Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Story of Snow...

After spending three snow days at home, shoveling the sidewalk multiple times, and enjoying the beauty of a Colorado snowstorm, this is the perfect book to mention...  
     The Story of Snow: The Science of Winter's Wonder.

     It's by Mark Cassino, a nature photographer, and Jon Nelson, a scientist who has studied snow and crystals for many years.  Together, they've created a wonderful addition to any collection of snow books. 
     The snow crystals in the book are beautifully captured in photographs.  The books answers questions about snow... how it forms, snowflake shapes, etc.  It's a scientific exploration of snow.  Simple, but informative. 
    Doesn't make shoveling any easier... but it does help a young scientist know how to capture and study snowflakes.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Daniel and Puff...

We were reading a story at the dinner table the other night about Daniel and the Lion's Den and the king and the "seal" on his ring... and we got into a discussion of sealing wax.  Not a commonly used item these days.  I brought up the lyrics to Puff the Magic DragonAnd brought him strings and sealing wax and other fancy stuff....
      Did you know the lyrics for Puff were based on a 1959 poem by Leonard Lipton, a student at Cornell.  He was inspired by a poem called "Custard the Dragon" by Ogden Nash (A realio, trulio little pet dragon)... Lipton was 19-years-old.  He just happened to be friends of Peter Yarrow's housemate and he typed the poem on Peter Yarrow's typewriter to "get the poem out of his head."  And the rest they say is "history"... Peter Yarrow gave him credit for writing the lyrics... 

     Puff, the magic dragon lived by the sea
     And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called honah lee,
     Little Jackie Paper loved that rascal puff,
    And brought him strings and sealing wax and other fancy stuff. 

     The point?  During our discussion, my wife said, "Every teacher should listen to that song each morning..."  She was right.  What are we doing to preserve the childhoods of children?  What's our role in that preservation?

     A dragon lives forever but not so little boys
     Painted wings and giant rings make way for other toys.
     One grey night it happened, Jackie Paper came no more
     And Puff that mighty dragon, he ceased his fearless roar.

     I'm reminded of one of my mentors, Shelley Harwayne, and her wonderful book Writing Through Childhood.  Funny that a song can remind you of a mentor!  In her book, Shelley talks a lot about preserving the writing lives of children.  It's a book I'm going to revisit... On page 4, she writes, "Inviting elementary students to write in unadulterated ways does more in a school than teach children an important means of communication.  One of the fringe benefits of hosting a writing workshop for young people is the opportunity to see the world through their wide eyes.  I've often thought that this is a real perk for teachers, reminding them what a privilege and a gift it is to spend so much time with young people."
     So... what gifts will you bring your students this week... to help preserve their childhoods?


Thursday, October 29, 2009

Third Grade... Ahhh...

I love when people write about their classrooms.  32 Third Graders and One Class Bunny is the perfect book to make any teacher laugh outloud and anyone who has been in third grade take a trip back down memory lane.  He writes about the everyday joys and milestones of being a teacher, with humor and emotion.  When you read this book, you can tell that he enjoys his job and that he finds it a joy and privilege to spend time each day with children.  There's something honest and endearing about this book (even a little hokey at times) and I have share many of his stories with my students.  We should all be using this book as a prompt to get us writing about our classrooms and the children we are blessed to spend time with each day. 

     I was excited to see another collection by Peter Done in the bookstore called Close Encounters of the Third Grade Kind.  As a third grade teacher, there are so many stories that I relate to... some make me laugh and some make me cry.  It's so nice to read something written by a teacher who does his best to celebrate children.  He knows his students so well and it's obvious that they know him.  This new book is just has humor-filled as his previous book.  
     And, it's good to hear from someone who isn't focused on what children can't do... but rather focuses on what makes them uniquely individual.  There's a voice of sincerity in both of these books.  

     I say we use Peter Done as a mentor... one day a week all of us should put down our clipboards, our "intervention checklists," our progress monitoring, and write a piece or two that captures the joy and passion of being a teacher and the pleasure of spending every day with children... get back to the roots of why we became teachers in the first place!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Julie Who? Andrews... Edwards...

There's something comforting about seeing Julie Andrews's name on a new children's book.  When my wife was a little girl, Mandy was one of her favorite books; her first edition still holds a special place on our bookshelf.  Right beside it, The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles; one of the first read aloud books I read when I started teaching twenty-four years ago (after a recommendation by my principal and friend, Laura Penn Harmon).  Next to it, Little Bo: The Story of Bonnie Boadicea one of my daughter's favorite childhood books.  And her memoir is wonderful - Home: A Memoir of My Early Years (if you're a true fan).
     Now I can hardly wait until Christmas Eve (we always give each other a book.  We give our children three gifts - pajamas, an ornament, and a book - ala The Three Kings).  This is the book I'm buying for my wife this year.  In it, Julie Andrews (Edwards) and her daughter, Emma Walton Hamilton have selected a wonderful mix of poems, songs, and lullabies.  An eclectic collection, from Robert Frost to Shel Silverstein... even Rodgers & Hammerstein!  150 pieces of poetry (with 21 on a CD performed by the authors).  When I perused it, I immediately wrote it on my "must buy" list in my notebook... for my wife.

