Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Daniel Pinkwater - Another Great Title

Daniel Pinkwater.  Who doesn't love Daniel Pinkwater?  
     I use his book The Big Orange Splot often to remind teachers that creativity matters, that being yourself matters... and to relax! (Thanks to my friend, Lori, for telling me about it).
     I love The Hoboken Chicken Emergency because it makes me laugh!  I've seen 4th graders read it with the strangest look on their faces.
     I think of I am the Dog every time I sit and wonder what Timber is trying to tell me.  It makes me almost want to try kibble!
     I was a Second-Grade Werewolf makes me wish my name was Lawrence Talbot.  It makes me smile.
     I think of William every time I'm at the dentist because I think it would be so cool to pick up radio signals in my tooth ala Fat Men From Space.  It's a favorite read aloud.
     I laugh when I read The Ratatouille Weight Loss Plan and ponder when I read his tribute to Jean Shepherd (author of A Christmas Story).
     I haven't read all of his works, but he's one gifted writer.

I just received a copy of Bear in Love published by Candlewick Press.  I love Bear.  Who else finds joy in a carrot, or two, or three?  Daniel Pinkwater captures the burgeoning friendship between a bunny and a bear with such simplicity and humor.  The last line "And the two of them sat side by side in the clearing, singing songs as the sun went down," is brilliant.  This book would be a perfect read aloud for young readers.  You could use it during a study of inferring at any age.  You could use it as a mentor text with young writers.  Or you could just spend some time basking in the Pinkwater gift...




Thank you to Candlewick Press for the Advanced Copy
     

Monday, October 15, 2012

Weaving the Rainbow

Ran across this gem by George Ella Lyon not long ago.  She's a poet's poet.  If you haven't read her poem, "Where I'm From," you should.  You can hear her read it aloud by clicking here.  My wife, Susan, first introduced me to Ms. Lyon and I've been hooked ever since.
    Weaving the Rainbow is a wonderful book.  The lyrical words are illustrated beautifully by Stephanie Anderson (check out her work called The Wonder of Books).
     What struck me most about this book is how much it reminded me of my sister, Doris.  Her husband, Curtis, and their daughters raised sheep.  Each year they would shear, collect, and send the wool off to Baron Woolen Mills (which closed in 1998).  Then some lucky family members would be surprised with soft woolen blankets.  We still use one each winter to warm our bed and remind us of the love of that dear family!  That's what a "connection" does; takes you to another time or place just for an instant and then draws you back into the text seamlessly.
     George Ella Lyon's poetic book captures the year long cycle of raising sheep for the beauty of their wool - from pasture to weaving.  This is a book that's meant to be read aloud.  There's a charm to Ms. Lyon's words and she captures the life of an artist with a sense of grace and peacefulness.  It's going in my "at-home" collection, but I can't wait to share it with my students.  She truly is a weaver of words.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Fantastic Flying Books

I love this book.  It fascinates me.  It piques my curiosity.  It makes me wonder.  It makes me ponder.  The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore (click to see more) is brilliant!  It's charming.  (As is the Academy Award winning film.)
     When you read a book that opens like this...

Morris Lessmore loved words.
He loved stories.
He loved books.

His life was a book of his own writing, one orderly page
after another.  He would open it every morning and write
of his joys and sorrows, of all that he knew
and everything that he hoped for.

     When I read it to my students last week (as part of our study of how "Wise Readers Monitor for Meaning"), we all decided that those very words were worth tucking into our hearts and minds... to make them available when we need inspiration as readers and writers.  My friend, Linda, summed it up this way, "I think the 'wow' was... Everyone's story matters.  Just sayin'!"  She right.
     Read the book to your students.  Then if you have a chance, buy the short film on iTunes.  Watch it.  Show it to your students.  Then ask them, "So what do you think?"  You'll be amazed by their answers!  William Joyce more than deserved the accolades and awards for this brilliant piece of work.  One of my students say, "It's really about heaven, I think... it's about growing old and letting go..."  Story matters.
     This is a run, don't walk, kind of book!  This is a get-to-your-favorite-independent-bookstore-and-buy-it kind of book!  This is a book that should be in your classroom and on your coffee table.  It's generational.  It's a metaphor for life--especially if you love books, love reading, love words.  Thank you, William Joyce, for sharing your brilliance.

