Wednesday, August 31, 2011


Years ago,  I was obsessed with Graeme Base's THE ELEVENTH HOUR. It was a fun mystery with a code that needed to be solved.  My family and I spent hours working through the text and pictures to determine the answer to the mystery.  My students (at the time 4th graders) were also hooked and many spent days working on the puzzle.  I can see the same thing happening with Graeme Base's new book THE JEWEL FISH OF KARNAK.

Graeme Base's newest picture book takes place in Ancient Egypt.  Two thieves named Jackal and Ibis are caught stealing.  The only way that they can be pardoned by the Cat Pharaoh is to find and bring back the golden Jewel Fish of Karnak that was stolen by the Crocodile Prince.  It sounds easy enough and they don't have many rules to follow. The Cat Pharaoh does let them know that it is important that they (#1)  do not take anything else and (#2) do not let the Jewel Fish get wet.

All goes well enough and the two thieves take the Jewel Fish and get away.  However, they do take a few extra treasures with them when they go. I won't give away the whole ending (that is not really the ending), but the Jewel Fish is lost and the thieves must confess to the Cat Pharaoh.

Just as in THE ELEVENTH HOUR, it seems the fun begins after the last page because the Cat Pharaoh sends them to find the fish.  This is where the reader comes in.  The challenge is for the reader to use the codes and puzzles throughout the book to find the fish. When the fish is discovered, it can be turned in to the Cat Pharaoh on Graeme Base's website for a reward.

I can see a few kids digging into this book and working hard to find the solution.  I have lots of readers who love codes and who love to read about Ancient Egypt.   I plan to share Graeme Base's book trailer (available on his site) with students sometime this month. I think the trailer will definitely hook them!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Pearl Verses the World: Another Great Novel in Verse

I love novels in verse. I have seen so much power in books written in this format over the past several years. Often, these books are powerful but the format allows for deep reading. Because there is not as much text as in a "regular" novel, kids who struggle with grade level text and kids who struggle with stamina to get through an entire book, can build that stamina, confidence and fluency with novels and verse.  And, they almost always invite great conversations.

Pearl Verses the World by Sally Murphy is a perfect example of why I love great novels in verse.  Pearl is a young girl who lives with her mother an grandmother. But her grandmother is suffering from dementia and no longer recognizes Pearl or her mother.  Pearl's mother is the sole caregiver and the grandmother's illness is taking a toll on everyone. Pearl is trying to make sense of it all. She desperately wants her grandmother back and her grief and feeling of loss is part of the book.

This is a quick read.  (only 73 pages) But it is a hard read.  Pearl is the one telling the story and she is having a hard time.  Her life is difficult right now and she is struggling. School is hard, her teacher doesn't appreciate her poetry and her grandmother's illness weighs heavily on her at all times.  I came to love Pearl very early in the book. She is genuine and honest.  She is dealing with real problems and is handling it all in very real ways.

Monday, August 29, 2011

New Learning Tools in the Library

This is my fourth year in the school library and I think I am finally finished moving shelves and big furniture. For the most part, at least.  It took me about 2 years to get the space to really work for the students. I am lucky to have a very supportive principal, an amazing library aide, and a wonderful custodian. They've all been hugely instrumental in recreating the space with me. This year, there are not many big changes.  I felt like the space was working--lots of spaces for different groups of students. Lots of spaces for different types of work.  So, this year, kids will come back to the space they know (and hopefully love).

We do have some new learning tools in the library that I am very excited about.  They aren't all in yet but here are the things that I think will open up new possibilities for students this year in the library.

I am most excited about my VuPoint Magic Wand Scanner.  I attended a workshop in August and Sara Kajder (@skajder) was the speaker.  She shared this tool during the talk. Luckily, my Internet was up and I believe that I purchased it before she was finished talking about it! This is a portable scanner. One that doesn't need to be housed in one spot or connected to anything. It works like a camera but is more of a scanner. (It is battery operated with a camera card so that photos can be easily moved.)  I can imagine scanning student work that I want to keep in an assessment folder. Students can scan writing or art that they might want to add to a blog post.  They can scan things to plug into presentations.  So many possibilities of what we can do with this tool--helping to put anything kids do in some digital format. (You can read a little bit more about this one on my husband's technology blog.)

