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Monday, January 31, 2011

Me and My Teaching Partner

When I finish a really good book, I want to tell somebody. During the school year, that somebody resides across the tiled squares of our small shared office in daylight hours. Inevitably on Mondays, we arrive with books in our bags, titles we have read over the weekend and need to share with each other. She had one this morning that did not live up to her expectations nor the reviews she had read. I brought in one similar to that. But I also shared a fantastic short novel by Janet S. Wong: Me and Rolly Maloo.

A school story with a plausible troubling issue, the book draws in readers with the speech bubbles of characters who contemplate each other on the opening pages of the part graphic novel/part traditional novel. In short, Rolly Maloo and her friend Patty Parker want their smart classmate, Jenna Lee, to help them with math...and then proceed to ask her for answers on a district math test. Rumors and lies abound until Mrs. Pie, their wise teacher, helps the truth rise out of the mire. The method of revelation and the subsequent characters' thoughts play out perfectly in the author's carefully planned narration.

Being able to talk about books and our reactions to them is one of the many blessings of having two librarians who serve a large school population. Though we do not always have the same reactions to and impressions of books, our shared comments provide depth to our collection development, as well as authentic book discussions like we want our students to experience.

Interestingly, she talked with a fifth grade teacher last week who wanted to share books with students to demonstrate that people of all ages, social groups, and cultural backgrounds have voices in literature. Me and Rolly Maloo is a perfect example. Each of the schoolchildren is of a different ethnic group, yet that is not the focus of the controversy. Their voices ring true to their situations.

I am hoping my cherished library lady/teacher partner has time to read this book after tonight's PTA meeting so we can exchange ideas in the morning.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Refrigerator Door

It used to be our refrigerator door was almost impossible to view underneath layers of the boys' artwork and photographs. This memory was invoked when I glimpsed the back of Bridget's Beret by Tom Lichtenheld, one of my five favorites for the CLN event. Bridget's father is standing before the chilly gallery holding a milk carton, and he says, "Honey, have you seen the fridge? I can't find it!" We could always find the fridge, but some creations inevitably fell from the display when the door was opened or when a dump truck or Hot Wheels driver passed too closely.

Bridget is a lucky girl. Her family hangs many of her works on permanent exhibit. They provide her with numerous art supplies, including "a big black beret. The kind of hat that lots of Great Artists wear." Their actions and acceptance validate her art and creative process, acknowledging the pleasure she takes in painting (or chalk drawing). Parents, caregivers, and educators have that power with children. By demonstrating interest in a child's activities, we provide an impetus for the child to continue, to learn more, to perfect a skill, to indulge in a pleasure.

Bridget's cherished beret blows away in a strong breeze, causing her to lose the ability to draw. No borrowed hat can bring back her creative genius. Her wise little sister, however, begs her to make a sign for a lemonade stand. Despite Bridget's certainty that the beret was necessary, her simple lemonade stand signs become masterpieces, representing the styles of the Great Artists: a Swirly Lemonade sign in the image of Van Gogh's Starry Night, a soup can sign reminiscent of Andy Warhol, and so many others that the neighbors all turn out for the opening (and some lemonade, of course).

I may never be a good artist with paint, but I have learned to be a good photographer (the marzipan creatures were in a bakery case in London), a strong quilter, and an excellent culinary artist. All these skills were fostered by those who have loved me and encouraged me. Take time to encourage another in something he or she pursues. It makes such a difference in our collective lives.

By the way, over time, my boys were not eager to display their masterpieces in the kitchen gallery, preferring often to stuff them in folders or sneak them to the recycling bin in hopes I would not notice. I retrieved what I could, framed many for display in our home, and squirreled away others for them to view when they are older.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Have You Read? #4

Train tracks run just a block from my childhood home. Growing up, we crossed them many times, often stopping to put an ear by the track to listen for any coming trains. When a train did pass by, we waited to wave to the caboose. Never could I have imagined someone jumping from a moving train, especially not a young girl. Abilene Tucker is a twelve-year-old girl who waits "till the clack of the train wheels slows to the rhythm of your heartbeat" jumps just before getting to Manifest, Kansas in 1936. She was used to jumping, was not always a paying customer, and clearly had experience with trains. If she had rolled to a stop in the weeds near my house, I would probably have been frightened. Because she appeared in the pages of Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool, I kept turning to learn more about this brave girl.

Abilene is resourceful, skeptical, fiercely independent, and guarded. Yet she trusts people she has never met, especially Hattie Mae Harper (back in 1917)/Hattie Mae Macke, of the Manifest Herald and Shady Howard, the sometimes preacher with whom she is supposed to stay while Gideon, her father, works a railroad job in Iowa. As Abilene meets townspeople and learns their stories (through face-to-face interactions, from history divined by Miss Sadie and by reading old copies of "Hattie Mae's News Auxiliary), she forms a picture of Gideon's life and a place for herself.

