Follow by Email

Thursday, March 31, 2011


"Friday is errand day." Thus begins Elise Broach's humorous book When Dinosaurs Came With Everything. Earlier this week, I realized there were some children who were unfamiliar with the term errand, so I began asking ahead of time if anyone knew what an errand was. In each class, several children volunteer to tell their definitions, and all have been interesting. I loved one from yesterday: it's something you do, like going to the store or getting gas, that you really wish you didn't have to do.

Today, we experienced what I call a Miss Alaineus moment in a third grade class. I speak clearly and try to enunciate when I read aloud. After others talked about errands, one student said, "It's errands? I always thought it was Erin's, like we are going to someone's house."

My errand tonight was getting shoe inserts for the boys at REI!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Visual Literacy

Being in a classroom every day with the same children is rewarding - and completely different from my typical daily routine. For the next month or so I get the privilege of co-teaching with a fourth grade colleague and indulge in the day-to-day life of those students.

We began on Monday with an introduction to inquiry learning. First we listed all the things we think we knew about the topic I chose (based on what I might encounter this summer at Glacier National Park). I read aloud a chapter on grizzly bears from Ted Lewin's Tooth and Claw: Animal Adventures in the Wild. Then we listed all the things we learned from the passage and crossed out things that were incorrect from our first list.

Never can I be completely engaged with a topic if I have little interest in it. Knowing the same to be true of students, I asked them to list topics about which they might be curious. They were delighted to have books about those topics in hand yesterday! We have been learning to write good questions about things that make us wonder. Wonderings, we have called them.

Today we worked on visual literacy (and later on, text clues). I started with Dorothea Lange's Migrant Mother photograph and was astounded at what they wondered. They even pointed out something I have never noticed in the years I have looked at the photograph: the mother indifferently holds a baby in her left arm. The second practice photograph was of the Chrysler Building. They loved the gargoyle-like eagles (unlike the scarier gargoyles on the Chicago Public Library) and again generated incredible questions. Moving to their own books and images was easy! Tomorrow we start talking about our wondering thought processes.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Exhilarated Exhaustion

How else can I describe my current physical state but tired? So tired that I allowed myself permission not to write last evening after a 13+ hour day at school and the book festival. So tired that the alarm clock actually woke me this morning! Still, my brain is exhilarated with thoughts and images of the past two the smiles on Dave Geister's and Pat Bauer's faces along with a young reader who shopped ahead for his dad's Father's Day the proud children carrying rag dolls made from the direction of one of my the puppets from The Best Pet of All (performed last fall by the Paul Mesner Puppet Studio) and admired by many visitors, along with author David John Coy talking to children about his 4x4 books and signing copies for interested sports the beaming girls who taught origami folding to our principal and many of their Mike Wohnoutka explaining about the many boots worn by character Clementine Sweet to a second grader who has quite a boot collection of her Lynne Jonell teaching me to draw faces when she was not signing copies of her the many unique journals created by one of colleagues for visitors with various kinds of boxes (the tiny Jell-O pudding journal was my favorite) Margi Preus signing her first copy of Celebritrees for a 5th grader.

We are so glad to be tired while providing such fantastic opportunities for families. This festival is doing exactly what we hoped: offering activities and events for families to engage with authors and school experts, giving families the chance to purchase wonderful books and materials to support literacy and learning, and supporting a local, independent business.

Now I need to spend time with Major Ernest Pettigrew as I finish Helen Simonson's Major Pettigrew's Last Stand. I am close to the end and absolutely love this book. Thanks to Mr. Brattcat for recommending it!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Library for the Early Mind

This afternoon I viewed a new documentary entitled "Library of the Early Mind" and was privileged to discuss the film on a panel with director Ted Delaney and authors John Coy, David LaRochelle, and Catherine Thimmesh at the Minneapolis Central Library.

I feel strongly that young people deserve and benefit from daily interaction with books, and this film reinforced many of my ideas about literacy and the importance of time spent with picture books. The film is being screened in several locations around the United States. My hope is that it reaches more than the library community!