And so our story ends as it began...
...with the opening of a book!


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Home? Where's Yours"


Home.  Where’s yours?  Today I was reading from a wonderful collection by Lee Bennett Hopkins called, Home to Me: Poems Across America.  It’s a grand collection of poetry about “home” and it is striking!

I’ve been thinking about home a lot of late.  Today, I was sitting in my classroom after school, with a pile of books on my table, planning our next study as writers.  In Lee’s book, Pass the Poetry, Please!, I read the words Lucille Clifton offered, “… lives become generations made out of pictures and words just kept.”  Generations.   

And, as I was reading Home to Me I was awestruck when I read Rebecca Kai Dotlich’s poem “A Place Called Prairie.”  I was breathless with her words, “I breathe in stories told to me; when winds came calling, a fine dust falling on these same prairie plains…”  And then, I read “Needed” by Sandra Gilbert Brug.  That was it.  I was brought to tears, remembering…

I started remembering my childhood.  Remembering times spent with my brother-in-law and sister on the “Turkey Track” near Colorado Springs.  Remembering playing with my nieces in the hayloft, in the corrals, in the chicken houses.  Remembering grand dinners and lunches whipped up my sister, Doris.  Remembering feeding cattle, learning to drive the pickup, riding horses, branding cattle.  Remembering laughter and country songs playing on the phonograph.  Remembering the warmth of eggs as I gathered them in the morning.  Remembering tomatoes canned at summer's end.  Remembering gatherings of neighbors and friends.  Remembering falling asleep to the night sounds of coyotes on the lawn and then the raucous roosters waking us in the morning.  Remembering… The simplicity.  The joy.  The hard work.  The life.  Home.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about where our educational road is leading young learners.  I think about assessments and standards and backwards planning and publishers out to make a buck.  And the plethora of “stuff” whipped up by the those whose home is farthest away from children... in the name of accountability and ‘being number one.”  Instead of slowing down, we keep speeding up… and learners who need to think deeply, ponder regularly, and question often still have a place in the 21st Century.  It's my hope that we can all slow down a bit, after all, isn't that want the core content standards propose?  Depth, not breadth.  Synthesis, not regurgitation.  Thinking, not filling in blanks. 

But, back to home.  What I’m really thinking about is storyRuth Ayres always inspires me to remember story (she reminds us not to forget story and its importance in our lives).  Ruth’s voice has been echoing in my brain since I heard her keynote at the AllWrite Conference last summer.  And, so I’m befuddled.  In all the madness and rush to move readers and writers through continuums, programs, rubrics, and such, I worry about the simplicity, the organic nature of learning, the heart of the learner.  Moving slowly and deeply must lead children safely into the complexity of this thing called learning.

As I pondered Lee’s work today, I began to lay out our next “unit of study.”  I decided that we, as learners, are going to have to take the slow path, the scenic path, enough to do some remembering.  We’re going to have to dig deep into the satchels of memory we carry (don’t worry, I’ll make sure we’re learning something viable).  We’re going to have create the same kinds joy that has inspired Lee, Lucille, Rebecca, and Ruth. 

Home. The power of “home.”

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 

Here’s what I jotted in my journal in response to the reading I did this afternoon.  A little poem, just to ground my thinking.  Enjoy.

Prairie

I drove to the prairie today,
For what?  I don’t quite know.

Perhaps to listen for the sound of cattle hooves
tramping across their well-worn pasture path.

Perhaps to see the windmill blades
churning beside a lone horse tank.

Perhaps to smell the dampness of the blue grama
drifting amidst a prairie wind.