I loved this book so much I selected it as one of my top five of 2011 for the Children's Literature Network's Books for Breakfast event next weekend, even before it won the Newbery Medal.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Only Four?

Planning an independent book festival requires creativity with decor and design. Without a commercial theme, we chose to focus on the books we love. At today's staff meeting, each person received a sheet on which to record favorite children's books. The completed pages trickled in during the day...some placed in our mail box and most delivered by hand with comments. The most common? It was hard to choose only four. Some people simply added more titles to the sheet.

Compiling the lists is a pleasure. In addition to the books, people commented on the reasons for loving the books. There are duplicate titles, of course, showing how specific books touch so many people. There are older books and new books. There are books read to children and books that had been read to them as children. There are favorite read-aloud titles and books perfect for reading alone. As many as possible will be sold at the book festival in March.

My husband teases me about my favorite books. They are all your favorites, he tells me. Not really. I just love so many. For this list, my choices were
  • Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey - I love the art, the story behind his drawing of the ducks, and the determination of Mrs. Mallard to teach her ducklings all the important things in life.
  • From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg - Since reading this book (published the year I was born!), I have always wanted to stay overnight at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
  • The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt - I experienced every emotion while reading this book...everyone should read it.
  • Each Peach Pear Plum by Janet and Allan Ahlberg - Our sons requested this book so many times that we can still recite it from memory.
Consider your own top four choices! Post them to share.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

So Much Depends On a Bookshop

Today was a teacher work day, and my teaching partner and I spent part of it at the Red Balloon Bookshop (where preschool storytime was in full swing during our visit). Our goal was to peruse the store in search of non-book items to offer at the school’s spring book festival, conducted this time independent of a national corporation. Ideas sparked more ideas as we imagined the possibilities and connections for families. The staff offered insights and suggestions that led to more ideas. This book festival topic deserves numerous posts, and I will offer them in the coming weeks.

As we left the store, my teaching partner commented that being at a bookstore is far more effective than reading reviews. We read hundreds of reviews. We read the books mentioned in those reviews prior to deciding whether or not to purchase them. But at the bookshop this morning, we found books we had not previously known, made connections with those books and curriculum needs, and bantered with the booksellers about their popular titles and ours. We picked up second copies of some ALA award winners, another Because of Mr. Terupt because it is so popular with teachers, and a Folkmanis alligator puppet for a teacher wanting to use it with greater than/less than in math.

For the upcoming fifth grade biography/wax museum project starting next week, we loved Just Being Audrey by Margaret Cardillo (the first for children about Audrey Hepburn!) and Demi’s Alexander the Great. For those who have forgotten about the magical abilities of Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, know that books about her are always off the shelf. Thus, we know readers are going to love Nancy and Plum, published originally in 1952. All those girls who ask for horse books will adore Holly Hobbie’s autobiographical picture book Everything But the Horse. We will read aloud Patricia Polacco’s latest title Just in Time, Abraham Lincoln, a time travel tale to the battlefield of Antietam.

Of course we never leave a bookstore without personal purchases…a board book copy of Inside Freight Train for a young boy she knows and my own copy of Moon Over Manifest to read again.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Girl Talk

"Do you have any good books?" We hear that question daily in the library and smile as we look with the questioning reader at the thousands of books surrounding us. "What have you read last that you liked?" I ask next. Usually, the reader pauses, reaching into her or his brain for the title. When I know what the person liked, I can more easily discern what to recommend next. Last week, a fifth grader mentioned a mystery she had finished...but she wanted something a little different. She left with Regarding the Fountain by Kate Klise, a unique mystery in which the clues are presented in letters, messages, newspaper articles, and classroom conversation, and Sammy Keyes and the Hotel Thief by Wendelin Van Draanen, the first in a series with a spunky young detective who experiences unusual things.

Today that fifth grader returned. "I love Sammy Keyes," she told me and proceeded to give her reasons why. Sammy is both bold and sometimes scared. Sammy's grandma's binoculars allow her access to actions across the street. There is so much suspense that she wants to read the end of a chapter first and then go back and read the rest. A classmate joined the conversation. Soon we were talking about how much they loved the library, how they would love to stay overnight in the library, how it should be only fifth graders, how there should be a night for boys and a separate night for girls, how boys used to get along with them in second grade but are not as cute and nice in fifth grade (though both were hopeful they would be cute again someday), how wonderful it would be to just pick any book from the shelves if you could not sleep, and then somehow back to Sammy Keyes. There are three titles in the series at the public library that are not in our school library, I was told. I wished the girls a pleasant day, smiling as I went to my desk to order a few new books.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

First Grade Inquiry

Most of the first grade teachers at my school limit the children's book selections to the Everybody section of the library. Though it helps the children learn how to find books well in alphabetical order, it limits their desire to search for and check out items from the nonfiction section. Many times during first semester, children would ask for "a dog book" or "a dinosaur book" or "a book about ships". I could always find something to suit them in the E section (What Pete Ate From A to Z by Maira Kalman, Dinosaur Bob and His Adventures With the Family Lazardo by William Joyce, or The Circus Ship by Chris Van Dusen).