Some favorite thoughts...
  • Books provide the wallpaper and window for the rest of children's lives - Gregory Maguire
  • Drawing is the physical form of empathy - Mo Willems
  • R.L. Stine only learned to type with his left pointer finger and has used it to type 300 books!
  • Reading allows us to rehearse what we might decide to do in a circumstance - Lois Lowry
  • "To children, a year is a long time ago." - Mary Downing Hahn
  • Prolific is a bad word for Jane Yolen. She prefers versatile instead and wonders why others are not writing more different things.
  • David Small's voicelessness (read Stitches for the full story) made him into an artist because tit was impossible to participate socially.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Have You Read? #11

Sally Walker captured my attention in 2005 with the release of Secrets of a Civil War Submarine, an in-depth review of the H.L. Hunley. Almost a year later, that book won the Sibert Medal. In 2009, I eagerly read Written in Bone, an account of the forensic anthropology involved in determining facts about the people of Jamestown and Colonial Maryland. My youngest son and I are intrigued by her latest book, Frozen Secrets: Antarctica Revealed.

Each night as I read aloud, we discover astonishing things about the continent on the bottom of the earth. As often happens with things we learn, another source featured a story about it this week, cementing our knowledge. An NPR story talked about many of the things we have learned! The Robert Scott expedition reached the South Pole a disappointing second (Norwegian Roald Amundsen's expedition got there 35 days earlier) and died just 11 miles from their base camp. That camp is basically preserved just as it was, including all the food. The ice sheets have an average thickness of about 7,300 feet, yet at the thickest point, they are incredibly almost 3 miles deep! Ms. Walker writes of the many facts and accounts in such a manner that we absorb them with ease and appreciation.

As we hope for signs of spring, this book has made us grateful for our weather. This week in Antarctica, it has been around -75 degrees! We often see squirrels entering and leaving our treehouse, causing us to wonder if there are secrets to be revealed when we can climb up for a visit again. Will we find a well-preserved stash of acorns?

Friday, March 25, 2011

Mixing Up Some Reading Enthusiasm

At one end of Turtle Hall, Chris Monroe read aloud Sneaky Sheep, her humorous 2010 book about two reckless sheep named Rocky and Blossom who manage to sneak past Murphy, the sheep dog assigned to watch them, and get to the forbidden high meadow. At the opposite end, our multi-talented physical education teacher demonstrated the techniques involved in making cake pops. Children and parents milled around each of them, interested in hearing stories about Chico Bon Bon's creations (note the large wooden version of him on the table behind her) and wishing for a taste of the chef's handiwork.

In between the two attractions, readers perused the tables of books, many carrying stacks to purchase. New books arrived amidst the busyness, and just as we set them on the tables, they were snatched up by eager readers. What a wonderful night to be at the book festival!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Busy Authors

Lauren Stringer (author and illustrator of Winter is the Warmest Season and illustrator of Snow, Red Rubber Boot Day, Scarecrow, and The Princess and Her Panther, among others) and Joan Wolf (author of Someone Named Eva) greeted guests and signed books at the book festival this afternoon. They answered questions about their writing processes, and Lauren talked about creating the artwork for several of her books. Origami frogs appeared in various bright colors as Lauren taught children and parents to fold frogs. She learned to fold, of course, in preparation for making the paintings for Fold Me a Poem. When the two were not interacting with guests, they busily talked about their shared profession, something authors do not often get a chance to do.
One book I love has been selling well: Deborah Underwood's The Loud Book. Last year she released the companion book The Quiet Book, which I also love. The artwork is wonderful and intriguing. The simple yet insightful text is what captures my thoughts and reminds me of other loud (or quiet) times and moods in life.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Rubbing Shoulders With Joyce

Joyce Sidman, guest author at the book festival today, brought drafts of Meow Ruff: A Story in Concrete Poetry to share with visitors, as well as a dummy of Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night. Text Boxes and Word Art helped her create the basic format of Meow Ruff, and the artwork evolved from her initial designs. The shapes of crows, cats, trees, dogs, cars, and clouds materialized from her words, eventually becoming the bright book she signed for visitors. Thanks, Joyce, for traveling to spend time at the book festival on a snowy March afternoon!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