Perhaps to touch the dusty earth
warming slowly after morning rain.

Perhaps to taste the evening breeze
blowing its breath into the world.

I drove to the prairie today,
For what?  Perhaps just to remember.

Perhaps to return... home. 

p.s.  As I reread this post, I felt this kinetic jump from topic to topic... a slight disconnect.  But, it's what was on my mind.  Let's just call it... random post for the month!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

A Peaceful Start to the Year...

peace.
it does not mean to be in a place
where there is no noise, trouble
or hard work.  it means to be in
the midst of those things and still
be calm in your heart.
Unknown
On a canvas bag sent to me by my friend Mimi
 
     I started my school year out somewhat differently this year.  Oh... we've had the usual conversations about workshop structures, rituals and routines, the gradual release of responsibility, learning with a spirit of endurance.  And, our conversations have been grand and thoughtful.  But I've added a new twist.  My friend, Dana, nudged my thinking in a different direction (great colleagues have a way of nudging and stretching our thinking, don't they?).
     Dana and I decided that we wanted a "peace-filled" beginning to our school year (she's in Casper, Wyoming and I'm here).  And, after talking a bit (okay, more than a bit), we both decided that it would be a great way to start the year... to build on the concept of "peace" and to incorporate peacefulness into our reader's and writer's workshops throughout the school year.  Together, we did a search of our classroom libraries (and bookstores) to find just the right literature to launch our discussions with children. 
     Within the buzz and bustle of my classroom of 31 fourth graders, I knew I had to bring a sense of slowness and calm, patience and peace, lingering and depth to our work together.  And, what better way to do it than through making careful decisions about some of the texts we're using for think alouds, shared readings, and writing launches?  We've delved into some sophistication along the way so far... comparing, critiquing, commenting.  What a grand way to start the year!  Combined with "peaceful" music, low lighting, and a quiet tone... it's been, well, peace-filled.
     Having an overarching feeling of "peace" has added a new dimension to our classroom environment.  My students and I have enjoyed exploring the concept into our discussions, our notebooks, and our classroom routines.  And with "peace" comes a sense of rigor and quiet reflection that is both contagious and awe-inspiring.
     I thought I'd share some favorite texts I've found with you.  I have used several and plan to use several more throughout the year... as we step "gently out" into our year together, I can't wait to find more!  Helen Frost's wonderful poem (and picture book) "Step Gently Out" has become our theme for this year.  And we all need a little gentleness is our classroom worlds, don't we?  Here you go:
A favorite find!  A wonderful mentor text for writing biographies... breathtaking!
A simple text that creates a grand message!  Talk.  Peace.  Two words that should be on our lips as we work together daily...
This book is definitely for a more mature group of children, but what a grand book to empower children to become peacemakers.  A bit "controversial," but worth having on the list!  Beautifully written narrative text.
Joanne Ryder... need I say more?  Okay, how about Norman Gorbaty.  Enough said!
The photographs are endearing and the text is a tribute to a peaceful existence.
The creator of dynamite now has the most important prize in all the world named after him... the Nobel Prize.  Amazing!  Look at the cover... it is absolutely brilliant!  I love this book and I was amazed by Alfred Lobel's story.
The photographs are lovely... and the text takes the reader through a day of peace.
I love the illustrations by Stephanie Carter.  And Jane Baskwill's words can't help but create a peaceful tone.  If peace is a promise... a wonderful repeating line!
Lee Bennett Hopkins compiled this wonderful collection of poetry from some of our favorite poets.  And, Chris Soentpiet's illustrations are masterful (look for the face of the girl from Something Beautiful on the cover).
Our "theme" book for the year... We're stepping gently out into a year of exploring and learning.  This is a beautiful book by Helen Frost.  Combined with Rick Lieder's photos... stunning!  Check out this Vimeo!  I've blogged about this book before and it's a read and read again addition to our "peace" bag this year!



