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Saturday, March 31, 2012

Being Observant

Walking around the U of M campus this week has been eye-opening. Not only did I take in new buildings and signs of spring, but I noticed things that had been there for many years, things I did not notice walking around campus 25 years ago. With my camera in hand, I looked at things with age and experience and wonder. Thousands of students walk by Northrop Auditorium (, a campus icon since 1929, but hardly any looked at the bare beams and emptiness (where the stage used to be). None stopped to take photographs!

What changed in me to make me more observant? I like to think books have broadened my world and given me different perspectives. Through my work, I have met so many incredibly observant people who teach me about seeing things differently. They help me to take time to observe.

The children I encounter each day certainly seem observant. They notice tiny details in book illustrations and tell me about things they see outdoors. Are they able to see and wonder more as a result of the books they read and have read to them? I hope they go out into the world seeing and noticing.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Overflowing With Words

Tonight we braved the light rail construction project and trekked across University Avenue to one of my favorite places to meet dear friends for tea and great sandwiches. In the middle of the lobby area is this gigantic cup, overflowing with the comforting sound of gently falling water. Its sides are engraved with numerous thoughtful quotations (and my teenagers each discreetly snapped images of their favorites). I appreciate it when words spill into our lives in unexpected ways.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Spring Book Festival

The school's spring book festival began today with bubbling enthusiasm from all the students who got to visit on the first day. I was privileged to meet with all the kindergarten classes to share highlights from the inventory with them. One afternoon student asked, "Are you going to talk about the same things with us as you did with the morning kids?" To be honest, I did not. There were so many interesting things to share that I kept selecting different titles for each of the six groups. Gathered in front of me on the floor, their eyes followed every book and movement. I love that books have that power!

Some of my favorites from the day:
Poem Runs by Douglas Florian - especially the illustration for "Catcher", which makes it seem like the catcher's mid-section is a big catcher's mitt

Stuck by Oliver Jeffers - in which Floyd gets his kite stuck in a tree and attempts to release it by throwing other things at it, all of which get stuck

Bird Talk by Lita Judge - with all the birds singing in spring, it is the perfect book to make us think about what all the songs might mean

Here Come the Girl Scouts! by Shana Corey - about the life of Juliette Gordon Low

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Home Away From Home

While some construction is being done in our home, we are fortunate to live in a friend's home in the city. It has been nice to eat at different restaurants and walk/run in familiar (the U of M campus) places. Most delightful this evening was my discovery of a Little Free Library ( just around the corner. If you have not seen one of these yet, I hope you will find one soon. I would love to have one in my yard - to share books, to see what others bring, and to secretly watch others open the library door and take a treasure.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

I Have a Question

Last week after I finished reading Rapunzel (Paul O. Zelinsky's 1998 Caldecott Medal version) to third graders, one usually quiet student raised her hand and said, "I have two questions."

First, if there are no doors to the tower, how did Rapunzel and the wicked stepmother get in it in the first place? Her classmates had lots of possibilities, all involving magic.

And then, how could the blind prince wander and still find berries and roots at the end? Again, creative answers helped her contemplate possibilities.

After that, they flooded me with more and more questions, the most interesting focused on how her wicked stepmother would have known Rapunzel was going to have a baby and was not just getting fat. I explained the best I could...I can only imagine the dinner table conversations that night.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Childhood Reading

Most of my early reading materials were Golden Books and those square cardboard books published by Witman. My paternal grandmother worked at Woolworth's, and I think she bought many of them for me. My maternal grandmother had a collection of books likes that (like Mr. Punnymoon's Train, published as a Rand McNally Elf book), and she read them to me and our extended cousins. When my maternal grandmother died, she left instructions that I should get the figurine of a little girl reading. I love its colors and thoughtfulness, but I especially love that my grandmother wanted me to have it. I hold it sometimes just to be a bit closer to her spirit.

Until a few weeks ago, I thought it was just a Hummel look-alike. A wise friend was admiring it and told me that Maria Innocentia Hummel often signed her pieces along an edge. She showed me the raised signature along the hem of the little girl's dress. What a treasure it is, sitting on a shelf near my picture book collection.