Today 24 first graders sat on the story steps and listened to me describe almost 50 nonfiction books! When we looked at the clock, we were amazed to see their library time was done! All of us were so engrossed in the experience that lost track of time. I asked if any of them discovered a book on the cart they liked. All hands raised! Their tastes were varied, but their desires to learn more about topics of interest to them specifically led them to things like Black? White! Day? Night! by Laura Vaccaro Seeger and Elisha Cooper's Ice Cream. Like these children, we all learn more when our natural instincts for inquiry are stimulated.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Mysteries on the Cart

Every month, intermediate teachers request book talks on different genres. After a short question and answer session about the characteristics of the mystery genre with fourth graders this morning, I proceeded to read aloud from Margie Palatini's humorous picture book mystery The Web Files. The children quickly identified the crime, the suspense, the suspects, those seeking the solution, and the clues. A groan moved across the story steps when I stopped midway through the book. How could I stop there? I asked their teacher to please finish the story later.

The readers' attention quickly turned to the cart of mystery books in front of them. When a student recognized a familiar title (like Running Out of Time by Margaret Peterson Haddix) or author (like for Sid Fleischman's Jim Ugly), I received a silent thumbs-up or gasps of delight. After sharing snippets about 40+ titles, their teacher called student names to come select books. Each person quickly located the one that captured his or her interest. Some children wanted second copies of books and walked with me among the fiction shelves. One well-read child reminded me I had forgotten to mention the Enola Holmes mysteries by Nancy Springer. She then helped me straighten the few mysteries remaining on the cart before finding a soft chair and starting her new book.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Can't Wait To Finish

Sometimes in the midst of a good book, all I wish for is an extended block of time to finish it...knowing, of course, that I'll miss being in that world when I close the cover. You know how it feels. The worst time to get that feeling is when I am almost done and have to go to work. Librarians must know books, but we cannot spend time reading them ourselves during the work day!

Today, though, there were two books I just had to finish. I completed one this morning. Recommended by my neighbor as a great read-aloud for her fifth graders, it is Peg Kehret's Stolen Children. It is the story of Amy, a girl who is kidnapped while babysitting for three-year-old Kendra. Amy's narration is convincing, and her careful planning eventually brings both girls home to their parents. I know readers who will love this book.

One is still not quite done; I'm savoring the last pages because I love the story so much. It is Susan Vreeland's Clara and Mr. Tiffany, and I have been engrossed in Clara's descriptions of the stained glass process, her own designs, and the relationships with Louis Comfort Tiffany and other the workmen in a male-dominated profession. Though I have been imagining Clara's creations through Vreeland's words, I needed to see what images I could find of the actual lamps. One of her dragonfly lamps (which won a bronze medal at the Exposition Universelle in Paris) shows such incredible use of color and texture (see more at Clara and the Tiffany Girls (sometimes 35 at a time) designed and completed countless beautiful projects for the company, rallying against unfair conditions (men only were allowed in the union) and loving the freedom to create incredible art. The discovery of Clara's correspondence a few years ago revealed that it was she who conceived of the Tiffany lamps.

Having seen the images for myself, I am headed back to the window seat and 1903 to finish this book.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Have You Read? #3

I love narrators who communicate so effectively through their unique mannerisms and thoughts that I am part of their world in just a few sentences. Eleven-year-old Franny Chapman is such a girl in Countdown by Deborah Wiles. She loves Nancy Drew, thinks she is invisible to her teacher, Mrs. Rodriquez, and silently “telegraphs” messages to others in important situations. Living in their house just outside Andrews Air Force Base (with the Pepto-Bismol pink kitchen), she is filled with anxiety and angst. Understandably so. It is 1962 in the midst of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Her mother seems to busy to notice her. Her father is flying most weeks. Her older sister, Jo Ellen, is becoming more secretive each week about the student groups at college. Her younger brother, Drew, reads about atoms and does everything perfectly. Uncle Otts, who also resides in the house and embarrasses the family with his WWII dress and commands, wakes her up own morning to the sound of reveille and plans for a bomb shelter in the backyard! Her friends seem to be changing without her as well.