Our library has several different building toys. I believe strongly that a library needs many tools for learning and building tools are definitely a learning tool. My hope is to add more challenge-based options for students who want to use these tools this year.  A friend mentioned Flexeez in a recent blog post and once I saw what could be done with them, I ordered them. The box didn't seem to hold much when it arrived but these little pieces can create some very cool things. They are flexible and that allows for a different type of building. I can't wait to see what kids create with these!

I also have a very inexpensive Document Camera, the IPEVO Point 2 View.  I wanted a document camera that kids could use.  And when I tried it out, it works out great. I want to work with students on quality work, quality presentations, sharing information, etc. this year.  I also am pretty sure that with access to this, kids will think of ways to use it that I haven't thought of yet.  It is pretty portable so there are lots of possibilities.

We have a five Kindles in the library. I am not sure where we are going with eReaders but I think it is important that kids have access to the many tools people use to read.  I want students to experience reading in a variety of ways and to know what is possible. So, I purchased two Color Nooks this summer. I loaded them with mostly picture books, thinking that these would be used mostly for that. I want kids to have access to various ebooks and the Color Nook seemed like the smartest purchase for picture book reading.

We have 4 iPads and 2 iPod Touches on the way.  Our goal this year is to get lots of the technology that has traditionally been stored in the library out to classrooms so that students have access to the tools they need all day.  So, we will add some new technology tools for use mostly in the library. I need to work with our Technology Specialist about apps for both the iPods and the iTouches but I am thinking most of the apps we purchase will be production type tools that allow students to create things. I want them to have access to various ways to create. And of course, I will add a QR code reader.   (I also have 2-3 Wacom Bamboo Tablets that I am hoping kids find ways to utilize with draw programs, etc.)

And last, but definitely not least, may possibly end up being my very favorite learning tools is the Dry Erase Table that is currently on order. I've cleared out a corner of the library to create a type of "production area". This will be the area where kids will have space to film, think together, etc. The green screen is housed on a wall in this area and the cameras, flip videos, iPod touches, etc. will also be stored here.  The dry erase table will be a tool for collaboration. This will be a space where small groups can think, plan and design together.  When I envision an learning community, I think that this piece is key--a place to think off of one another's thinking, a place where it will become evident that what we can do together is often stronger than what any one person can do individually.

Those are the new tools that kids will see in the library over the next few weeks.  I know it will take a while for the newness factor to wear off and I know students will need a time to see what these tools are about but I am certain that each of these tools will add new invitations for learning to students.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Poetry Friday -- National Dog Day

August 26 is National Dog Day. To honor the day, J. Patrick Lewis kindly sent this poem. And wasn't it serendipitous that just recently we met Brutus Winston Buckeye in Selby Park as we set out walking to the Worthington Farmer's Market?

How Big?

You were a kid, 
             I was your pup,
I got bigger
             As you grew up.
When you were four,
             I was just two.
I was already 
             As tall as you.
Now you are twelve,
             And I am ten.
I'm still as big 
             As you are, Ben. 
You are my owner,  
             But I am in charge.
You are my captain, 
             I am your barge.
You are a prince,
             But I am the king.
I am the boss
             Of everything. 
You’re the conductor,
             I am the train.
You’re a great kid, 
            And I’m a Great Dane!

J. Patrick Lewis, ©2011

Here's to our canine friends: to the slobber, the barks, the whines, the drifts of hair in the hallway...and to the the tails thumping the floor, the adoring looks, the readiness for play, the leaning on our leg.

Don't let today, National Dog Day, go by without patting a dog on the head, or rubbing a dog on the belly, or scratching a dog behind the ears. It'll lower your heart rate and it'll make the dog's day!

