Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Looking for Newbery - Day 6

Brooklyn Bridge by Karen Hesse is a fascinating book. It is actually comprised of three different threads that are woven together. The first thread is what I will call the "main" storyline, and is written in typical, chapter format. The second thread is about "outcast" children who live under the Brooklyn Bridge. The final thread is many news articles (they appear to be the real thing) written about the opening of Coney Island.

The first storyline is historical fiction, and revolves around the family (Michtom) who made the first teddy bear. I loved getting to know all the characters in the Michtom family (especially Joseph, who is 14 years old), the family's extended relatives, and the people who live in their neighborhood. Hesse does a lovely job with character development, and allowing us to feel the tensions that come about as an immigrant family tries to better their lot in life. Joseph's adolescent rebelling against never having time to do fun things like go visit Coney Island is very realistic, and many children reading this book will relate to it .

I also enjoyed reading the articles from different newspapers that talked about all the wonders of Coney Island -- it was the equivalent of Disneyland back then!

The part I didn't enjoy as much was reading about the children who lived under the bridge. Not because their reasons for being there were tragic (and they were!), but because I was having great difficulty conceptualizing one of the characters - Radiant Boy, and his interactions with the other children. In this section, Hesse does an excellent job of helping the reader understand the desperation these children felt in the lives they lived before they lived under the bridge.

It takes great skill to take 3 threads of a story , and weave them together, but Karen Hesse did just that. The language in this book is beautiful. I can understand why Brooklyn Bridge made several mock Newbery lists. I'll be interested to see what the Newbery panel decides.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Looking for Newbery - Day 5

I'm a huge fan of the book Fever: 1793 and recommend it to any student that loves historical fiction. It has to be one of my all time favorite novels for upper grades. When I saw that Laurie Halse Anderson had another historical fiction novel getting all sorts of attention I had to read it.

Chains is about Isabel, a slave girl in Rhode Island who, instead of getting freedom upon her owner's death, she gets sold to a ruthless couple from New York. The mistress of the house has some serious anger issues and believes in strong discipline for her slaves and to make matters worse, Isabel's handicapped sister is sent away. Isabel meets up with a freed slave that fights for the American cause and he encourages her to spy on her new master who is identified as one of the leading Loyalists in New York.

Laurie Halse Anderson does an interesting job of taking the reader back and forth between what Isabel should do. She is torn between working for the American sympathizers for freedom or working for the British supporters for freedom. Both sides of the dilemma are presented in a believable way and I found myself changing my mind about what would happen at every turn.

I wasn't sure about this one as I was reading it, I thought it moved a little slow, but in looking back I realize now that the author does such a great job of developing a plot with so many twists and turns that it couldn't move any faster and be this good. Before you start, be warned it's just the first novel in the saga of Isabel. I wasn't aware of this when I started so I must admit I was a bit disappointed when the story didn't finish.

Interestingly, I saw a couple of reviews from middle school students who really enjoyed the book. So obviously there are kids out there who will enjoy this book. In my opinion it is for more of a middle school audience, so I'll continue to put Fever: 1793 in my students' hands.

Chains got 7 mentions according to the list at Fuse #8 the most of any title.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Looking for Newbery - Day 4

The Underneath by Kathi Appelt has pretty much been on Newbery lists since it came out. Positive reviews abound on this book. People are raving about it. It already has a shiny silver medal for the National Book Award and looks to collect another one in January if the hype is to be believed. Fuse #8 counted 5 listings for The Underneath on Mock Newbery lists. Other bloggers used phrases such as:

"...rich and complex and gorgeous." - Educating Alice

"...reads like a ballad sung." - Sarah Miller

"...all at once tragic, consuming, passionate, full of love, hopeful and alternately beautiful and ugly." -The Reading Zone

"...this is a book I was lucky to be reading." -A Year of Reading

Perhaps for all of these reasons, I avoided reviewing this book because...ok...I'll say it...I didn't like it. There, it's out and I feel better for it! I agree that Kathi Appelt uses beautiful language that reads almost like poetry. I agree that she successfully weaves several story lines into one major story line. The story is tragic, beautiful, and extremely sad, so much so, that I'm not sure a lot of KID readers are going to get it.

As I read books, I am constantly thinking of which KIDS will like them and how will I present them so KIDS will be interested. I couldn't come up with a way that would make this book appealing to KIDS, so I wasn't fond of it.