In the morning rain, a delivery of boxes arrived at school, all labeled with the content stored inside them. After many hours of organizing tables, grouping subjects and like themes, hanging posters, stacking and displaying titles, and sighing repeatedly, the room was transformed, almost ready for the hundreds of eager readers who will visit tomorrow.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Another Rippling Effect

One of my second grade teacher colleagues is always eager to read books recommended, and she took Me and Rolly Maloo by Janet Wong home with her for spring break. Today she eagerly told me how much she loved that book. The voices are so true to life. The situations could happen in our school. Children and parents alike would appreciate the perspectives.

Instead of returning it, could she keep it and share it with the teachers in her master's program? She knows they will all want to read it.

I agree completely. I love that a well-directed recommendation can carry on to so many others.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Book Haven

Whenever I walk into my favorite bookshop, I feel like a character from Cheers. Everybody knows my name. They always have something interesting to share. The front window is beautifully painted, this month by Claudia McGehee. Staff picks on an endcap generate ideas for books to order for the library collection. Music plays softly. It is a haven for me.

As I talked with the staff about our upcoming book festival, a wee customer brought a box of fake food that can be "cut" for serving to the counter. She was quite articulate about her purchase, and hefted the box with a grunt to a staff member who needed to bend to take it from her.

My teaching partner and I perused new books this afternoon, read things we had been hoping to see (like Tom Lichtenheld's Cloudette - gosh, I love his humor), and admired all the new Ravensburger games and puzzles. The visit yielded a birthday gift for my first-grade neighbor, a paperback copy of Snipp, Snapp, Snurr and the Gingerbread, two copies of Margi Preus's new book Celebritrees, and one book my husband chose. I left contented...and went home to read.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Have You Read? #10

I have been lost in a book, specifically Candace Fleming's Amelia Lost: The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart. Written in alternating chapters about the search for Amelia, her Lockheed Electra, and navigator Frank Noonan in July of 1937 (on grey paper) and her life story (on white paper), the narrative re-taught me things about the famous aviatrix...and introduced me to things I did not know.

That happens to me with famous people (my former hero Charles Schulz is one such example). My childhood acquisition of information about them is filtered somehow, and through the years, I gather details and learn traits and facts that I somehow need to mesh. In Amelia's case, my younger self admired her, saw her as a gifted flier, imagined her as the icon about whom I had read. In Amelia Lost, I discovered that she was more determined than talented, that she sometimes got credit for things that were not all her doing, that her disappearance might be due to some technological omissions (the Morse code key, for example) from her aircraft, and that her stubborn nature contributed to several mishaps in her career.

The biography captivated me, and I continually reconciled new information with remembered information. With another round of wax museum book talks coming up next week, I will recommend this to the person who chooses to learn about and portray Miss Earhart.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Child Artist Revisited

Earlier this week my younger son and I re-organized the contents of my cedar chest. The many journals I have written for them about their words, actions, challenges, and accomplishments were placed in chronological order. We laughed at some of the notes written to me by him (and his brothers). I even cried at some of the forgotten works of art and cards created for me!

When we came upon some of his ship artwork, he snatched them to save in his bucket of special things (along with favorite stuffed animals, school accomplishments, and other noteworthy objects from his personal history. Today, though, he brought them out again, along with Ed Emberley's Jumbo Color Drawing Book and several of the other ships and boats he drew years ago.

That book - and Mr. Emberley's many other drawing and thumbprint books - have brought joy to so many would-be artists. The step-by-step drawings make it easy to create detailed pictures. We are going to try one tomorrow together.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Water On My Mind

Instead of ice on the walking paths, there is water today. The line of trees in our backyard appears to be a reflecting pond. Lines of geese fly overhead and drop down at the surrounding lakes. Worries about rising rivers and flooding are in the news headlines. And in my mind, The Water Seeker resonates.

