Friday, December 30, 2011

Looking for Newbery begins again (2012 version)!!

There are so many places online these days to find Newbery predictions that we actually talked about not running this series in January again this year.  But over breakfast recently, we made the decision to do it anyway.  If nothing else, it will be a sounding board for us to talk about books we have loved this past year.  In addition, as we follow the other online resources for mock Newbery lists, we will talk about some of the books we have discovered from those lists that might not have come to our attention otherwise.  Is there anything better than finding a great new book?!!

We have decided to run our Looking for Newbery series from January 1 - January 22 this year.  Our goal is to post about one book a day that we think might be worthy of the Newbery Gold or Honor medals (OR just chat about books and characters we really, really liked!).  Chances are we won't get it right, but that's okay.  We can't wait to talk about books we love!!

Please join us on our Looking for Newbery expedition as we look at some of the best and the brightest books of 2011!!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Sidekicks

Sidekicks by Dan Santat is a hoot!!  From first page to last, I was chuckling at the bumbling, and sometimes successful, attempt of pets who want to be their owner's (an aging superhero) sidekick.   A mouse, a dog, a cat, and and a chameleon -- not the most likely candidates to be a superhero's sidekick, but as they try to win the coveted role, sometimes by outdoing the other, humor ensues.  I love that buried inside the humor and the wonderful art of this graphic novel, there is also a great message - we are better when we work together.

This book comes complete with a great villian as well; he even has a great villian name -- Dr. Archibald Havoc.  And there's a Society of Superheroes in this town that work together to help one another.  Who knew you could pick up a phone to assemble a group of superheroes to find a new sidekick?!

On my second read of this book, there were some great clues in the pictures that I had missed the first time; clues that foreshadowed the events that would lead to the destruction of our superhero.  And if you don't usually read the author's page on the back flap, make an exception for this one!!  First of all, Dan Santat's picture is posted in the outfit he would be wearing if he was chosen to be the sidekick for the superhero - priceless!  And the very last page of the book is his application to be the superhero sidekick - fun!!

I am so happy I found this book with my students when we were checking out the Top 20 Books of 2011 compiled by John Schumacher and Travis Jonker (I can't get a bookmark for this one / will come back and try later), two amazing librarians.  As we read what they said about this book, I knew I had to read it and get it into our classroom pronto!

Speaking of which, I was in a dilemma about whether to buy 2 copies of Sidekicks because I know it will be so popular, and I teach language arts to two different groups of 5th graders.  After an online conversation with Donalyn Miller, she gave me a great idea.  She said for popular books like this, she holds a drawing for who gets the book.  Once the book comes back in, she draws another name out of the jar.  Smart thinking, right?  I guess that's why they call her The Book Whisperer!

I can't wait for students to start enjoying Sidekicks in 2012!!!!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life

Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life by James Patterson and Chris Tebbetts is a book that I predict will be very popular in our classroom.  It is reminiscent of the tween angst found in the series of The Diary of A Wimpy Kid and Amelia's Notebook, coupled with the great illustrations found in My Life as a Book, My Life as a Stuntboy, and Origami Yoda.

The angst comes from the main character, Rafe Khatchadorian.  His last name alone leaves him open to the unkindness of some classmates.  Rafe is the narrator of the multiple stories he has to tell - there is always the real story, and then there is the "Rafe" story - the latter will amuse many of the boys in my room.

Rafe's plan to make himself memorable in middle school is to break every rule in the student handbook as a 6th grader.  Again, many students will enjoy his quest to break the rules.  And the quirky illustrations by Laura Park that go with the story and Rafe's imagination are a hoot - full of detail and creativity.  I envision an entirely new style of writing will take place in our writer's workshop after students read this book.

Rafe often talks directly to the reader, and there is one surprise layer that is added to this story that brings more compassion to Rafe's character, but there will be no spoilers here.

Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life is the type of book that might not win an award, but will most definitely be one of the most checked-out books in our classroom library.  I can't wait to see who gets it first!!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Thoughts (Very Late!!) from NCTE 2011 (Part 1)


It's been almost a month since I attended NCTE 2011, and much of my learning has been percolating in my mind, but I haven't been able to process how to share it. After reading a recent post from Cathy, I realized that snippets of thinking are all I could probably do as well without getting incredibly long-winded.

So, here is a breakdown of some of the sessions I attended, and a few of my take-aways:

I listened to Kathy Short at the Elementary Get-Together on Thursday as she accepted her award for the Outstanding Educator Award and was fascinated by how she talked about how important it is to share the stories of her life. What a great kickoff for the rest of the convention as I brought the framework of "story" to what I heard and experienced for the rest of the convention. It was also amazing that I sat a table right next to Ken Goodman - what an amazing thinker!!

I missed the first sessions of Friday because I needed to meet with my fellow presenters as we put the final touches on our poetry presentation for Saturday. One of the biggest stories that came out of this breakfast meeting was that I discovered that one of my cohorts, Katie, had gotten engaged since I last saw her (she lives in Oregon; I love in Ohio)!! Such exciting times ahead for her! The other story of this meeting is how much one can learn from doing a presentation with others. The two smart ladies with whom I presented (Katie and her mom, Dee) made me a better teacher just by our interactions through the past few months. It is a true gift to learn alongside others!!

One of my Friday sessions was titled Authors as Mentors for Peer Critique Groups, and it was a panel that included Matthew Kirby, Eric Luper, Linda Urban, and Kate Messner. Before I do any sharing here, can I say how fun it was to meet Kate in person after being connected to her on twitter (and after the session to get an autographed copy of her ARC, Eye of the Storm)!! These are four brilliant authors who go through the same struggles our students and we experience as writers. They all had similar messages -- writers need to engage in art of giving and receiving critiques, it is incredibly important to create a safe environment for this type of conversation, and the overall idea of critique groups is to bring out your best when writing. What terrific messages to take back to my own students.

