Saturday, January 30, 2010

Another book about Lincoln

I rediscovered this book in my stacks.  It's a wonderful biography by Rosemary Wells... telling the story of Abraham Lincoln through his sons' eyes... both Willie and Tad.  It's the story of a Lincoln's playfulness and love for his two sons.  A different side of the story of Lincoln and his commitment to our country.  Perfect for a read aloud as we approach Lincoln's birthday.
     History told through the perspective of Lincoln's sons... events of the president's journey from a view we seldom hear.  Rosemary Wells definitely did her research when writing this book and did it in the most endearing way.  From Willie's first train trip, to the boys barging into presidential meetings, to Tad traveling with is father to see the South face defeat.  Well-written and engaging, this book offers a look at Lincoln and his presidency through a different lens.  
     Just another reason to spend some time looking through our collections... there are great finds hidden there that we need to bring back to the forefront.  This book is one of those finds!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

A New, Old Find...

I love Marie Bradby's More Than Anything Else.  Tonight I ordered a copy of Momma, Where Are You From? for my wife, Susan.  She's taking a writing class (with a wonderful Denver-area teacher who doesn't use a "program," but actually teaches children to write through mentorship, inquiry, and trust... the only formula she uses is her passion for writing... imagine that!) and fell in love with the book after her teacher shared it.
     Susan's teacher's advice... "If you have a book in your classroom that doesn't serve as the type of writing you'd like your students to have a go with... perhaps you should get rid of it."  But, this is one of her favorites.
     The language is this book is so poetic and its message is rich, thoughtful, and simple.  Through the mother's words, her child learns about her childhood memories of growing up in the segregated South.  And, her memories are of a happy childhood in a not-so-happy time in our history.  
It's the perfect mentor text to get our students writing about real-life things from the get-go.  It's the perfect book to use when launching quick writes or memory writes or notebooks.  Although it's not a new book, I can't to add it to our at-home collection.
     Perhaps Susan will loan it to me when it's time to use it with my writers.  Can't wait to borrow it!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A "Ralph Fletcher" Moment

Today, during read aloud, on our first day back, I finished reading Fig Pudding to my third graders.  After catching up on where we left off, I read the final two chapters.  Are you familiar with the book?  If not, please read it... it's one of my favorites.  
     I read the above line to my kids... it's comes right after Nate has cried for the first time since the death of their brother, Brad.  Nate and Cliff (the main character) are lying in bed talking about the stockings they had hung for their first Christmas without Brad (while staying at an inn).  Cliff placed a rolled up piece of paper in Brad's stocking.  And Nate was asking what was on it...
     Right after I read this line, there was an audible gasp from P. (a girl in my classroom on an ILP; her "fluency" affects her scores on the DRA II).  She looked up at me at said outloud, "That's HIS someday!"
     "Who's someday?"  I paused and looked at her.
      "Ralph Fletcher's.  He's writing about himself.  About his brother.  Remember, in Marshfield Dreams... his brother died.  He's writing about HIS brother.  He was thinking of HIS brother when he wrote that line.  It's his someday!"
     I looked at P.  I could see her mind was full!  Her "cogs" were moving.  "That's interesting," I responded, "I've never thought of it that way.  You've just totally changed my thinking!" (We are beginning a study of Synthesis, so this will be a perfect "in the moment" conversation to refer to when we get further into our study).
     "HIS someday... he finally wrote about HIS own brother..." P. continued, "It's amazing.  It's like the time I. (a boy) said that it's almost like Ralph Fletcher is right here sitting in front of us, telling us stories.  He is.  He's right here.  His words... they just, they just amaze me!  I just need to go write.  I want to do what he just did..."

     I love moments like this!  When our grandest thinkers come alive, mesmerized by someone else's words... thanks Ralph!  You made my teaching life (and P.'s writing life) that much better!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Stand Tall, Abe Lincoln

Another Portland Purchase... Stand Tall, Abe Lincoln by Judith St. George.
     The book tells the story of Abraham Lincoln's childhood in the Kentucky wilderness.  His mother died of milk poisoning (who knew?) before Abe was ten.  It was his stepmother Sally Bush Johnston (who married his father after his mother died) who brought literature into the Lincoln home.  She was big, loud, and encouraging.  She loved Abe's enthusiasm and served as an inspiration throughout this childhood, believing he had assets worth developing!
     It was Sally who influenced Abe's scholarship.  She encouraged him to read, and read often.  She served as a filter between Abe and his father.  Sally figured out what made young Abraham tick and she focused on his strengths, rather than the fact that he was a bit rambunctious and lively.  Later, he would thank his stepmother for her belief in him.
     I thought this was a unique look at Abe Lincoln, told in short "story-like" chapters (focusing on his childhood until about age 15).  There are so many books written about Lincoln, but this is a grand book to add to any collection.  It's an older publication, but one I just had to sneak into my "to buy" pile (and I might add, I really limited myself on this trip).

