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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Blackout Response

We are reading aloud John Rocco's Blackout to the classes this week during library time. Both my teaching partner and I love this book, and the children are mesmerized by the incredible artwork and by the idea of a blackout. The light emanating from just the flashlight and candle create an intense brightness in the apartment, on the rooftop, and in the street. Because the text is intentionally sparse, the illustrations must be read. It is a skill most children learn when they are very young, but when they become readers of text, they often adopt the attitude that reading pictures is for the younger students. This book draws observant minds into the illustrations. Many notice how the rooftop scene looks similar to Van Gogh's Starry Night. All notice how the main character decides to flip the light switch to the off position after the power is restored, just to take back the lack of busyness the blackout established for a brief time.

Far from black, the sunny Dale Chihuly creation hanging in the Minneapolis Institute of Arts lobby seemed the best accompaniment to Blackout.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Most Wonderful Storyteller in the World

The most wonderful storyteller in the world, my sweet friend and talented librarian Kim, shared the most amazing stories with children and parents at Family Reading Night. She began with Helme Heine's The Most Wonderful Egg in the World, in which three chickens vie for the prize of being a princess and living in the palace with the queen. Her incredible props and the bawk-bawking of each chicken enchanted the listeners, and they were eager to hear Bark, George by Jules Feiffer. She finished the night with her version of Debra Frasier's fabulously crafted book A Birthday Cake is No Ordinary Cake, complete with a large cake (baked in the sun!) that children wanted to cut and serve. Having Debra there to introduce it was the icing!

The thought process involved in transforming a picture book into an oral story is so detailed, and Kim has the added gift of being able to create and form all her own props. The children were intrigued by that as well and asked how things were made. One girl in front of me was swinging her legs, saying, "I just love stories!"

Generally shy person that I am, I stretched myself to join in as the queen and George. It was a wonderful night

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Reading the End First

Many times, I need to read the end of a book first. I generally am not scared of what will happen. I do not feel anxious about the potential outcome. Actually, I read a few chapters of a book before flipping to the last pages. My reason for reading the end instead of going from start to finish stems from my desire to see the entire plot ahead of me. If it is a heart-warming book, I see that what is coming supports what I was thinking. If the book is troubling, I am able to reconcile some of the events into my mind. If there are historical notes or an extensive author's note, I learn the context of the content or plot before working through it.

I found myself reading only the author's notes today in Nothing Daunted: The Unexpected Education of Two Society Girls in the West by Dorothy Wickenden. After the author found letters written by her grandmother, she learned of the extraordinary excursion the elder Dorothy and her childhood friend Rosamund made across the country to the wilds of Colorado in 1916. The two friends agreed to teach the children in the tiny settlement of Elkhead at the request of a local attorney named Farrington Carpenter. Intrepid though they were, the ladies certainly could not have been prepared for the circumstances they met. This time, I am going to wait till the end of the book to learn the end of their story.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

A Visitor for Bear

One thing I love about my favorite bookshop is meeting authors and illustrators there. This morning my mom and I (and extended family members) listened to Bonny Becker read her latest book, The Sniffles for Bear, and her first bear and mouse book, A Visitor for Bear, to guests at the Red Balloon. I love these books! Two unlikely creatures come together despite their very different personalities and preferences, slowly learning to know each other.

We bought copies for her to sign, of course, and asked questions about her writing and experiences. The books are delightfully illustrated by Kady McDonald Denton, and Bonny's favorite image in the Sniffles book was mine as well: a very sick and tired bear leaning over the banister as the tiny, bright-eyed mouse attempts to pull him up to bed.

We spent the rest of the morning there recommending books to our cousins and left with my alphabet bag heavier than it was last weekend!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Miracle on Main Street

Today I read what I find to be the saddest story in The SOS File: Miracle on Main Street, told by a fictional girl named Joy. The beginning is so tragic that I dreaded having the children hear it. Their eyes widened in horror as I read Joy's words about her first day of life, spent in a dumpster outside a motel. I could feel them holding their collective breaths as I read about the delivery driver who thought he heard a kitten mewing in that dumpster - and got out of his truck to rescue it, only to find the baby. I cried, of course, as I read it aloud.