Then, I was off to hear Ralph Fletcher speak. How fortunate that he had teamed up with Dan Feigelson and Kate Morris, as they all talked about how mentor texts lift students' writing. This session was packed with people even sitting in the hall to hear these panelists speak. Kate is a teacher who was sharing practical applications of her writing instruction. My favorite example was how she uses the v-shape to help students go from a big topic (vacation) and narrow their focus (how my brother broke his arm on vacation). She ended with my favorite line of the day, "My biggest dream is not for kids to be 'standard'." Brilliantly stated.

I ended Friday in another packed room for a session about nonfiction - Ellin Keene was the moderator, and the panel was comprised of Seymour Simon, Linda Hoyt, and Ann Marie Corgill. They were all wonderful. Seymour Simon shared how he uses strong words to enhance text - my immediate take-away after he shared some examples was that I need to go back to the books of his I own and focus on his language choices with my students. The idea that his books always promote curiosity intertwines perfectly with how we are wondering in our class this year. Linda Hoyt focused on the importance of modeling in front of students, but also making sure our modeling isn't just whole class modeling. We should also model in small groups and individually. I love Ann Marie; the thing she shared that I will be trying is the idea of group research. The level of her students' writing was really elevated because of this opportunity. Her final message was, "We want our kids to leave our classrooms thinking 'I can make a difference'."

Okay, as I look back at this post, I realized I got a lot more long-winded than I wanted, but I have the dilemma of trying to figure out what to cut. My answer -- look for Part 2 of NCTE 2011 in a day or two. :) I still have stories to tell...

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Skyping with Laurel Snyder


I'm a little embarrassed that this post is about three weeks overdue, but the experience was so fabulous, I had to swallow my embarrassment, and deal with it. :)

On November 15, both of my language arts classes had the amazing opportunity to experience a Skype visit with Laurel Snyder. This visit occurred after we had spent about a month reading her latest book, Bigger Than a Breadbox, aloud in class. Laurel was so warm, gracious, and personable, it felt like we were guests in her home (which by the way, we could see over her shoulder). One of my students is a huge dog lover, and when it came time to ask questions, his had nothing to do with Bigger Than a Breadbox or Laurel as a writer; he wanted to know all about her dog to whom we were introduced. She was as delighted with his question as with any that dealt more with the purpose of our visit - discussing Bigger Than a Breadbox and learning more about being an author.

First of all, if you haven't yet read Bigger Than a Breadbox, I would strongly encourage you to do so (I posted a mini-review here). This book contains so many meaty topics that just beg for deeper conversations. Second, I have to tell you how we scored this visit. Because I follow Laurel Snyder on twitter, I was immediately intrigued when she offered to do free Skype visits for the first 100 people who contacted her. As an educator who wants her children to be well versed when talking about authors and how they create, I immediately contacted Laurel. I'm thankful that twitter gives me a platform to interact with authors and other educators in ways that benefit my students.

Okay, back to my point: Laurel's Skype visit. As she talked to the students, I jotted down some things she said that I knew I would want to come back to and talk about further:
  • Authors write to know what you didn't even know you knew.
  • The main character, Rebecca, is based on her own life. She also had divorced parents.
  • In 4th grade Laurel started writing stories , but she didn't know who to share them with. She ended up sharing with her best friend, Susan. Turns out they had similar leanings for stories - fairy tales.
  • In 7th grade, her mom moved her family, and a comment from a teacher stopped her from ever wanting to share her personal writing again
  • She was an adult before she went back to writing what she loved - fairy tales.
  • But, even given that, she told the kids that sometimes you do end up being what you wanted to be in 4th grade -- hold on to your dreams!
  • It took her 49 submissions before her first book was accepted.
  • The character of Miss Adda is loosely based on her grandmother.
  • **Great advice to students -- it's the tiny details that make your story real (for those of you that know the book, this came after one of the students commented on how many details were written about Miss Adda).
  • She is currently working on a prequel to Bigger Than a Breadbox - my students were so excited, begging me to read it to them this year. Then Laurel had to explain to them the process of publishing a book takes several years. :)
These are just some of the snippets I wrote down. But you can see how powerfully my students were connected to what they considered a "real" author. After talking to Laurel, they realized they are "real" authors as well.

Thanks so much to Laurel for such an amazing visit, one we will come back to multiple times this year.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Poetry Potpourri Presentation for NCTE 2011


I had the amazing privilege of working with two very smart ladies while putting together our presentation on poetry for NCTE this year (titled "Poetry Potpourri"). Katie Doherty (some of you may know her from her informative Choice Literacy articles and videos) and her mom, Dee Doherty, were my cohorts in crime, and we had a blast the last few months, while learning a lot from each other at the same time.

It's been a little over a week since we presented in Chicago, and we wanted to share our slideshow with whomever might be interested. We are attaching the googledoc link to our slides and also the link to the resources in our handout.

We hope you enjoy and can find something to use for yourselves.

Link to slideshow...

Link to resource list...

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Cheshire Cheese Cat: A Dickens of a Tale



I found this title on one of the many Newbery prediction lists I've been looking over and just liked the title. After reading it, I understand why some feel it may be in the running for some prestigious awards in January. The Cheshire Cheese Cat: A Dickens of a Tale by Carmen Agra Deedy and Randall Wright is quite the Olde English adventure.

Based in Dickens era England, alley cat Skilley decides he is tired of life in the mean streets of London and decides to become a mouser at Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, a London tavern famous for it's delicious cheese and for being over run by mice. The problem is, Skilley has a secret that isn't revealed until well into the story, and won't be revealed here, I hate spoilers! On one of his first days on the job he meets Pip, an intelligent little mouse who quickly figures out Skilley's secret. The two strike a win-win bargain and the tale is on.

