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Sunday, April 29, 2012

Dissection Digestion

I am reading Gooseberry Park by Cynthia Rylant to second graders this month. This is a snippet from a recent chapter and the ensuing discussion:

"Professor Albert had never been an amateur when it came to sleeping. Years of standing beside philosophy majors trying to label the insides of frogs had taught him the fine art of turning off his brain whenever he wished. So he turned it off and went back to sleep."

A hand raises.


Why would someone label the insides of frogs?

Well, in biology class, you will dissect frogs to understand how body parts work.

So, do you have to cut them open?


Are they alive?


Another hand raises. In my sister's class [this is grade 10], they dissected pigs. Groans all around.

A different student raises his hand. I don't think I can digest that.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Word Surgery

A strange sight appeared across the hall the other day...first graders wearing surgical masks, gloves, and caps were cutting thoughtfully. I could not resist a visit to their room.

"We're doing word surgery," I was informed.

Each had word lists to cut...words like would not, she will, he is, you are, let us, and could have. They used "band-aids" to put the words together.

"Really they are apostrophes," a child told me as an aside.

Ingenious! I would've loved that process of learning contractions as a child!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Author Evening

Jennifer Holm joined readers at a book club event last night at one of our county libraries. She is an animated presenter with a zippy slide show that conveys her history (and a bit of her Babymouse illustrator/brother Matt's as well). Though I loved hearing her stories and watching her draw what the young fans requested, I wondered about the other Jennifer Holm, the one who has one the Newbery Honor three times. The audience clearly viewed her as the Babymouse and Squish creator, not the amazing author of Our Only May Amelia, Penny From Heaven, and Turtle in Paradise. I had so many questions and wonderings. Perhaps she will become a cyber penpal as I pose my questions via email.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

In This Chair

I spent many minutes (hours?) in this and other rocking chairs today. Were it not for the read-aloud portions of my day, I would not like my job half as much. I love the attention children give to books, the way they lean in or mimic things from the text, their completely transparent expressions as they imagine and empathize. It is a blessing and an honor to promote literacy in this intimate- and lovely - setting.

Today several books rested in my lap or were clutched in my hands...The Camping Trip That Changed America by Barb Rosenstock, Animal Masquerade by Marianne Dubuc, "Your Question for Author Here" by Kate DiCamillo and Jon Scieszka in Guys Read Funny Business, Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo (the Miss Franny Block and the bear chapter and when Opal gets a the collar and leash at Gertrude's Pets), and Gooseberry Park by Cynthia Rylant (when Kona goes back to find Stumpy and when Murray discovers Oreos in Professor Albert's kitchen).

Monday, April 23, 2012

Bookish Afternoon

With the work and family schedule, time for friends is most often the first thing neglected (after dusting!), and it is one thing I need desperately sometimes. Yesterday two friends and I saved an hour for each other and talked about one's extraordinary adventure in Italy and as usual, books and our book/literacy projects. One of those sweet friends ordered our names in photographs from The Butterfly Alphabet by Kjell Sandved! I love this, especially how the colors all complement each other. The hour stretched into two, but it felt so good to be with dear friends.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Neighborhood Birds

Yesterday I spotted the first eastern bluebird in a tree at our neighborhood park. The owls occasionally still talk to each other at night. The chickadees and cardinals communicate each morning. Geese and ducks honk and quack overhead as they go from lake to lake.

For those unfamiliar to the bird world in our state, Adele Porter's latest book - Birds in Our Backyard - is the perfect resource. Bill Marchel's fabulous photographs are highlighted by her rhymed couplets and fact bubbles. Best of all, it is organized by the season. Winter begins the book with owls and ruffed grouse, waxwings and pheasants. In spring, the trumpeter swans return, red-winged blackbirds call, and wrens sing. Birds work hard as parents in the summer; the loon turns its eggs to keep them warm and carries its babies on its back. Finally, in fall, the birds store food and fat sources in preparation for colder weather and migration.