Interesting to me as I sat down to write this and began looking at what others have said about it, I was struck by a couple of things. I think the cover of The Underneath is a bit decieving. Yes, it hints at sadness in the animals' eyes, but to me it still gives the impression of a more gentle tale than it really is. The other was that, when I viewed the trailer for the book, it doesn't really hint at the level of sadness and pain within the book.

In the end, do I think this book will win a Newbery of some sort? Yes. Does it deserve to? Probably, based on the writing alone, yes. Will it be a KID friendly winner? I don't think so.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Looking for Newbery - Day 3

I'm still looking for Newbery, but I'll be a little sidetracked today because my entire side of the family is coming for our Christmas celebration together. I'll be doing a lot of cooking and cleaning and baking in preparation. So, because my time is a little short, I am going to re-look at a book I reviewed this summer.

Hate That Cat, by Sharon Creech was the companion book to Love That Dog. As compiled by Fuse #8, it was mentioned on at least three mock Newbery lists. I loved it, and am going to refer you to my review of this book back in July. You will actually get a bonus here, because I have a link to Mary Lee's (A Year of Reading) review also.

If Hate That Cat would win a Newbery award, my students would be so excited!! We have done a 3 week study of Love that Dog and Hate That Cat -- they have been enthralled by it!! It is amazing how Creech can say so much with so few words!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Looking for Newbery - Day 2


Eleven, by Patricia Reilly Giff, is the second book I read on my "looking for Newbery" quest. Fuse #8 tallied that Eleven has been mentioned on at least 3 mock Newbery lists as a possible Newbery winner. That was certainly a book worth my time!

I loved Eleven! I loved the positive friendship between the two main characters, a boy and girl. I loved how there was a mysterious element to this book, which is accentuated with flashbacks. I loved how Sam, the main boy character, has an inability to read until he finds a reason important enough for him to learn. I love how his special education teacher is so supportive of him. I love Sam's grandfather, Mack, and his extended "family", Anima and Onja. I love the multicultural elements they bring to the story and to Sam's life. I love how eclectic Caroline (the main girl character) is. I love Sam's ability to make beautiful items out of all types of wood. I love how, because of his gift with wood, Sam will be able to give his teacher something in return for helping him learn to read. I love how Giff has an "Eleven" prologue, and an "Eleven" epilogue -- it really brings this story full-circle. I love the importance of Sam's dreams, interspersed throughout the story -- they have such great meaning. I love how eleven symbolizes so much in Sam's past, present, and future.

I loved Eleven -- it is a book worthy of its 3 mock Newbery mentions!!!

Friday, December 26, 2008

Looking for Newbery - Day 1


Well, today is the first day of about 30 days that Bill and I will be "looking for Newbery".

One of the books that made Fuse #8's tally roundup of books mentioned for a possible Newbery or Caldecott was Trouble by Gary D. Schmidt -- it was mentioned in at least 2 places for a mock Newbery Award. I had read this book way back in the winter as an ARC, so this was a reread for me.

I was amazed by Schmidt's use of language, and the way he so intricately intertwines his characters' lives. The words that kept coming back again and again in the story, and just couldn't be overlooked were: "trouble", "fine", "indeterminate", and eventually, the best word of all -- "GRACE". Each of these words had multi-layered meaning within the story. Schmidt's descriptions of the sea and the mountain, Katahdin, are realistic, as well as breathtaking. The way he feeds us different plot lines until they come together to form a whole is masterful. The main character (Henry), and supporting characters, are all well-developed. For a book that is mostly a drama/adventure, I really enjoyed the levity that Black Dog and Henry's best friend, Sanborn, brought to the story.

The only thing I wondered during my reread is if this book was appropriate for my 5th graders. It would be a great book to put into a middle schooler's hands; they have a little more sophisticated thinking for some of the subject matter. Just a wonder on my part; not a criticism. Regardless of its target audience, it was a great read for me! I found myself as spellbound reading Trouble the second time as I was the first -- a true sign of a great book. I can see why Trouble made two of the mock Newbery Award lists. I'm just surprised it wasn't mentioned on more lists.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Looking for Newbery Last Summer

OK, so my partner Karen has this great idea, and ropes me into contributing too, and now I can hardly wait to get started. As I was thinking of which books I wanted to review, I perused the list at Fuse #8 and realized I have read and reviewed quite a few of the top titles. Some I have read but not reviewed, and others I started to read but didn't finish either because I didn't feel they were appropriate for our elementary library, or I just didn't like them. I'm going to brag a little here, and say that last summer I posted an early Newbery list and the three titles I listed, Waiting for Normal, Greetings From Nowhere and Shooting the Moon all made the BIG list. We Are the Ship is also on the list, I just wasn't sure where to put it. So I feel like I really have a head start on the Newbery selection this year.

