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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Blue Chicken


I love picture books that incorporate aspects of art. I also love books which engage readers from the front end page to the last one. Deborah Freedman's Blue Chicken does both that well, and it is our read-aloud selection this week. Some readers pass over end pages, but the students at my school are used to looking. Though I did not mention the need to note the barn through the window panes, they noticed. They watched as an artist's materials were shown below that same window ledge. They laughed as the little chicken saw its reflection in the blue paint and decided to help add color the barn (in the painting). At the very end, they noted how the real barn and the artist's barn were going to be transformed - as well the chicken and friends. It is a clever book, and my favorite young readers caught every bit of its wit.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Its Name Says What It Does


An new inquiry unit centered around inventors and inventions began today with third graders. We (my teaching partner, the cooperating teacher, and myself) began by discussing what inquiry means, gave a brief role play example of friendly/unfriendly group behaviors, and listed what we thought we knew about Alexander Graham Bell (in an effort to activate background knowledge).

Then they practiced listing what they know with photographs of inventions. An iPod, a GPS, an old-fashioned bicycle, and a calculator were easy for the list-makers. The paperclip drew a bit of silence...and then my favorite comment of the afternoon: "Its name says what it does!"

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Unexpected Attraction


Sometimes I really do not want to read certain books. I felt that way about A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness (based on Siobahn Dowd's ideas and manuscript), but I really loved the honesty and portrayal of a young boy facing his mother's death. I feel that way still about Unbroken. It was sitting next to my nightstand until last week when I determined I just could not read about the horrors described in its pages. I was certain I would not like Rebecca Makkai's The Borrower, but my teaching partner convinced me to read it. It is right now next to my computer and the bowl of cookie dough I am baking. I catch a few paragraphs in between dough scoops.

Lucy Hull is a children's librarian who encounters an avid reader named Ian. Though Ian voraciously reads anything she recommends, his controlling mother brings her a list of the books and authors he should read in order to experience "the breath of God." Lucy sneaks books to Ian, and he transports them in his pants and parka, always avoiding his nanny and mother. Lucy is torn about First Amendment rights and the need to patronize her patron's mother. When she can no longer stand to witness the ways the young boy's mind is being tortured by his parents and the church, she does the unthinkable.

Intermingled with Ian's and Lucy's story are snippets from books, familiar titles, and references to characters and plot lines. The author even ends one chapter with a nod to Ludwig Bemelmans:

In a library in Missouri that was covered with vines
Lived thousands of books in a hundred straight lines
A boy came in at half past nine
Every Saturday, rain or shine
His book selections were clan-des-tine.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Studio Visits


On this teacher workday, I spent part of the afternoon in one of my favorite places: my friend Debra's studio. The first time I visited Debra Frasier's studio, I was slightly nervous. The elevator to the third floor is a bit old. The hallways are a bit maze-like. Once inside the door, I felt instant comfort. The bookcases filled with titles that inspire her art and shape her story development line the walls. Large sheets of Canson paper in a rainbow of colors are tacked onto corkboard on one wall. Binders of each book's curriculum and programs fill another shelf. The current book's artwork and is hung, displayed, and strewn about the place. And the reminders of past books make me smile...like this wooden spoon puppet from The Incredible Water Show.

In our first collaborative effort, we staged the book as a play three different ways with fifth graders from my school: one with miniature box theatres, one with puppets of various sizes, and one with human characters in costume. It was a grand project with fabulous results! How good it feels to visit a familiar place and savor the memories held there!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Award Day


The live webcast of the ALA Youth Media Awards held our attention this morning in the library office, but typical Monday morning problems kept us from listening completely. We cheered for Balloons Over Broadway, Melissa Sweet's multi-layered, filled-with-facts book about Tony Sarg, the puppeteer who created the Macy's parade balloons. What a perfect choice to receive the Sibert Medal! We cheered again when our personal favorite, John Rocco's Blackout, received a Caldecott Honor Medal; the students have loved that book since we read it aloud earlier this year and were hoping it would win today. Our third cheer came for Eugene Yelchin's Breaking Stalin's Nose!