     The best part - the family stories and connections to the poetry itself as well as the poetry Julie Andrews and her daughter wrote (and invited their family to contribute to).  This is the perfect family book - one to tuck beside your favorite Julie Edwards book and pull out when your family needs something special to read ... together!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Snow Leopards... Ghosts of the Mountain

This one got a big "Ahhh..." and a "Dad, will you buy that one for me?" from my youngest daughter.  She's loved snow leopards almost as much as polar bears since first grade (her first grade teacher, Jo Franklin, did an amazing job of getting her hooked on great nonfiction).  
     Saving the Ghost of the Mountain: An Expedition Among Snow Leopards in Mongolia is a beautiful book by Sy Montgomery and the photographs by Nic Bishop are breathtaking.  The photography is amazing!
     Snow leopards are difficult to study, they blend so well into the mountains in Mongolia.  Scientist Tom McCarthy has dedicated his career (and life) to studying these mysterious creatures.  Both Sy Montgomery and Nic Bishop accompanied Tom McCarthy on a trip to study these elusive and dwindling animals.  The result is this book.
     If, like my daughter, you're up for a good read about beautiful and cunning snow leopards, this is the perfect book.  Snow Leopards can pounce on prey with amazing accuracy (and their prey can be three times as big).  And, the endurance and stamina it takes to study animals in on of the coldest places on earth is no easy task.  This is an amazing story.  One that could I could easily see a group of children gathered around reading... and being particularly amazed!

     Since she asked, I may have to add this one to our at-home collection... what dad could say no?  And, it's the closest thing to a trip to Mongolia that many of us will ever take.

Monday, October 26, 2009

A Trip to Grandmother's House...

This is another book from my shelf of favorites... one that my friend, Randi, introduced me too years ago.  It is one of the books I to use during a study of sensory images or when helping children learn to use a piece of text to write a memory write in their notebook.  It's an interesting book because it's written in a haiku form, but to be honest, I never focus on its form.  I focus on the images it creates.  The way the dust particles play in the sunlight of the barn, the way the screen door slams, the way the red water pump squeaks.  All wonderful memories of a little girl's trip to her grandmother's house. 
     I've used it for a think aloud at the beginning of a strategy study of schema (background knowledge and background experience)... because there are so many things that get my mind going as I read the text.  It's a perfect think aloud... Ruth Tiller makes it so easy for me to share my metacognition.
     Cinnamon, Mint, & Mothballs is a perfect cousin text to Cynthia Rylant's Night in the Country or Patricia MacLachlan's All the Places to Love.  It's a bit hard to find these days, but well worth the search.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Longest Night...

Ted Lewin.  He is one of our most gifted illustrators!  He's one of my favorites (if you've never seen him speak, it's worth a trip to your annual reading conference).  Whenever I see a book with his name on the cover, I can't help but stop by and look.  And the combination of his work with Marion Dane Bauer's words makes for a wonderful collaboration. Together, artist and author create a beautiful story of the longest night of the year.  

     There's something simple and kind that automatically draws you into the story, mainly Lewin's illustrations--his focus on every detail, his ability to bring light into his work, and his artistic realism are unsurpassed.  Lewin's artwork brings life to animals like a crow, a field mouse, a moose, and a tiny chickadee.  The chickadee on the cover welcomes spring with a "Dee-dee-dee."  Although every other animal thinks it is his/her job to welcome spring, but they are wrong.

     There's a poetic nature in the writing, a rhythmic tone, a sense of language play... "The snow lies deep.  The night is long and long.  The stars are ice, the moon is frost, and all the world is still."  Even the wind speaks softly.  The longest night of the year passes too quickly, I wanted more... but the Chickadee welcomes us all into spring.  

     This book will lend itself to a study of creating sensory images... of using dialogue to move a text through time... of using repetition to bring writing to life.  When I saw this book, I knew I'd add it to my wish list!  Can't wait to get this one!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Crow Call...