It is an unusual Oregon Trail story, begun in 1833 along Bittersweet Creek in Missouri. Trapper Jake Kincaid returns to his cabin and bride for a few months each year, but upon one such trip, he finds her buried beneath a tree and her mother holding the infant son (named Amos by his deceased wife) he did not know he would have. The story chronicles Amos's life from Pretty Water mission (where Jake's brother Gil is a preacher and his wife Rebecca is a teacher) to life on the prairie with the neighboring Block family (who take him in after Rebecca's death) to a life of dowsing with Jake and his Shoshone bride Blue Owl and finally to the trail leading to Oregon Territory.

Intermingled with Amos's story are the many references to water: the gift or curse of dowsing, Amos's fear of water as a child and Jake's lessons in learning how to swim, the digging of wells for many settlers, the crossing of rivers on their trek northwest, the scent of water young Gwendolyn (whom he will later marry) associates with Amos.

Kimberly Willis Holt's novel is historical fiction, but it is also magical, humorous, a bit romantic, and thoroughly captivating.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

What Makes a Portfolio?

Debra and I spent many hours today (in our less-than-healthy states) scanning and copying items from Miss Alaineus: A Vocabulary Disaster. We completely took over the counter at a local copy center and had many customers interested in our work. Most folks have no idea of the thought processes and revisions that contribute to a finished book. We hope children and teachers who check out the portfolio from the Kerlan Collection will discover incredibly interesting things about Debra's process and begin to think of books in new ways.

Some of the many things we reproduced today include...
  • the first draft scrawled on unlined paper
  • a bound later draft with rough sketches included (and a much different subtitle)
  • correspondence between Debra and her editor
  • definitions (from two sources) of all the words she chose to define in the text (like Forest and Sage)
  • skin tone examples and notes for the book's characters (all Crayola markers - she wanted everything used in the book's creation to be things found in a 5th grader's desk)
  • photographs of grocery store aisles and the produce section and then artwork of Sage and her mom at the grocery store
  • versions of the extra credit sentences that appear along each page
  • versions of Sage's Miss Alaineus costume and her Miss Sterious costume as well
  • photos of Debra's daughter posing in the positions Debra would need to create the artwork for Sage
  • information about the flap copy (which she say is the hardest thing to write - and which she always writes herself)
  • a style guide she created for her editor and art director

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Something Old to Something New

More than 27 years ago my sweet grandmother taught me to knit. After that basic knit/purl scarf made by every beginner, I wanted to learn how to make mittens. She had two copies of the 1953 publication Gloves and Mittens To Knit and Crochet for the Entire Family, and she gave one to me. It is worth far more than the 30 cents she paid for it decades ago.

Grandma guided me through a pair of basic mittens and showed me how to add a cable or two to the back of the hands. She taught me to change colors, and I later made those snowman mittens for my sons. I have made dozens of pairs over the years and am going to try something new today. With the wool I use for felting projects, I plan to make an extra large pair of those mittens she taught me to knit so long ago - and then see how well they turn out felted. Doing something to remember her is always a good way to bring someone dear close to my heart.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Not Very Often

Rarely does a day go by in which I do not pick up a book. Alas, today has been that kind of day...a sick day (still!). My pile is four-high: The Power of Myth (Bill Moyers and Joseph Campbell), Martin Seligman's Authentic Happiness, The Water Seeker by Kimberly Willis Holt, and A Shadow Falls by Nick Brandt. The first I have been trying to digest and understand for several months. The second is supposed to help me define happiness and my own level of it. The third is newly released and received terrific reviews. The last is a folio of incredible photographs, recommended by Brattcat, and I have not opened it because I want to truly enjoy it. Perhaps tomorrow will be a reading day again.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Miscellaneous/Miss Alaineus

It is Spring Break for me. This week Debra Frasier and I are scanning rough drafts, revisions, letters to and from her editor, notes to herself, images, artwork possibilities, and close-to-perfect work from her book Miss Alaineus: A Vocabulary Disaster. I have thoughtfully selected these things from the many folders she donated to the University of Minnesota's Kerlan Collection, and they will comprise a portfolio for teachers to use with students.