The story is uplifting after that. Joy keeps a scrapbook of her life history, and she has the newspaper clipping of the man standing by the dumpster. When her curiosity leads her to the newspaper office to see if the embroidery on his jumpsuit reveals his name, she begins a quest to find him, the man who saved her life. Her parents support her, holding her hand when she needs it, letting her ask the questions when they come to company owners. Ultimately, they pull up to his house (he's now retired), and the two embrace as if they had known each other all their lives - which for Joy, at least, is true.

The children offered all sorts of reasons why they thought someone would leave a baby in a dumpster. Before we moved on to "Shark Attack", one sweet girl offered this: "I cried, too."

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


So many things today caused me to wonder. Every time I walk by my neighbor's pear tree, I marvel that there is one in my neighborhood. The children listening to Lady Lollipop (by Dick King-Smith) had fabulous insights about how Johnny Skinner not only trained the pig but also trained the princess - and made her think differently. One boy perfectly explained the phrase "between a rock and a hard place." The children listening to The SOS File knew so much about Abraham Lincoln and the Gettysburg Address. The first graders listening to Three by the Sea (by Mini Grey) noticed how the three friends cooperated to fly their kite, all their differences behind them, on the story's last page.

It was the fourth graders' fascination with Wonderstruck (by Brian Selznick) that warmed my literary heart most. One had heard about it because he attended Books & Blondies with his mom this morning. His teacher was the lucky first person to check it out, and I brought it with me to the classroom for inquiry learning. She enthusiastically shared the content with the students, held up The Invention of Hugo Cabret for them to see, and fielded questions. One person asked if she would read it aloud. She looked to me for guidance. "I'm not sure it would work well as a read-aloud selection," I told the students. So much of the story is told through the artwork, and it just would not be the same to see those images through the document camera. They begged to see just a bit. As the image of wolves became clear, the room became silent - and remained that way while I showed those few pages. I could not resist telling them more about Ben Fisher's story and then shared how the other character's story was told through illustrations only (until the end of the book). They were mesmerized by the images. Wonderstruck, even. They want this book.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Waking Up is Hard to Do

On a foggy morning (like today), it is hard to be enthusiastic about waking up to go running, especially since it is also quite dark at 5:30! Neil Sedaka echoes that sentiment in his picture book Waking Up is Hard to Do. My memories of his smooth voice go back to my childhood. My mom had his album, and I had all the songs memorized! I can still sing every word of "Laughter in the Rain" without a memory lapse.

Though the book struck a personal chord with me and my past (despite the switch from breaking up to waking up), it will be loved by teachers and readers for its cheery illustrations (with an alligator attempting to get going in the morning) and the amusing text. Tomorrow morning at Books & Blondies, my teaching partner and I will sing it first thing to our colleagues before introducing other new books. The tune will be in their minds all day!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Fall Mixed Up

Autumn leaves adorn many of the lawns and trails in our neighborhood already, and the air holds the brisk chill of the season. Teachers are checking out books that feature autumn, and we have been looking for new titles to support their needs. Even the cover of Bob Raczka's book Fall Mixed Up intrigued me at the bookstore! I am a huge fan of his work, was privileged to work with him in a workshop at an International Reading Association convention, and am always eager to read/see his releases. Readers will love this book!

The creative cover illustration uses autumn images for the title construction (a rake is the A in Fall). The rhyming text challenges readers to "think outside the box" from the first line:

"Every Septober, Every Octember, Fall fills my senses with things to remember.
Bears gather nuts. Geese hibernate. Squirrels fly south in big figure eights."

It is the kind of book to read twice. Children will catch the initial mix-ups and then want to look and listen again to find more. I am eager to share it!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

What is in the Bag?

My cherished alphabet bag always accompanies me on a visit to the Red Balloon Bookshop. It ended up fuller than I expected it to be. With items for school and personal items, it was also heavier than usual, so I was grateful to my husband for carrying it back to the car (and stopping for a piece of truffle framboise cheesecake at Cafe Latte).