There's something special about the relationship between a father and daughter.  In this book, Lois Lowry draws on her experience to tell the story of a little girl whose father has just returned from World War II.  
     The girl spends the day with her father to hunt the crows that are eating the crops.  Slowly they connect... drawn together with a too big flannel shirt, eating cherry pie, talking... and learning the crow call.  Slowly, over time, they grow closer.
     This is Lois Lowry's first picture book.  It's grand.  When the little girl reaches and takes her father's hand you sense the closeness that is developing, your heart melts..  When he asks, "What's your favorite thing to eat in the world?" the little girl smiles and answers, "Cherry pie."  Again, your heart melts...
     The illustrations by Bagram Ibatoulline are realistic and the colors are beautiful.  The mix of story and text are perfect. 
     I could see using this book during a study of inferring or schema... and the story line lends itself to becoming a perfect mentor text  It will melt your heart!  You may just have to do some writing in your own writer's notebook.

Friday, October 23, 2009

A Sense of Belonging...

As a beginning teacher...
  • I was hired in the building in which I student taught - a wonderful K-3 community
  • My cooperating teacher (now long time friend), Judy Gilkey, taught next door during my first year in the classroom
  • My principal, Laura Penn Harmon, had a "go for it" attitude and encouraged all teachers to learn, grow, take risks, think outside the box, etc.
  • The teachers in my building were all learners and collaboration was encouraged
  • We had great professional development (the PEBC was in its beginning stages - Laura Benson and Ellin Keene worked closely with our staff)
  • I had a team of veteran teachers always willing to share ideas, talk about students, explore new thinking
  • The parent community was supportive and involved  

     Many were the blessings during the first three years of my teaching!  It was an exciting time in education - literature based reading instruction was developing, reader's workshop was the becoming the norm, writing process was strong and growing; names like Graves, Smith, Harwayne, Peterson, Murray, Burns were on the tip of everyone's tongues; we held high standards for learners without standardizing learning.  I worked in a district that was growing quickly, but the superintendent knew every teacher by name and he was proud of our district's success.  It was a grand time to enter such an honorable profession.  I was one of the lucky ones.
     Enter 2009.  Things have changed a bit for new teachers.  Mandates abound around every corner... support often comes in the form of a program or "teacher proof" materials.   
     BUT, thankfully, people like Jennifer Allen understand the pressures of being a new teacher today.  In her book A Sense of Belonging (Stenhouse), she offers wonderful suggestions in a thoughtful, meaningful, and supportive way for supporting the teachers entering our profession.  Many joined this profession for the same reason we did... because there is not better job and the joy of teaching is endless.  She understands that it's our job as veteran teachers and mentors to support young people joining the teaching ranks.  And, she understands that our role is helping shape and strengthen their skills is of utmost import. 
     She begins one of her chapters with the following quote... "There are three principal means of acquiring knowledge... observation of nature, reflection, and experimentation.  Observation collects facts; reflection combines them; experimentation verifies the results of that combination." (Diderot).  And, she goes on to explain how we must help make this quote come alive in the hearts and minds of teachers.

     Jennifer Allen (no relation by the way), encourages us to help new teachers with the following:
  • "Membership in a professional learning community
  • The opportunity to learn alongside veteran colleagues
  • A built-in support system
  • A sense of collegiality
  • Self-direct learning
  • Sustained professional development"
     I am enjoying this book and Jennifer Allen's practical suggestions.  I've recommended to our building resource teacher.  I've recommended it to our principal.  I've recommended it to fellow staff developers.  Now, I'm recommending it to you... so we can help  our newest teachers feel welcome and successful and remain in the grand teaching profession.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Exploring My Collection...

Lately, I've been exploring my library (both at home and in my classroom)... so you'll notice that many of my posts are not about the latest and greatest, but some forgotten and cherished oldies, but goodies.  My posts often include some of the texts I have collected over the years... I think too often we forget to revisit old favorites, so it's been good for me to spend some time looking through my stacks!  My wife thinks I'm getting organized... but I think I'm doing far more.

     Try it!  Spend some time searching through your own collection... you might just find something that surprises you!  
  • Something waiting to be shared with young readers and writers
  • Something that might nudge your students into new thinking  
  • Something that lends itself to a particular thinking strategy
  • Something that causes you to pull out your notebook and write
  • Something that lends itself to a particular strategy or skill
  • Something that you haven't read in a while that deserves a reread
  • Somethng that needs to be read aloud to someone
  • Something that needs to be loaned to a colleague
  • Something that deserves a special place on your shelf or needs to be displayed

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Unfinished Angel...