This book's impact in schools has been tremendous. Children devise innovative costumes representative of word and march in hundreds of Vocabulary Parades across the country each year. Interest in vocabulary blossoms as students and teachers explore words and their meanings.

We look forward to giving classrooms the opportunity to see Debra's working process throughout the phases of this book in the portfolio we create!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Have You Read #9

Five years ago I read aloud Joan Bauer's Rules of the Road to my sons. It remains one of our favorites for numerous reasons, so when I notice a new release from her, I always read it.

Close to Famous was released last month, and the cover alone made captivated me! A young baker is wearing an apron with a shooting star and is holding a plate of cupcakes baked in bright liners. That baker, Foster Akilah McFee, influenced me to try a new recipe this morning: cherry cupcakes (from King Arthur).

Literacy and baking - two things I highly value in life - feature prominently in this novel. Foster and her mom hit the road after a less-than-desirable run-in with her mom's Elvis-impersonator boyfriend and end up in Culpepper, West Virginia. Despite their quick departure, the sixth-grade Foster brought her handy Bake and Take cupcake carrier with her, as well as the many recipes she has committed to memory (a necessary process since she cannot read). To dispel her frustrations and sadness, Foster bakes. She shares her butterscotch muffins and chocolate cupcakes and eventually sells them at Angry Wayne's, a restaurant in town. Batch by batch, she talks through her process, wishing she could have a Food Network show to share the potential "make the world a better place, one cupcake at a time." Her secret illiterate life becomes public when she assists a famous actress (who came home to Culpepper) who hid her own illiteracy the same way Foster did. Soon, many of the people who care about her are helping her learn to read.

Readers will love this book, despite some of the outrageous scenes sprinkled throughout the story. They will ponder like I have that title and the many ways it is perfect for this book.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Making Connections

For our upcoming book festival, two students will be demonstrating origami techniques. They acquired permission from their parents to stay after school to teach others how to make a simple project.

One student came to tell me about her parents' agreement to letting her do this. The two of us connected last year when she asked me if we had any Vietnamese books in our library. We found non-fiction books about the country but only a few novels and picture books.

She was delighted to pronounce words for me from The Lotus Seed by Sherry Garland. She checked out Carolyn Marsden's When Heaven Fell. Her desire for tales from her native land led me to Sherry Garland's collection Children of the Dragon: Selected Tales From Vietnam. When it arrived, we sat together to look at Trina Schart Hyman's beautiful illustrations and to talk about the stories she remembered.

When she stopped by this week, I had a new book on my desk - Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai. It is a wonderfully told story in verse about one family's departure from Saigon in 1975 through the eyes of a ten-year-old narrator, Kim Ha. Gleefully, she pronounced names and words for me, bringing her culture to my life. She will be the first person to check out this story when it arrives in our library collection.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Stone Soup

"Wait. You mean she didn't chop them?" asked a second grader this morning. Generally, there are no interruptions from the story steps while I am reading. This young listener (whose incredulity shows his background in making soup) could not fathom how the woman could put whole carrots (including the tops) in the large pot of simmering water in Jon J. Muth's retelling of Stone Soup. Next a farmer brings five whole onions and adds them. The children in front of me looked at each other in disbelief. The addition of unchopped ingredients continues with cabbages, mung beans, yams, and ginger root.

The three monks approached the village at the foot of the mountain, wanting to bring happiness to villagers who clearly had only themselves in mind, and making stone soup in the village center brought the people together for a soup banquet.

Readers loved Muth's watercolor illustrations (and later compared them to the Caldecott Honor Book of the same title by Marcia Brown), especially the page when the heads of the villagers peer over the edge of the cooking pot to view the soup. "Hey, that means we would be in the soup pot to see them!" one told me.

I finished by reading the author's note about various versions and variations of the story over time and his thoughts about this retelling set in China. When I read about the three monks (Hok, Lok, and Siew) representing health, wealth, and prosperity, a Chinese student chimed in about knowing that. All these connections and observations simmer in their thoughts and mine.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Yes to Picture Books!

