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!