The third grade Caldecott committees have been deliberating and debating about their book selections and choices. Some are adamant that the book they have selected is the best, citing very appropriate and detailed reasons to support the choice. When all the voting and decisions are done, their award recipients might be surprising!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

An Author's Books


Most often, when I read a book I love by a certain author, I am likely to love that author's other books. It held true with Helen Frost this week. My admiration for Diamond Willow led me to Crossing Stones, and I found myself once again spellbound by her words and story. Muriel, her brother Ollie, and her friend Emma narrate this historical tale of love, commitment, and determination. Muriel's words flow, and her "mind meanders like the creek" in a zig-zag pattern across the pages, much like the water flowing between Muriel's and Emma's farms. Ollie's and Emma's words are held in fourteen-line sonnets with rhyme structures that cup them together (and middle lines that rhyme with each other, something rather significant later in the story).

As World War I rages, Muriel questions why President Wilson would "take us right into the middle of this war they're fighting oversees." She adores Emma's older brother Frank but wonders if she should feel more than that about a young man going off to war. Emma's practicality dominates her life in school and chores, but her allegiance to her brother, to Ollie, and to Grace (Muriel and Ollie's little sister) shines fiercely in her actions. Ollie is certain his decision to lie about his age and enlist is the right thing - until he gets to training and then the front. As their stories come together, the many ways we see situations and live through challenges are illuminated in good ways.

Helen Frost's other books are on reserve at my library.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Caldecott Committees


The third graders gathered in groups of four with a decade of Caldecott Medal books this afternoon. Using the book pass method, they perused each book for 90 seconds, briefly taking in the story but focusing more on the artwork. The books passed from hand to hand around the table until each child had seen each book. Then, they debated amongst themselves which book of their decade was the most distinguished. I heard things comments like these

* I think the artist used watercolor here. See how it spreads along the trees. - about The Funny Little Woman illustrated by Blair Lent
* Each of us likes a different book best! How will we decide? - about Officer Buckle and Gloria, Tuesday, Rapunzel, and Snowflake Bentley from the 1990s
* Some of these books have the same style. - about Sylvester and the Magic Pebble and Duffy and the Devil from the 1970s

Next session each group will share their most distinguished book and their reasons for choosing it - and we will all know the 2012 Caldecott books!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Actions from Words


When reading aloud to children, I take special care to look at them often, reading ahead so I can say certain phrases with emphasis and connect with the listeners via eye contact and expression. I make sure I scan the whole area, holding each child's gaze at least once during the read-aloud session. Their engagement is obvious. Lately, their actions have indicated that engagement as well. Or maybe I am just noticing it more.

Bunny/Bonita in One Day and One Amazing Morning on Orange Street taps her mom's purple gardening hat and blinks three times in a superstitious effort to keep her mother safe during her travels. In today's chapter, the girls does it when a baby hummingbird is knocked from its nest to the ground. In the third grade listening audience, several children reached up to tap their heads and then blinked three times. They also finger an imaginary heart-shaped stone whenever Ali, the young girl who believes the stone is her wishing stone and keeps it in her pocket for easy rubbing, does so in the story.

Last week in "Dance at Grandpa's," as the aunts combed and braided their hair, the second grade girls started finger-combing each other's hair and then braiding their own hair as they listened. The boys feet began to jig along with Uncle George's during the dance description. 

Parents sometimes express their release from reading aloud to their children once those children can read well themselves. Children love to listen, no matter what the age. I share examples like these to remind them.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Making Lists


In recognition of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday, the students did not have school today. Teachers met to discuss curriculum issues, and for my teaching partner and me, that included making lists. Lists of books for the spring book festival inventory. Books for each grade level's 2012 summer reading list. I just love this, she told me. I loved it, too.