 

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Sky Color

Sky Color by Peter H. Reynolds is amazing.  There's something magical and endearing about the books he writes and this is no exception.
     In Sky Color, he captures the spirit of a young artist, Marisol.  We've all known a Marisol or two... creative, passionate, artsy, quirky.  Near the beginning of the book there's a line "She painted posters to share ideas she believed in."  When I read that line, I was hooked... I knew I was going to love the rest of the book.
     Marisol's class was planning to paint a mural in the library and she chose to paint the sky.  Her only trouble... no blue paint.  She pondered.  And, when she watched the day turn into night, she made an amazing discovery.  She had vision.  She had insight.  She thought outside the "sky."  I won't tell you about her decision... 
     Suffice to say, I worry about the Marisol's in today's world.  I worry that within the core of what others believe to be, well, standard, that the Marisols will stop searching for new ideas, new colors, new inspirations, new vision.  I worry that what's at the very core of the artist's soul won't be nurtured, engaged, nudged... valued.
     I love Sky Color.  It reminds me of a story my sister (83-years-old) told me about coloring a Thanksgiving turkey in school when she was a little girl.  Joy knew turkeys.  While the other children colored their turkeys brown and black, Joy colored the tail feathers blue and red and yellow and orange.  Joy's turkey had a body that was a blend of subtle blues, blacks, and greens.  Her turkey's head was brilliant red... its eye a small white and black bead.  As the teacher walked by, she leaned over and whispered, "Oh dear Joy, turkeys are brown!"  Try as she might to explain her choice of color, Joy was shocked when the teacher put a large red X through her drawing, handed her a new paper and said, "Here honey, why don't you try again!"  All these years later, Joy still remembers being asked to conform to a world she saw differently... more beautifully.
     Joy is a Marisol.  And, I'm so glad we have wonderful writers like Peter H. Reynolds to remind us that THEY need support as well... to their very core!


Thank you to Candlewick Press for the Advanced Copy

Monday, July 23, 2012

Where is There?

I run quickly into the City Market in Steamboat Springs to grab a small container of whipping cream* (our night to make dinner and dessert) and my eyes wander to the "bargain bin" of books.  I can't help it, I had to stop to look (even though I had a starving soccer player waiting in the car).  Sure enough, within three minutes I have four books in my hand.  
     It's such a habit, this addiction to books.  What's my favorite cloth bag say?  Erasmus's quote, "When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes!"*  It's true.  It's like dessert, this book-buying habit.
     One of the books I picked up is There by Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick.  I was struck by the cover.  And the dedication "For Bernandine, with love?"  Stunning.  Then I read the first line, "When will I get There?"  That was it... into the shopping basket it went.  When I got to the car (I put the other three down by the way, I was in "catch and release" territory after all), my lovely wife says, "Only YOU can find a new book in a City Market!  No wonder it took you so long!"  And she smiles.  She knows she can't stop me... she's tried.   
     I smile back.  "It was ONLY five dollars," I quibble.  "Besides, I put three others back," I try to reason, "And look at it, look at it!"  
     And she did... all the way back to the condo she read it to Lauryn and me.
-----
      As I read through this book later that evening, it really made me think.  Our own children ask, "When will we get there?"  We've all heard it from the backseat, starting at a tender age.  "Soon, soon..." we tend to answer in the gentlest of voices, "Soon."  We always seem to have the pat answer tucked in our back pocket.  
     And it's not much different in our classrooms is it?  
     Students ask:  When will I need this? or Why is this important?
     We say:  I'm getting you ready for _____,  you know it's coming! or Next year, you'll have to know _____, so I need to teach you how to _____! or I am responsible to make sure you can _____!
     As I was reading, I began thinking about notion of slowing down.  
      • How can we build stamina and endurance as learners if we don't take the opportunity to slow down?  
     • How can we create any sort of depth in learning if students are riddled with bits and pieces of gibberish that explode across their day?  
     The little girl in the book ponders and ponders about what the future holds--when really she might just focus on today.  She should be thinking about her childhood.  As should our students. 
      So, I plan to use There as a gentle reminder that children need time to ruminate and explore.  If we're expecting children to read more and more complicated, nay, more sophisticated text, it's important that we nudge them to ponder, to probe, to define purpose.  Depth comes when classroom environments foster the intellect.  Depth comes from taking time.  Depth comes from carefully mixing specific aspects of what's important with in the context of decision-making and choice.  We can't throw out our beliefs about learning just because the targets have changed.
     I  do a study of endurance and stamina with my students at the beginning of the year (see Conferring: The Keystone of Reader's Workshop) and I believe this year we're going to spend more time on the notion of "Pondering our Purpose" as well.  I think it's important.
     When will we get there?  I dunno.  I DO know that we'll work on it together and do the best we can.  And, I'll be using There to help us.  As the author reminds us, "We can go there tomorrow!"
-----
*Desiderius Erasmus was a Dutch theologian and his real quote was related to his interest in all things Greek.  He said, "I have turned my entire attention to Greek. The first thing I shall do, as soon as the money arrives, is to buy some Greek authors; after that, I shall buy clothes."