A teacher friend lamented the scolding she received from a colleague for using picture books with fourth graders. What! I exclaimed. That cannot be true. Sadly, there are unenlightened souls who believe picture books equates to babyish books. I beg to differ.

Pat Bauer told me last night she has a list for her middle school students about why it is important to read picture books. That prompted me to compile my own thoughts. I read picture books every day! I look forward to opening new ones and revisiting favorites. My reasons for reading and using them are in no particular order of importance.

They encourage visual literacy. Think of comparing fairy tale versions like Little Red Riding Hood retold by James Marshall, Jerry Pinkney, and Trina Schart Hyman.

They offer an introduction to topics and time periods. David LaRochelle's The Best Pet of All opens up a perfect writing topic. Peppe the Lamplighter by Elisa Bartone takes readers to the early 1900s and offers a unique glimpse of young life.

They foster understanding of literary elements like character, plot, theme, setting, irony, conflict, and resolution. Sisters Janet Stevens and Susan Stevens-Crummel are masters of this. My favorite is Cook-a-Doodle-Doo.

They promote strong vocabulary. Boxes for Katje by Candace Fleming, in addition to teaching about Holland in World War II, is filled with wonderful words: gritty, luxury, savored, gulped, dabbing, heartfelt, bitter, sparingly, whooped.

They provide examples of traits and characteristics valued by human beings: acceptance, compassion, empathy, honesty, sharing, and understanding. Derek Munson's Enemy Pie demonstrates all those qualities with tact and gentle humor.

They demonstrate the interdependence of text and illustrations. David Small does this so well in Imogene's Antlers!

They present a common reference point when trying to learn about something in greater depth. Karen Hesse's The Cats in Krasinski Square presents a view of Warsaw in World War II that is unknown to many readers.

They give readers and listeners the opportunity to laugh, ponder, and reflect. Mem Fox's Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge captivated me as a college student for this reason; it was the first picture book I received as an adult.

They spawn inquiry learning. Debra Frasier's The Incredible Water Show prompts readers to learn about our water cycle.

They show life's problems and challenges and ways to work through them. My boys loved peanut butter and jelly sandwiches every day. Thank goodness for Bread and Jam for Frances to nudge them along to other foods.

They draw readers and listeners together in a shared experience. So many ideas for the ultimate birthday cake have come from Bunny Cakes by Rosemary Wells, not to mention a curiosity about red-hot marshmallow squirters.

They link us with our past and grant windows to the future. Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey takes me back to my hometown library and makes me think of sharing it - and picking blueberries - with children in my future.

They supply us with language that becomes part of our daily lives. "Wham! Bang! Thump!" from The Bear Under the Stairs comes to mind in our household.

They give us opportunities to meet characters who are a bit like us. For me, Julie Jersild Roth's Knitting Nell is one of those characters.

Most of all, picture books - or everybody books as we call them at school - bring pleasure.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Back in Time

Family Reading Night attendees stepped back in time 150 years this evening with author Pat Bauer and illustrator Dave Geister. The wife and husband team shared their own history as artists and readers before enlisting volunteers to lead the Union and Confederate sides, to represent Abraham Lincoln, Jefferson Davis, Clara Barton, and various other folks, and to reenact historic moments. These willing volunteers donned top hats, wool coats, kepis, shawls, and haversacks and froze in poses similar to those in Pat and Dave's book B is for Battle Cry: A Civil War Alphabet.

Pat sometimes sang (to the tune of Stephen Foster's "Hard Times Come Again No More") the lines of the poem, and both Dave and Pat read the lines as the frozen young actors waited with appropriate expressions of excitement, sorrow, anticipation, and determination. Rebel yells and shrieks rang out for the letter R. Davis and Lincoln almost shook hands at Appotomax for X.

With the students back in the audience, Dave sketched a Civil War soldier, and Pat fielded questions from the audience. Especially interesting to the children was the piece of hardtack Dave baked a decade ago! It was an evening of enlightenment and magical time travel.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Summer Reading List Conferences

Spring conferences for me have always meant the formation of summer reading lists. Since parents usually want to see the classroom teacher, not the librarian, I fill the hours with thoughts of children reading books during the summer break.