I must admit that I am a bit disappointed that some of my favorites didn't make the list for example, Itch: a novel, and others like Jessie's Mountain didn't get as much attention as I think they deserve. Oh well, that's the nature of the game and who knows, maybe one of them will pull an upset in the end.

In any event, I like Karen's idea and plan to have some fun with this. I know I speak for Karen when I say we hope you enjoy it too, and PLEASE, leave a comment to tell us what you think.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Looking for Newbery

This Friday, December 26, marks the one-month countdown to the announcement of the Newbery Awards January 26, 2009, at 9:45 EST. With that in mind, Bill and I will be looking for Newbery in the next month.

Fuse #8 compiled a fabulous list of many Mock Newbery lists, and then compiled one list (scroll all the way down) with every title that had been mentioned somewhere, and the number of times each title was mentioned. For someone like me, who is way behind in her reading, it was the perfect holiday gift! So, I got online and immediately started to reserve these books from the public library, in hopes that I will actually have read the Newbery award winner, or at least the honors books, by the time the announcement is made! Even if my quest is not successful, and I don't read the actual Newbery Award winner, I will have a lot of fun in the process, and have read some fabulous books!

However, that brought up a possible theme for Bill and me for the next month -- "Looking for Newbery". From Dec. 26 until Jan. 25, we will be reading and posting regularly about the books that were on Fuse #8's compilation. We will give brief reviews and include our thinking about the books.

We hope you stop by and join us as we go "looking for Newbery"!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Friday Reflections on Saturday

1) Yesterday was my last day with students for 2 weeks. I love this class, and will miss them a bit over break, but I am truly looking forward to 2 whole weeks devoted to my family, my friends, and me (and this part includes a lot of reading and blogging!!).

2) When I got home tonight, I spent some time talking to my daughter who is home from college, and then after she went out for the evening, I spent the rest of my evening writing my Christmas cards, and I got them all done!! I think tonight was the first day in a string of days to come that will be devoted to getting prepared for Christmas, as I relax in my own home. Saturday and Sunday will be for cleaning the basement and baking. I love working at my own pace. I am so fortunate to have these days off!

3) The last 2 weeks in school, I introduced my students to Sharon Creech's Love that Dog, and then the latest book, Hate That Cat. Most of them had never heard, or read, a book in verse before, and they are truly enjoying it. It's been great to compare the two books that have the same main character, and to see what carries over from the first book into the second book. I personally just love the teacher in the book, Miss Stretchberry. She is truly interested in expanding Jack's writing abilities -- I'm very impressed with how well she stays current with his writer's notebook. She's a good role model for me!

4) I am currently reading two writing books that are making a huge difference in how I see writing in my class's workshop -- Writing to Persuade by Karen Caine and Assessing Writers by Carl Anderson. I plan to continue to peruse these books over break, and spend some time doing "big thinking" about writing workshop in my classroom for the rest of the year.

5) I haven't been writing or blogging regularly the last few months, and I realized recently that I miss it. It is still difficult for me to make time to write some days, but I share with my students on a regular basis how important it is for them to practice the crafts of reading and writing. Well, the same is true for me. I need to spend a little more time practicing my crafts. It will be easier to do over break; I hope I can make it a habit that continues after I go back to school in January.

That's all for now. Good night, and have a wonderful weekend!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Great Joy

I experienced "Great Joy" today, and I'd like to share it here.

Today, our 5th grade students participated in multi-layered service projects. I live, and teach, in a community where most people have the luxury of counting their blessings on a daily basis for having a home to live in, food to eat, and nice clothes to wear. This week, and especially today, we spent some time thinking about those less fortunate than we are: the homeless, the infirmed, the impoverished, and the elderly. More importantly, our students took action in an effort to make the above-listed lives better.

For the homeless, we had two actions. The first, was to assemble brown paper bag dinners for 100 people. The students made bologna and cheese sandwiches, packaged cookies and potato chips into Baggies, and put in soda pops and mints to make each meal. The second thing they did was to gather hotel/travel toiletries, and make toiletry bags for the homeless. They assembled over 100 toiletry bags.

To pay for the food needed for our dinners, each child did chores around the house to earn money, and then brought those earnings in as a donation for our service project. We also had many children donate travel size toiletries that they either purchased or had gotten at a hotel -- we had over 7 boxes of different toiletry items.

