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Monday, February 28, 2011

Fourth Grade

This morning I sat with a fourth grade class and talked about Newbery books. Most were Newbery Honor books and older Newbery Medal winners. All were ones I have read or had read to me.

When I was in fourth grade, my devoted teacher read aloud Misty of Chincoteague (and years later shared his adventure of going to Pony Penning Day), From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, The Headless Cupid, and King of the Wind. He encouraged me to read Strawberry Girl by Lois Lenski (which led to me reading her other books), The Twenty-One Balloons, and The Summer of the Swans. If I were to write my reading autobiography, I would devote a chapter to him.

Talking about these (and many more titles) today, I was transported back to Lincoln Elementary School. The students in front of me listened as I remember listening. They nodded as I must have nodded in agreement about good books and great scenes. They chimed in with comments like "I read that one."

When I finished sharing bits about 40+ books, eager hands reached for titles and moved to comfy chairs to enter new worlds.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

From the Past

Eleven years ago I met a new friend. Our sons were in the same first grade class, and somehow we discovered a common love of books. For a teacher librarian like me, loving books is expected. In her profession, it is not so common. With her book knowledge, people assume she is a librarian or a teacher!

We have spent hours walking hundreds of miles around the lakes and trails in our community, and inevitably, the talk turns to books. Sometimes we visit The Red Balloon Bookshop and spend an hour browsing, bringing titles for the other to see, and purchasing lovely books (or too many books, according to our husbands). Often on these visits, she brings a list of names, all of whom will get a book recommended by me.

Last night as we lamented how our sons sometimes do not complete their assignments on time, she told me about a history paper that was submitted late this week. Her son enjoyed learning about the topic, Japanese-American internment camps, and he especially liked a book I had recommended to her long ago. Dear Miss Breed, we said simultaneously! Written by Joanne Oppenheim, it is a compilation of letters written to Clara Breed, a San Diego children's librarian who encouraged her young patrons to write letters to her during their incarceration. After reading the 250 or so letters, the author then contacted some of the surviving correspondents and some of Clara Breed's relatives. It is a fascinating book about a courageous woman and the ways she eased some of the horrors of camp life for the young writers. And it brought a picture of that life to the history paper.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Have You Read? #7

What is a wondernose? I wondered. Two times in the past few days the book Yonie Wondernose by Marguerite de Angeli has come to my attention. The first was during my search for something about the Pennsylvania Dutch hex. A library catalog search listed the title. Rightly it is about a seven-year-old Pennsylvania Dutch boy named Jonathan (and nicknamed Yonie). The second happened yesterday when I was searching the fiction section for Newbery books for a book talk. By The Door in the Wall (her 1950 Newbery Medal winner) I found Yonie Wondernose, which won the 1945 Caldecott Honor medal (and should be in our everybody book section, not in fiction).

Naturally, I was curious about it. And that is what Yonie is - curious. His father calls him a wondernose because he is always poking his nose into something. When Pop and Mom go visiting, Yonie promises to act as the man of the house, taking care of the barn animals while home with Granny and his sister. Despite all sorts of curious detours and a bit of trouble (including accidentally closing Granny in the hen house), Yonie does his duty, even in the event of a barn fire. Pop rewards his fortitude and thoughtfulness with a piglet!

Finding a treasure in an unexpected way is always pleasant. This one will get shared with the children studying the hex and those reading Newbery books next week.

Friday, February 25, 2011

One of this week's I Love to Read month clues for kindergarten, first, and second grade students was this: “The wolf was overjoyed and fetched the basket and the rope, then threw one end of the rope to the top of the tree.”

A kindergarten class proudly turned in their correct guess early, noting that a student had the book checked out and recognized the words! He brought the book for the teacher to read to the whole class.