Irene has the Poetry Friday Round Up today at Live. Love. Explore!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

New Books in Favorite Series

Binky Under Pressure
by Ashley Spires
Kids Can Press, 2011
Review copy provided by the publisher

Maybe you have to have a fat cat who is set in his routines and ways, and who is totally committed to the art of napping, for the character of Binky to be hilariously funny. For the rest of you, he is just really funny.

Binky's pretty sure he lives in a space station. His adventures in the first two books have revolved around protecting the space station from aliens (bugs), and have been complicated by his love for his humans and for his stuffed mouse, Ted.

In this newest book in the series, his humans have the nerve to bring another cat into the space, house. Except Gracie, the foster cat, turns out to be Binky's boss! She's a Captain, and she's there to give him a performance test and evaluation. Binky's under pressure.

The Busy Beaver
by Nicholas Oldland
Kids Can Press, 2011
review copy provided by the publisher

This is Nicholas Oldland's third picture book featuring the beaver, moose and bear. These stories are a fun way to expand students' understanding of fables beyond the familiar Aesop's.

The book starts, "There once was a beaver who was so busy that he didn't always think things through." Beaver works up a huge mess and is felled by a tree he is busily felling. Beaver reflects on what he's done and mends his ways (and his friendships and the forest.)

Ninja Cowboy Bear Presents: The Call of the Cowboy
by David Bruins and Hilary Leung
Kids Can Press, 2011
review copy provided by the publisher

In their first book, Ninja, Cowboy and Bear learned that they each have different strengths, so none of them can be "the best." In the second book, they realized that they each like to play in different ways. And in this third book in the series, Cowboy has to learn that his noisy rambunctiousness has a time and a place...but not when bear is birdwatching, or when Ninja is reading.

*   *   *

All three of these are going into the "New Favorite Series" tub in my classroom for the first day of school today!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


Names are on my mind at this time of the year. Or I should say, names are IN my mind at this time of the year, because, until the first day of school on Thursday, that's all most of my students are to me -- a list of names. Names to put on name tags, on charts, on die cut birthday cakes. Many of my students have names that are tricky for a native English-speaker -- names with lots of consonants or with the accent on an unusual (for me) syllable, and all have names that come packed with family and cultural history.

I have a collection of picture books that I use at the beginning of every year to talk about names:

My Name is Yoon by Helen Recorvits

The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi

My Name is Bilal by Asma Mobin-Uddin

My Name is Sangoel by Karen Lynn Williams and Khadra Mohammed

This year, I have a new book to add to my list of favorites:

My Name is Elizabeth!
by Annika Dunklee
illustrated by Matthew Forsythe
KidsCan Press, 2011
review copy provided by the publisher

Elizabeth loves her name, but she doesn't like it when people call her names other than Elizabeth. Lizzy, Liz,  Beth, Betsy...none of them will do. She asserts herself in a LOUD double page spread, and the people in her world get her message and call her Elizabeth. (Or as close to that as the baby can get!)

I can totally relate to Elizabeth. I've always been Mary Lee, never Mary. And I, too, have learned to advocate for the name that encompasses my identity.

Because of my own sensitivity about my name, I work extra hard to get my students' names just right. I look forward to Elizabeth helping with that conversation this year!

The New York Times agrees that this will make a great back to school book.

Betsy (Elizabeth) Bird reviewed the book on Fuse 8.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

2 New KLUTZ Movie-Making Books

A few years ago, I discovered the KLUTZ TRICKY VIDEOS book. (Blog Review here) I shared it with kids in the midst of some work with critical literacy--helping kids to see that what they saw in movies, commercials, etc. weren't always quite as they appeared.

So, I was thrilled to find two new KLUTZ video-creation books to share with kids this fall. MAKE YOUR OWN MUSIC VIDEO by Kaitlyn Nichols and THE KLUTZ BOOK OF ANIMATION by John Cassidy and Nicholas Berger.  Both look like they are filled with great tips for creating good videos.