For the elderly and infirmed, we practiced some songs we would sing at the nursing home/ rehabilitation center close to us, and we made holiday cards to bring some cheer into these people's lives. After school, some of the children voluntarily met at this nursing home, sang carols, and handed out homemade greeting cards.

Finally, we bought a cow and one other animal. Yes, you heard me correctly. The teacher I work with that organizes these service projects (thanks, Maria!) had heard of a way to help impoverished people through a donation called Project Heifer. Through a set amount of monetary donations, you can help by purchasing an animal for people that allows them to become more self-sufficient. Remember the chores I said our students did to earn money? Well, the money left over after paying for the food, in addition to some other generous donations from families, will allow us to buy a heifer and a goat, sheep, or hog (students were voting between these three). How amazing is that??!!

So, back to "Great Joy" -- as I watched the students rotate through all 4 classrooms today, focused on helping others, and not on their own personal needs, I felt great joy.

Which brings me to my final point. When the students came to my room, they were going to make the holiday cards for the elderly, but I also wanted a book with a great message to read aloud to all 95 fifth graders that I would be with today. I was searching through my books, looking for just the right one to express the feeling of caring about others, when my partner in crime here at Literate Lives, Bill, walked into my room. I told him my dilemma, and he immediately said I should take a look at Great Joy by Kate DiCamillo. I am so grateful to him for this suggestion -- this book was absolutely lovely.

The pictures in the book are breathtaking and lovely, and the plot - a little girl worried about the organ grinder and his monkey that don't have a home - makes this book a must read! I actually saw fifth graders today, boys and girls alike, well up with tears at one point in the story. And at the end, they truly understood the meaning of "Great Joy".

Great Joy is a powerful book, and one that I will immediately be adding to my classroom library. It was the perfect book to read today.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

James Preller interviews Us

Bill and I were fortunate recently to have James Preller (author of Jigsaw Jones, Six Innings, Along Came Spider) ask if he could interview the two of us together. We were excited about this opportunity for several reasons.

First, I read and fell in love with one of his most recent books, Along Came Spider, this past summer. A friend of James came across my post, told James about it, he read the post, left a comment for me, and voila! -- we became connected through our respective blogs.

Second, James is the author Bill has arranged to visit our school for two days in the spring. We are so looking forward to meeting him in person. And because he can stay for two days, we may have the opportunity for him to work with some of the upper grade students in a writing seminar / workshop setting. How wonderful that will be!

Finally, something James says in our interview rings so true -- the connectedness of the kidlit blogosphere is truly amazing! We have some basic core commonalities that join us all together as a community. The fact that this interview actually happened to us is a perfect example of this.

So, if you'd like to see what James asked, and what Bill and I had to say in repsonse, stop on by.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Amazing Library Race


From the time I started teaching, one of my number one goals has always been, make it fun! I've always believed that if I can get the kids to look forward to school and enjoy every day they are there, I could teach them anything. To that end, when I moved into the library I took a look at the teaching guidelines and immediately started designing games to teach the skills. One of the few things I remember a librarian trying to teach me, was the Dewey Decimal system, and I could never figure out why. Now, before all of my librarian friends take a collective GASP! let me explain. I could never figure out why it was important to know what numbers went with what subjects when I was just going to look inn the card catalog (remember those?) and then go to the number it told me. I was capable of counting and understand decimals so I was always able to find the shelf address I needed. That's how I've approached it in the library now that I'm teaching the Dewey Decimal. I don't really care that the kids don't know that animals are in the 500s, can you find the 500s? Can you find 599.72 or whatever? Well, to help them with this skill, I designed The Amazing Library Race patterned after my favorite show, The Amazing Race on CBS. I was cheering for Dallas and his mom...anyway, here' how it works and some pix of the most recent version in the library.

It's simple really, I wrote four sets of clues that make the kids use their skills of finding books on the shelf. Each set has 5 clues and a roadblock challenge. The teams designated by the color of their bandannas get their first clue and are off to find the next clue hidden in the book found by using the call number. At some point they will hit the roadblock challenge which could be anything from putting a set of cards in alphabetical order and having one of our secretaries check their work, to counting painted tiles on the wall. Each team has a different color stop watch and the times over the four legs of the race are combined for a winner. I give a prize to the fastest team in each fifth grade class, and a bigger prize to the overall winner in fifth grade. Yes the kids are loud as they look for clues, yes they run in the hall to complete the roadblock challenge, and yes, I think they have fun.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Those Crazy Elves!