Starting with the lists of books ordered from our superb vendor, I put a K, 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5 next to the titles. The choice of assigned grade level is made with a combination of things in mind: approximate reading level of the book, topics covered during the year in various curriculum areas, what the students will be studying in the coming year, and familiar authors or illustrators. The books on each grade level list should be a balance of fiction and nonfiction as well.

Then I add all those titles to the six separate lists. We sprinkle in a few older titles to round out the selections. In our free moments, my teaching partner and I add two or three sentence annotations to each book, finishing them in mid-May. Someone else proofreads, and we print them for distribution the last week of school.

It is always such a rewarding process. I remember all the titles I loved over the course of the year. I imagine ways students and families will enjoy them. It is a pleasant way to spend a winter conference evening, dreaming about summer reading.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Have You Read? #8

I have been in fictitious Bottlebay, Maine this weekend with eleven-year-old Felicity Bathburn Budwig. She is the heroine in Phoebe Stone's latest novel, The Romeo and Juliet Code. Set in 1941 when many Londoners sent their children to the countryside for safekeeping, the story begins with Felicity's Danny and Winnie (as she calls her dad and mum) dropping her off at her Uncle Gideon's house on the ocean.

Though polite and respectful, Fliss, as she is soon nicknamed by her uncle, Aunt Miami, and The Gran, observes the goings-on in the Bathburn home with trepidation. Aunt Miami is constantly spouting lines from Romeo and Juliet. Uncle Gideon (also her 6th grade teacher) covets letters from Portugal that she is certain were written by her Danny. The Gran sews, bakes, and whispers when she thinks Fliss is not hiding behind the corner or the curtains. And then there's Captain Derek whom she does not see for weeks. Expecting to see an adult in the usually locked upstairs room, Fliss is surprised to see a boy of her age who is recuperating from the polio virus. The two become fast friends as they try to decipher the codes in those mysterious letters.

Life is never what it seems to outsiders, and Fliss gradually learns the secrets of the Bathburns and her own Danny and Winnie as the war rages forward in Europe. Resolution does not come in a happy sort of way, but Fliss does learn some of those secrets and come to terms with Bathburn life. I have added her voice to my list of favorite narrators. "And so it was on that very first miserable, wet morning in Bottlebay, Maine, USA, that I took a bit of The Gran's secret almond and honey muffins. And I had to close my eyes afterwards, to keep my British balance."

Saturday, March 5, 2011

From Above

A stack of books came home with me yesterday, some from the public library and some from that new book delivery. One has captivated me today: I Dreamed of Flying Like a Bird: My Adventures Photographing Wild Animals From a Helicopter by Robert B. Haas. The National Geographic photographer clearly explains his work, beginning with language used in photography, like "capture" and "shoot" as ways to describe taking photographs. He tells about the exhilaration of working as an aerial photographer and the unique equipment he must use for safety with the door of the aircraft open.

Most impressive, though, are his incredible photographs of wildlife. Buffalos and lions fighting each other are rare to observe from above. Flamingos gathered in a pink flock and then rearranged themselves into a flamingo shape. A single wildebeest somehow ran in the middle of a zebra herd. A great whale's tail rose just above the ocean surface in Greenland to be symmetrically photographed.

Today I have savored these and many other photographs and appreciated the wise observations that accompany his work. The combined effect of the images and words is powerful. The book is dedicated to dreamers. "Chasing our dreams is the thing that shows we appreciate the privilege of being alive."

Friday, March 4, 2011

New Arrivals

Giddiness presides when a shipment of new books arrives in the library. A message arrives from the book vendor, alerting us to the arrival. We upload the records from that message to our library catalog and know which books will be in the boxes. Still, there is excitement as the books are taken from the boxes and checked against the packing slip.