A character’s love of books and words charms me. Franny’s admiration for Nancy Drew goes beyond her desire to solve mysteries. She aspires to figure out the mysterious letters in Jo Ellen’s stash (which Franny has carefully removed with assistance from her sometimes-friend Maggie) and says “without a book I don’t want to be alone at recess.” The words and titles of Jo Ellen’s “world’s best 45-rpm collection” define her existence, she says. “I can tell my whole life story through Jo Ellen’s records.” For an eleven-year-old girl, lines like “Are you lonesome tonight?” characterize her life! And as she tries to understand all the events of the world around her, Franny is compelled to compose a letter to Chairman Krushchev, thoughtfully suggesting they should get to know one another and writing,

“If you could see the world from outer space, the way my brother, Drew,

sees it, you would know that we are all made of the same things: atoms

and air and water and skin and bones and blood, and lots of the same

hopes and fears.”

As Franny struggles to find friends, to fit in, to understand the politics of the 1960s, and to be visible, I remembered with her the times in my life when I sought identity and acknowledgment from teachers, my parents, my brother, and others who shaped my character. The events occurring around her are interspersed for the reader as mini-documentaries between chapters. Headlines, photographs, quotations, Bert the Turtle Duck and Cover drills, prices (e.g. gas = 31¢ a gallon), sports (Sandy Koufax’s no-hitter), songs (“Where have all the flowers gone?”), student movements, a list of bomb shelter materials, maps, and biographies (Harry Truman, Pete Seeger, and more) bring the history of the time period up close at opportune times in the narration.

From the embossed 45 record on the book’s cover to the author’s notes about her own history in Camp Springs, Maryland, this captivating book took me to a time just before my birth, and Franny convincingly began her story (a trilogy!) which I look forward to finishing in the years to come.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Books and Blondies

The name of our staff development session changed a bit (from Books and Brownies), but staff enthusiasm did not wane with the new name. I started the original B&B at my former elementary school, and my sons always told me, "They come for the brownies, you know." I countered,"Yes, but they stay to hear about the books."

Those peanut butter cup brownies are good, just not in an environment conscious of nut allergies. Serving chocolate chip cookies and butterscotch brownies with the descriptions of books was just as effective. In fact, my teaching partner and I received more words of appreciation today than we ever have in the past. I know just why.

For those unfamiliar with the event, I should explain. Each time we receive an order of new books, we invite the staff to join us for 45 minutes before the school day begins. They enjoy treats while we talk about those books. We match them to grade-level curriculum. We remind them of what the author or illustrator has done in the past. We share interesting tidbits we have discovered. We tell them of additional resources related to the books. Overall, we create interest in our new materials and insure they will be used instead of sitting unknown on the library shelves. When we finish talking, the staff rushes to put post-it notes on all the books they want to use/reserve (and usually take treats with them for later).

We prepare for the event differently. Both of us read everything so we can discuss the books with familiarity. I keep all the thoughts and ideas in my head. My teaching partner takes notes. We both worry about what we share. I still get sweaty nervous after all these years! Yet when we start talking about books, something magical occurs. Today it was more obvious than ever. While she talked about one book, I thought of just the right book to pair with it and shared that next. We went back and forth like this for the duration. Comments and topics linked the books and our words. Later in our office, we marveled that our minds work in such similar ways. One colleague commented, "At first I thought you two had planned it. The more you shared, the more I realized you were feeding off each other's thoughts!" It was amazing and successful. The staff did not just come for the blondies.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

What Makes an Inventor?

A third grade class visited today for a book talk about inventors. Preparing for it forced me to consider what constitutes an inventor and generated thoughtful conversation between the classroom teacher and myself. There were easy picks: Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Milton Hershey, Benjamin Franklin. There were some folks not as well known to the children: Margaret Knight (invented a machine to make the square paper bag bottoms), William Boeing, Levi Strauss (they eventually recognized that one), Eli Whitney, Guglielmo Marconi. And then there were innovators who did not have a tangible object for all their ideas like most inventors: Sister Elizabeth Kenny, Tim Berners-Lee, Albert Einstein, Sequoyah, Galileo, Frank Lloyd Wright. Would readers shy away from people in the latter group? I wondered. After hearing about 40+ people, the children had definite preferences, and they eagerly shared their reasons as they hugged their books. Once again, I witnessed the power of sharing snippets in an effort to engage interest.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Can I Have That Book?

During library time this week, the children and I have been talking about the ALA awards and what each medal/honor represents. Many are well-versed in knowing the Newbery Medal is awarded to more than chapter books! I tell them a bit about Margi Preus's book Heart of a Samurai and how the numerous illustrations in the book are reproductions of those drawn by Manjiro himself. We also discuss nocturnal creatures before I read aloud from Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night. They love the facts about the orb spider and its spinnerets. They smile like me when we chorally recite "I Am a Baby Porcupette." When I finish reading and it is time for them to browse for books, someone always asks, "Can I have that book?"