Send your own ElfYourself eCards
OK, Karen tried to take the heat for losing our blog list, but I've discovered the real culprits, IT'S THOSE ZANY ELVES!

A quick disclaimer

In my efforts to redo one person's website in our "blogs we read" section, I totally wiped out everyone's blog -- yikes!! I'm playing the over-50 card here -- if you know you were on our blogroll before, or if you'd like to be now, drop us a note, and I will try to repair the rest of the damage! (my good friend, and blog buddy, Bill, fixed as many as he could, but I know there are some more we are missing)

Thanks for your understanding of both my forgetfulness and my technology-challenged mind. I did get a little chuckle out of this, as I had just read Mary Lee's post about 21st Century Literacy! :)

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

11 Birthdays is a Treat


Well, it's been so long since I've written a post about a book, I'm afraid I might have forgotten what to do. However, if I was going to end my work-induced sabbatical from reviewing, 11 Birthdays is the perfect "come-back" book!

I got this book as an ARC way back in September. I jumped at the opportunity to read 11 Birthdays because it is written by an author (Wendy Mass) who wrote another book I truly enjoyed -- Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life.

Right away, I noticed a connection between the two texts -- the main characters in both books are a boy and a girl. And better yet, they are a rare thing for children who are ages 10 and 11 --they are good friends.

That is, Amanda and Leo have been inseparable friends for the past ten years. They were born in the same hospital on the same day, and ever since that time, they celebrate each of their birthdays together with some sort of themed party.

Things went off-track when they were celebrating their tenth birthday together, and Amanda happened to overhear Leo telling a group of boys, who were questioning him about why he had his birthday party with a girl, that he only did it because he felt sorry for Amanda. Amanda was devastated by this news, and promptly left the party, never to talk to Leo at all during the next year.

Fast forward to the day of their respective eleventh birthdays. They are each having their own separate birthday party for the first time ever -- Amanda is having a costume party, and Leo is having a hypnotist, famous football player, and a band at his party. Leo's is the party everyone at school is talking about.

For Amanda (the narrator), the entire day goes badly. She has to take the bus to school, she forgets her lunch, her best friend, Stephanie, doesn't see her on the bus and sits with someone else, her locker door won't open, there is a pop quiz in her first class, she has to eat leftovers from other people's lunches at school, she tries out for the gymnastics team after school, but freezes and can't perform her back handspring, her mom is fired from her job, the Dorothy costume her mom rented for her birthday party is too tight and the red shoes pinch her feet and give her blisters, lots of kids just dropped presents off but didn't stay because they went to Leo's birthday instead, and even Stephanie, the best friend, abandons her to go to Leo's after a while. All in all, a dismal birthday, and Amanda can't wait to go to sleep and wake up to a brand new day.

And this is where things get interesting in a "Groundhog Day" kind of way (though for me, these kids are much more enjoyable than Bill Murray). The next morning Amanda wakes up to find out it is the day of her 11th birthday again. Imagine having to relive a day as miserable as her "first" eleventh birthday was. Amanda is in disbelief at first, but after many attempts at trying to prove this is some elaborate practical joke her family is playing on her, she is finally resigned to re-doing the day all over again. She finally gets to the end of the day, and just dearly hopes that tomorrow will be a NEW day.

Well, as I'm sure you can guess, that doesn't happen. Though I felt badly for Amanda, each 11th birthday replay becomes a little different and much more interesting, which makes it fun for the reader. The plot really starts to move along when we realize Amanda is not the only one reliving her birthday -- Leo is also.

I don't want to give away much more, but the plotting to try to break the birthday replay cycle, the spells that got them into this mess in the first place, and the gradual rebuilding of a life-long friendship are great reasons to read 11 Birthdays. This was a delightful read for me. It's due out January 1, 2009 -- be sure to put it on your "To Be Read" list!!!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Those Darn Squirrels Are Going to Invade THE PIT!

I start with a new rotation tomorrow, and Those Darn Squirrels will be attacking THE PIT like the squirrels in Adam Rubin's book attack cranky Old Man Fookwire.

Old Man Fookwire hates everything including pie and puppies. The one thing he loves is birds. When he hangs a bunch of feeders in his back yard, the squirrels begin to steal the food. Old Man Fookwire goes to great lengths to protect the feeders from the clever squirrels who can build a bed out of a bunch of leaves, a box kite out of twigs dirt and squirrel spit and are excellent at math.