A second grade class shared their confusion about the book during library time. They thought it was a Chinese version of a tale with the big, bad wolf in it. Which story includes the big, bad wolf? I asked. The Three Little Pigs, of course, they told me. Are there pigs mentioned in the clues? Their thought processes were almost palpable. A quiet voice in the back row asked, "What about Little Red?" They eagerly went off to search the catalog for a connection...and brought me the correct answer in minutes.

The book, of course, is Ed Young's Caldecott Medal winner Lon Po Po. Two students in the same classroom told their teacher about the correct Chinese pronunciation, brought their Chinese dictionaries to school, and wrote what they agreed to be the characters representing those words. Monday morning's announcements of the correct answers will include their voices telling us the title in Chinese.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Quest for Hex

A colleague asked me today for a book that would help her explain the Pennsylvania Dutch hex to her students. That has proved to be a difficult task. No picture book on that specific topic exists. Some adult books look helpful (none of which are in our library collection, of course). I read through books about Pennsylvania, looked at art books, quilt books, history books. Nothing had what I needed.

Never have I had this happen! Somehow one book leads to another thought and takes me to a resource that will help the teacher. This time I might have to give her Katherine Milhous's Caldecott Medal book The Egg Tree to show a similar kind of artwork. I will suggest Jane Yolen's Raising Yoder's Barn and Sarah Stewart's The Journey to provide glimpses into the culture.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Backwards Lesson

From inside the kindergarten room, these snowpeople display character! From the parking lot, they are mere outlines of their showy selves.

A young reader today needed guidance to see those two perspectives from inside and outside a flower shop. She brought Joyce Kessler's book Valentine's Day to me and asked me what the words said in Karen Ritz's illustration above the blooms and greenery and people. I brought her to the library work room where a mirror hangs over the sink. "Hold up your book," I told her. Immediately she exclaimed, "Flower Shop!" We looked a few times at the magically transformed letters and enjoyed a backwards lesson.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Wham, Bang, Thump!

When the boys were little, we read aloud Helen Cooper's book The Bear Under the Stairs (yet another out-of-print book I would like to have) to the point of memorization. It is about a little boy named William who believes there is a bear under the stairs in his home, and to pacify that bear, he tosses food (always alliteratively listed) in the door and quickly closes it with a "wham, bang, thump!" They always joined in on those onomatopoeic words.

Moo. Woof. Bam. Splat. Pow. Oww. Onomatopoeia flowed freely after an explanation of its meaning and today's read-aloud of Candace Fleming's book Muncha! Muncha! Muncha! In the story, Mr. McGreely plants a garden and looks forward to harvesting lettuce, carrots, peas, and tomatoes...but does not plan on the gnawing interference of three rabbits. They approach his garden after the sun goes down and the moon comes up with "tippy-tippy-tippy-pat" sounds. As his fortress grows, their sounds become "spring" and "dash" and more. The listeners loved it and hands raised repeatedly to share onomatopoeia they now recognized as part of daily language.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Warm Winter Day

I love winter. Really. I prefer winter's chill to summer's heat and humidity. I love snow (and more snow like we received today). I love winds that swirl the snow into mini-tornadoes. I love donning layers and heading out for a brisk walk.

But most of all, I love winter's warmth. Lauren Stringer but that love into words in her beautiful book Winter is the Warmest Season. Winter is warm with hot chocolate, grilled cheese sandwiches, oven-hot breads, hot baths, and blankets. "In winter, bodies sit closer, books last longer, and hugs squeeze the warmest," writes Lauren.

The birds did not visit the snow-covered feeder today (neither did the squirrels), but I watched for them as I stitched patterns of a warm quilt, drank hot tea, and savored numerous books (Sir Charlie by Sid Fleischman, The Rooster Prince of Breslov by Ann Redisch Stampler, Poser: My Life in Twenty-Three Yoga Poses by Claire Dederer, and the beginning of Franklin and Eleanor: An Extraordinary Marriage by Hazel Rowley). Now I am ready to snuggle close with the other winter-lovers in my house.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Lights Out

"He found what he was looking for in his inside pocket. It seemed to be a silver cigarette lighter. He flicked it open, held it up in the air, and clicked it. The nearest street lamp went out with a little pop."