Skilley and Pip encounter lots of colorful characters, many named for Dickens characters, as they go about protecting a secret even bigger than Skilley's. The authors do a marvelous job of creating the characters giving them life through their personality traits and quirks. The heroes are likable even with their faults and the villains, Pinch the bad alley cat, force the reader to dislike them. They are all used to create the feel of a Dickens classic that is written at a level for elementary readers. However, there are enough levels to this book that it will appeal to older readers too.

Throughout the story illustrator Barry Moser's drawings highlight important happenings making it even more appealing to younger readers. This was a quick read and would make for a really fun read aloud in the classroom.

Other Reviews:
Fuse #8
There's a Book
Twenty by Jenny

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Floors by Patrick Carman


I'll be honest, I haven't read a lot of Patrick Carman's books, but I know people love his work. I was fortunate enough to hear him speak at a SLJ Leadership Conference a couple of years ago, and was extremely impressed. I've been fascinated with his blending of written stories and web based features, I just haven't gotten around to reading any of his books, until now!

At our book fair in October, I saw a new book called Floors on the shelf and the back intrigued me. I recommended it to several kids who I thought it would appeal to, and reserved my copy at the local branch of the Columbus Metropolitan Library in Hilliard. When I picked it up I couldn't wait to start reading and once I started I couldn't put it down.

Leo Fillmore and his father Clarence work and live in the Whippet Hotel the most unusual hotel on Earth. It occupies a large piece of land in Manhattan that would bring a fortune to the owner, Merganzer Whippet. The problem is no one has seen or heard from Merganzer in a long time. Leo misses his eccentric friend but keeping the Whippet up and running is a full time job for he and his father. On one of his daily service calls he discovers a mysterious box that leads him to a room he wasn't even aware existed which leads him to another box and so on until he collects 4 boxes in all and all is revealed.

On his quest he is introduced to a new best friend, the son of another Whippet employee is serving as doorman and interacts with a colorful cast of characters including a cranky hotel manager named Ms. Sparks who sports larger than life bee hive hair do, Mr. Phipps the Gardner who shapes the shrubbery into various animals especially ducks, Mr. Whippet's favorite animal.

Leo encounters puzzles to solve, mysterious notes to decipher and the flock of ducks that live on the roof and must be walked each day. The story of loyalty, friendship and a boy solving some difficult challenges reminded me of Charlie and Chocolate Factory and the Gollywhopper Games, two of my favorites.

I can't wait to get this into the hands of my 3rd - 5th graders and hear how they like the Whippet Hotel adventure. The good news is that it is the first in a series and it has the feel of a very popular series, and as with his other books it includes a cool interactive web site here.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Okay for Now Makes for Grand Discussion




The first Grand Discussion of the school year was held last Thursday and 51 kids and parents attended. Joyce and I chose Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt. Usually leading up to the event I hear comments questioning my judgement, I don't take it personally because I know in the end, after reading and discussing even some of my most questionable book choices, the folks leave happy and understanding why I chose what I chose! With Okay for Now most liked it from the get go and understood completely why it was chosen. So many themes and topics for discussion that it was tough to get it all in in an hour, but we did our best and another successful event is in the books.

As I looked over our list of previous titles, it appears that author Gary D. Schmidt knows how to create books that create conversation! We've done 3 of his titles, Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy, our very first Grand Discussion title, Wednesday Wars and of course, Okay for Now. We started the evening with an interview with the author that some parents found on line and ended the evening with Joyce interviewing several participants for her Dublin Lit Conference presentation in February.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Great Picture Book for Veteran's Day


A quick post today. A few years ago, a colleague introduced me to a great book to share with students on Veteran's Day. Here is a link to the original post.

America's White Table is a great way to celebrate and remember all those who have fought in wars to protect our country.

With November 11 being tomorrow, I thought this was a great time to bring this out from our archives.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

A Great Moment in Conferring

I went to school feeling sick today, and didn't have a whole lot of energy. I started my morning with reading workshop, and the most amazing thing happened. While conferring with a student who struggles with his reading identity, he said the following to me (I am quoting as much as possible, but there may be a paraphrase here or there):

"Mrs. T, I started reading the 39 Clues series today."

I asked him why.

"I've been watching Luke read the series and he has inspired me." (inspired was definitely his word, not mine!!)

I inquired again about why he was inspired.

"When he reads this series, he gets so into the book, he forgets that all the rest of the class is in the room. I want to know what that feels like."

OMG!! I don't know what brought more goosebumps:
  • the fact that as a reader who struggles to find good choices for himself, he observed a classmate and wanted that same feeling as a reader
  • his language about the entire thing
  • the fact that his classmate is so immersed in his book, he is inspiring all those around him
I think it's a combination of all three things. It was truly a great moment in conferring!!

Friday, November 4, 2011

A Writing Celebration

Well, the celebration definitely isn't mine; I just looked back at my last post and realized it was over a month ago -- yikes!! I have a huge list of ideas to blog about, but just haven't found the time to do so. With NCTE 2011 just around the corner, I'm hoping to turn that around now.

But, on to the real writing celebration. Recently, we did some mini-research in our classroom of the 28 finalists for the next Seven Natural Wonders of the World. The students' research, learning, and final presentations were amazing! But, as a teacher, the huge excitement came after this mini-research was done, and my 48 students went back to choosing what they wanted to write again.

Much to my delight, with all the emphasis we have put on wondering this year and their enjoyment of the research process, many students chose to research yet another topic in which they were interested. I could talk about each and every one of them, but tonight I want to focus on one group of girls.