When Old Man Fookwire designs an elaborate Rube Goldbergesque system of protection, the squirrels make a plan. I love Daniel Salmieri's illustrations in this book, they are hilarious, but the one of the squirrels planning their attack is my favorite. They are gathered around a table with a drawing of their plan of attack, mugs of frothy beverages and salty vinegar chips. A couple of helmets on and it reminds me of dogs playing poker, if only it were drawn black velvet, the image would be complete!

In the end, the squirrels take pity on Old Man Fookwire when they see him all alone eating his favorite snack of cottage cheese and pepper. They pay him back for all of the food they have
stolen with coins from their extensive collection of stuff. Then as a sign of friendship, they dress up like birds to give the old man something to paint.

This book is going to be a lot of fun to read out loud as Old Man Fookwire's voice is ringing in my head already, I'm pretty good at being a grumpy old man. The pictures will make the kids laugh and, in the words of Old Man Fookwire, "Great googley-moogley, those darn squirrels are funny!"

Another review at PlanetEsme.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Thanksgiving Picks From THE PIT


Thanksgiving is without a doubt, my favorite holiday. While I enjoy the decorating and festivities of Christmas, there's just something about the simpleness of Thanksgiving. I know a lot of people right now are probably disagreeing due to all of the food that needs to be prepared, a task that I participate in as well, but I maintain that it is the simplest of holidays which makes it the most enjoyable, at least, for me. For my family, 19 extended, it's a time for all of us to be together for a day, eating, napping, looking at the Day After Sale ads, watching football, playing cards and lots of laughing. I think I appreciate it more every year as I get older.

I'm sharing two Thanksgiving books in THE PIT this week, the first is This is the Feast which I reviewed here. I wasn't sure how it would go over with the kids, but all ages seem to really be enjoying it's rhyme and especially the pictures, each one a work of art.

The second is One is a Feast for Mouse, a fun book about having just enough. Mouse looks out of his "hidey-hole" and spies one luscious green pea left on the Thanksgiving table. With everyone sleeping, including the cat with the "greeny" eyes and "stripey" tail, Mouse takes advantage of the opportunity and heads out. On the way he spies cranberries, olives, carrots, gravy, mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie, (hungry yet?) and finally turkey. He piles it all up in his arms which has led all of the students to wonder "Wouldn't the pea on the bottom get smashed from all that weight?" and "How's he getting all of that back into his hidey-hole?" both excellent questions. In the end, he gets chased by the cat who wakes up and ends up with just what he started out for, one luscious green pea which is enough for mouse.

Judy Cox has written a fun, warm hearted story that stresses the message to be thankful for whatever you have, and the kids get it! The illustrations by Jeffrey Ebbeler are entertaining and really show mouse's Thanksgiving adventure in a way that all of the kids enjoy. The kids all find new and different things each time I read it. I especially like the picture that forces the book to be turned so that the entire stack of food can be seen.

So be thankful for the little things this Thanksgiving , and enjoy a good book while you're at it!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Reflections on a Friday

Well, to be totally accurate, it is already Saturday, but since I'm still up on a Friday, I think it's still legitimate.

1) Several of my friends are at the NCTE convention this weekend. I've always had an excuse for why it just wouldn't work for me to go -- money, time, other commitments -- but, with a little nudge from a friend, I will be headed to next year's convention in Philadelphia. I hope everyone is having a fabulous weekend this year; I can't wait to be part of the fun next year!!

2) I know Bill blogged about Twelve Terrible Things by Marty Kelley, but I just have to reiterate that it is laugh out loud funny!! And once you read it for the funny part and get some of your laughter and silliness out, it would be a wonderful tool to have in writing workshop as a reread when you talk about point of view. Great find!!! (And I'm not sure which was more fun -- reading the book, or watching Bill crack up each time he watched one of us read the book for the first time!!)

3) My class and 3 other 5th grade classes from our school participated in JA BizTown this week. It is set up by Junior Achievement, and basically, the students run businesses for an entire day. They take out loans, gather supplies for their business, sell goods or services, get 2 paychecks a day, make deposits at the bank, open up a savings account at the bank, pay their utilities for their businesses, and that's just to name a few! After my teammates and I did some reconstructing of lessons to make sure all our state indicators for economics would be covered, we ended up having a fabulous day. When we processed with the students after getting back to school, it was amazing at how much they had learned about a city's economy. What wonderful lessons to have for them, especially in these troubled times.

4) Our first trimester just ended, so I've been busily grading papers and filling out progress reports. I will be going into school for a couple of hours on Saturday to finish up, and then I'll have things completed. We're going for an early Thanksgiving dinner to my parents on Sunday; I will be totally relaxed and ready to have some of my father's oyster stuffing because my progress reports will be done, printed, and stuffed!!