Sharon Creech.  You see her name and you know her latest book will be something special.  The Unfinished Angel is no exception.  This story takes place in Casa Rosa, a castle in a tiny village in the Swiss Alps and revolves around one angel and a little American girl name Zola.  Zola and the angel are brought together in the most interesting, humorous, and endearing way.
     On her website, Sharon Creech tells us that this story came about after her two-year-old granddaughter told the following story:  "Once upon a time in Spain there was an angel, and the angel was me.  The end."  From that brief little story and a trip to Switzerland, this story came to be.  This book is based on kindness, hope, and relationships between people (and angels), told in humor and Creech's ever poetic language.
     For a special look at this amazing book and to learn more about the author, check out Sharon Creech's website:

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Keep On!

I'm always looking for picture books that I can use to help my students develop a sense of endurance and stamina.  I love sharing text that emphasizes importance historical events and people.  Deborah Hopkinson's Keep On!  The Story of Matthew Henson, Co-Discoverer of the North Pole is a book I've added to my collection.
     This is the account of Matthew Henson, who accompanied Admiral Peary in 1909.  Henson was an African-American who accepted Peary's invitation to accompany him on his expedition.  Deborah Hopkinson has an incredible knack of capturing historically significant stories in the most endearing ways.  It's a wonderful tribute to an amazing man; one who holds an important, and often unrecognized, place in history.  I especially love the excerpts from Henson's diaries.  Stephen Alcorn's illustrations softly accompany the text, although the story is anything but soft.  Hopkinson's writing brings tremendous importance to this text (including a wonderful epilogue and an interesting timeline).
     When I see Deborah Hopkinson's name, I know I won't be disappointed.  This was no exception.

Monday, October 19, 2009

David Small's Memoir

A few weeks ago, I blogged about one of my favorite books--That Book Woman.  On October 17th, I was wandering through a local bookstore and happened upon David Small's recent memoir (he is the illustrator of That Book Woman, Imogene's Antlers, The Gardener, The Library, etc.).  It's called Stitches.  The title and the cover caught my eye in the autobiography section.  I picked it up and took it to a table and ended up reading the whole thing. 
     The memoir itself is written in a graphic novel format, black and white.  The drawings are amazing.  The book itself is absolutely incredible, stirring, unfathomable.  The depth at which he tells the story is searing and it left me speechless.  The book details the author's horrific childhood, which can only be described as intense and painful.  Nothing like my childhood and yet I couldn't put this book down.  It's poignant.  It's moving.  It's profound.  It's amazing.  It's honest.  It's cathartic.

     How one of our most beloved illustrators could escape the horrors of his childhood to create some of our favorite amazingly simple, sweet, and endearing picture books is a testament to his artistic ability.  When I read the last words of the text, "I didn't," there were tears!

     The emotion with which he writes and draws his childhood is profound.  The storyline, told only with drawings and very few words leaves you breathless.  The final scenes of the book are about forgiveness.  With artistic precision and absolute honesty, the author draws the reader in to what would seem like an unforgivable childhood.  Brutally honest and at times unbelievable...
     It's stories like his that make me so appreciate my own childhood.  It's stories like his that make me so appreciate the men and women who write, draw, and tell their own stories.  It's stories like his that haunt me.  It's stories like his that make me so happy that he's been able to find enough joy in his spirit to share his illustrations with us in other books.  
    This is not a book for children.  But, if you want to "read" an amazing story, read Stitches.  You can read more about the book at:
On this site, the book is reviewed in detail and you can read an amazing interview with David Small.  When asked what his six-word memoir would be, he replied, "Drawing well is the best revenge." 

     In the interview he said, "I wrote out almost every scene in Stiches before I drew it.  It was the only way I could begin.  Only lanugage brings order to the chaos of memory."  And the fact that he had the courage to share his story with us is nothing short of heroic.  I've been intentionally vague in my description, but this book is well worth the read.  Read it.  Then look through some of the children's books David Small has illustrated... I have a new found respect for his talents!  You will too.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Spiders and Their Websites...

This is an older book from my collection that I rediscovered while organizing some books at home.  I bought it because of the content and the catchy title.  
     It's a book I've used to provide short pieces of text during a study of determining importance in text.  The organization of the text and the descriptions of the spiders (and daddy longleg) are well-written and fact-filled.  I love the illustrations at the bottom of the page that explain different features of each spider.  Children love reading about how webs are constructed, prey is caught, and little details (creepy and gross) that intrigue the reader (like how spiders actually drink their prey).
     When you reorganize your book collection, you'll be surprised by the gems you find!  This is one of mine.