After hearing me talk about visiting the 9/11 Memorial on a recent trip to New York City, they wanted to know more about what happened that day in 2001. When I asked them why, they said they were either not born yet or were just babies; they wanted to learn more about this tragedy. So, they were off, checking with many sources to find the information for which they were looking. While that was delightful, it is how they made our school setting work for them as learners that is really the celebration of this anecdote.

The art teacher in our school runs an art studio -- students have a variety of choices as artists each time they enter the art room. These four girls first used their choice in writing workshop to investigate the information about 9/11, then they used their choice to build the twin towers in the construction area of the art studio during art period, and finally they used their choice on how to publish their information to share it with their classmates -- they put all the information about 9/11 on the towers they had built. They also added a backdrop for the beautiful blue September sky of 9/11, and designed a way to have a paper airplane fly into their towers.

I am so proud of these girls; they truly have made our school work for who they are as learners and communicators. And the pride they had in what they discovered and how intrigued and impressed their classmates were -- it just can't be measured!! Like I said, this is a real writing celebration!! And a celebration for the wonder of CHOICE as well!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

3 Picks From THE PIT

It's been a busy year in THE PIT, I've already shared 10 fun read alouds with the kids, and some are already coming out on top as favorites. Here are three that have been HUGE hits in THE PIT!

Dinosaur vs. The Library by Bob Shea: I read Dinosaur vs. Bedtime a couple of years ago and it was so much fun (that means LOUD) that when I saw the dinosaur was taking on the library, I had to read it in THE PIT. It doesn't disappoint and probably my favorite part are the baby chicks that look a lot like tennis balls with legs that follow the dinosaur through the story. When the dinosaur arrives at the library and the text says something about roaring where no one has roared before, there was always at least one of my kids that said, "Except for this library, you roar all the time!" I guess I've earned the title of The Loud Librarian and I wear it proudly. This is the second Bob Shea I've read this year, we also did I'm a Shark to the delight of the Bailey students. I can't wait until February when Bob Shea will visit Dublin for our annual Dublin Literacy Conference. After viewing his video about the Dinosaur books, I'm pretty impressed with his roaring!

I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen: I LOVE THIS BOOK! The bear loses his hat and walks through the woods asking various animals if they have seen it. The rabbit is wearing a red pointy hat but denies everything. In the end the bear solves the mystery and gets his hat back. This creates a new mystery, what happened to the rabbit? We discussed this in THE PIT, does he eat the rabbit? sit on and squash the rabbit? stuff the rabbit back in the hat and put it on his heat? It's up to the reader, but the bear does have a bit of a denial problem just like the rabbit. My favorite reaction to the book came from Franki at A Year of Reading. As she read the book she kept saying that she didn't see what was so funny, when she got to the end, she totally cracked up and was hooked! It was such a sudden change in responses to the book that it made me laugh too!



King Hugo's Huge Ego by Chris Van Dusen: I love a good rhyming story and this is a good rhyming story. King Hugo is a little man with a, well, you probably guessed it, a huge ego. He goes around making people bow down to him and speechifying about how wonderful he is. When he crosses a sorceress, she casts a spell that causes his head to swell every time he brags. By the end he's looking like a Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon. As with all fairy tales, he finds out the reason for his fat head and changes his way. Just a heads up, this one has a bit of a romantical ending that made me break into a little bit of "Love is a Many Splendored Thing" and caused a good bit of squirming in THE PIT!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Busy September!


I told my blogging partner Karen that I hadn't posted in a while, just wasn't inspired and didn't feel like I had much to say. As I look back on the first month of school, however, I realize how busy and frantic it has been, that may have had something to do with my lack of inspiration.

In the first month of school, Super Aide Yvonne moved every book in the non-fiction and fiction sections of our library. They installed an Epson Brightlink system and we had to make room for the board. Oh yeah, I've been trying to figure out this new system which I think I really like!

I reviewed and purchased nearly 60 new titles for the library. We then had to catalog and process them for library use.

I chose and read 6 new books in THE PIT;
Those Darn Squirrels and the Cat Next Door by Adam Rubin
SkippyJon Jones: Class Action by Judith Schachner
The Book that Zack Wrote by Ethan Long
You Will Be My Friend by Peter Brown
I'm a Shark by Bob Shea
The Greedy Sparrow by Lucine Kasbarian

I have been working on updating the Amazing Library Race using QR codes hidden in books for clues. I've run into a bit of snag in that I can't find a reader that works consistently on the desktop computers in the library. I'm working on getting some iPods with cameras but if anybody knows of a good QR reader for Mac desktops, please let me know.

In addition to all of these things I've been teaching the early library skill units, keeping up with things at home and this week book fair gets delivered and set up.

WHEW! I think I need to sit down with a stack of good books and watch the Buckeyes play football!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Wonder Jars and Wonder Wednesdays


I posted a few weeks ago about how I had started Wonder Wednesday in my classroom. It has been a grand adventure, one both of my language arts classes look forward to each week.

The vehicle that I use to tie together my thinking for each Wednesday is the website Wonderopolis with its daily wonders. But oftentimes, already this early in the year, I have found that Wonderopolis provides the springboard to even bigger thinking.

Let me give an example. Last Wednesday, I went back in the archives of Wonders at Wonderopolis, and looked at the different possibilities listed under geography. I wanted to support the teacher I team with as she was starting a unit on geography with our students. The Wonder that I chose was posted last April 22 for Earth Day, and started with a video clip about the Wonders of the World. It was one of the longer videos that I had seen, but it was a great kick-off for where I wanted to go with our thinking.

To help the students think and write more critically, we created a t-chart with questions formulated after watching the video and as we looked at the focus questions Wonderopolis provided on one side. On the other, we clearly articulated in writing any new learning we had as we read the rest of the article. Great thinking abounded!!