Friday, March 23, 2012


Typing the post's title, I imagined the musical version of "Chopsticks" played by Tom Hanks and Robert Loggia in Big. Amy Krouse Rosenthal's newest book of the same title makes me smile just as much. Best friends forever, Chopsticks go everywhere and do everything with each other. When an accident results in a clean break for one of them, the friends decide they must separate during the rehabilitation. With a Chop, Chop, the healthy friend sets off to discover new possibilities (like pick-up sticks) until the two are reunited with a toast.  Her previous collaboration with illustrator Scott Magoon was Spoon, and it, too, is filled with puns.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Everything On It

While walking up the mountain the other day, my friend and I passed numerous other walkers. We greeted each with a "good morning" or "hello" and a smile. One woman (walking a lovely golden retriever) barely muttered a response.

Well, that one is a hotdog with nothing on it, my friend said.

Actually, it is a lovely golden retriever, I told her.

Not the dog, she insisted. The woman. 

What do you mean by that? I asked.

She has no personality. She is a hotdog without anything on it. 

Hmm. I have never heard anyone analyze personalities in that way. Then again, this friend sees things differently than any of my other friends. She is blind, and her other senses are heightened. A half-mile later, we greeted a man with carrying his son on his back. He greeted us warmly and commented on the great weather. After a bit, my friend commented again.

Now that one is a hotdog with relish, ketchup, mustard, and everything on it.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Happy Spring!

I greeted the day with a walk up my hometown mountain with a sweet friend. The ski hills are still covered in snow, but the trees were budding in the morning sunshine. Her ritual at the top is to shout out these words:
We are happy! We are healthy! We are wealthy! We feel terrific! Hip-hip-hooray! Hip-hip-hooray! Hip-hip-hooray!
I laughed as the two of us yelled under the blue morning sky! And then I told her about Erin Stead's artwork in And Then It's Spring (by Julie Fogliano). I love how the dog and boy (and a few other characters) hopefully plant seeds in the brown hues of early spring and watch faithfully for signs of green growth. I love that the dog waits patiently next to a dirt pile, hoping for bones to grow. And I especially love the sign warning the bears not to stomp on the precious piles.

How did you celebrate the day?

Monday, March 19, 2012

Home Memory

In high school I cared for two younger girls whose mother was a musical mentor to me. Their beautiful home was enchanting to me, and in addition to being there for the girls, I would sometimes bake desserts (or act as kitchen help) for parties held there. With all due respect to the parents (whom I now call by first names and consider friends), I have somehow associated that house with the one in Katie Speck's book Maybelle in the Soup. Though the kitchen and home never had any sort of insect problem, I think Maybelle would have loved the spacious kitchen with its perfect lighting, the well-organized pantry, and especially the formal dining room with its sparkling chandelier and glass table. I can almost imagine the likeable, beribboned cockroach plopping from the chandelier into a soup tureen! Not one to love insects much, I do love Maybelle; young readers do, too. She has also gone to tea and is going to the fair in a new book this summer.
Despite the 20 years since our last meeting, my friend and I enjoyed tea and ginger cookies without Maybelle this afternoon. Reminiscing about memories, discussing books and trends in education, and contemplating important issues felt so good in that familiar house.

Sunday, March 18, 2012


As I move through each day at school (and, I suppose, in all of life), I wonder about people who have to work so much harder to get through events and experiences that most others would find routine. R.J. Palacio's book Wonder has captivated me since Thursday. The main character, Auggie (August) Pullman is a fifth grader who considers himself an ordinary kid. It's just his unusual face that makes him different from others. And some people cannot seem to get past his physical attributes to know the funny, compassionate, witty person Auggie is. Told in first-person through Auggie's eyes for most of the book, it is an incredible glimpse into life's challenges for one unique young man. His sister, her boyfriend, her former best friend, and two classmates add their viewpoints in first-person as well. It is a wonderful book. And Auggie is a wonder. Really.

Saturday, March 17, 2012


Two smiling first graders came to our door the other day. "Is clap an onomatopoeia?" they asked. "Hmm. Let me do some research," I told them. "I'll come to your room soon." The library books were all checked out. No website seemed completely credible...though some did indicate clap was an onomatopoeia. I clapped a few times in our office. It definitely is an onomatopoeia. They clapped when I came with the verdict.

Friday, March 16, 2012


I love my friends. Each brings something important to my life, brightening my days and lightening my soul. Never have I been in the position where I felt without a friend. We never moved when I was in school. The young narrator of Norton Juster's Neville was not so fortunate. When his family moves (without any warning to him), he is distraught and in search of at least one good friend. He roams the neighborhood and calls, "Neville!" Soon he is joined by another boy and then a girl and then a whole bunch of kids, all calling, "Neville!" Each of them becomes a friend of sorts. G. Brian Karas's illustrations show their unique traits as they all promise to return the next day. The surprise ending is delightful!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Lizzie Bright on Stage

Sitting in the front of the theater offers such an intimate view of the actors and action. Expressions are clearer. Emotions are more intense. As my friends and I took in the Children's Theatre Company's production of Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy from the first row last night, we were caught up in the characters' actions. As the story progressed, we all wondered about how other audience members perceived the show. If a person had not read Gary Schmidt's book version, would she feel like important scenes, people, and words were missing? Or would she simply wonder about the interactions and events, taking in all the elements of a strong story?