What a great question to hear! Engaging conversations about books generate interest in those books. Librarians are trusted resources when it comes to advising readers and promoting books. "Can I have that book?" translates to trust in my recommendations.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Heroes at Family Reading Night

What an incredible evening we had at school with Mike Wohnoutka leading Family Reading Night! The darkened room was almost silent as he led the guests through slides about his career as an artist. From the drawing of himself being stung by bees to the portrait of his father reading the newspaper to his work on Susanna Leonard Hill's Can't Sleep Without Sheep, Mike showed how much of what he learned growing up shaped the illustrator he is today. Most captivating were his many sketches for Can't Sleep Without Sheep and the description of the process of taking one person's words and transforming them into a visual story. Audience members loved the humorous character Mike created to introduce the steps of his work, especially beginning sketching and sketch revisions! Watching Mike transform a list of characteristics suggested by the audience into a superhero mouse was amazing.

What I loved most about the evening was watching children interact with parents! When Mike asked for input or told of his own experiences, kids turned to parents to share ideas and similar stories. When the kids started creating a hero of their own to defend our school from an evil dragon, parents' and kids' heads were bowed together in concentration. There was such powerful engagement with the topic!

I love Family Reading Nights for so many reasons. I love the real-life connections with authors and illustrators. I love that families choose to return to school at night to write, read, draw, perform, and discuss. I love having our public librarian there for connection and assistance. I love the stories about the event in school the next day. I love whispering in awe with my teaching partner about what we learn and observe. We are blessed to host such wonderful gatherings!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Book Jacket Memories

My mom faithfully took my brother and me to the public library each week for storytime and to check out books. I remember being a bit apprehensive about leaving her to go the room, but I was always anxious to return to the children's section. Just inside the doorway was a playhouse, furnished simply with a wooden table and chairs. It had an doorless entry and a window on each side. Basic as houses go. The exterior was its extraordinary feature. Instead of paint or paneling or siding, this house was covered in book jackets. I loved it! I loved running my fingers over my favorite covers: Don Freeman's Corduroy, Virginia Lee Burton's The Little House, Maj Lindman's Snipp, Snapp, and Snurr books or Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka books, and Marjorie Flack's The Story About Ping. How wonderful it felt to enter that book house, literally covered with beloved characters and illustrations! The book house did not make it to the remodeled children's section, but it lives magically in my memory.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Have You Read? #2

My neighbor teaches 5th grade, and like me, she believes strongly in the power of reading aloud to her class. Whenever I read a fabulous book, I share it with her as I know she will incorporate it into her classroom. Over winter break, I read Because of Mr. Terupt by Rob Buyea (first-time author and a teacher who clearly understands classroom dynamics and currents) and knew she would appreciate it for multiple reasons. My copy was an interlibrary loan book, but she promised to finish it quickly - and did. She loved it as well...and could relate to the plot because of things that occurred at her school. She's starting it on Tuesday with her students.

The book is narrated by seven students in Mr. Terupt's 5th grade class. They are not stereotypical students, but each possesses characteristics and traits similar to those in students I know. One is incredibly intelligent. One bullies others and pits students against students. One has moved from another state. One persists in goofing around too much. One is ostracized for her physical size. One is ostracized because of her family situation. One has never been taken seriously by the other. From them the reader learns of the dynamics in Mr. Terupt's classroom. He does not humiliate or reprimand students in front of the class. He encourages discovery* and inquiry. He provides opportunities for understanding others that alter perspectives. Ultimately, Mr. Terupt's decisions and ways of dealing with problems lead to an unfortunate accident, causing the students to evaluate their own roles in its occurrence.

When a book becomes didactic in the author's desire to teach a lesson or skill, I believe it shortchanges the readers. Because of Mr. Terupt teaches many things in a respectful manner. It lingers in my mind, urging me to carefully consider the words I choose and how they are school and in all corners of life.

*Dollar words are a great math and literacy activity I learned from the book. Each letter of the alphabet has a cent value (i.e., a = 1 cent, b = 2 cents, c = 3 cents and so on). The goal is to discover words whose letters add up to one dollar). Excellent is an example.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Your Calling

This afternoon I read in my favorite spot: the window seat of my home library in the winter's afternoon sun. My book of choice was a new collection of Ansel Adams's work entitled Ansel Adams in the National Parks. It is filled with his stunning monochrome photographs and words from his own letters, as well as things written about him by Wallace Stegner (Angle of Repose) and Richard B. Woodward. My love of the National Parks and my fascination with Ansel Adams drew me to this book. His photography career path was not what his originally parents intended (though they did take him to Yosemite in 1916 when he was 14 years old); he was a trained pianist. Yet the same attention to detail and certain familiarity with the keyboard transferred to his work with cameras.