To further our thinking about the wonders, in word study I had a large picture of Angel Falls (a possible new Wonder) displayed on our SmartBoard. The students did a Word Storm together, brainstorming all the words and phrases that came to mind as they looked at this image. What a great vocabulary builder!! Each class filled 2 entire chart papers with their words and phrases - the power of learning and building vocabulary with peers is immense!

One of the items posted in this Wonder is the fact that there is an opportunity to vote for new Wonders of the World. Wonderopolis generously provided this link, and the students found out there are 28 places nominated for this new distinction. Students will begin doing partner research on these 28 places, share what they learn with their classmates, and then each student will have a vote on choosing the next Wonders of the World in the next few weeks.

How cool is that?! And it all stemmed from the connections we made using Wonderopolis.

I'm also grateful to Wonderopolis, because they overheard a conversation I was having on twitter this summer with a few friends about the idea of having a Wonder Jar in our classrooms, and what that might look like. They supported this train of thought, and it really has guided the type of thinking we are doing in our classroom this year.

I had to think about what a Wonder Jar might look like for me. As you can see in the picture, what has happened is that the Wonder Jar for both language arts classes I teach is from Sam's Club, and used to be full of Cheetos (what happened to them is a conversation for another article) :). I wanted this to be a year full of all students wondering and inquiring and researching topics of interest to them. I thought it would be fun to capture that wondering and make it visible to all.

Our Wonder Jar is where we put things that represent what we are wondering about. One of my students wonders about BigFoot; he put a small plastic BigFoot in the Wonder Jar. Another student wondered about how glue is made; a glue stick was deposited into the jar. Another student is fascinated about the process of making ice cream; she got a cup from Coldstone to represent her thinking and put it in the Wonder Jar. The list goes on and on.

As each student shared what they were wondering, they put a replica that demonstrates what their current wonder is. As they deposit their wonders, I take pictures of them, and have put their pictures in frames throughout the room. These pictures are yet one more visible reminder that we will be a class that wonders together. I expect to change these pictures multiple times over the course of this school year. Once we investigate and learn about one wonder, we will move right on to thinking about yet something else.

The Wonder Jar is providing all of the students an opportunity to delve deeper into topics that interest and intrigue them. I noticed that in this first sharing of wonders, the students' thinking was pretty surface level. As we continue to work with wondering throughout the year, I anticipate their level of sophistication of wonders and questions to improve.

My students and I love our Wonder Wednesdays and our Wonder Jars! Thanks Wonderopolis!!

Monday, September 26, 2011

A Full Moon is Rising


I love Marilyn Singer! Her poetry book Mirror, Mirror is one of the most-read books in our classroom. Children are always astounded at how the point of view changes when the lines are reversed.

So, when I saw Marilyn Singer's name on A Full Moon is Rising on the "New Books" bookshelf at my public library, I had to read it. Now that I've read it, I will truly have to have it and buy it for our classroom library!

This collection of poems reminds me a little of Amazing Faces, edited by Lee Bennett Hopkins, which I absolutely adored! Both books deal with a single topic, but throughout the book, the topic is looked at through different cultural lenses.

In A Full Moon is Rising, the focus topic is the full moon. On each new set of pages, we look at the full moon from different locations in the world. What I love about this is Singer has chosen some sites that most children might not know, so there is a world map included that highlights all the different locales. In some of these places, the reader even learns about celebrations connected to the full moon. Great learning with accessible text. And if the reader wants to know even more, Singer has included more text in the back of the book about each location, and has also included a section about the different phases of the moon. The nonfiction text and the poetry in this book blend beautifully together to share important knowledge of cultures and of moon facts.

In addition to the fact that I love Singer's poems, one of the topics covered in 5th grade is about the Earth and the moon, including its phases. This will be a great book for my teaching partner to share when she teaches science, but A Full Moon Is Rising will also be a wonderful book for me to share in my language arts classes as an example of wonderful language and good mentor text for literary nonfiction.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

We're Very Versatile!


At least our friends Marylee and Franki at A Year of Reading think so! As part of being chosen as versatile bloggers, we need to thank them, so...thank you! We can honestly say these wonderful ladies were our mentors -- first, by jumping into the blog world themselves and showing us how it could look. Then later, when we were ready to jump into blogging, they were there for us again, supporting us, getting us started with the tech stuff (thanks, ML!), and connecting us with other smart bloggers. There, step one done.

Step 2: List 7 things about us:

1. After this post we are 2 away from 600 blog posts...and they said it wouldn't last!

2. Our blog was "born" on a very cold Groundhog's Day 2008 at a Panera in Columbus, Ohio.

3. We will be hosting our annual Looking for Newbery series beginning in December.

4. We used to teach in the same school, and for a while, we were even at the same grade level. Then life changed for both of us, and we are no longer in the same building. We really do need to sit down more often because our conversation is always good!

5. One of our favorite things to do is to present new books to the teachers attending the Dublin Lit conference in February. We've done it for the last four years in a row! Even if no one else appreciates us, we crack each other up!

6. We still get a little giggly and excited when an author responds to one of our posts.

7. Picks From THE PIT provides some pretty good read alouds.


Step 3: List 15 (or so) blogs we follow and enjoy. This one was a little tough because a lot of the blogs we enjoy and follow have already been listed at other sites. Here a few in no particular order:

100 Scope Notes (a very smart librarian and contributor to SLJ)

James Preller (we fell in love with Jimmy when he made a visit to our school. )

Barbara O'Connor (both James and Barbara post so much more than just about their lives as authors - always entertaining!!)

Anne Marie Corgill (aka: AM Literacy Learning Log)

Kate Messner (an author and teacher extrodanaire!)

Lori's Lessons (we're not the only ones who Lori is versatile; she's gotten at least one another nomination as well!)