They are shiny in their mylar coverings, without fingerprints. We exclaim over the titles, books we have read and are eager to share with students and colleagues. We revisit a few, remembering why we selected them. We reread others, enjoying the artwork and stories again.

Usually, we save the books till we can schedule a Books and Blondies event, but some titles go right to the shelves. Today, a lucky first grade class spied brand new copies of Helen Lester's Tacky books when they got to the story steps. In minutes, they were all in children's hands!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Sweetest Cat in the Whole World

This week's read-aloud story is Jim Aylesworth's The Fully Belly Bowl, illustrated by Wendy Anderson Halperin. To connect students' background knowledge to this story, I ask them about the magical object in Strega Nona, a story most know. Many willing volunteers talk about that magic pasta pot and Big Anthony's negligence in not blowing three kisses to halt the flow of pasta. I share examples of other stories with a magical bowl/pot idea and then read about the Fully Belly Bowl.

It is the story of a very old man who lives with Angelina, the sweetest cat in the whole world. He is given a mysterious and beautiful gift by a wee small man whom he has rescued from a fox's jaws. This bowl refills with whatever has been taken from it - unless it is placed upside down. The man enjoys strawberries and other things...and then discovers it will reproduce coins! He greedily takes hundreds of pennies to town and gets three gold pieces. Upon his return, however, he discovers that he neglected to place the bowl upside down in his absence, and his house is overrun with great big mice. Ugh. I hate mice. The very old man takes one glance at Angelina, folds her legs under her, and places her in the Full Belly Ball. The children gasp at this point, of course. In the end, one knocks the bowl off the table, shattering it, and the very old man is content to live with the numerous cats, all of whom he thinks are the sweetest cats in the world.

A first grader pointed out to her class that the story ends the way it began, with that sweetest cat idea. Many students have imagined what things they would place in the bowl. Some wonder if a person could be placed in it. What if a book were the object? Would it come out as the same book or another title? The threads of imagination linger.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

BAD Illustrations

"David, make your drawings BAD, and they will be good." The third graders laughed at David LaRochelle. He was talking to them about his techniques for illustrating his work. Using "The Tortoise and the Hare" as a story for the demonstration, he showed the students these two illustrations first and asked them to decide which they liked better and why. They identified the larger hare and tortoise as the best because of the size; it gives the reader more to see about the actual subjects. The characters are big. The second two pieces showed a contrast in action at the finish line, and the students selected the one a sprinting hare and a waving (first place!) tortoise. The third pieces were a study detail.

So, in review, illustrations should be Big, have Action (and expression), and provide Details (though not too many). David proceeded to draw an illustration from one of his creative stories, constantly reflecting aloud and asking for input from the children. They loved watching and helping him make BAD artwork.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Quick Picks

Before my library lesson with a fifth grade class this afternoon, I grabbed three novels from the new books shelf (which should not still have been on that shelf!). Using a minute per book, I shared the basics about Crunch by Leslie Connor, Touch Blue by Cynthia Lord, and Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer L. Holm.

The first is realistic fiction (with a bit of mystery) about the Marriss Bike Barn's sharp increase in business due to a national fuel shortage. With their parents stranded in Canada, Dewey and his siblings must accommodate demanding customers while defending their supplies and home life. The second is also realistic fiction and takes place on a small Maine island where the residents have decided to take in orphans in an effort to increase their school population and avoid closure by the government. Tess is an eleven-year-old who does not get the kind of "brother" she expects in introverted, trumpet-playing Aaron but sticks to the superstitions that begin each chapter.

Turtle in Paradise is set in 1935 in Key West. Turtle is sent there by her mother to live with her aunt and cousins and finds it difficult to make her way amidst the rough and tough boys in the neighborhood, especially those who run the Diaper Gang (notorious for soothing diaper rash and crying babies). My teaching partner and I had visions of Spanky and the Gang in mind with these boys! Add a treasure map, some foolishness, a lot of adventure, and some comics to this mix for a wonderful stirred-up story.

I read aloud from The Fully Belly Bowl by Jim Aylesworth, finished the lesson, and had eager readers grabbing for the books. What a great way to sell a story!