Often when I am walking or running in the pre-dawn hours, a street lamp will suddenly go dark. The first time it happened, I wondered if perhaps a man with a long, silvery beard, wearing buckled boots and a purple cloak would emerge from the shadows. Could Albus Dumbledore be in my neighborhood? I know, of course, the impossible nature of what I wonder. Professor Dumbledore is a beloved character first introduced in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling. A magical device could not snuff out the street lights with a click and a pop. Still. It somehow comforts me to imagine him watching me, giving me a "lights out" signal.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Have You Read? #7

My mom faithfully saves the paper copies of BookPage for me (paid for by our home library system), and I scan the issue for titles I want to reserve from my public library. Reading Jackie: Her Autobiography in Books by William Kuhn was reviewed a few months ago, and I was eager to read about Jacqueline Onassis through the books she edited while at Viking and Doubleday. In many ways, her status allowed her latitude and decisions not granted to others; she published many obscure titles that would not sell particularly well. Her influence on the authors she published was huge. Peter Sis recalls "she was one of the most inspiring editors I ever worked with." In fact, she was the first for him.

As I read about her as an editor, her character and personality traits became clearer than from anything I have ever read about her high-profile life. The knowledge of her through her books prompted me to look through my own reading lists to see what the books reveal about me. The countless readings of my all-time favorite young people's novel, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, reveals my love of Michelangelo (I have read The Agony and the Ecstasy by Irving Stone three times), my fascination with art history, my dream of spending a night in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Perhaps my love of Don Freeman's Corduroy says much the same about being able to stay overnight in a department store like Macy's. The multiple readings of To Kill a Mockingbird reveal my admiration for people who stand up for what is right, maintaining dignity and calm for those involved.

What do our book choices and shelves tell about us? A great deal, I think. With students, I learn their preferences and find new things for them to read and titles that will extend their interests. Take time to observe others' choices and ponder what they tell about them.

Friday, February 18, 2011

We're Not Models

Paired reading continues. Two second graders checked out identical books: Dav Pilkey's Captain Underpants and Alvin Schwartz's In a Dark, Dark Room. They read side by side on the soft chairs in a library corner. I took one photograph from the front side. When I moved behind them, I heard, "We're not models." They quickly covered their heads with the books.

Over by the story steps, in my rocking chair, sat another reader reading in a different way. With Barbara Cooney's version of Chanticleer and the Fox in her hands, she read upside down to a small audience. Reading upside down is a desired skill by many students, but this reader was the first to display it in public.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Surprise Reader in the Aisle

When my sons were in elementary school, they stayed after school until we could all walk home together. I loved finding them after school hours reading on the floor between the shelves. Those images of intense concentration remain in my mind.

Last night my son and I were at Target. I always walk through the book aisles to see what titles they are selling and what new books pique my interest. As I turned the corner to the chapter book offerings, a pair of extended legs met my glance. Upon closer inspection of the head, I recognized one of my students. "Oh, hi," he greeted me with a smile and strong eye contact. His book stayed open. Clearly, he wanted to keep reading. What are you reading? I asked. "Percy Jackson," he replied. His mom and sisters joined us, giving him the opportunity to get back to the book.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Tool Belt Point of View

From one angle, this bunch of petunias blooms from a yellow pot. From another view, it is set in a pot upon a sunny chair in my mom's garden. Point of view changes from our direction, of course. What one person sees, another person might overlook. It happened to me at yoga last night when our instructor thought it was too early to begin. When she stepped from her side view to look at the clock face forward, it was time to begin.