Word from the Corner (love Mandy's lessons, and her learning journey with her new iPads is fun to follow)

MotherReader (one of the first blogs we followed; love her 48 Hour Book Challenge)

The Reading Zone (loved her when she was blogging as a 6th grade teacher; now that she is in high school, love hearing about how English/language arts can look in that setting)

Teach Paperless (a great place where a variety of contributors think about 21st century learning)

Heavy Medal (this is a blog at SLJ that just has to be followed as we head into award season)

My World- Mi Mundo (a blog that our fellow Central Ohio blogger, Stella, writes. She's part of the Columbus Area Writing Project and she is an ELL teacher. So thoughtful!)

Carol's Corner (We've served on the Cybils NFPB panel with Carol, and Karen seems to have very similar tastes in books as Carol.)

A Book Maven's Haven (Susan and Karen connected this past year via twitter, and ended up having their classes blog together about Out of Mind, and culminated in the 2 classes having a skype book chat together. Susan works in Maine and Karen is in Ohio.)

Monday, September 12, 2011

Titanic series by Korman continues


Back in January, I was lucky enough to get my hands on an ARC of a new series Gordon Korman was launching about the Titanic, titled aptly enough, Titanic. It was to be a trilogy of books. Since that time, Book One, Unsinkable, came out in May. Recently Book Two, Collision Course, arrived in bookstores on August 1, and Amazon is telling me that the final book, S.O.S., came out this past week on September 1.

While I have not gotten the third book yet, the second, Collision Course, picked up with its non-stop action right where the first book left off. We have Irish thugs chasing one of our main characters who also happens to be a stowaway on the Titanic, we have children becoming friends across socioeconomic lines, we have Jack the Ripper possibly onboard and trying to get back to what he likes to do best, we have arrogant captains trying to rush the Titanic to New York, and yes, we have the big ship hitting a huge iceberg.

Like I shared in my first review, this is a book that refuses to let you put it down, even though historically you know what is in store for these travelers. I will be fascinated to read the final book in the trilogy, as I am so invested in some of these children characters, I can't bear that they will suffer the plight that so many others did. My questions heading into the final book will be if Korman keeps it realistic, or if he tries to make it as happily ever after as a disaster can be.

Because I don't want to give much away, I won't review that final book. But I will be introducing this series to my class this Wednesday in a tub with nonfiction books about the Titanic as well. I predict that these books will have long lines of people waiting to read them!! Knowing that, I guess I will need to purchase the final book asap!!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Bigger Than a Breadbox

Laurel Snyder has written several books; Penny Dreadful is the most recent. But on September 27, her latest book, Bigger Than a Breadbox, will be released. Recently on Twitter, she offered to do a free Skype visit with people who might be interested. I absolutely wanted this opportunity for my students, so I signed up. I love that an author will be joining us and sharing about herself as a writer!

But, I committed to this experience before I had even read Bigger Than a Breadbox, and I worried a little about the fact that it might not be a good read for me; I know how important my investment in a book is when I read aloud to my students. Well, consider my concerns ridiculous!! Laurel Snyder's publisher sent an ARC that I received this past week, and I read it all in one sitting Monday. I couldn't put it down. What an amazing story!!

The main character, Rebecca, is the narrator of the story. Her mom makes the decision to take Rebecca and her little brother, Lew, from their home in Baltimore to Atlanta to stay with their grandmother for an indefinite period of time. Rebecca's mom and dad have been arguing and Mom has decided she needs a break from her husband. Rebecca loves her grandmother, but Atlanta isn't her home and from day one, she is constantly trying to get back to her real home and her dad in Baltimore.

The theme of "be careful what you wish for" is important to the story. Rebecca thinks she wants/needs certain things, but finds out that getting each of those items comes with a tremendous cost.

There are so many layers to this book for discussion. Feeling invisible, children caught in situations when parents aren't getting along, being the new kid at a school, trying to fit in, magic wishes, how difficult it can be to do the right thing, sometimes the things we wish for came at someone else's expense. The list goes on and on. But Laurel Snyder weaves these important topics together seamlessly. Add to this, the fact that she blends in lyrics from a Bruce Springsteen song - I was totally hooked!

I think I'll have to gather some google images of breadboxes to build background knowledge for my students since that is such an integral part of the story. Plus, it will help them understand the gorgeous art on the front cover of Bigger Than a Breadbox.

Our visit with Laurel is one of the first weeks in November. I can't wait to first share Bigger Than a Breadbox with both of my classes, and then to Skype with Laurel! As my students track their thinking in their read aloud notebooks, I am sure they will develop many questions they want to ask about the story, some of the characters, some of Rebecca's actions, and in particular, the breadbox. I will make sure to blog about the experience afterward. I'm really looking forward to all of it!!!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

R My Name is Rachel


I really enjoy the versatility of Patricia Reilly Giff as an author. It is delightful to be able to show students an author like her who has written so many types of books.

R My Name is Rachel
is a historical fiction piece set in the Great Depression era, specifically 1936. We see these times through the eyes of Rachel, a 13 year old. Her mother died when Rachel was young, and her dad has hit some difficult financial times, along with the rest of the country. In an effort to find a job, he packs up his family and some of their possessions into a truck and heads off to upstate New York. He has heard of a job that may be available in North Lake, and there is a farm there they can rent.

This move saddens Rachel for so many reasons. Leaving the only home she's ever known, leaving the school and the teacher who mean so much to her, leaving her best friend, leaving her neighbors, and leaving a solid adult friend, Miss Mitzi. These are all tough things, but set against the backdrop of the Great Depression, they are small concerns against the reality of survival.

And once they get to North Lake, this book is a gritty story about survival. Rachel and her two younger siblings, Joey and Cassie, are called upon to do far more than they or the reader would expect. What they are asked to do and need to do would make for great conversations with students. Would they be able to do this? What are the survival skills they do have? Do parents sometimes make decisions that are hard for their children? So many more questions as well. I envision some deep and animated conversations.