Over the last few years in the library, I feel like our K-5 kids have really learned a lot about the tools of technology and what they could do. They have expanded the ways they use technology--rather than just being tools for game playing and recreation, they are now using the tools for learning and creation.  One of my big goals next year is to really think about raising the quality of the types of things students are creating and producing. I think they needed some time to play and see what was possible and we are ready to move ahead to really thinking about how to craft quality pieces.

I took some time with the Animation book today. This one is quite similar to the Tricky Video book but focuses almost completely on Stop Motion animation. The book has nearly 20 things to try with stop motion with directions and props when needed (pull out pages in the back of the book). For each set of directions, readers can go online to see the video in action. Videos include Claymation (Runaway Clay) as well as other stop motion (PAPER DOLL DISCO and NO-HANDED EATING).  The book also provides tips on sound effects and other tips for your first stop motion video.

The MUSIC VIDEO book is a bit different in that each page focuses on one tip for creating good music videos.  A few examples are "10 Steps to Amazing Air Guitar" and "Special Effects on an Allowance". The book also includes a portable green screen, downloadable backgrounds and free editing software (which I have not checked out.)

My goal with books like this is to open up the possibilities for students. I believe that for students to view and consume critically, understanding how things are created is critical.  The key this year will be to move beyond this quickly and to use the tips in these to create videos with messages or stories with depth.  I think the kids are ready to learn about sound effects, etc. and to then embed those skills into videos that they create in order to give a message, review a book, tell a story, etc.

I'm looking forward to sharing these with students in a few weeks

Monday, August 22, 2011

Mentor Author, Mentor Texts by Ralph Fletcher

I was excited to finally get a copy of Ralph Fletcher's newest book for teachers, MENTOR AUTHOR, MENTOR TEXTS.  I always love whatever Ralph writes so I was looking forward to this one.  This book is a collection of short texts, written by Ralph, with his insider's thinking on each piece.
I love Ralph's introduction to this book. It is called "Contagious Magic" and Ralph shares his thinking on the idea of mentor texts in our teaching.  The thing I love about Ralph's work is that it keeps me grounded.  He is a writer and also understands teaching and learning and he is always about keeping school writing experiences authentic for children. So, in this book, he is clear about his idea of mentor texts. He is clear about what worries him about how texts are being used in schools.  (At one point, he questions the word "anchor" texts because anchors weigh us down and this writing should lift us up.)  He talks about how often, we, as teachers, use mentor texts to point the things out that we want kids to notice. But he challenges us to let our students own the idea of mentor texts. He says, "let's invite students to connect with whatever aspect of the text they find compelling or intriguing." He adds, "let's honor whatever they notice, and use that as the building blocks of our teaching."  Ralph approaches mentor texts as invitations for student writers, putting them in charge of what they notice and what they are ready for.  He speaks against the idea of "doing mentor texts" and assigning tasks for students to "do" with certain texts and that studying mentor texts is not about having the right answer or noticing what the teacher wants you to notice.

Ralph continues the book with an introduction of himself to students. A great intro to his collection of writing, letting kids in on Ralph as a person, a writer and a teacher. He shares lots of the same things with students that he did in the intro-his belief about mentor texts and his invitation to them to notice things.

Then he gives us a collection of his own writing--writing from some of the books we love-Fig Pudding, Harvest Moon, Ordinary Things and others.  And with each piece of writing, he gives us a short narrative--an informal chat about what his thinking was behind the piece.  He doesn't include a detail of every decision he made, but just shares his thinking about the things he thinks are important about the piece or important decisions he made in the process of writing. And he gives readers an invitation to notice something or try something.

Included in this book are some web-based PDFs that can be used on a whiteboard, etc to share with kids. There is also audio of Ralph reading several of his pieces. You can access both of these with a password provided in the book.