The copy for my neighbor children came with binoculars from Minnesota Historical Press. Even better for bird watching.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Interesting Point of View

Writing as a collective "we" seemed odd to me, yet while reading THE BUDDHA IN THE ATTIC by Julie Otsuka, I have quickly adjusted to the voices of young Japanese women, united as mail order brides in the early part of the 20th century. Their story begins on a ship, and their voices share the common experiences of crowded conditions and unfamiliar people. Occasionally, the voice tells about one of the members and her individual thoughts and trials. In eight sections, the women's lives unfold, all of their expectations visible to each other and their disappointments hidden to society. The rest of the story, I am certain, will not be entirely pleasant, but I am glad to glimpse history through their voices.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Should We Do a Picture Walk?

A lovely third grader asked me to look at two books with her. Which one should she get? EARTHQUAKES or HURRICANES? I explained that I usually look through each book before deciding. Should we do a picture walk? asked my friend. Absolutely, I told her. We both looked and shared our thoughts. Earthquakes won. She then asked if I had seen 2012, a movie her dad brought home about the end of the world. No, not me. Well, I don't think the world will end this year anyway, she told me. I have heard that so many times, and it never happened. Later, she brought Earthquakes to me to show me what she had read and learned. She liked the sidebars filled with facts and the photographs. It was a good picture walk, she said with a smile.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Camping Trip

"What if everyone owned the wilderness? What if both rich and poor could spend time out in the open? What if we could save the forests for all the children to come?"
That is what Barb Rosenstock asks in The Camping Trip That Changed America: Theodore Roosevelt, John Muir, and Our National Parks. The children have been engrossed in this historical account of a 1903 camping trip taken in the Yosemite wilderness by one of America's most notable naturalists and the president who set aside more wild space than any other. They love the story John Muir tells about coming upon a bear - and making a grave mistake about the nature of bears. They really like it when the two men awaken to a coverlet of snow. But the best part is when we show them photographs of Yosemite National Park mentioned in the book. That is when they want to share their stories...which parks they have visited, which they are going to this summer. I am grateful for all the wilderness set aside by the camping trip almost 109 year ago.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Poems That Speak

I love how certain poems speak to people. This morning for announcements, two third graders recited Joyce Sidman's "Dodge Ball Kings" from THIS IS JUST TO SAY. They were beaming after they finished. Ogden Nash's poems are hugely popular with the third graders. Second graders love Douglas Florian. I read aloud from Kristine O'Connell George's TOASTING MARSHMALLOWS, and one non-verbal student giggled when hearing "Mosquito Song". I read quieter things from Caroline Kennedy's A FAMILY OF POEMS: MY FAVORITE POEMS FOR CHILDREN to my teaching partner on the solitude of our office. We are living in a poetry-rich library these days.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012


Memorizing poems has never been one of my strengths. I hold those who can and do memorize in high esteem. Like memorizing my piano pieces, committing a poem to memory just does not come easy to me. Like wishing I could draw or paint exactly what my mind envisions, I cling to the hope that I can memorize a poem or a piano solo. Mary Ann Hoberman's latest book extends my hope.

Entitled Forget-Me-Nots: Poems to Learn by Heart, it a perfect collection of poems just right for cherishing in one's memory. Her introduction would make a great lesson in itself, especially thre reasons why it is important to memorize a poem.
When you memorize a poem, it is almost as if you have entered the poet's mind.
As you say the poem over and over, you begin to understand why the poet
chose one word and not another. You notice how certain sounds repeat
themselves and knit the lines together. It's a little like figuring out a puzzle,
and, like a good puzzle, it's fun!

I'm working on Karla Kuskin's There is a tree for my first successful memorization.

Monday, April 16, 2012


Do you remember Colorforms? I thought those clingy vinyl pieces were so amazing. The ones I remember most were Holly Hobbie, and I was jealous of some friend who had a Holly Hobbie bedspread (mine was flowered). I loved her watercolor artwork and bought many Hallmark cards just to have the images. Many years later (1998), she published the first Toot & Puddle book, delighting readers. We have every one of them in our home library.