*When people call whipping cream, whipped cream it makes me cringe a little.  It's not whipped cream until after you whip the whipping cream.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Two Days with a Friend

The best part about driving 300 miles to help your friend set up her classroom?  Well, besides the laughter, the discussions, the insights gained... it's the discovery of a new book!
     Yesterday I drove to Casper, Wyoming to spend time with Dana (I write about her in Conferring: The Keystone of Reader's Workshop) in her new classroom in her new school
     You should see Dana's room (well, maybe in a few weeks, she is still unpacking after all)... it's a wonderful place to spend time.  It's a magical place full of wonder, wise experience, and depth.  It's a beautiful place where children's learning lives are allowed to unfold slowly, developmentally, peacefully.  It's a book-filled place coupled with children's voices.  It's a place where the thinking of "little people" takes priority.
     In between our chats, I discovered The Robin Makes a Laughing Sound in the wicker basket on the windowsill.  Have you seen it?  This is a charming book by Sallie Wolf.  It's a sketchbook arranged by seasons... all about birding.  It's the kind of notebook I suspect kids want to keep, full of notes, watercolors, thoughts, poetry.   It's full of pen and ink drawings detailing observations, possibilities, wonderings.  And, it gives us a glimpse into the life of an observer, in this case, writer Sallie Wolf.  Great nonfiction.
     
Here's a little snippet of our conversation in Dana's room--
     Me:  I LOVE this book.
     Dana:  Oh, I know.  I'm creating a basket of books around being a naturalist, an observer.  It's lovely.
     Me:  I've never seen it.  (pause as I read it)  Oh my gosh.  Oh my gosh.  This is amazing.
     Dana:  (laughing)  I KNOW.  But didn't you tell me about it?
     Me:  I've never seen it.  Never!  Well, at least that I remember.  But what a great piece to introduce writers to the power of a notebook...

     And so our two days went.  Book discussions.  Planning.  Moving furniture.  Bantering a bit about things like "stupid cords" that seemed to be growing out of nowhere, placing furniture at angles or straight, throwing away files that "came with the room," moving this and that.  Talking Common Core and Thinking Strategies.  Reading a few books.  Laughing.  Sorting.  Standing back.  Discussing options.  Planning the first weeks of school (we're both starting out in a similar vein, Dana at 2nd and me at 4th... but that's for another blog).  We packed a lot into our short time together in her classroom (we did have to eat, y'know... and see other dear friends).
     I think Dana has a better vision of her new space.  I have an appreciation for her risk-taking.  I have new energy to take into my classroom in a few weeks (I haven't been in the mood AT ALL).  We both have a plan in place for starting out the year (aren't you curious?).  And, we both have a new list of books to consider.
     Is it crazy to drive 300 miles (one-way) to see a colleague/friend?  Nope.  It's exactly what I needed.  My mind was racing the whole way back to Denver.
     I've got this small inspirational book on my "must have" list.  It's going to fit beautifully into my plans.  It's going to keep ME focused on helping my 4th graders develop a sense of wonder and hope, even as we move into the new territory around what others consider "core."  By the way, I've been thinking of an apple... it's the stuff that sits around the core that we enjoy the most... the snap of the crisp red skin, the sweetness of the flesh, the juicy bits running down our chin.  We get to the core.  We know it's there.  We know.  WE know. We have it in our mind.  BUT, what's important is what you find around it.  That's the yummy kickshaw.  I'm not worried.  I'm worried about what's most important.
     And, it's important to have a friend to share with... all 600 miles worth!
    

