisters.  The two twins in this book are figuring out how to have their own identities as they grow up.  I love that this book can also introduce readers to middle grade author, Varian Johnson. Or it can support readers of Varian Johnson who want to try a graphic novel!  

We don't see many books about the impact allergies have on children. This brand new graphic novel Allergic by Megan Wagner Lloyd does a great job of showing that and of telling the story of a child severely allergic to dogs and the grief that this causes. Many kids will see themselves in this book. 

Snapdragon by Kat Leyh is a story with a bit of witchcraft and creepiness! A fun story for readers of fantasy but also for readers who love a good character. Snapdragon and her friend Lu are characters with depth and the various storylines offer some complexity.  Some characters are queer and trans, and that is not the focus of the story. It is just a part of who they are within a story about bravery, friendship and more.  I especially appreciated the adult characters in this story and their relationships with the children.

Witches of Brooklyn by Sophie Escabasse is another fun fantasy featuring witches.  (This is the first in a series.) After being forced to move in with an aunt she's never met, Effie grows to love her aunt and her partner.  She also discovers that they are not actually herbalists (as they claim) but they are witches.  This graphic novel has just the right amount of magic and fun mixed in with themes of family and growing up.  In an interview, the author talked about the aunts and this is what she says, "I also wanted to show old people that are really fun to hang out with. Old people that anyone would love to have as friends and/or family. Tired of the “youth or nothing” philosophy. I like the age gap between my characters. It was important for me to show different generations sharing and living things together. " I loved this book even more when I read this! You can read the full interview here.

Measuring Up by Lily LaMotte is the story of Cici who has just moved to the United States from Taiwan.  Although she is settling in, she misses her grandmother terribly and tries to figure out how to have her grandmother visit for her upcoming birthday. She thinks she can afford the trip if she wins the cooking contest! However it isn't as easy as it seems. Cici learns so much in the process!

This week's books were linked at Cover to Cover Children's Bookstore. If you are looking for a fabulous children's bookstore to support, this is an amazing one. We are lucky to have them in Central Ohio!

You can find a downloadable pdf of this list at 

Friday, March 05, 2021

Poetry Friday -- Perspective


All my life you've been a dipper.
Just this morning, though,
as I wondered whether you were telling me
to pour out
or scoop up
you changed into a giraffe
your long curved neck
reaching across galaxies
so you could nibble on the juicy gibbous moon.

©Mary Lee Hahn, 2021

Obviously, that photo was not taken in Ohio, but it was the one I could find with the correct orientation of The Great Giraffe, as this constellation is now known (to me). 

The big ideas here are
    1. Look up
    2. Notice
    3. Wonder
    4. Be willing to think differently about everything you've been taught

Kat, at Kathryn Apel, has the Poetry Friday Roundup for this week.