And if I didn't already like this book for so many other reasons, I would have to add these as well:
  • Rachel is an avid reader. It is her escape from reality at times, but it can also be a key to life solutions at other times.
  • Rachel is a writer. She writes many letters to her father and Miss Mitzi throughout the story.
  • There are not just one, but TWO teachers in this book I would like to nominate for A Year of Reading's 100 Cool Teacher's in Children's Literature!!! Mrs. Lazarus and Mrs. Collins are teachers who truly support putting books in children's hands!
  • I love the character of Miss Mitzi. I love her positive attitude, I love her kindness, I love her relationship with Rachel, and that's all I can tell without ruining the story.
R My Name is Rachel will have an important place in our classroom this year, rather as a read aloud, a book club, or on the shelf of "Books You Just Can't Miss!"

Sunday, September 4, 2011

A Wonder Year

I am looking at my classroom this year with a different lens. Instead of being a self-contained class as I have been for most of my career, I am teaching two separate sections of language arts, one in the morning and the other in the afternoon.

When I tackled this endeavor, I knew it would be critical to mesh the thinking/goals/learning of both classes with my teaming partner.  We sat down this summer and had several long conversations about what we wanted for our classrooms, and hashed out some big global thinking we wanted to have.  The biggest take-away from our conversations was that we wanted our students to wonder/inquire/research/investigate/think critically/analyze.  It wouldn't matter if it took place in a math/science/social studies classroom or in a reading/writing/word study classroom.  We felt these were critical life skills we wanted our students to learn.  These skills will permeate everything we do this year.

With that in mind,  I borrowed some thinking from two colleagues and friends who were doing very smart things in their own classrooms.  This past year, Maria introduced me to the power of Wonderopolis in her classroom as it helped her students think critically about important questions and learn to investigate topics that might be off-shoots of the original Wonder of the Day.  Another colleague, Andrea, has shared much about how she looks at nonfiction on a regular basis with her students.  Much of this thinking I have garnered through her articles for Choice Literacy.  But, we had the opportunity to be together at a Choice Literacy workshop in Michigan this summer, and then share a 3 hour car ride home.  During that time, Andrea so graciously shared with me ideas about creating community when teaming with another teacher, using nonfiction to wonder in the classroom, and teaching her students to both read and write like scientists.

So much great thinking.  Now I had to find a way to make it my own.  Here is my current version, though I expect to have many revisions of this thinking throughout the year.  To start the year, I am establishing a routine with both classes called Wonder Wednesday.  In a nutshell, this is how it will break down in the beginning:

Writing workshop -- we will experience the Wonder of the Day on Wonderopolis as an entire class.  I will be modeling how I would take notes about the topic, thinking critically as a scientist.  Then, I will invite students to find another Wonder they may be interested in or find a nonfiction text in our room that makes the wonder, and take notes on their own.
Soemtimes the writing we do will be about the wonders we put in our Wonder Jar (more about that in an upcoming post).  We will be digging deep into things we wonder about and asking good questions and reflecting like scientists.

Word study -- actually this week, we will be doing something my friend, Andrea, calls "Word Storm."  I will give each student a visual, and then have them use words to think about the picture.  Some weeks on Wonder Wednesday, we might pull one of the words from Wonder of the Day and do a word observation.  This will be our day to think about words in a different way.

Reading workshop - My mini-lessons will focus on multiple ways of understanding nonfiction text.  For example, this week and next, we will be looking at the text, Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night.  If you know this text, you know that we learn from both the poems in the book as well as the nonfiction text.  It is important in this day and age to make sure our students have the tools to read a variety of nonfiction text.

These are not things I will only teach on Wednesdays; they will be infused throughout the year.  But, on Wednesdays, all 50 of us will know we are wondering hard about how to write critically, read critically, think critically, and observe words critically.  What's even more exciting is that my teammate will be joining me soon on these days to wonder with our students about her topics.  They may wonder about science inquiry, they may wonder about a topic in math, or they may wonder about a concept in social studies in a deeper way. 

I am so looking forward this year of wonder!















Saturday, September 3, 2011

Kids Helping Kids

The school year is off to a smooth start, although hectic as usual. It's always fun to catch up with the kids when they come back and visit with the parents that work so hard in our building to help make Bailey so successful. I was glad to see my friend and super parent volunteer Amy Proctor this week. She co-chairs the PTO author visit committee which has given us the chance to work together on several projects. Amy is also one of the driving forces behind the Coins for Kids that started 2 years ago. She attended a very special Grand Discussion that had some unintentional results which led to Bailey supporting Lincoln Elementary in Ashland.

Last year the group decided they would like to begin supporting a school closer to home and a connection to Weinland Park in Columbus was established. Our 5th graders raised money and bought some new playground equipment for the building as well as books. The hope behind all of this Coins for Kids thing was that their might be some opportunities to actually get the kids together for some things. Amy shared with me some exciting news about her daughter and friends who established a friendship with Weinland and have been over there several times working with the kids, playing games, and just spending time with them. She passed on the blog that the girls have started, and I wanted to pass it on to all of our Literate Lives readers.

I think it's important to highlight kids doing good things, especially when it's kids helping kids. check out Helping Weinland Park, and give these special girls some positive thoughts.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

10 for 10; 10 Days Late 10 Books I had to Buy TODAY!

So I missed the 10 for 10 picture book celebration 10 days ago, and this morning the Central Ohio Blogger got together over granola. Cathy and Mandy both reminded me that they noticed that there was one person that didn't participate in the event. I tried explaining that I was out of town on a college visit to Ball State, but when Mary Lee reminded me that she was in Belgium, I knew I owed them a list. Mary Lee even came up with the 10 for 10, 10 Days Late title. Once we had been to Cover to Cover, I knew what my 10 would be. I haven't been to the book store all summer so today, I was like a kid in a candy store, so here's 10 that I came out with.