Friday, July 6, 2012

These TImes They are A Changin'

This week, I attended a two-day orientation at the University of Colorado at Boulder.  Jens will be attending in the fall (double major in English and Electrical Engineering).  He's our third child to go to CU (Go Buffs!) and this was the third orientation for his parents (we took turns).  I learned a lot and it was great fun spending time on campus!  At a session about his college, one of the directors of advising shared some interesting information with us... a 2010 study by Hart Research Associates.  The study was called, "Raising The Bar:  Employers’ Views On College Learning In The Wake Of The Economic Downturn."  As I was listening to the presentation, I was struck... the findings were certainly apropos.  I realized that the same qualities employers were looking for in college level academia were the same "views" that we, as teachers of younger children, are hoping learners will acquire.
     I read the study.  70% of those surveyed agreed that the areas colleges need to increase their focus include:
  • 1) written and oral communication,
  • 2) critical thinking and analytical reasoning, 
  • 3) the application of knowledge and skills in real-world settings, 
  • 4) complex problem-solving and analysis, 
  • 5) ethical decision-making, 
  • 6) teamwork skills, 
  • 7) innovation and creativity, and 
  • 8) concepts and developments in science and technology.     (c) Hart Research Associates
     The professor shared the university's synthesis of specific aspects of the study.  In the College of Arts and Sciences, they are hoping students will sharpen the following behaviors as learners:
  • Develop critical thinking skills
  • Deliver effective oral and written communication
  • Hone research and organizational skills
  • Learn to look at multiple sides of an issue
  • Apply reasoning and logic
  • Make time to meet goals and complete projects successfully
  • Heighten self-confidence
  • Heighten self-understanding
  • Refine analytical skills
  • Acquire critical reflective reading skills
  • Improve numerical skills
  • Work productively and in teams
  • Cultivate sensitivity to individual and cultural differences  From a presentation by Peter J. Freitag
 I immediately asked to copy this powerpoint slide.  Do you see why I was struck?
     As a teacher of nine and ten-year-old learners, these are the same learning characteristics my students should develop as we work together.  So many things on "the list" I weave into my instruction via thinking strategy studies, units of study, mathematical inquiries, classroom discourse, curriculum requirements, use of technology, etc.  As we move into a "common core" we need to remember that these behaviors are of utmost import!  They sound a lot like the 21st Century Skills that we, as teachers, have been discussing for quite some time.  I think I'm going to keep this list handy as I plan for the coming year.
     Here's my inquiry question... How can I better communicate the role these components have in "coming to understand" for learners, both implicitly and explicitly?
     If employers are encouraging college students to acuminate these learning qualities, wouldn't it behoove us to let others know that we, too, value these qualities... beginning even in preschool (Isn't early childhood education the beginning of 'working productively and in teams' and 'heightening self-confidence' and 'applying reasoning and logic'?).  These qualities start in preschool... not college (although college might bring them to fruition in more complex learning situations, eh?).
     These are intriguing times for education.  Implementing the Common Core.  Rhetoric by Pundits Who Have Never Taught (D. Graves, The Energy to Teach).  Being Indundated with "Stuff" from Publishers of Canned Curriculum.  A Lack of Focus on Authentic Learning.  To quote Bob Dylan...