We looked for books by favorite authors, hoping for new titles to be released before the end of March, and added books like Betty Bunny Loves Everything by Michael Kaplan and The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate. We searched for series books that children love and added Fancy Nancy and the Mermaid Ballet by Jane O'Connor and Abe Lincoln at Last by Mary Pope Osborne (#47 in the Magic Tree House series).

We pored over our order lists since the beginning of the school year and started designating newly acquired books for the grade level lists. Clementine and the Family Meeting by Sara Pennypacker was added to the second grade list. Drawing From Memory by Allen Say was added to the fifth grade list. Now we will begin the thoughtful task of annotating all those books to complete the summer reading lists in time for release at the beginning of June.

It is always a good day when we are immersed in book titles.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Snowfall & Icefall


After a week in which every day felt like Friday, I welcomed the chance to read under a favorite quilt with a hot cup of tea next to me today (with bread-baking and soup-making mixed in). As the snow fell outdoors, I was enthralled with Icefall by Matthew J. Kirby indoors. My teaching partner read it the other day. She brought it to work, telling me she would rather be home reading it! We often do that: bring the book we wish we were reading, all the while knowing we will not be able to read it at school. We must get comfort in having it nearby. She was not certain I would enjoy the suspenseful adventure as much as she did. I have.

Solveig is the middle daughter of the king and the story's narrator. Along with her brother Harald, heir to the throne, and her sister Asa, stunningly beautiful and most-noticed by their father, she is literally stuck in a rocky, ice-locked fjord with a glacier flowing above them. Protected by three men assigned by the king and later joined by the king's berserkers (all in bear or wolf skins), Solveig senses imminent danger, learns to trust Alric, the king's skald, and finds an unlikely companion in Hake, the berserker leader. Something is amiss in their icy steading, yet Solveig remains stalwart in her defense of what she believes is right.

Before I go to bed on this cold Minnesota evening, I must finish the story that has so captured my attention.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Inhabiting My Thoughts


I love how it feels to be so immersed in a book that I do not want it to end, to dream of the characters and places, to wish they were my neighbors so I could get to know them even better. In the case of Helen Frost's Diamond Willow, that would have me living in Alaska near a young girl named Willow who loves to drive her family's sled dogs.

Telling all the things that make this book wonderful is not possible. Really. After reading the jacket copy, the summary statement, and hearing a bit from my teaching partner, I still was not prepared for the well-told, magical story. Written in diamond-shaped with a poetic tone, the story contains hidden messages within those poems (in the form of bold-face words that present another glimpse into Willow's thoughts). Her ancestors (in the form of a spruce hen and a dog) and her friends' ancestors provide commentary and insights as their spirits (in animal characters) guide her. There are secrets unveiled, understandings communicated, and relationships solidified in unlikely ways.

It is a lovely book, one that I will buy for myself as I know I want to read it again and savor Helen Frost's words.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Understanding Signals


With the third graders in my information literacy classes, I am more than halfway done with One Day and One Amazing Morning on Orange Street. They adore the characters in this book. Many of them asked for it as a Christmas gift and came back to tell me they had finished it over winter break. Sometimes as I'm reading, I will pause to be certain they understand a word or an idiomatic expression. In the past two chapters, there were interactions between characters that I thought might need more in-depth discussion.

When Robert thinks dear old Ms. Snoops is trying to keep the loan of a book a secret, he winks at her. She winks back at him. The exchange happens once more. In reality, Ms. Snoops has short-term memory loss and does not recall loaning the book to Robert. The children totally understood that, and they provided many examples of when people might wink at each other to show solidarity on a secret issue. Parents who are trying to keep a secret from their children was the number one example (though one child said he learned to read lips so he could still understand them). An unlikely child (i.e. so perfectly behaved) said she and her brother wink at each other when they have tricks to play on their younger siblings.