Today the point-of-view shift happened for me with third graders while sharing Chris Monroe's Monkey With a Tool Belt and Monkey With a Tool Belt and the Noisy Problem. Readers and listeners love Chico Bon Bon's twelve-part plan to escape from the organ grinder's box. They love when the organ grinder's toe gets hit with Chico Bon Bon's rubber mallet. But they really love the page where Chico Bon Bon stands facing proudly forward with his incredibly compartmentalized tool belt around his waist. A line points from the tool labels to the tools themselves. There are always chuckles when I read in order "monkey wrench, turkey wrench, donkey wrench" or "pajama hammer, banana hammer, clam hammer."

When Chico Bon Bon is tucked in bed with his tool belt, I show them the second book about this crafty monkey and how he determines the location of the noisy problem (an elephant has clogged his laundry chute!). This book also shows the monkey with his tool belt, only this time the tools are not quite the same. One astute observer asked me to show both the pages of Chico Bon Bon with his tool belt side by side. Look how the second one shows him from the side, he told us. In all the times I have read both books, I never noticed the shift in point-of-view to that profile view! Another lesson learned from a child.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Rippling Effect

Last week I read "Artemis Begins" to a fourth grade reading class. Immediately, the students raced to the fiction shelves to find F COL, wanting copies of Eoin Colfer's Artemis Fowl books. Today, their teacher practically bounced into my office, wanting to share a story about two of those readers. They had each checked out the same book. They were reading and writing notes to each other. One had questions which the other could answer. Was that okay? wondered the girls. They were keeping track of their understanding by writing a summary of each chapter and then comparing them. Was that okay, too?

The teacher, of course, was delighted. What began as a read-aloud selection has evolved into a shared reading experience in which each reader is learning and teaching, sharing and extending thoughts. Amazingly, none of it was required reading...and nothing was assigned.

Stories like "Artemis Begins" engage readers and lead to extraordinary reading experiences.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Love of Reading

I love to read picture books to my nieces and nephew that my sons loved...Bunny Cakes by Rosemary Wells, Katy and the Big Snow by Virginia Lee Burton, Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey. I love to read aloud to children on the story steps or in the reading alcove, knowing their love of books is fostered in part by the work my teaching partner and I do with them. I love to read aloud to my sons by the light of a soft lamp in our library. I love to read engaging titles on the window seat in the sun on weekend afternoons. I love to read cookbooks, planning what I want to bake and cook. I love to read recipes written in my grandmothers' and great grandmother's handwriting, a legacy from them of my past. I love to read letters from friends and family...and reread them again later.

What and where do you love to read?

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Ghostly Bedtime Reading

When our phone rings close to 9 o'clock in the evening, I wonder what could be wrong. The other night I was already reading in bed when it rang. Nothing was wrong. My young neighbor girl was calling to tell me she had just finished reading Marion Dane Bauer's The Green Ghost, the signed book she received from me for Christmas. She loved it, she told me. She checked her school's library catalog, and neither of the other two books were listed. She wanted me to know how glad she was to have that book.

Last night I talked to her parents and told them how nice it was that they made her call me. No, they protested. It was not their idea. She finished reading it in her bed and said, "I have to call Julie." Given that this child is not usually an eager reader and rarely finishes chapter books independently, they readily agreed. Her straightforward enthusiasm caused me to fall asleep smiling. It caused her mom to find The Blue Ghost at our public library and me to reserve The Red Ghost for her from my library.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Have You Read? #6

I feel better when my mom is here with me. I feel better when I get more rest. I feel better when I eat more fruits and vegetables. But I do not think I would feel better if I had an actual frog in my throat. Some medieval folks, however, believed this strange practice would cure a sore throat! Oddly enough, there is some scientific support for the use of frog slime to ease pain and act as an antibiotic (now available in a convenient pill form instead of the live version).