I love the whole idea of this book. The idea of a mentor text as invitation. The idea that it is more important to value the things that our students notice in good writing, than to force our noticings on them. The idea that we want our students to find their own mentor texts and find things they are ready for as writers.  And I love that students can get the inside scoop on some of Ralph's writing. The idea of mentor texts as more of a process than a science is refreshing. And you can always count on Ralph to be refreshing and to help us really think about our work with students.  Ralph is a great author to mentor us as teachers and to mentor our student writers.


(To hear Ralph talk about his thinking on mentor texts, you can listen to my podcast interview with him at Choice Literacy.)

Friday, August 19, 2011

Poetry Friday -- Found Poem

Flickr Creative Commons licensed photo by Thokrates

by Robert Louis Stevenson

In anything fit to be called
by the name of reading,
the process itself
should be

we should gloat over a book,
be rapt
clean out of ourselves
and rise from the perusal,
our mind
with the busiest,
kaleidoscopic dance of images,
incapable of sleep
or of continuous thought.

The words,
if the book be eloquent,
should run thenceforth in our ears like the noise of

and the story,
if it be a story,
repeat itself in a thousand coloured pictures
to the eye.

from Memories and Portraits, but found in The Pocket R. L. S. : Being Favourite Passages From the Works of Stevenson, New York, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1922

Thank you, AJ, for sharing this passage-turned-poem (by me) in your little leather-bound 1922 collection of R. L. S. quotes and passages.

Here are a couple of links from some recent discussions about the love of reading:
Alan Jacobs in The Journal of Higher Education
and a response from
Donalyn Miller at Education Week.

Where do you stand on the love of reading?

Today, the Poetry Friday Round Up is at Dori Reads.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Exclusive Excerpt of Breadcrumbs, by Anne Ursu

by Anne Ursu
illustrated by Erin McGuire
on shelves September 27

Here's a snippet, a "crumb," as it were, of one of our favorite fall books. You won't want to miss this one!

"She stepped outside, and then stopped and stared. The small garden was just a slip of earth on the side of the house, but it seemed like its own universe. The sweet, sharp scent of hundreds of flowers greeted her. Even in the night their colors sang. It was a thick, lush blanket of color—luxurious purple and electric blue and sunshine yellow and cheery red. It was like a movie version of an enchanted garden, gorgeous, vivid, and too beautiful to be real. She could dive into the purple of the violets and live there.

She felt suddenly that she wanted for nothing in the world. The flowers called to her, like they had secrets to tell—Rose, come on. Hazel found herself lying down on the cushioned white bench that sat among them, and their fragrance reached up to welcome her.

Sleep pulled her back immediately, wrapping her in the sort of haze that presses down on you and you’re not sure it will ever let you go but you’re not sure that you ever want to leave. It was so peaceful there in the fog. She wanted for nothing.

And then the flowers began to whisper to her. The noise did not belong. It pulled at her brain like longing, and Hazel wanted it to go away.

They did not stop whispering. The flowers had secrets. They had names, too, though the couple in the cottage called them Daisy, Lily, Hyacinth, Violet, Dahlia, Jasmine, Poppy, and they did not remember the ones they had before. They told Hazel that she must listen.

Daisy grew up in a house with a stream in back, and behind it were some woods. She and her friends Isabelle and Amelia played in them all the time when they were little kids, even though they weren’t supposed to. Daisy’s mother liked to keep her eye on them, and the trees blocked herview. And then Daisy got sick and could not play anymore. Her friends stood by her bed telling her of the things they did, but after a while they stopped coming. Daisy snuck out of the house one morning, dragging her muscles and bones with her, and crept into the woods. She came upon a wizard who lured her in with healing whispers but did not mean her well. She ran, and a kindly couple took her in.

She was a flower now. She missed her friends and the games they’d play in the woods. They were princesses once, charged with saving the kingdom from a dragon, and whoever could defeat it would be queen. Daisy used strength, Amelia wits, and Isabelle fell in love with the dragon, because that’s the sort of girl she was. She rid the kingdom of the dragon, and then made it its king."