In addition to the bowtie penguin puppet (Folkmanis), the school items included

2 copies of Press Here by Herve Tullet
2 copies of Fall Mixed Up by Bob Raczka
1 copy of Skippyjon Jones, Class Action by Judy Schachner
1 copy of In Front of My House by Marianne Dubuc
1 copy of Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick

The personal items included

2 copies of Happy Birthday Hamster! by Cynthia Lord, personalized on the spot by illustrator Derek Anderson for two children who have birthdays in the coming weeks
1 Mom's Family Calendar 2012, created by Sandra Boynton and perfect for 5 people to use
1 copy of You Read to Me, I'll Read to You: Very Short Fables to Read Together by Mary Ann Hoberman (a bargain book I could not resist saving for a reading family I love
1 copy of Fish Eyes by Lois Ehlert in board book form for a soon-to-be-born baby
1 copy of Each Peach Pear Plum by Janet and Allan Ahlberg, also in board book form for that baby
1 copy of Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick

After unloading the personal books, I spent the afternoon on the window seat, reading the words and images in Wonderstruck, feeling much of the same magic I experienced when I brought home The Invention of Hugo Cabret almost 5 years ago.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Mrs. Meany's Cornfield

When classes come to the library, my teaching partner and I greet them and teach them proper social responses and questions. For example,

"Good morning, Mrs. _____'s class."
"Good morning, Mrs. ______."
"How are you all this morning?"
"We are fine. And how are you?"
"I am doing well. Has anything wonderful happened today?"

Today, one third grader responded to the last question with this:

"Well, I just can't wait to hear the next chapters in The SOS File!"

Her classmates agreed, and we read three chapters, the last of which was "Mrs. Meany". It's about a boy whose goat gets out of the fence and ventures across the road into Mrs. Meany's cornfield. While looking for the goat, the boy mutters something about staying away from the old hag, and suddenly she appears through the corn stalks! There was much laughter then, when the boy fainted, and when he regained consciousness to hear her talking about giving mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

More Wonderings

One of my colleagues went through the National Board certification process the same year I did it, so when she asked if I was willing to co-teach an inquiry unit with her, I eagerly agreed. Not every person can collaborate with another, but I hoped our styles were similar enough to work well together. To say I was fairly dancing with excitement in her classroom today is an understatement.

It was my task to demonstrate how building background knowledge helps us better understand what we already know, what we learn, and what we want to learn. I used a book entitled The Canada Goose for my example, first listing things I thought I knew (they migrate, they are herbivores, the mate for life, they appear to get food by sticking their necks in the water, they hiss when they feel threatened). Then I demonstrated how the text supported many of my background knowledge facts and how I learned additional things. When my co-teacher said, "I cannot help but wonder more things as you read and share your information," I was ecstatic. It was the perfect way to share my own desire to record my wonderings as I read about the geese. Teaching and learning together is so rewarding.

The children eagerly expressed their own wonderings (and sent me their list via email). I still need to find out whey double rainbows display colors the opposite direction. This rainbow was double for a short while, but by the time we could stop on Going to the Sun Road, the second one had faded.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Drawing From Memory

On the Glacier National Park vacation, I kept copious notes in my travel journal about the lakes, mountains, history, wildflowers, and hikes. Though I have always wished to be good at drawing (or painting or using pastels), my skill level is rudimentary at best. Still, I tried to draw things from memory, like the view looking down on the lakes from Swiftcurrent Pass.

Allen Say's latest book displays his incredible drawing skills and also demonstrates how the images and people in one's memory can be brought forth and organized to tell a story. In this case, it is his story. I love the format of this book. From the outside, it appears to be a picture book autobiography (though at 63 pages, it stretches the typical page limit). Inside the cover it is a wonderful conglomeration of comics, graphic novel, sketches, photographs, snippets of texts, Japanese characters, historical explanations, and narrative. All those things are woven together in an honest telling of his life story and artistic career.

It could easily be shared with readers in the context of biographies and autobiographies, but I especially look forward to showing them how real-life events so completely influenced his writing and art. Take time to savor this book - and record some of your own memories in words or images.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Welcome to a Fine, Fine School

This week's library read-aloud title is Sharon Creech's A Fine, Fine School. Last week's word-of-the-week came from the book (principal), so students have seen the cover on morning announcements.

With each decision by Mr. Keene, the school's principal, to add more days to the fine, fine school, I heard sharp intakes of breath from the children on the story steps. They knew adding more school days could only result in negative consequences. They giggled at the post-it notes that plastered a child's suitcase (which was an upgrade from the backpack she carried earlier) - all reminding about upcoming tests. Mostly, though, their faces and bodies registered relief when Mr. Keene realizes his fine, fine school will stay fine by sticking to a typical school year.