I learned this and more interesting information from I Feel Better With a Frog in My Throat: History's Strangest Cures by Carlyn Beccia (also check out her 2009 title The Raucous Royals). The book's clever "Instructions for Use" warn readers to avoid eating lunch or operating heavy machinery while reading some of the gross and painful cures. The best instruction is to "proceed to your nearest library for more information" when "confusion or dizziness occurs." A multiple choice quiz format presents history's strangest cures for coughs, colds, sore throats, wounds, stomachaches, fevers, headaches, and "every sickness." One or more answers might be correct! The explanations that accompany each right or wrong answer are often humorous and always on the verge of unbelievable. Attention is also given to the Eye of Horus, wormy cures, bloody cures, the use of leeches (ugh! I hate leeches), holes in the head, and a letter from Ulysses S. Grant.

Her digital mixed media illustrations add the perfect amount of humor and expression to the text. She offers more information about the origins of cures and medicine in a wonderfully detailed bibliography.

I am grateful to those caregivers in my life who have treated me with less dramatic cures, especially my mom.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Rewinding the Story

His hand shot up as soon as I closed A Sick Day for Amos McGee today (note that he was polite and held his comment until I finished reading). What he had to share was urgent. It was like the author was "rewinding the story" by having the zoo animals come to Mr. McGee's house and do kind things for him, he said. It was like the first half showed him getting on the bus for work and all the nice things Amos did for the animals and then the story was rewinding when the animals got on the bus to care for him. Heads nodded around the story steps, classmates echoing the sentiment.

I like that phrase. Rewinding the story. What if we could all rewind our stories more often and give back when kindness is bestowed upon us? Children recognize those behaviors. They model them for each other in little ways in our library...sharpening a pencil for someone else, saying "thank you" and "you're welcome" appropriately, finding a book for a classmate, even parting with a book choice so another person can enjoy it instead.

Two readers in the alcove were rewinding Inkheart (by Cornelia Funke) in a way. In what has been a popular trend this school year, they chose a book with two copies so they could read together and share in an informal book discussion. They were reading and rereading lines together, sometimes chorally, sometimes taking turns.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Looking for a Round Trip Ticket

This week's K-2 book clues for I Love to Read month have proven quite challenging for readers...a surprise since all five copies of the book are usually checked out from the collection. When I used it as a read-aloud selection two years ago, we talked about book design and alternatives to the traditional picture book. Not only were our library copies in demand; the public library copies were reserved for several weeks.

Here is the clue from Monday:
"We started out as soon as it was light. Our neighborhood was quiet, the houses dark. The sun shone on the pond."

Soon after morning announcements, a student perfectly described the book to me - minus the title. He said things about flipping the book around to view the illustrations a different way and about there being a trip. Being the clue creator, I could give no hints, but I encouraged him to use some of his words to do a keyword search. A few minutes later, he located the book and confirmed his guess.

A few correct guesses have come in this week. Just a few. Today's clue was this:
"We took the tunnel under the river, and soon saw our moonlit street. Home again."

I read aloud to a fifth grade class this afternoon. They loved Eoin Colfer's "Artemis Begins" but then asked for information about the K-2 book. They listed what they knew, and again, I suggested they do some searching in the catalog. In minutes, after looking up "trip" and locating the book, they confirmed their guess. What motivation they had to find the book!

If you are still stumped, the answer is...
Round Trip by Ann Jonas

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Snippets of the Library World

A reader asked me for mystery recommendations. She was not interested in a Nancy Drew book. I mentioned Trixie Belden, telling her it was a series that has been reprinted. She looked at the books briefly and then began wandering around the shelves again. I suggested Regarding the... books by the Klise sisters. Again, there was no spark. Though she seemed interested in Sammy Keyes and From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, ultimately she confessed to wanting two of the same book for her book group. We found a book that interested her, and I asked about the members of the book group. With a shy smile, she revealed it was just her and her mom. My mom and I talk about books all the time would have been wonderful to do it as an avid young reader as well.