Saturday, October 17, 2009

Bubble Homes & Fish Farts

This book is delightful.  A nonfiction book that teaches so much!  Who knew that bubbles were so important?  Fiona Bayrock explains how bubbles are important to animals and their existence in nature.  Who knew that the star-nosed mole blows bubbles outside its nose and then sucks them back in... just to find food?  Who knew that the Weddell seal blows bubbles to chase fish out of hiding so that he can break through the ice to catch them and that a Humpback whale uses bubbles to herd tiny fish into a group?  The book takes a serious look at unique animals in a fun and interesting way.  I had no idea there were so many animals who used bubbles as part of their survival. 
     I like having nonfiction books that include extra details in the back of the text - size, location, and interesting facts.  The book is formatted so that young readers will enjoy reading about their favorite animals.  And this book will serve as great mentor text for a study of nonfiction writing.  Children who love nonfiction will enjoy Bubble Homes and Fish Farts - drawn initially by the title (it's catchy!), but then they are destined to find information they won't be able to read anywhere else... it's a keeper.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Sky Magic - Poetry Anthology...

Lee Bennett Hopkins has put together another wonderful anthology of poetry.  This collection features poetry about the sun, moon, and stars.  The poetry is organized from the sun rising until the stars shine... accompanied by Mariusz Stawarski's illustrations.  There's something calming about the verse in this collection.  The illustrations are both colorful and bright.

     This collection is gentle.  It includes old favorites and new poetry... I'm always on the lookout for poetry to add to our collection.  This book lends itself to a study of earth's cycles.  I am always looking for poetry to use during a thinking strategy study and this collection offers many wonderful choices.  It's always nice to find a new anthology around a specific topic.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Dust Bowl

While in Powell's, one of the books I didn't purchase, but wrote in my notebook as a must have is Years of Dust: The Story of the Dust Bowl by Albert Marrin.  I've talked to my oldest sister, Joy, about the Dust Bowl and I've always been intrigued by her recollections.
     In the 1930s, dangerous storms of dust that Marrin calls "the worst environmental disaster in American history," swept through the great plains of the United States (including the southeastern tip of Colorado).  Drought and farming practices caused the dust storms that plagued farmers, small communities, and families across the plains.  From prairie ecology to relating the Dust Bowl to some of our current environmental issues, Marrin has put together a wonderful collection in this piece... a nice mix of narrative, facts, sidebars, wonderful photographs, etc.

     It's a great cousin text to Timothy Egan's adult text The Worst Hard TimeThe Worst Hard time is a powerfully written book about the storms that terrorized the plains in the Depression years, a dark and dreary time in our history.  It follows families and their communities through the good times and bad times of this horrible time.  The story Egan tells is a more detailed account of what Marrin is explaining to children in Years of Dust.  
     My sister remembers her mother plunging sheets in water and hanging them in the windows at night... only to find mud puddles in the sills in the morning.  Both these books describe the destructiveness of The Dust Bowl... one specifically written with children in mind and one specifically for adults.  
     I will definitely be purchasing a copy of Albert Marrin's book for my collection... it tells an important story of our country's history.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Happy Birthday, Doris!

My sister's birthday is today!  So, Doris, this extra post is for you...
     When my brothers and sisters were younger, our father was a stonemason and bricklayer who traveled between Kansas, California, Utah, and Colorado... where there was work that's where they moved (my mom and dad were settled in my hometown by the time I came along).  They did a lot of moving!  
     My sister's prized possession was her well-loved and well-worn copy of Madeline's Rescue and to this day, she can recite it without a flaw!  Moving didn't leave too much room for material things, but a book Doris could clutch close to her chest with every move and hide in her heart all these 60+ years later (until it was sadly lost along the way).  But she remembers it!  My favorite fits of laughter come when Doris hops up and recites... 
Madeline jumped on a chair.
"Lord Cucuface," she cried, "beware!"
"Miss Genevieve, noblest dog in all of France,
You shall have your VEN-GE-ANCE!" 
     So, dear sister, thanks for coming to my rescue as many times as there are stars in the sky... And, what a grand thing to have hidden in your heart - the words of Ludwig Bemelman that have been there for more years than you probably like to count!  I love you.  Blessings to you this day.


Jane Yolen once again pairs up with her son, Jason Stemple, to create a breathtaking book of poetry, A Mirror to Nature.  What I love most about Jane Yolen's poetry is how provocative it is and how she doesn't dumb down the vocabulary just because she writes for children.  What better way is there to build the pragamatic cueing system than to read, discuss, talk about, and ponder a piece of Jane Yolen's poetry?

     I think this book (and her other collaborations with her son) are surperb invitations for writers to observe... and to realize that poetry is found everywhere.  Jane makes note of the fact that her son's photos show double images, causing readers to see things in new ways and from different points of view.  And, Jane Yolen crafts poetry to match each photograph simply and eloquently...
     When we're teaching our children to reflect as readers, writers, mathematicians, etc. this would be the perfect book to use as a visual reminder that the reflection portion of the workshop model is about seeing yourself in a new way... thinking about how things look differently based on your learning for today.  I'm going to use it for that purpose, to help my students understand the point of reflection as part of our daily workshops.
     This book could also work as mentor text for a study of writing the world (Don Graves reminds us to read the world... now write the world).  Jane Yolen helps us do that - brilliantly.  
     But, mostly I think children will love to play with Jane's words in their head, look closely at the wonderful photographs, and enjoy this poetic look at nature. 