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Two Great Conferences

There are two great conferences coming up in the Denver area in June.  

     Chris Tovani will be offering the Rocky Mountain Reading Conference from June 28th-June 30th.  Cris is the author of “I Read It but I Don’t Get It,” and “Do I Really Have To Teach Reading?”  She taught elementary school for ten years before becoming a high school reading specialist and English teacher.  Check out her website at:
     The PEBC (Public Education and Business Coalition) will be offering their summer institute with Ron Ritchhart from June 24th-25th.  The theme is "How Classroom Culture Supports Student Thinking."  Ron has been a researcher at Project Zero at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and his research focuses on understanding how to develop, nurture, and sustain thoughtful learning environments.  He is the author of Intellectual Character:  What it is, Why it matters, and How to get it.  Check out the PEBC's website for further information: 

     Both conferences should be wonderful.  I had to post them both, just in case you're looking for some learning opportunities this summer!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Those Shoes

Another purchase in Portland... Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts.  My friend, Mimi, recommended this book to me and it quickly went on my purchase pile.  I was shopping with my friends and colleagues, Mimi and Shannon, from Seattle.  They made the trek down so we could eat, visit, share stories, and shop!  And, laugh... a lot!

      In this book, Jeremy, the main character wants "those" shoes... the ones that everyone in school is wearing, the cool shoes.  His wise grandmother tries to explain the difference between want and need, reminding him that that new snowboots are much more necessary.  
     One day at school, his old shoes completely fall apart and the principal finds him a pair in lost and found... and the embarrassment of wearing them makes him want the "cool" shoes all the more.  He finds a pair at a thrift store and his grandmother lets him buy them with his own money and despite the fact that they don't fit he buys them... 
     He tries to wear the shoes, but realizes that wearing shoes that are too small just isn't worth it.  He realizes that the things he has (needs) like warm boots and a grandmother who loves him far outweigh the pain of the new shoes (wants) and he leaves them on the doorstep of his friend who has smaller feet...  
     The last page of the book has the two friends running off in the snow to play.
     This is a delightful book that wil lend itself to some great discussion about the difference between wanting something and needing something... I plan to use it during our upcoming study of Synthesis as a shared experience on the gradual release model.  And, I might just let my own children take a look (we seem to be having this discussion a lot lately).

Friday, January 22, 2010

I'm back...

The past few weeks have found me traveling... two staff development trips to Casper, Wyoming and one week in Portland, Oregon, doing a two-day "Investigating Thinking Strategies" workshop and a two-day literacy conference organized by a wonderful group of teachers at  So, I've been a bit behind in the blog realm...

     Of course, no trip to Portland is complete without a trip (or two) to Powell's.  While there I ran across a copy of 17 Things I'm Not Allowed to Do Anymore by Jenny Offill and Nancy Carpenter.  The cover caught my eye... and the inside cracked me up. 
     It's about a precocious little girl who does things like try to staple her brother's hair to his pillow, walk to school backward, and even set a classmate's shoe on fire with a magnifying glass.  The book has a great pattern, "I had an idea to staple my brother's hair to his pillow. I am not allowed to use the stapler anymore," throughout the text.  This little girl is full a piss an' vinegar (ala grandpa in The Grapes of Wrath)... and my laughs echoed through Powell's when I read it!
     Yeah, sure, she's naughty... but it I loved the illustrations and the gentle twist at the end!  I love when I find a book that strikes me funny... a lot of inferring.  It's a keeper and could serve as great mentor text.
     I used the book as a mentor text for a group of adults I was working with in Casper.  After two days of learning, I had them chart "I used to..." and "Now I need to..."  It was a great way to synthesize our learning for the two days.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Our Tree Named Steve

Another great find at The Boulder Book Store... Our Tree Named Steve.  When I picked up this book (mainly because it was illustrated by David Catrow), I had no idea how good it would be.
     It's perfect mentor text to teach letter writing, but it's more than that, it's a wonderful story about family, and change.  In the book, a father writes a letter to his children explaining that their tree "Steve" (named by the youngest child who couldn't pronoun "tree") to tell them that the tree fell during a storm.  The tree had drawn the family to the property originally and "Steve" became an important part of the family's life--holding swings, laundry, a hammock... and the secrets of first crushes and loving parents.
     I laughed and cried when I read this story... it's both endearing and bittersweet.  Its simple text combined with perfect illustrations make for a special read.  I read it aloud this week to a group of adults... they loved it too.  It would be perfect for inferring... using the illustrations of the dog especially.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Girls