At our fine, fine school we love reading fine, fine books and celebrating fine, fine words.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Desire for Tulips

Needing a book for a sunny read-walk today, I grabbed Michael Pollan's The Botany of Desire. Knowing I would be purchasing flowers later in the day for a friend's birthday tea and wishing those could be tulips, I revisited the chapter about tulips. Subtitled "A Plant's-Eye View of the World," the book discusses apples, tulips, marijuana, and potatoes and how those plants became essential to human society. Various evolutionary changes have shaped each of their developments, ensuring their longevity and necessity.

Apples are desired for their sweetness. Marijuana is desired for its intoxicating powers. Potatoes are desired for the gardener's ability to control their growth. Tulips, though, are desired for their beauty alone. Pollan tells of their history in the world and how eventually the Dutch demand for them was so incredible that people paid exorbitant prices for tulip bulbs...or even pieces of paper that claimed a share. He waxes for several pages about the Queen of Night tulip on his desk, noting all its parts and how each functions. The tulip I photographed in spring has those same six petals (3 inner, 3 outer), the six stamens, the single style/pedestal, and the three lips on that style. Biological variations occur, of course.

The Botany of Desire taught me so much about plant history, a topic I admittedly would never have professed to enjoy. It is another book that makes me look at the world differently.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

A is for

A is for another world...where I was today in a friend's book (currently in draft form).

A is for I spent some of my day due to the early morning whistling and yelling a neighbor did for his dog.

A is for always wishing...I could be in London (where I took this A photo outside Westminster Abbey) again to see things I missed the first time.

A is for anticipated dessert...which is the Primrose Cake I made earlier today for this evening's guests.

A is for Alphabet Forest...which is packed away and waiting for 2012.

A is for amazement...that feeling I get when I marvel that a week of school has already passed. It was a long one, despite being a four-day week, and I need to keep a positive Attitude!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Searching Expectations

Have you ever considered how you search for information? I know I try to narrow my Google searches with precise terms and think about exactly what I want the results to display. If what I expected does not materialize in the list, I re-evaluate those search terms and try to reword them to get closer to my desired results. Then I might read something I consider reputable, hoping to find additional resources that support my inquiry process.

In the latest issue of Continuum from the University of Minnesota Libraries, editor Marlo Welshons outlined almost that exact process as being typical of many searchers. "The search process," she said, "is where the learning happens; the journey ias as important as the destination." She also addressed the increasing need for librarians as guides in the information search process. In one study she reviewed, she noted that "users 'expect discovery and delivery to coincide.'" Librarians provide the guidance for users to get to those expected results.

My research question of the day: Is there really such thing as a milk-fed pumpkin like the one Almanzo grew in Farmer Boy?

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Getting Their Attention

Part of my day this school year is spent teaching information literacy classes for 2nd and 3rd graders. Though some library colleagues might believe the class time should be spent learning technology skills, my teaching partner and I strongly believe in splitting the session between read-aloud time and time spent learning applications, finding information, and working through the inquiry process.

Choosing what those read-aloud selections should be for the start of the school year is always an important (sometimes agonizing!) decision. For 2nd grade I selected Dick King-Smith's Lady Lollipop, a story about a spoiled princess named Penelope who wants (and gets) a pig for her birthday. No ordinary pig, Lollipop comes with a pig keeper, Johnny Skinner, who helps Princess Penelope learn proper behavior as he works with the girl and the pig. The children gasp with incredulity when Princess Penelope talks back to her parents and throws tantrums, but they smile when she smiles tenderly at Johnny Skinner and starts to behave civilly.

For 3rd graders, I chose one of my favorite school books: The SOS File by Betsy Byars, Betsy Duffey, and Laurie Myers. The book begins with a file folder announcing an extra credit assignment in which students can write about a time when they desperately needed help. Some of the stories are hilarious. Some are poignant. Some are quite sad. We began with the story of a girl's failed attempt to race her go-kart down a hill with her friend, and the students' eyes widen as they anticipate what might happen to them. Their faces show surprise and elation during the second story when a boy's unbelievable hit during a baseball game cancels out his need for an SOS.

I know after two chapters that I have their attention for the entirety of both books!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

What's Your Name?