Yesterday I got Holly Hobbie's latest book, Gem, via inter-library loan. Except for a letter to a granddaughter at the start and a letter to the grandmother at the end, it is a wordless book, telling the story of a toad who escaped various perils to dwell in the grandmother's garden. Green hues dominate most pages, making it feel like a springy book. The double-page spread of dandelions and baby toads surrounding Gem is my favorite. It would inspire a collective "Ohh!" from readers.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Sharing Poetry

The steps at the Red Balloon were filled with people of all ages on Friday night for Joyce Sidman's poetry reception. It just felt good to be in that book-filled place, and as she read some of her poems, it became an invitation for others to share. One precious little girl desperately wanted her copy of The World According to Dog signed! She even read one of the poems to the group - and then gave Joyce the book to sign.  With snaps to applaud each recitation or reading, the bookshop was filled with words and palpable admiration. Always shy in front of a group, I was glad to hang out behind Joyce's camera and snap for others!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Rebus Buttons

My teaching partner wears a different button every day, and the students love to figure out what each says. Some days she is "off-beat" (imagine a purple beet here) or acts as a "sous chef" (thinking picture of a cute cartoon-like chef here) . Sorting through the buttons at one of our favorite shops led to the find of the the latter, one I knew she did not have. She found one appropriate for me: "shutter bug" (imagine a beetle-like insect here).

An often collaborative colleague asked if the students could make them (larger size, with the button-maker). They have loved creating their own rebus nouns and adjectives, and I love reading them.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Explaining Puns

When we chose Chopsticks as this week's read-aloud selection, neither my teaching partner nor I expected we would need to explain all the puns that made us laugh. Gosh, have we been surprised - even with the intermediate grades! When Chopstick is "whisked away" after an injury, the teachers chuckle. I take time to explain the dual meanings to them. A few more show understanding when "no one stirred, not even Spoon" is read. It gets better with each phrase until they all nod, saying, "I get it!" at Knife's call for a toast (since he is so sharp). No doubt they will be listening closely for puns in the upcoming days!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Familiar Places

A colleague recommended Jennifer Richard Jacobson's novel Small as an Elephant, and I have been reading it this afternoon and evening, all the while thinking how comfortable it feels to know a bit about the places mentioned. When eleven-year-old Jack talks about the campground on Mount Desert Island (Acadia National Park), I can picture it. As he walks around Bar Harbor, I envision the streets. His visit to the beach on Echo Lake and his viewing of tidepools on the shore are familiar to me. 

With students, I stress activating their background knowledge when they read. Mine was active throughout this book. It will be an excellent title to add to the Survival list for fourth graders.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Orange Tangerine

With a third grade class this afternoon, I discussed giving credit to sources and locating reliable information as they prepared to create slide shows about famous people. In minutes, we were singing "Yellow Submarine" - with some boys singing "Orange Tangerine." How in the world did we get from a serious discuss to this? I wondered. I think this is how the discussion progressed.

Is anyone working on more than one person?
I am doing The Beatles, said one girl.
Do you remember the historical fact from today's morning announcements?
You mean that on this day in 1970 Paul McCartney left The Beatles? asked one boy.
Yes, that's the thing.
Hey, what did he do?
He did vocals and was the bassist.
So, would his be the voice we heard in most songs?
Yes, most of them.
Even this one? (He sings) In the town where I was born...
Other students join in the music. Other visitors to the library wonder what in world I am doing in the reading alcove.

I quickly remembered how crafty young people are at moving from one subject to another. I had easily fallen into the thought cycle...and it was actually quite funny.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Animal Masquerade

Usually I wait to read new books until my library gets a copy - or gets one via inter-library loan. With Marianne Dubuc's new book, my desire to read it overcame my patience. Thus, Animal Masquerade is next to me on the table. Like In Front of My House, it is a square book with a bit of heft to it. The jacket foretells the animal antics held within its pages. It begins with a sign on a forest tree, inviting the creatures.