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Teedie... The Story of Young Teddy Roosevelt

This is another of Don Brown's books that caught my eye.  I've always imagined Theodore Roosevelt as a Rough Rider and as the President of the United States... a champion of conservation and national parks.  But this book tells the story of his childhood, when he was sickly, asthmatic, and frail.  
     The title comes from his nickname, Teedie, and the book talks about his parents and their attempts to make him stronger.  Ultimately, his father encouraged him to become physically fit and with tenacity and endurance, his body strength (and his continued mental curiosity) improved.  He overcame many of the obstacles he faced as a child.  In Roosevelt's own words, he said, "he paddled 'in the hottest sun, over the roughest water, in the smallest boat.'"  
     The strength of his mind, determination, and futuristic thinking made small Teedie the man who reminded us to "Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far."  Theodore Roosevelt is a somewhat iconic hero and we picture him often on a horse with a sword in his hand... but this book reminds us so clearly that we all start out as a child.
     I used this book during our study of endurance and stamina... it's also a text that lends itself to the study of questioning and perhaps even synthesis.  I'd recommend that you have a go with it...
     There are several quotes of Teddy Roosevelt's that I've collected (not in the book)... 
  • "Let the watchwords of all our people be the old familiar watchwords of honesty, decency, fair-dealing, and commonsense," 
  • "The one thing I want to leave my children is an honorable name,"
  • "It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed,"
  • "Be practical as well as generous in your ideals.  Keep your eyes on the stars, but remember to keep your feet on the ground," and
  • "Success - the real success- does not depend upon the position you hold, but upon how you carry yourself in that position."
This interesting picture book reminded me of how little I really know about some of our presidents... including Theodore Roosevelt.  It's intriguing and the illustrations are in Don Brown's unique style.  It's a great little read! 

Monday, October 12, 2009

There's No Place Like...

I love traveling to do staff development... this week I worked in Vancouver, Washington with a colleague, Susan Logan.  The weather in the Vancouver/Portland area was beautiful and exploring was a lot of fun (despite a slight case of gephyrophobia and a mixed-up sense of direction).  
     Working with an enthusiastic and energetic group of elementary folks, talking a lot about thinking strategy instruction makes for an inspiring two days.  Working with a trusted colleague makes the work even more rewarding.
     One of the benefits of traveling is discovering great local places to explore after working.  So, each evening (after we reflected and planned) we hopped in the rented Mustang convertible (airport gave us a free upgrade)... top down, but heat on!  We hit the following places:

Nothing like Powell's City of Books to get your heart racing and your $$ flying (I limited myself to two gems from the bargain book shelf - Cinderella by Cynthia Rylant and The Sandman by Ralph Fletcher).  What a way to spend an hour, or two, or three!  Especially when you're with someone else who shares a passion for books!  No teacher can make a trip to the Portland area without a trip to the Rose Room... the children's book section is amazing, I love the combination of old and new!

     For dinner one night, we ate at Jake's.  A trip to Portland isn't complete without eating here... the clam chowder is the best and because it's within walking distance of Powell's it's a great stop (although... Ten 01 was the recommendation that evening).  The historic charm makes this restaurant seem better than it probably really is, but the decor is so "old" Portland!  I always find myself wondering about the history of the area...

     Traveling with someone who eats gluten free made for an adventurous trip to another Portland neighborhood for gluten free fish and chips (rice flour), clam chowder, and the best dessert!  We ate a delicious meal at Corbett's.  A funky little neighborhood restaurant that's dedicated to great food and no gluten!  And there wasn't an empty table on a Thursday night.

     The best place of all was in another historic district near downtown.  The waiter threw open the window next to our table which made for some great people watching!  The restaurant was called Serratto... and it was recommended by one of the literacy specialists in Vancouver.  The neighborhood was fun to walk around for a bit and to talk about the two days of work...
     Traveling is rewarding and meeting new teachers and staff members from around the country is a professional treat.  Finding local hangouts is more fun than a chain or a hotel restaurant.  Thinking (and eating) your way through a different city is a special treat. 
     But at the end of the trip, there's nothing better than coming home, listening to your daughter practice the piano, napping on the family room floor, listening to your son talk to his mom as he wraps a gift to take to a girl's surprise party... eating Papa Murphy's pizza.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Art Room