1. Bailey by Harry Bliss: I read this one from the library this week and it immediately made it to my list. When I walked into Cover to Cover and saw the feature display, I knew I had a winner. It sold faster than Northstar Cafe Granola does to Central Ohio Kidlit Bloggers! Of course I love the name, Bailey, like my school, but the little dog going to school and being, as Sally says, "a little off" make Bailey a new fave and will be well received in THE PIT!

2. Those Darn Squirrels and the Cat Next Door by Adam Rubin; Illustrated by Daniel Salmieri: I already reviewed this one here and can guarantee that it will be one of the first books I read in THE PIT this year. I still haven't gotten Franki to fall in love with the squirrels, but I'm not giving up! Old Man Fookwire is one of my all time favorite characters and grumpy old men.

3. Pete the Cat Rocking in My School Shoes by Eric Litwin; Illustrated by James Dean: Pete's back and he is ROCKIN' in his school shoes, in the cafeteria, the library, the playground, all over the school. As big of a hit that the first Pete the Cat was, I had to buy this one to ROCK THE PIT.

4. Jonathan and the Big Blue Boat by Philip C. Stead: From the same creator of 2011 Caldecott Winner A Sick Day for Amos McGee Jonathan and the Big Blue Boat is the adventure of a boy looking for his lost teddy bear, Frederick. Only, the bear isn't really lost, his parents traded him for a toaster. The story builds with interesting animal characters as the crew of the big blue boat and collage illustrations are fascinating to look at.

5. Wiener Wolf by Jeff Crosby: Wiener Dog is bored with his cooped up life and chases the call of the wild. He hooks up with a wild wolf pack and runs with the big boys...until they go hunting and catch something. Wiener Wolf longs for his quiet life back home and his friends in the dog park. When he arrives home he is welcomed with open arms and a new sweater. The story is fun and the pictures made me laugh.

6. Cookiebot: A Harry and Horsie Adventure by Katie Van Camp; Illustrated by Lincoln Agnew: The first Harry and Horsie was a huge hit in THE PIT, especially with the younger kids, so I couldn't resist this one either. Harry wants cookies but the cookie jar is too high. He and Horsie build a robot to help get the cookies but when things get out of control, it's Horsie to the rescue.

7. Blackout by John Rocco: I read this one quite a while ago and sort of forgot about it. I'm so glad my friends reminded me today. It's a hot night in the city and the family is too busy on their electronics cooking to spend time together. When the lights go out the whole block comes outside to spend some quality time together. Very few words in this beautiful picture book. It's definitely on my Caldecott List.

8. I Will Not Read This Book by Cece Meng; Illustrated by Joy Ang: I'd never heard of this one, but my blogging partner Karen found it and knew I would love to read it out loud in THE PIT. I took one look and knew she was right. A boy gives every reason in the world why he will not read this book, needs a drink, to scratch his nose, to feed his fish. He gives all sorts of ways that will not force him to read this book, hanging upside down by his toe, over a cliff while tickling his feet! The book keeps building and building until he fears being dropped and then he may read the book.

9. A Place to Call Home by Alexis Deacon; Illustrated by Viviane Schwarz: The little critters are born in a small dark hole, but quickly outgrow it. They have to look for another small dark place to live, and that's where it gets funny. As they emerge into the world they are afraid they will never find another small dark place to live until one puts a cup on his head, another a straw, another a book, another a spigot, the picture of this is TOO FUNNY! Done sort of in a graphic novel style, I still haven't finished reading the book because every time I look at those critters with those things on their heads I laugh out loud! I think the kids in THE PIT will too. I almost didn't buy this one, but super sales person Beth made me take a look at it. She and I share a similar sense of humor when it comes to picture books, so she was pretty sure I would like it. She's good!

10. Time to Eat by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page: I reviewed it here. You can't really go wrong with anything this team puts together! Every one is high quality non fiction.

That's my 10 for 10, 10 days late. There were more purchases made today and I also picked up a couple ARCs, so all in all it was a good morning with the Central Ohio Bloggers.

Central Ohio Bloggers Together Again!



Our favorite independent children's bookstore, Cover to Cover, just opened a new area for adult reading. That warranted a celebratory breakfast at Northstar Cafe (I think there were 6 out of 9 orders for granola - many of us following that trendsetter, Bill!), followed by a trip to the newly renovated Cover to Cover.



The new area looks great and is full of potential. I found several books that are on my TBR list, but I held off today because I knew I would be buying many children's books. I'm so excited for the owners, Sally and Randy, as they make a foray into a new market for them.


I love my blogger friends, but if you've ever been book shopping with another book lover, you know how incredibly dangerous that can be. Multiply one book-loving friend by 8, and you know I had some serious book-buying issues today. :) You know, those people who put a book in your hand and say you just have to read it, and you realize they are right?!! A huge thanks to Nicole, Mandy, Cathy, Deb, Franki, MaryLee, Tony, and Bill for all the "help" you gave me finding books to add to my enormous pile. I've attached a picture of Bill's pile (right) as well as my pile (left) - we were declared the "winners" of blog-who-spent-the-most-money today.




I also love that, in addition to our book buying frenzy and great talks about our classrooms, we also make time for fun and lots of laughter. Who could resist sticking their faces in the cut-outs, especially the Fancy Nancy one?! Certainly not Mary Lee/ Franki and Bill / me.


I feel so fortunate to follow, and learn from, all these smart ladies and gentlemen on twitter, as well as their blogs. Our ability to gather like we did today is just a double bonus. Central Ohio bloggers rock!!