Several times over the past year, people have said to me, "You missed your calling." This comes after they have viewed some of my photographs of the natural world. I have pondered that statement often in the past month, wondering if any of us really misses our true calling as a result of circumstance or choice. I know in my heart I was destined to teach (and extend that education to library work). Not a day goes by when I am not astonished by some insight or connection made by children as we learn together. But I also believe each of us has potential to display our gifts and talents in multiple ways. I strongly recommend David Shenk's book The Genius in All of Us: Why Everything You've Been Told About Genetics, Talent, and IQ is Wrong.

Ponder your own gifts. Consider your calling. Better yet, consider your callings. Each of us has the opportunity to pursue what fascinates and inspires us.

Note: This photo is like one of his taken in Zion National Park.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Finding Heroes

In conjunction with an inquiry learning project about heroes, some second graders visited the library this afternoon. They have been defining what a hero does, what heroic acts might be, and what makes an ordinary person do heroic things. We all know about comic book heroes. We read about heroes in newspaper articles and hear about them on television. The children have very definite ideas of what is and is not acceptable in the realm of heroism. And their teacher reminded them that as they review possible people for their research questions, they need to keep those definitions and ideas at the forefront of their thoughts.

One child loves STAR WARS and was reminded that those characters would not count for this project. A big groan escaped from the child. The shoulders drooped. "What about someone who studied outerspace or an astronaut or a pilot?" I asked. The shoulders rose. The voice gained enthusiasm. I suggested several people, but the child asked about Amelia Earhart and quickly located the perfect book. Mark Twain. Albert Einstein. Jane Goodall. Many more followed and remained engrossed for the rest of the afternoon.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Long Reserve Lists

I love long reserve lists. So far this month the longest list winner is Extreme Animals: The Toughest Creatures on Earth by Nicola Davies. I read the cold parts of it aloud last week. Tough cold weather creatures are polar bears (with 3 inches of fat under their black skin), emperor penguins (with unbelievable layers of heat-encasing feathers), and sea otters (with almost a million hairs per square inch on their bodies). The author's other books are checked out and have reserve lists (especially What's Eating You?), as are books about the extreme animals mentioned in the read-aloud book.

Most interesting to me were the discussions about how we read non-fiction differently than fiction. Readers could articulate what they need to do when reading information compared to when they read stories. They have the metacognitive tools to revisit a line that does not make sense and reread a passage to solidify it in their brains. They also know how much easier it is to read something they like versus something about which they have no interest.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

What's the Signal?

The boys laughed uproariously as I read aloud again from Funny Business after dinner tonight. This time the story was "Artemis Begins" by Eoin Colfer. Though we have only three boys in our house in comparison to the five his mother enjoyed, certainly there have been broken objects, secrets kept, and interesting stories concealed from this mother as well. Not one of my sons compares to Eoin's brother Donal in the ability to blackmail others or to devise a devious plan.

The story should be read aloud to any child who admires Artemis Fowl to provide the background information about that character's creation. More than that, it should be read aloud because it provides all the essentials of an engaging story: incredible suspense, foreshadowing, larger-than-life characters, and a climax at the top of the family staircase. When Eoin's baby brother Niall asks, "What's the signal?" our dining room table erupted with guffaws. My boys knew what was coming. Their eyes were on me. They could not believe this little brother had not a clue what his older brother Donal was going to do. They listened to it happen, groaning in sympathy while laughing at Niall's naivete.

The power of reading aloud never ceases to amaze, whether at home around the dinner table or at school on the story steps. No matter what the listener's age, the sound of a human voice reading aloud beckons to a listener, brings calm to the spirit, invites a sharing of emotions, and provides a point of reference. The experience is one thing that is on my gratitude list every day.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A Good Old Book

Readers listened with rapt attention today as I read about the types of work search and rescue dogs perform, specifically Saint Bernards. I told them about Buster, the Saint Bernard of my childhood, and that was a perfect introduction to Don Freeman's 1963 book Ski Pup. Set in the Swiss Alps, where Saint Bernards were first bred to rescue skiers lost in avalanches, it is the story of Hugo, a dog whose job it was to keep track of children from a ski school. Trained by Herr Kasser, Hugo always obeys commands...until young Tino Pedotti strays from the school group, puts his goggles and hat on Hugo, and causes a stir. The children watched with wide eyes as the ski school leader and children looked for Tino, whom they thought was lost, and laughed when it was Hugo they uncovered from a snowdrift. All was well and hearts were warm when Tino (found in Hugo's doghouse) drank the hot chocolate from Hugo's thermos bottle.