When the Ruff, Bunny's dog, is digging in the empty lot, he unearths a glass jar. Unbeknownst to the children, the mysterious stranger (whom they now know lived on Orange Street as a boy) has watched the event and asks if anyone digging ever found anything on top of that glass jar. Ali hesitates, knowing the heart-shaped blue stone in her pocket came from that spot. She offers it to the stranger, telling him it is an excellent wishing stone. He hesitates and then tells her that was not the object. She should keep it. I paused here to ask the students what they thought about that. It was his, they told me. He just thought Ali needed it more than he did.


I needn't have worried about their understanding.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Awareness = Questions


This week and next we are reading aloud picture books that tell the stories of discrimination and civil rights. For the intermediate students, Andrea Davis Pinkney's Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up By Sitting Down is the chosen book. The fourth graders in my first class had already heard it (recommended by me to their teacher after we read a related book), so Ruth and the Green Book by Calvin Alexander Ramsey (and softly illustrated by Floyd Cooper) was the choice. They were mesmerized! Ruth's dad purchases a sea-mist green 1952 Buick, and they gasped at the color. Their family leaves Chicago to visit relatives in the southern states, soon discovering that they are not welcome at gas stations, motels, restrooms, and diners. The children gasped again. As Ruth's story unfolds, along with the use of "The Negro Motorist Green Book" by Victor Green, they were captivated by how the family found caring individuals to satisfy their traveling needs.

When I finished reading, one usually distracted child raised her hand and asked, "Why did the white people treat the black people that way? I don't understand." My colleague and I could give no reason. The other children vehemently agreed that it made no sense. Their awareness of something unjust and new to them created a subdued atmosphere as they looked for books.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Dance at Grandpa's


Today's chapter in Little House in the Big Woods is one of my favorites in regard to description. The family piles into the sleigh for the dance at Grandpa's to mark the end of the sugaring season. Grandma meets them at the door, smiling and calling them indoors. Laura has never seen a room as long as the great room. She watches attentively as Grandma make hasty pudding (which they later eat with fresh maple syrup). She loves watching Aunt Docia and Aunt Ruby dress for the dance, carefully parting and braiding their hairs. What really astounded the children, though, was the description of the tightening of corset strings! The girls could not believe anyone would do that, and the boys kept trying to span their hands like Pa's to imagine going around a waist. They loved the jigging competition between Uncle George and Grandma and wished they could get plates of fresh snow to be covered in a ladle of maple syrup. It feels so good to share stories with children...and to revisit favorites myself.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012



The Horn Book arrived yesterday. I can hardly to open it every two months! The first thing I do is flip to Roger's editorial to see what he is thinking. In this issue, he encourages librarians to get the books mentioned in "Horn Book Fanfare" for 2011 into readers' hands and hearts. My teaching partner and I love doing that; half the books on this year's list are already circulating. The next thing I do is page through the articles to see which I want to read first. This time Richard Peck's "Books to Unite the Digitally Divided Family" topped the list. Though it did not live up to its title, it contained excellent lines that are now in my favorite quotes journal. How about this one about writers?
"We write from observation, not experience. From research, not recollection. All fiction is based on research. We don't write what we know. We write what we can find out. Every book begins in the library in the hope that it will end there."
And lastly, I turn to the Book Reviews, noting what we already have in the collection, what we have on order, and what we want to preview from the public library. My reserve list grew by 12 books tonight.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012


Listeners were a bit quiet as I read the words "Red Sled" from the book by Patricia Thomas of the same title. A dad and son gather their winter gear, traipse up a hill, and glide down. Soon their voices joined in the rhyming text with expression and enthusiasm. 
"No! No!
Whoa! Whoa!"
and 
"Flip flop stop"
Written in the style of an ancient poetic form called chiasmus, the sparse text guides readers from the starting point to the climax and back to the "Red Sled" finale. We went right back to the beginning and read it togheter again.