5) And speaking of Thanksgiving, I'd just like to give a shout out of thanks to all of you who stop by to read what's on Bill and my minds when it comes to our teaching or children's books or even our Friday ramblings. We're not even a year old yet, but we're so grateful for the connections we've made with people because of our blog. Thanks so much for stopping in. We hope you'll continue to stop by!

6) Finally, I'd just like to end tonight with this:

We hope you have a safe, relaxing, and wonderful Thanksgiving!!!!!!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Twelve Terrible Things Makes Me Laugh Out Loud!

I'm not sure words can do this book justice! I was literally LAUGHING OUT LOUD on my couch as I read this HILARIOUS book. It is by far the funniest thing I've seen this year. I can't wait to share it with the students in THE PIT! WOW THAT WAS A LOT OF UPPER CASE LETTERS!

Told from the eyes of a child, the Marty Kelley's book is a list of just what it says, 12 terrible things ranging from dropping your ice cream to scary things under the bed to the elderly aunt pinching your cheeks to flushing the goldfish to the lunch lady dishing out the gravy, all very terrible things in the life of a child. It's too bad that I can't show the illustrations here because they are done from the child's viewpoint as well, and they make this book LAUGH OUT LOUD FUNNY! no really
LAUGH OUT LOUD FUNNY!!
Can you tell I enjoyed it?

More reviews at A Patchwork of Books, The Well-Read Child, Provo City Library.

Friday, November 14, 2008

From Alice to Zen and Everyone in Between

The first novel from Elizabeth Atkinson caught my attention because of its colorful cover. What I read inside caught my attention too.

Alice Bunt is a tom boy who moves from the city life of Boston, to the suburbs and a big fancy mansion of a house built on a cul de sac that use to have trees and other natural things, called Hemlock Trail. She has a cat named Yaz after her favorite Red Sox player, and a dog named Einstein, supposedly the smartest pug puppy ever. She would rather play soccer and not worry about her clothes as long as she's comfortable. Her dad stays at home while her mom works in the city as the vice president of a large publishing company.

Zenithal Stevie Wonder Malinowski, Zen for short, is the boy who lives in the run down house just outside of the new development. He calls the street Alice lives on Hemlockless Trail since all of the trees have been removed. Zen would rather read fashion magazines, than dress stylishly or play any sport. Zen is the overweight outcast at school who lives with his grandma and decides he will give Alice advice on fashion, friendship, and walking so she will be popular at middle school.

The two have a like/hate relationship that is interesting to read. Zen keeps insisting that Alice follow his advice, and Alice keeps doing it, reluctantly. When school finally opens, Zen has created a middle school diva that quickly gets into the good graces of the popular crowd that Zen has selected, even though it is completely against everything Alice likes or believes. She struggles with the fact that the girls Zen has picked as her friends treat him horribly, and she doesn't do anything to stop them, for fear of losing them as "friends." The interesting thing is, Alice never feels like they are friends and wishes she could make friends with the shy girl, Rebecca, who seems more like her.

After a falling out with the beautiful people, Zen's hidden musical talents are revealed when Alice and Rebecca attend his new age church and hears him sing a solo. The girls are moved to talk him into singing in the school talent show with the hope that it will improve his standing in the school. Although he doesn't want to, Zen performs, and true to middle school form, finishes second to the popular kids even though everyone admits he is way more talented. In the end, it does help him gain a certain level of acceptance at the school, but, partly by choice, Zen will always be a bit on the outside looking in.

I like this book even though it was one that I considered abandoning several times. I was compelled to keep reading to find out what was going to happen. I have to admit, Elizabeth Atkinson has created Zen in such a way that at times I felt awkward reading about him. He was that kid that is laughed about and felt sorry for at the same time. In the end, I liked him a lot. His willingness to be different and not care so much what others thought impressed me enough that I couldn't give up on him. I liked that Atkinson didn't let him give in and conform to the middle school pressure. Zen continued to express himself in his own unique way to the end. I'll be recommending this one to fifth graders getting ready to fight their own battles to find their place in middle school.

Another review here.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

A Grand Discussion of Greetings From Planet Earth

The first Grand Discussion of the year was held on Thursday night and what a night it was! We had 42 students and parents come in to discuss Barbara Kerley's book Greetings From Planet Earth. The book is from 2007 and I kind of forgot how much I liked it. When we began kicking around titles for the year, none of the new stuff really struck me as being good for this event, so in looking through my reading journal I pulled this one out. Lots of questions is one of the themes in the book so it really worked well for our group.