The ensuing discussion about out-of-print books generated lots of questions from the children. Why would a good book not be available anymore? Did I really get the library copy from someone who didn't want it? How could people charge so much money for an out-of-print book? How do publishers decide which books to keep in print?

Ski Pup, one of my childhood favorites, became one of theirs.

Monday, January 10, 2011


In my world, I liken this day to the Academy Awards for the film world. So many of the books I love and share with readers are award winners (see some of my favorites), and anticipating the next winners is a conversation topic with my teaching partner and other book lovers.

Truly, I was giddy with excitement as I anticipated announcement about the American Library Association's Youth Media Awards this morning. Many of the named books were favorites from 2010. Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night is an extraordinary mixture of poetry and facts. Clare Vanderpool's Moon Over Manifest is a poignant story of discovery and acceptance. Told by street-smart Abilene Tucker, the book incorporates the history of World War I and the Depression while providing a wonderful glimpse into how friends of all ages support us in our life's endeavors. Margi Preus's Heart of a Samurai captivated me with the strong narration by Manjiro, a Japanese boy who is befriended by an American sea captain and who eventually returns to his country after years of living in New England. The historical notes in this book (and Manjiro's own artwork) are fascinating.

I am grateful to be part of a profession where excitement about books prevails in readers of all ages.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Fabulous Fair Goes Around the World

This afternoon my husband and I brought a Turkish friend to Debra Frasier's studio, making the world a little smaller once again and transporting a book around that world. As we talked about the history of state fairs in the United States, the attendance numbers at our own state fair, and the incredible literacy connections made by thousands of fairgoers with Debra's book, A Fabulous Fair Alphabet, our friend was amazed. Later we drove to the State Fair and showed her some of the places we had discussed. When she returns next week to Istanbul, she will bring bits of history and culture to share with her own family: game cards for her sons to search for English words for each letter of the alphabet (and blue ribbons for their success), necklaces with their names (made from State Fair letters), and of course, the book itself. What wonders we exchange as we share our lives in literature!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Have You Read? #1

It is not a surprise to know I read every day. It might seem odd, however, to see me read-walking while on the treadmill at the community center or read-knitting while I eat my lunch. I use every opportunity to experience books. Some of those books need to be read by others, so I hope to write about at least one each week.

I've loved Joyce Sidman's Dark Emperor & Other Poems of the Night for a long while (thanks for sharing it in its early stages, Joyce), and I think of it often. Many nights we hear an owl hooting in the trees behind our home. I always wish I could see it (think Owl Moon)! Joyce's words and Rick Allen's detailed relief prints brings me closer to that owl when I relish time with the poems, facts, and images they present.

Enter the night where the great horned owl reigns as the dark emperor of the nocturnal world. Welcome the night where creatures creep and crawl, “throw off sleep” and take flight. The Dark Emperor is shaped as its own outline with ear tips marked with the words "perched" and "missile". "I do not rest, I do not sleep,/and all my promises I keep" in "Oak After Dark" weaves an echo of Robert Frost through my thoughts. The Night Spider advises building a frame and then sticking to it; the facts about nocturnal orb spiders reinforce that advice. "I Am a Baby Porcupette" begs to be read aloud and read again, just to say porcupette. The wandering eft that wanders throughout the book has a ballad all to himself - and a fascinating story to share about being a land-dweller (as a red-spotted newt) and a water-dweller (after several years on land). As the moon laments the passing of the sounds and sights of night life, questions abound. Creatures of the night take cover until the sun's rays subside once again.

Spend time with this incredible mix of powerful language and incredible images. Whether by night or day, it will infuse the feeling of nighttime in you and keep you thinking about the creatures who reign while we slumber.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Letter to the Author

At dinner this evening, I read aloud from Guys Read: Funny Business by Jon Scieszka, specifically the entry by Kate DiCamillo & Jon Scieszka entitled "Your Question for Author Here." My three teenage boys' interest piqued quickly as Joe Jones's straightforward, if not perfunctory, letters revealed a boy reluctantly responding to a teacher's assignment. Fictitious author Maureen O'Toople's witty responses soon had them laughing aloud. They quieted when I read Joe's haiku poem and gasped when his teacher gave him a C- on the author research assignment. The boys needed to leave for an event, but we were so close to the selection's end. "There are only four pages left," one pleaded. I kept reading till the end. As Maureen encouraged her new writing pal Joe to continue writing his book, the boys' satisfaction in a story well-told resonated around the table.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