"Come gather 'round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You'll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you
Is worth savin'
Then you better start swimmin'
Or you'll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin'."

      If, in fact, these qualities are what employers are looking for, we should make sure they survive in today's educational climate.  How?  I guess that's for us to figure out.  I think I'm going to start swimming!
- - - - - 
On a side note... I'm glad Jens will get the chance to explore in a system that values such interesting principles of learning.  He's had a grand start... Peakview Elementary, Thunder Ridge Middle School, Eaglecrest High School... many of his teachers have already done a fine job of planting these seeds in him as a learner.  They've continued to germinate.  And, won't the advising department at his university of choice be glad to see them blossom even more?  Go Buffs!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Happy Independence Day!

Happy Birthday, America

Commemoration. 
Celebration.
Jubilation.

A declaration of freedoms old and new,
From poets, pastors, and people
like me... like you!

An anniversary. A country's birth.
Growth. Change.
Past and present.
A future.

Festivities of democracy.
Picnics.
Parades.
Fireworks.
Flags blowing in breezes...
memories, sacrifice, honor, and glory.

Salutes.
Soldiers.
Living. Dead. Fighting.
Freedom for all.

Commemoration.
Celebration.
Jubilation.

Independence.
Ours.

Happy Birthday! 
P. Allen 7/12

- - - - - - - - - - - 

     My poem is my addition to the celebration of our nation's birthday.  
Happy 4th of July!


     Lest we forget our heroes, our freedom, our democracy, or our independence... here are a baker's dozen of my favorite children's books related to the 4th of July.  In my classroom I have a basket of text "About America" that includes these titles and more.  We should help children develop a curiosity about America and her history.  Of course, there are many more great titles, but these need to be a part of every classroom library.  They are a part of mine...
A lovely introduction to the Preamble!
We can't forget Jean Fritz... her books always make us think!
Charles R. Smith, Jr. has created a lovely tribute to children. 
Beyond just Jack and Annie... 
The illustrations are truly amazing... and the words are so Colorado!
The language of Bill Martin, Jr. and company...  
Teach children what the pledge really means...
 Pam Munoz Ryan... her words are like magic!
Reminds me of childhood.
Good luck finding this one at a reasonable price.  Thank you Lee and Tomie!
Full of facts and trivia... and interesting details.
Beautiful illustrations.  Great words to sing!
This one is new.  It's a collection of poems.  It provides
an interesting spin on the details of elections, democracy (pros/cons),
and freedoms.  Ms. Wong encourages us to "look," "read," "talk," and "vote."
She encourages us to take the initiative to live freely.  The poems
could certainly serve as a launching point for great discussions, especially
during an election year.  It's a provocative collection.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Another Ralph Fletcher Hit - Guy-Write