I love using this book to help writers create sensory images in their writing and I've also used it during a study of inferring.  The Art Room is a tribute to Emily Carr, a Canadian artist (think Van Gogh and O'Keeffe).  I was first struck by the beauty of the illustrations, but then I read it and was awestruke by the poetic story.  It's a first person account of a group of children who take art lessons from Miss Carr in the upstairs of an office building.  Lines like "...pinks and purples spilled from window boxes and lept from walls..." and "...typewriters talking business and tongues babbling news..." fill the text.  The students in 1900 "giggled and gulped and gabbed with Miss Carr about people, and animals and art," and this book paints a wonderful portrait of learning, both for the students in the text and for the students in my classroom.  The book is not new, but it one worth having in your collection.  It would also make a wonderful gift for the art teacher in your school... it's written by Susan Vande Griek and illustrated by Pascal Milelli.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Mark your Day....

Cynthia Rylant is everyone's favorite author... and this book is another example of why we hold her writing so near and dear to our hearts!  When I read this book for the first time, I fell in love with it... my background experience kept racing through my mind (summers on the ranch, feeding chickens, etc).  Cynthia Rylant has a way of doing that, of capturing the reader's mind and heart with the simplicity of her words.  In this book, we are nudged to see a perfect piece of time to live a life... to plant a seed.
     This book is the gracious nudge to remind children to think about hope, kindness, and special moments.  I've used it to invite children to do a line lift or a memory write in their reader's/writer's notebooks.  Plenty of seeds have been planted because of Rylant's words.  It's superb mentor text.

     The artwork in this book is remarkable, black paper cut in lovely silhouettes.  Simplicity at it's finest.  But yet the beautiful, intricate detail is an almost lost art form.  Nikki McClure is brilliant!
     I love the language in this book You can make a wish, and start again and The past is sailing off to sea, the future's fast asleep.  A day is all you have to be, it's all you get to keep.
     So get this book... and remind your students to, as my friend Randi Allison says, "mark your day."  Today is the only October 10, 2009 they will ever have...

Friday, October 9, 2009

Grandma Dowdel...

Well, Grandma Dowdel is back... I never knew an old lady who cooked a turtle or went bird hunting.  But growing up in a small town, I knew plenty of women that reminded me of Grandma Dowdel (canning produce, gathering walnuts, etc.).  
     In this book, she's standing up for Poor Bob as he is bullied beyond belief and helps his father grow his congregation.  As we read, we know that Mrs. Dowdel is a good-hearted soul.  She's a good neighbor to all of the Barnharts.
     How does Richard Peck do it?  Capture the most tragic things in the most intriguing and endearing ways?   A Season of Gifts is more a book for 'tween readers and one I'd recommend for older readers based on the concepts in the text.  But...

     It's nice to see Grandma Dowdel back... a bit older and a bit more eccentric that she was in A Year Down Yonder and A Long Way from Chicago.  She's a bit calmer in this book, but I think she might just remind you of the little old lady that lived down the street when you were growing up!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Loving Marlaa Frazee

I always look for new books with Marla Frazee as the illustrator and this one, coupled with Liz Garton Scanlon as the author, is wonderful.   
     All the World is one of those books that just makes you happy when you read it... Hope and peace and love and trust... All the world is all of us.

     At a deeper level, this book is really about the life of an every day family taking the time to be, well, just to be.  All the world is wide and deep... The simple poetic rhythm of this book is accompanied perfectly by Marla Frazee's illustrations as she adds brilliant depth to the story by including rich detail in her drawings.  You will smile as you read it!  You'll want to spend a day with your family!

     I think this is a perfect text to use when talking about community... and the amount of inferring you can do just by looking at the illustrations is unsurpassed.  I can see using it as mentor text in our writer's workshop.  I can see using it with my students and having a discussion of time.
     I've been thinking a lot about time and the rush we are always in as teachers and learners... this book may just become the link to the idea of slowing down, meandering in thought, and adding needed depth to our daily work as learners.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

An Adult Read....

I admit it.  I'm not a fiction reader, but Loving Frank is an exception.  It's a narrative based on Frank Lloyd Wright and Mamah Cheney's love affair and is beautifully written.  A tragic story that is touching, realistic, and often heartbreaking.  Of course, the mention of Chautauqua gives it Colorado ties.  But there's something about the craft of the story that made me forget about the ultimately sad story I was reading.  The book places Wright in a light we don't often think about and the complexity of Mamah's character is so intriguing.
     This is one of the books my wife put on my nightstand and said, "You have to read this one... it's amazing writing, sad, but amazing!"  It's provocative.  It's riveting.  It's challenging.  As you read, you get such a clear portrait of the time period... and then there's the ending! 