On a Quest

One tenacious 5th grader visits the library at least twice a day. He even requested that guests to his last birthday party bring a book to donate to the library instead of a gift for him!His reading tastes vary, so it is not generally difficult to match him to a book he is willing to read. Yesterday, he left with four books from the Deltora Quest series. This morning, he came to the library office before school and asked what we thought he did last night. Hmm. We knew he read, but he loved that we never guessed he completed all four books - before dinner even! Finding the right book for the right reader is sometimes a challenge, but listening to a reader's enthusiastic reports about his reading life is always uplifting.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

I Love to Read Chico Bon Bon

Last night I visited friends whose 18-month-old son charms me with his grin. I built block towers, and he knocked them over. I welcomed his dog onto my lap, and he backed up and sat on my lap also. When his dad asked if he wanted me to read him a book, my young reader friend twisted around and looked expectantly at me. "What would you like to read?" I asked. His dad told him to go get his favorite Chico Bon Bon book, and he toddled down the hall to his room. Returning with Chris Monroe's entertaining Monkey With a Tool Belt (which he'd received two weeks ago from our family), he again backed onto my lap, this time helping to open the book. We pointed to and named Chico Bon Bon's many tools. When the evil organ grinder's trap box was dropping on poor Chico Bon Bon, he said, "Uh-oh" and then pointed to Chico Bon Bon's one eye looking out the box hole each time. After "I wonder what he'll build tomorrow?" was read, he toddled down the hall for The Very Hungry Caterpillar and stuck his pinkie finger through the food holes just as I remember my sons doing. Thank you, friends, for raising a reader.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Children's Gifts

Four or so Chinese faces lit up when I opened to the title page of George Shannon's book Rabbit's Gift today. Its subtitle is "A Fable From China," and we turned to the back matter to read his author's note about the story's origins. As each animal appears in the story, illustrator Laura Dronzek incorporates the Chinese character for that animal. I watched their lips move as they silently pronounced the animal names in Chinese and then invited them to teach the rest of us how to say them correctly. One eager boy offered to write all the animal characters he knows and bring them next week. The sweetest gift came from a girl who sat at a table with me and her classmates and carefully wrote characters and spellings, patiently teaching us to say them with her.

Monday, January 3, 2011

A Snowy Day Thought

It snowed again today, adding a sparkling layer to the already tall snowbanks. The lovely snow globe scene outside the library windows was in sharp contrast to the blizzard we witnessed a few weeks ago. Fortuitously, the read-aloud selection for library time prior to that storm was Carol Otis Hurst's Terrible Storm in which she recounts her grandfathers' experiences in Westfield, Massachusetts during the Blizzard of 1888. Students loved how the each grandpa shared his version of the blizzard and endured the opposite of what he preferred (one was social and one liked being alone). When I brought out Jim Murphy's Blizzard!: The Storm That Changed America and showed them the actual photographs of that intense storm, they were mesmerized and overflowing with questions and comments. Little did we know our community would be faced with problems similar to those of the Northeastern United States more than 100 years ago.

Two weeks later we shared The Blizzard by Betty Ren Wright, set probably 50 or so years ago. Ronald Himler's watercolor illustrations reminded the children of the blizzard they had just experienced, and they laughed along with the Billy when he tells his father they have company. In fact, they have all the children of the nearby one-room schoolhouse since not a one can get home in the storm. One third grade class suggested it would be great if we all got stranded at school. "You could get a microphone at the desk and read aloud bedtime stories to everyone," a student told me.

I love how these books created background knowledge for students who were not yet born when the Halloween Blizzard of 1991 dumped snow on our city...and then helped them extend that understanding to the schoolchildren's experiences in a different book.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Warm Enthusiasm

On this chilly winter afternoon, I headed down the block for a walk with a friend. With my woolly hat covering my ears, I wondered if I'd really heard a tiny voice call out my name. I did! Over a tall snowbank, my three-year-old neighbor boy appeared from the fort he and his dad were digging. I asked this rosy-cheeked boy about his Christmas celebration and what his favorite gift was this year. With no prompting from his dad, he said with a bright smile, "That book from you." That book was a signed copy of Minnesota's Hidden Alphabet with text by David LaRochelle and photographs by Joe Rossi. I told him it made my heart feel warm to know he loved it so much.

Last week when I took the gift to their house, he opened the book and immediately found the C (an antler) for his and his dad's name, the B (painted turtle shell) for his little sister's name, and the M (Norway pine bark) for his mom's name. His mom asked me why I always give them a book for holidays. After all, I do not know them other than to wave when we pass on the street. I explained that giving books is one of my missions in life. I love the delight in people's faces as they view the pages or read passages. I love their stories of sharing books with others. My reading life extends beyond the story steps of the school library and into my neighborhood, my favorite independent bookshop, my friendships, and of course, my family. And I'm always rewarded with how books are received and appreciated.