At the start of each school year, I panic a bit when I think of the hundreds of names I must learn and relearn. I am notorious for calling a younger sibling by an older sibling's name. I have a difficult time telling the school's numerous sets of twins apart. Getting someone's name correct brings acknowledgment and acceptance for that person. It validates the name and shows that another person is interested in him or her. When I greet a child in the hall (or better yet, outside the school setting) by name, the smile on the child's face gets brighter. It means a lot to others to be addressed by name.

My creative and caring friend David brought this bookmark to me yesterday, expressing the letters of my name with images of things about me: wearing an Alphabet Forest crown at the State Fair, holding one of my famous Condo Cakes, a book dedicated to me, a turtle to express my school's mascot, and a quilt that demonstrates my love of quilting. I'm going to try this with other friends' names!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Set in the United States

Years ago I started yet another list of books, this one focused on books set in each of the 50 states. It was easy to do think of books from my own state (and the neighboring state of my birth), but some were tough. The list stayed in my "Literature Work" file until last week. My friend asked for just that kind of book list. She said her searches have come up empty, and she hoped I could direct her to a list that would support the learning her fourth graders do about the 50 states. Since there is no such list, mine became a working document again. As I move about my activities and duties, I think of books that might be set in various places - and then go to check my own accuracy.

Today, though, I am still without book ideas for Arkansas, Georgia, New Mexico, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and West Virginia. I hope there are some obvious titles I just have not remembered.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Clever Rhyme Needed

I have been trying all day to compose a clever rhyme that goes along with the rhythm and rhyme scheme in Tom Slaughter's new book Do You Know Which Ones Will Grow? Each double-page spread involves a question, half of which can be answered with a YES and half of which would definitely be answered with a NO.

Here is the first one:
"If a duckling grows and becomes a duck, can a car grow and become...a truck"
The car half page ingeniously opens into a full page, and the cutout of the car wheel is also the back wheel of an apple truck.

Readers will love predicting how each phrase ends and thinking of things they can use in a similar pattern of words.

So, I wanted to use this close-up of an alpaca that was patiently allowing so many State Fair visitors to pet it, but I can find nothing to end my rhyme. The rhyming dictionary only has words that end in the -ack sound, not the -acka or -aca sound! I did learn the term for a baby alpaca though.

If a cria grows and becomes an alpaca, can a _____ grow and become...a ___________.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Big Wigs

There is a running joke in our house about just how my husband lost his hair. He devises new reasons for his baldness almost daily. He was naughty as a little boy, for instance. He ate a watermelon seed. He played the drums. He listened to certain music. The boys used to look to me for confirmation of his reasons...until they realized he was kidding. Now they just love to hear the outrageous stories he composes.

We all think they are hilarious and preposterous...until I read aloud bits from Kathleen Krull's newest book Big Wig: A Little History of Hair. Aristotle thought rubbing goat pee on his head would cure baldness. Hippocrates used a self-made concoction of opium, wine, green olive oile, horseradish, and pigeon poop. (At this point, my husband said, "That's it. The pigeon poop is what a missed in the recipe.") Julius Caesar used a paste of leeches, boiled walnut shells, tar, and animal urine - until Cleopatra convinced him to use a concoction of horse teeth, deer marrow, and toasted mice.

These and other fascinating facts, as well as intriguing illustrations, fill her book. Perhaps the book title was inspired by the hairdos worn by my mom and me in the late 1980s!

Thursday, September 1, 2011


Living almost 200 miles from my mom, it is sometimes a challenge to see each other once a month. Today I got a bonus visit. My mom and my aunts volunteered for six hours in the Alphabet Forest (along with my oldest son, the student intern for the project). They took photos, acted as hawkers on the sidewalk, made mini-banners, awarded blue ribbons and words, and drank lots of water on this humid and hot day.

Whether it is here or there, I am always glad for a chance to be together - and to get the latest edition of BookPage. My hometown library provides it for patrons, and my mom and I scramble to read the numerous reviews. Then we compare notes about which we reserved from our respective libraries. I love it when one or the other of us talks about a book we are reading. Inevitably, the phrase "I found it in BookPage" comes into the conversation. Though we can read some of the review at the website (, there is something better about flipping through the pages, marking our choices, and rereading the reviews after we have read the books.