We contemplated these things and more over dessert at the 112 Eatery. Mmm. Chocolate Hazelnut Mousse.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Fairies, Royalty, and Mixed-Up Lovers

Would this post title be enough to convey the title of the play I enjoyed this morning at school? How about if I added the names Bottom, Hippolyta, Lysander, and Hermia? Enthusiastic fourth-graders performed an only slightly modified version of A Mid-Summer Night's Dream for parents and classmates. Like me, the audience was awestruck by the Fairies' dance and originally composed song. They smirked at Helena's sarcasm and Hermia's fury. They laughed at Bottom, transformed into a donkey. Their cheers for Peter Quince's players' performance (with a loud wail from Thisbe) resounded. They clapped in rhythm as each group of actors came out for a final bow. Smiles stretched wide as the actors quickly changed from costumes to school clothes - and headed to math.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

One Cool Book

Toni Buzzeo and David Small's collaboration on One Cool Friend resulted in one really cool book. It begins with an offer from Elliott's father to visit the aquarium. Though he does not like crowds and noisy kids, Elliott's polite manners lead him to agree. It was not to be a father/son outing though, as Elliott is sent off while his father reads National Geographic. At the penguin exhibit, he discovers a lovely little Magellan penguin who looks as proper as him. And when he asks his father if he can have a penguin, the excitement and deception begin. The illustrations perfectly complement the text. It is a witty, fun story with an unexpected ending. I loved it so much I had to read it aloud to my teaching partner and dear David LaRochelle on Tuesday morning!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Courage to Knit

Sometimes I need to knit in order to focus during a long or tense meeting. Depending on who is in charge of the meeting, it might take a bit of courage for me to knit. This hat (for a colleague's soon-to-be-born baby) was knit mostly during a tense meeting two weeks ago.

My friend Julie Roth's charming book Knitting Nell is about a young courageous knitter who knits while she walks and even in the bathtub. Some people pick on her because of the odd sound of her voice, but Nell continues to knit, influencing others to learn as well. Nell knits scarves for others and later teaches knitting to many - including the young man who used to pick on her. Julie's lovely illustrations make it a perfect book.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Owl Conversations

I am a light sleeper. A few weeks ago, I awoke at 2:00 a.m. to the unmistakable sound of an owl. Soon there were two: one with a lower pitched voice than the other. They called to each other for an hour, and my husband and I contentedly listened.

Then we began the inquiry process. What kind of owls had we heard? We started at the DNR website to determine which species were commonly found in our area. From the Nature tab to Animals to Birds (, we found a list and read about each one. The Barred Owl lives in our area, but "our" owls did not wail and screech. Great Gray Owls live north of us. Great Horned Owls live in our range. We hoped it would be them we had heard.

Next we wanted to compare the sounds we heard with recorded owl calls ( They were definitely Great Horned Owls!

And they have come back many nights to converse in the trees in the backyards of our neighborhood. One magical night, they began at 9:15, and our sons even joined us on the deck to listen in amazement.

When I shared this story with third graders in the midst of an inquiry project, they chose to follow the same route of discover that we did!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Leaving Orange Street

The third graders and I are leaving the comforts, trials, and challenges of Orange Street this week (One Day and One Amazing Morning on Orange Street by Joanne Rocklin). Though I have commented previously on how enamored the children are with the book, one boy's reaction exemplified how deep their concern for the story goes. He complained at the beginning of the hour of a headache but decided to wait a bit to see if he felt better. After our computer work, he really thought he wanted to go to the nurse. I completed the pass to her office, handed it to him, and started to open the book. "Wait," he said. "Are you reading right now?" Yes, I told him. We would finish it in 20 minutes. "Well..." I asked if he wanted to listen for a while and see if the headache was bearable. Eagerly, he handed the pass back to me and joined his classmates in the reading alcove. Later, as we got to one of the parts that makes me teary, he was the only one who knew exactly why the character Larry Tilley did not correct Ms. Snoops when she called him Ralph (his father) and asked about Larry. His classmates nodded - and later shared moments when they, too, had preserved an older person's dignity.