I spent the past two days in Boulder Colorado at my son's orientation for the University of Colorado.  He'll be a freshman in the fall (my third child to become a Buff).  At this point, he's thinking of a double major - Electrical Engineering and... English!  He's very excited for two reasons 1) He gets to choose the classes he's most interested in* and 2) His advisor recommended that he spend some time exploring to whet his appetite for new learning.  He's never been an "in the box" thinker, so I'm excited for him as he begins this next journey is his life. 
     Ironically, we stopped in The Boulder Bookstore and spent a bit of time wandering the store.  If you've never been, you should put it on your bookstore bucket list.  It's a superb independent.  It's cozy.  It's in the middle of the Pearl Street Mall (which means great restaurants are only a few doors away).  It's a great place to spend some time in the afternoon with your college-bound son (or daughter).  I loved as we walked in and Jens said, "Dad, I need a new book.  What should I read?" (that's a subject for another blog entry).
     My choice today was Guy-Write: What Every Guy Writer Needs to Know by Ralph Fletcher (which was shelved in the "activity" book section... I guess even The Boulder Bookstore gets it wrong periodically).  I just saw Ralph last week at the All-Write Conference in Warsaw, Indiana.  I spent some time with him and Katie Ray by the pool talking about reading, writing, learning, and life.  It was a great evening.  I wish I had known the specifics of his "activity" book at the time so we could have weaved it into the conversation.  Trust me, it was definitely shelved in the wrong section... it's not an activity book.  This book should be out front for every child (especially those middle grade/middle school boys) to get their hands on... it's that good!
     In Guy-Write, Ralph shares a special gift with his readers.  The gift of wisedom.  The gift of risk-taking.  The gift of passion.  The gift of words.  The gift of saying, "Boys... it's okay... write!"  As I write this blog, I'm sitting in Starbucks after finishing this grand read.  I loved it!  What a gift. 
     As I read, I was reminded of my student Isaiah who once said, "How does he do it?  I feel like Ralph Fletcher is talking to me.  Just to me!"  I felt the "boy writer" in me twinge with a little bit of rebellion, a little bit of challenge, and a little bit of "Gross!"  Ralph's sense of humor shines through each page as he talks to "us boys" about how to improve our writing life.  He's able to bridge the gap between being a "writer at home" and a "writer at school."  He writes about the contexts in which we need to nudge boy writers to work.  He adds ammunition to every boy's arsenal of what it means to be a writer!
     As an added bonus, he includes interviews with five "boy" writers.  I want Sam to read the section about "Sports Writing" and the interview with Robert Lipsyte.  I want Jacob to read "Draw First and Write Later" and the interview with Jarrett Krosoczka.  I want Sebastian to read "Freaky Stories" and the interview with Robert San Souci.  I want Christopher to read "Riding the Vomit Comet" and the interview with Jon Scieszka.  I want Zachary to read "Superheroes and Fantasy" and the interview with Greg Trine.  I want all the boys I've taught for the past 26 years to read Ralph's words.  And, I want all the teachers I teach with to read them as well.  In fact, I challenge you all to read it!  Every boy writer needs Ralph Fletcher as their mentor and advocate!  (By the way, I just emailed all the parents of boys I've had for the past three years and recommended they run to the bookstore for this one).
     I wish I had read it BEFORE I met with Ralph a few weeks ago.  I can't wait for my 18-year-old college-bound English major to read it.  I can't wait to read it more closely.  Thanks Ralph, for another gem.  Our lives are all the richer for it.
- - - - - - - -
*Which, by the way, includes Beginning Italian.  Italian?  Does he remember his sister (the senior) works in that department?  Ciao`

If you want to read another great blog about this book, go to A Year of Reading.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Hickory Chair

I loved Gran's smell, and her warm face when 
we played touch-your-nose at the gold mirror, 
and her salty kisses when we sat on Gramps's old army trunk 
 in the attic and listened to the wind sing on the roof.

     I love The Hickory Chair by Lisa Rowe Fraustino and it holds a prominent place in my little collection of books.  There's something profound about the story the author weaves as Louis's relationship with his Gran is slowly revealed... a relationship that goes beyond sight (Louis is blind).  I've used the book during a study of "evoking sensory images" and "drawing inferences."  I've used it during of a study of enhancing endurance and stamina.  It's become one of my go-to books.
     Louis uses his senses and "blind sight" as the story unfolds.  He loves his Gran, "She has a good alive smell--lilacs, with a whiff of bleach."  In the book, Gran dies and her family slowly learns about the things she's left them in her will... everyone except Louis.  In the end, he gets her hickory chair.  He feels as if the woman he loves the most in the world has forgotten him (until the end).  It's beautifully written. 
     The illustrations by Benny Andrews capture the images perfectly.  There's something magical about their simplicity.
     In the end, it's the hickory chair that makes all the difference in the world.  And, this book is a lovely, lyrical well-crafted journey about a relationship that lasts a lifetime and beyond.