"Come one, come all
to the animal masquerade.
Disguises are a must!"

Lion scratches his mane, contemplating his disguise and decides to be an elephant! From then onward, each creature's disguise is revealed on the following page - with a few surprises thrown in for giggles and logistics. My favorite is Little Red Riding Hood, who went disguised as a chocolate cake! I will not spoil any other surprises, but just know the wordless ending is a lovely parade.

Friday, April 6, 2012

What to Read

One of my wise friends told me of a man who figured out, based on actuarial tables and his own reading pace, how many books he would be able to read in the remaining years of his life. He actually made a list of those books. If someone suggested a title to him, he declined, not matter how positive the recommendation. The book just was not on the list.

I used to read every book I checked out from the library from cover to cover. With age and permission from myself, I now quit books that do not appeal to me! And I do not even feel guilty about it. I might do that today with one I know I should read. It would be good for me to know more about Catherine the Great, I suppose.

I like that children in our school have that the same permission to bring back books they do not especially like. They return, asking me if we have any good books. Certainly.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

I Like

Also in honor of National Poetry Month, we decided to add poetry readings to our morning announcement broadcasts. Several teachers and classrooms volunteered for time slots, but no one was willing to do it yesterday. So, despite my absolute semi-fear of being on camera, I agreed to read a poem with my dear teaching partner. We tried out several before deciding on "I Like" from Mary Ann Hoberman's book You Read to Me, I'll Read to You: Very Short Stories to Read Together. For those who are not familiar with the book's format, there are words aligned on the left in one color, words aligned on the right in another color, and words in the center for the pair to read together. This particular story poem was perfect for two librarians as the only thing they both like is reading! In reality, we both like quality dark chocolate, art, exceptional books, taking walks, sharing books, excellent brownies, and time with interesting people...and a whole lot more.

The children apparently loved our shared reading. Many came to tell us, and one dear girl wanted the same book today - and then read the story poem with me. That was worth being on camera.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Perfectly Poised for Poems

Except for an occasional name called by me, second graders were completely silent on the story steps. They had just finished listening to the first three chapters of Gooseberry Park by Cynthia Rylant and were so interested in the 40 poetry books on the book cart about which I had told them. When called forward, children either carefully looked through the books or immediately selected the one most appealing.

Their task? Find one especially appealing poem to word process for sharing on Poem in Your Pocket Day, April 26th. After a bit, the chatter started. Children read aloud to one another. In their excitement, some brought poems to me to share what they loved. Some started typing. They told each other the poems needed to look like they did on the page. They asked where the comma key was located. All asked me to record page numbers so they could find their poems easily next week.

I pushed the cart back to our office with a sigh of contentment.

Monday, April 2, 2012

India Opal's Voice

Third graders have looked forward to this week all year. Because of Winn-Dixie. I told them I would begin reading it aloud in April. I love this book. It is on my list of all-time top-ten favorites for so many reasons. Without meaning to do so, I slip into what I consider my India Opal Voice as soon I utter the first words. I imitate the smile she imagines on her new dog's face. Today when I ended chapter three to move on to our research lesson, I realized I was still speaking in Opal's voice. They never even noticed...or at least never said anything.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Favorite Colors

I used to love red. I wore it often and even had large red glasses (which many thought made me look like a librarian). Red is no longer my favorite color. If I went by what I wear most often, black would be the winner. If I chose by what I love to see most, it would be green, especially in the Hoh Rain Forest in Olympic National Park. If I selected based on my baking, the best color would be brown: chocolate chip cookies, brownies, chocolate cake. If I picked a favorite color solely on what makes me feel good, it would have to be blue.

Arlene Alda addresses favorite colors well in her latest book entitled Except for the Color Grey. The photographs accompanying each color are splendid, and the surprise ending will delight young readers, challenging them to think carefully about their favorite colors. What is yours?