Another reader asked me to find a book that had been made into a movie. He wanted to read the book first. I mentioned Because of Winn-Dixie and The Tale of Despereaux, but he had seen both of those movies already and read the first. I suggested Babe: The Gallant Pig, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, and The Capture (Book 1 of The Guardians of Ga'Hoole series by Kathryn Lasky). None were quite what he wanted. Then he glimpsed the cover of From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. Was that made into a movie? No, I told him. Probing questions led to his disclosure that he preferred fantasy to realistic fiction. That was when I spotted The Borrowers. As I described it, he kept perfect eye contact and nodded often. Was the Clock family a bit like the Littles (by John Peterson)? Yes, I answered. He took that one, looking back over his shoulder to say he would be back for the others someday.

Library days are spotted with incidents like these. Though short in exchange, the interactions shape readers' choices and trust of the adults in their world. The readers return to discuss what they have liked and disliked and why...and ask for more ideas.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Noticing the Balloon...and More

The view from the cozy reading alcove was pleasant but deceiving today. Sunshine and shadow provided many shades to the snow, and the wind whipped the tree branches (causing sub-zero wind chills). Students were stuck indoors for recess yet again. Somehow, though, whenever they come to the library, they are calm and eager to listen.

On the story steps and on the carpet of the alcove, I read aloud A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip Stead. It won the 2011 Caldecott Medal for his wife, Erin Stead. I love this story about a many who works in a zoo but makes time for special activities with his animal friends. When he gets sick, they make an unlikely trip to visit him and do special things to make him feel better. Listeners today loved it as well. Midway through the book, there is a pause in the text for three double-page spreads. The elephant, the tortoise, the penguin, the rhinoceros, and the owl leave the zoo, line up at the bus stop, and travel on the number five bus to visit Amos McGee at home.

I read upside down so listeners can view the pages right-side up at all times. As I turned these wordless pages, I observed the height of visual literacy. Children's eyes scanned the pages. Their heads turned to see more. They nodded and smiled. Seeing the number five bus filled with animals, many laughed. One child sighed as his secret prediction about the animals' destination was confirmed. The children never questioned how the animals entered Amos's home; they just accepted their presence and expressed gladness for the things they did to care for Amos.

They gazed at the last wordless page where the human and animals are crowded together in and around the bed. Only penguin is awake, watching a red balloon float to the moon. Immediately, hands rose. One after another, they noted the presence of a balloon on the pages where the penguin was featured. Some came forward to turn the pages for me and point out when there was not a red balloon. They offered theories about how the penguin got another balloon after one rises into the air at the bus stop: it had "secret penguin pockets" with more balloons to fill; someone gave it a new one; it must have reached up with its long flipper. They turned the book all around and saw balloons on the front, back, and spine (that was the most amazing thing).

Children take in so many visual cues. I mentioned none of the balloon images to them. I did not ask about why the elephant and Amos are playing cards on the book jacket while the only played chess in the story...yet someone brought up that point. They noticed Amos's bunny slippers, the mouse that holds so many objects, and Amos's teddybear. Children possess innate visual literacy skills, and time to foster them and practice with books is essential.

My favorite line, by the way, comes when Amos and the tortoise are going to play hide-and-seek instead of running their usual race: "The tortoise hid inside his shell. Amos hid beneath the covers."

I recommend visiting Erin Stead's blog: On this particular post, she displays a photo of the wood block for the book's title. What precision!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Seeking Balance

People often ask me if I would rather do anything else for a career. There are times when I might reply, "I would love to be a baker" or "I would love to have my own bookstore." There are many times I would prefer to discard the technology duties associated with my job. Such things as fixing printer jams, installing SMART Notebook software, figuring out why a SMART Board is not responding to touch, or taking apart a computer tower to remove and reinstall the video card are not things I relish about my work. Though I might love to create desserts that bring pleasure to guests or talk about books with interested customers, I know I would miss the time spent with children and books in my library world.