     The craft.  I loved the writing.  Nancy Horan should be very proud of her first novel!  And though it took her many years to research and writer, it was well worth the wait!

     I focus so much on professional reads and children's literature.  But I need to remember that if I'm going to ask my readers to create sensory images, determine importance, draw inferences, synthesize, etc. I need to read more for myself and utilize the strategies I'm asking them to use in their reading.  This book caused me to slow down, think about my thinking, and to really comprehend... giving myself to take a more metacognitive stance gave me a chance to focus on the complexities of this text.  
Check out the interesting interview with the author as well as a walking tour of Oak Park:

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Foot Tracings...

One Thousand Tracings: Healing the Wounds of World War II by Lita Judge tells a story based on the author's own family history.  After WWII, her grandparents living the Midwest, organized a way to help those in Europe left in the aftermath of the war.  The story focuses on the relief effort that the author's own family coordinated (based on a box of artifacts the author/illustrator found in her grandparent's attic).  The artwork-watercolor and collage-is beautiful, but it's the story that grabs the reader (written across time in chronological order).  
     The story of a girl and her mother sending shoes (and other needed items) to Europe, based on foot tracings they received is amazing.  Starting with a letter (But just before Christmas, a letter arrived that changed everything...) we hear the story of a little girl and her family helping others (Families we didn't even know, yet we grew to love them).  The storyline and the illustrations made this a wonderful addition to my collection.
     I used this book during a study of synthesis with my third graders... we looked closely at how our thinking changed over time.  Because the book focuses on helping others, it was a great text to take in slowly and carefully and move through during several crafting sessions during reader's workshop (nearing the end of our synthesis study).  
     I'm so glad Lita Judge found the box in the attic with thousands of "foot tracings" in it and even happier that she decided to investigate and write this lovely book.  Hope, compassion, kindness, giving... all words that come to mind when I think about the importance of helping others.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Remember Your Radio Flyer?

You've seen Zachary Pullen's illustrations in Sports Illustrated and The Wall Street Journal.  When I was in Wyoming earlier this week, my friend Dana had this book on display in her classroom and it caught my eye.  Little did I know that he hailed from Wyoming.
     He illustrated The Toughest Cowboy: Or How the West Was Tamed (which is hilarious) and Alfred Nobel: The Man Behind the Prize, but Friday My Radio Flyer Flew is his first picture book.  The bright red Radio Flyer on the front caught my eye, it reminded me of my own childhood wagon.  I had to pick it up! 
     In the book a boy discovers his father's old Radio Flyer in the attic and his goal is to get it to fly.  He builds wings for the wagon, but they break off.  His father pulls him in the wagon and the boy dreams of making it fly.  It's a wonderful story of a father and son using their imaginations, working together to make it fly.  The final page is a tug-at-your-heartstrings portrait of a father and son moment that lives in their imagination.


I'm glad I happened upon this book, even though I had to drive all the way to Casper to see it!  This is the illustrator's website.  He has illustrated a new alphabet book, S is for Story: A Writer's Alphabet. Check out more of his amazing illustrations: or read his wonderful blog

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Synthesis Thinkers

I was looking through some of last year's charts from reader's workshop and I happened upon our thinking from a five week study of synthesizing as learners.  I love grappling with synthesis thinking with third graders...  How does a wise learner use synthesis?  I love when readers see a strategy helping them communicate their thinking, encouraging problem solving as they read, and nudging them to collaborate with other readers.  When readers can combine new information with existing knowledge or experience to create new ideas or unique interpretations, they are learning to be synthesis thinkers.
     In my new book, I included a quote from Mackenzie, one of my former students:  "I need to synthesize when I’m reading!  I think synthesis is like cooking.  You throw all the ingredients together, mix them together, and the end result is FOOD.  In reading, you have all these thoughts and you combine them all together and you get one big new overall learning or thought."  The perfect definition.
     Last year, I borrowed the following idea from my friend Cheryl.  To begin our study, I gave each student an 8 inch square piece of tag and six, two-inch strips of paper (each a different color).  Every student started with the same thing.  After showing them some pictures of mosaics, I simply asked them to create a mosaic using the paper I gave them and to write a sentence or two about their thinking.  We all started with the same thing, but the results were much different...24 unique interpretations.  We talked about how synthesis was just that, taking a piece of text and walking away with our own personal interpretation.

     Here are two examples of their work and their thinking:

      Our discussion led us to the idea that even though we all start with the same thing (e.g. a piece of text), what we do with it can look vastly different, across one text or across multiple texts.  Our mosaics were the metaphor we latched onto as we continued our study of becoming wise synthesis thinkers throughout our study of this thinking strategy.