"I have never looked into my sister's eyes.  I have never bathed alone.  I have never stood in the grass at night and raised my arms to a beguiling moon.  I've never used an airplane bathroom.  Or worn a hat.  Or been kissed like that.  I've never driven a car.  Or slept through the night.  Never a private talk.  Or solo walk.  I've never climbed a tree.  Or faded into a crowd.  So many things I've never done, but oh, how I've been loved.  And, if such things were to be, I'd live a thousand lives as me, to be loved so exponentially."  
     So begins Lori Lansens's novel The Girls.*
     This is a book, a novel, about conjoined craniopagus twins.  It's not maudlin.  It's not mawkish.  It's not trite.  It's actually a surprisingly good read.  It's an amazing story of Rose and Ruby, twins conjoined since birth.  It's written in first person as told by both Rose and Ruby... the story of twins growing up on a family farm in Canada after being adopted by Aunt Lovey and Uncle Stash who adopted them shortly after their birth.
     The book explores the twins from childhood to adulthood.  It explores their unconditional love for one another... despite their differences, quirks, and individual personalities.  It's an interesting journey.
     I'm using the chapters "Ruby & Me" and "Writing & Deadlines" with a group of adults this week... during a study of Synthesis for a two-day workshop.  We'll being taking a look at several texts dealing with relationships and this was a perfect choice.  It is beautifully written (definitely for adults) and explores a unique topic by inviting us into the character's lives and draws us into every detail.
*The paperback edition has a different cover

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Nature's Paintbox

During our recent trip to The Boulder Bookstore, my wife and I both bought a copy of Nature's Paintbox by Patricia Thomas.  I bought one for my classroom and she bought one for our at-home library (bargain priced - an added bonus)!  This books introduces the four seasons through art and poetry.  Each season is described in a different medium - pen and ink for winter, pastel chalk for spring, watercolor for summer, and oils for fall.
     It begins, "Nature sketches WINTER, I think, in pen and ink... black and white; sharp and clear and fine; no colors to blur the line... or maybe, just a bit at a time... berries on a bush; cardinals on a branch; a red mailbox flag winking a cheery hello, snuggled under its caps of snow..."  Craig Orback's illustrations are the perfect compliment to the author's words.
     Patricia Thomas is also the author of another favorite of mine, Firefly Mountain.  I use it when my students and I study "Endurance and Stamina"... I wrote about it on p. 60 of Conferring: The Keystone of Reader's Workshop (  
     Nature's Paintbox was a terrific find for $5.98.  A perfect book to use as both mentor text as writers and perhaps within a study of illustration.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Thank you, John Scieszka

Since January 3, 2008 Jon Scieszka has been our "National Ambassador for Young People's Literature."  I wondered, "What is an ambassador?"  I knew it had to be more than a figurehead position... so, I looked up the word "ambassador."  What did I find out?
     An ambassador is an authorized messenger.  An ambassador is a representative whose task is to provide a connection.  An ambassador has passion and brings his/her passion to the forefront of his/her mission.  An ambassador is a link.  An ambassador represents the masses and stays well informed.  An ambassador performs an outreach, equipped with the the necessary skills and strategies to bring hope, peace, or diplomacy to a group of people, based on their needs or expectations.  An ambassador is a resource.  An ambassador uses a variety of tools to accomplish a task.  An ambassador is an informant and is informed.  An ambassador is an excellent communicator.  An ambassador is enthusiastic, proactive, reliable, responsible, and has the knack to establish rapport.  An ambassador has the ability to unify, assess, and implement.  An ambassador is proactive and meets each task with understanding.  An ambassador is influential.
     And that's exactly what we had in Jon Scieszka.  Someone who has represented us well through his words, his thoughts, and his actions.  
     I love his website for readers http://www.guysread.comWhen I read Knucklehead:  Tall Tales and Almost True Stories of Growing up Scieszka for the first time I thought he had written it just for me!  If you want to read more about Jon and his important work, you can go to, another great site!
     Jon Scieszka says, "Rhymes with Fresca!" when asked how to pronounce his name... and if you look at the description of Fresca (introduced in 1966 when he was eight) it includes words like, "Surprisingly complex, distinctively crisp, intriguing, totally refreshing..."  The same words I would use to describe Jon and his work.  Thank you, Mr. Scieszka, for making our jobs a little easier and for being our ambassador.  Your shoes will be tough to fill, you've forged a wonderful "path" for your successor to follow!

*For more information about Jon Scieszka's role as ambassador check out his tribute at A Year of Reading...