And so I seek balance. I repair what needs fixing, answer the questions, teach about technology problems. But then I read aloud to eager listeners, help readers find just the right books for them, guide inquiring minds to resources that will provide answers and generate more questions, assist my colleagues in matching materials to their standards and lessons, and search for more resources that will enhance curriculum and interests. As more and more schools and districts eliminate library positions, I continue to demonstrate the positive impact school librarians have on students' learning...and consider myself lucky.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Have You Read? #5

Last night I picked up a book from the library. I have been waiting for it for a few months, and because my husband was driving, I could look at it immediately! Notice I did not write "open it immediately." The book jacket is intriguing. A large photograph of President Obama, gazing out of Marine One dominates. Across the bottom are small squares of George W. Bush (wearing a cowboy hat and driving a pick-up), Lyndon B. Johnson looking at a soldier, Richard Nixon talking on the phone, Ronald Reagan in front of flags, and John F. Kennedy reading a newspaper while off Hyannis Port. The back jacket shows Lyndon Johnson lying in a field of wildflowers, the Clintons with facial expressions of incredulity, and the Obamas wearing 3-D glasses. Would you be as intrigued as I was?

The book, written by John Bredar, is The President's Photographer: Fifty Years Inside the Oval Office. Pete Souza, Chief Official White House Photographer, wrote the Foreword. I am captivated by the perspectives and views I am reading in this book. Though I know, of course, that the President has a personal life, has interests beyond work, has a need for time with family, has a spouse with whom he likes to spend time, and has intense emotional experiences, I am still fascinated by the images of our presidents doing things like the rest of us. Picture President Obama hugging Sasha in the elevator or Richard Nixon shaking hands with Elvis Presley or Betty Ford dancing across the Cabinet Room table. Looking at the photographs is an incredible experience. Reading about the history of the them and the specifics behind each one extends the impact to an even greater degree.

Though this is not necessarily a children's book, I believe it has appeal and applicability for my elementary school students and colleagues. The visual element of the book is incredible, and its glimpse into the lives of our country's leaders lifts it to being extraordinary.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Books for Breakfast

Start with 25 authors and illustrators and 250 teachers, librarians and book-lovers gathered for breakfast through the Children's Literature Network. Add to that a creative puzzler (David LaRochelle) whose table game got the room buzzing and thinking about book content. Mix in willing volunteers (like my helpful mother and youngest son) and lots of books. Blend in book reviews, connections with colleagues, a lovely video version of The Princess and Her Panther (illustrated by my friend Lauren), jokes and laughter, and memories of past gatherings. The result? A joyful morning celebration of literacy that goes on my gratitude list for today.

Friday, February 4, 2011

I Love to Read Clues

Thirteen years ago I was a stay-at-home mom, recently resigned from a reading/language arts teaching position. Nowhere in my mind was there an idea of going back to university life to become a librarian.

Our oldest son was in kindergarten, and I would have loved to volunteer in his classroom. My commitment to his two younger brothers kept me at home. Instead, I revised an idea and created a book clue activity for I Love to Read Month which I offered to the school staff. Three years later I would be the librarian at that school, and the book clues were a highly anticipated part of February's reading celebration. They still are, and today marks the end

It is a simple concept. I choose two books each week, one for primary grades and one for intermediate grades. From those books, I select a line or two for four days of the school week (usually Monday through Thursday). The lines I pick must not reveal names from the book but should give readers some hints for identifying it. They are delivered chronologically through the book (i.e. Tuesday's clues are found after Monday's clues in the text). The principal reads the clues during morning announcements. Classrooms combine their collective book knowledge to determine each book's identity and submit guesses to the library.

There is no reward other than satisfaction. (Note: Read Daniel Pink's book Drive for more on motivation and rewards). Yet guesses are delivered almost immediately after morning announcements end each day by beaming children! Most intermediate classrooms identify both books! On Friday mornings, the principal identifies the books and reads aloud the names of classrooms who guessed correctly. Cheers echo in the hallways.

Here are two from this week's books:
“It was wrapped in an apron of steam. Snowflakes fell lightly around it. A conductor stood at the open door of one of the cars.”

“They worked as fast as they could, but before they finished, Father came with another load of ice. He laid down another layer of ice cubes three inches apart, and drove away, leaving them to fill every crevice tightly with sawdust, and spread sawdust over the top, and shovel the rest of the mound of sawdust up again.

What would be your guess?

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Good Books for Sale

I need to start a campaign. No political parties are involved in this one. Lobbyists would help. I am just not certain who would help bring about change. The issue is books that are out of print and how they can be made available to readers again.

Reading aloud out-of-print books to children results in a conundrum. Though I explain that a book like Too Many Mittens by the Slobodkins is no longer available and thus is difficult to replace, children want so badly to take it home with them. If we allow out-of-print books to be checked out, there is always a chance the book will be damaged (we had the eighth chewed-by-a-dog incident this week with an American Girl book) or simply lost. Our solution has been to create a section of historical books that can be used only at school.

But I still wish we could reinstate many out-of-print books into the world of available literature again. What would it take to bring Just Like Abraham Lincoln by Bernard Waber to the presses again? It is a wonderful story about Mr. Potts, an amazing look-alike to our 16th president and a neighbor to the book's narrator. The ending is the best! I would love to have students take home The Chalk Box Story by Don Freeman, a small book about a box of chalk pieces that work together to create a desert island scene and rescue. So many readers ask for Tiny Treasures from American Girl, and I can see why. Our only copy is coveted by readers who want to make all the miniature things in the spiral-bound book. For many years I have wanted my own copy of The Story of May by Mordicai Gerstein. It is a wonderful book about a personification of each month of the year. Today our building secretary shared her four book recommendations, and one was Jellybeans for Breakfast by Miriam Young, a story she remembers loving as a young girl. The price tag on a worn paperback copy was $117! During the holiday season, I always wish I could buy another copy of David LaRochelle's A Christmas Guest for readers who do not have their own. So many good books like these are for sale on used book high prices!

If the students I see each week are any indication, there is a market for these books. Let me know to whom I should speak first to start my campaign.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Read Aloud Trio

Expressive voices drew me back to the story steps this morning. I had finished reading Too Many Mittens to a second class and was assisting children in their book searches. A trio sat together, their heads leaning toward each other, their voices sharing the words of Debra Frasier's A Birthday Cake is No Ordinary Cake.

I loved several things about the moment. These girls were "lookers" today. Lookers have not returned their books and can use library time to look at books instead of checking out something new. They chose to read together. Aloud. In choral style! Their smiles could be heard in their voices, bright like the sun's rays in the artwork.

My adoration for the book made me smile as I heard the familiar lines read by three sweet voices.

"Actually, any south-flying bird's shadow will do.
Experiment: Try butterflies.
Again, let batter sit.
Put on a sweater.
Stir often.
Find your mittens."

I knelt next to them to hear the last pages.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Is This Fiction or Nonfiction?

This week I am reading another out-of-print book to the students. They loved how Louis Slobodkin shaped the words Too Many Mittens with red mittens instead of a font. They remembered previous discussions about color separation, and some even noted that the illustrations looked a lot like those in The Hundred Dresses. Perceptive, I say, and in tune with visual literacy. Some were counting as more and more red mittens appeared at the house and were put in the small drawer by Donny's and Ned's grandmother. Some chanted "red mitten" at the right time without any urging from me. There were giggles, of course, when the boys' mother and father bring them "beautiful red mittens" as a gift from their vacation!

My favorite comment of the day came from a first grader who asked, "Is this fiction or nonfiction?" At the end of the book, the Slobodkins provide wonderful advice to readers: if you have lost a red mitten, come to Donny's and Ned's house and look on the "Lost Mitten Line." Clearly, when an author reaches out with the word you, the line between fiction and nonfiction is blurred. How wonderful to be so caught up in the story to feel its realistic qualities!