The initial reaction to the book was "Why did you pick this one!?"

My response was always, "Keep reading."

The final reaction upon finishing the book was always, "Ohhhhhhh, I get it, good choice."


We enjoyed a lively conversation. I was very impressed with the exchange of ideas between kids and adults. Sometimes, we big people think our ideas are WAAAAY better than our kids and we just need to be quiet and listen. That was the atmosphere at Thursday's discussion. As you can see in the picture, everyone is engaged, that's my discussion partner Joyce in the white vest.








One of the young men at this table came up with the interesting theory that everything in the story revolved around the eating of french fries! He was able to tie everything that happened to Theo and the discovery of his father back to that event in the book. When I listened and thought about what he was saying, I was amazed at how right he was! See, just be quiet and listen, these kids are smart!




All in all, it was a "grand" evening spent with awesome kids, fantastic parents, yummy chocolate chips baked on parchment paper, and intelligent conversation about a wonderful book. Here's the group with a salute to Barbara Kerley for her fabulous book!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Friday Reflections - Nov. 7

What a historic week this has been! A new president-elect, gas prices below $2.00, and a young man from Dublin (Brady Quinn) had his first start as quarterback for my Cleveland Browns (Brady did well, the Browns defense did not).

Here's what else I am pondering tonight:

1) Tonight we had a doctor come to our house. No, that is not a typo; a doctor actually came to our house. My father-in-law, who has been living with us since a surgery in September, just had a chest x-ray yesterday. It showed some fluid in 2 areas of his lungs. At his age, that was enough to concern the doctor and he came to our house to check on Dad as soon as he got the results. Is that not amazing?!!

2) Last year, in my CST (curricular support teacher) role, I really tried to help other teachers with their instruction in their literacy workshops. This year, now that I am back in the classroom full time, I'm not doing as much professional development for others as I have the last 2 years; there just doesn't seem to be the time. So, it was kind of refreshing to be asked to present at our school's teacher workday this week. My topic -- clarifying the components of the Dublin literacy workshop model. I will then be doing a follow-up session next Thursday at a 2 hour late arrival professional development meeting. Facilitating these sessions has been a good way to stretch myself professionally.

3) The end of our elementary trimester is over a week from today. That means that progress reports are coming right after that. I have a lot of grading and organizing to do before then!! It's no wonder that I can't seem to find the time to sit down, read a book, and then blog about it. It feels like forever since I reviewed a book. I have 2 huge stacks patiently waiting to be read, and no time to read or write!! :( Maybe I'll be better after progress reports are done.

4) Mother Reader has proposed a new challenge: "The Comment Challenge: 21 Days to Community". The basic premise is that we each will read and comment on at least 5 blogs per day. I know how much I love reading the comments people leave for Bill and me. It seems like a great way to build community with other bloggers!! I'm definitely going to try to live up to the challenge.

That's all for now. Hope you have a great weekend!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Two Bobbies Katrina Survivors

Kirby Larson wrote one of my favorite Newbery Honor books, Hattie Big Sky. When I saw that she had a non-fiction picture book out, I had to read it. I wasn't disappointed.

A dog and a cat, both with no tails, were left behind when their owners had to evacuate. The two stuck together through the floods of contaminated water, lack of food, vicious dogs, and a number of other scary situations. When they were finally rescued by a construction worker named Rich, Bobbi was still protective of Bob Cat, not allowing anyone near her. Eventually Rich takes the two friends to a temporary shelter set up by Best Friends Animal Society, an appropriate name considering these two survivors. However, both animals are nervous when separated. Bob Cat paces in her pen, and Bobbi howled all night, keeping the rest of the animals and human workers awake all night. The two are reunited and everything settles down. To add to the amazing part of the two, it is discovered that Bob Cat is blind and Bobbi had served as her "guide dog" through their entire ordeal. The animals are featured on the Anderson Cooper 360 show and hundreds volunteered to adopt them, but only one made the long journey to meet them face to...uh muzzle. An immediate bond was formed and the Bobbies have a new home.

It's a touching story that will elicit lots of ooohs and aaahs when read out loud. The illustrations by Jean Cassels make the two heroes come alive and compliment the story by Kirby Larson and partner Mary Nethery.

Read Becky's Book Review.
Cool video trailer of the book.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Friday Reflections - Karen

What a busy week! It was hard to know where exactly to start until I read Bill's reflections. It made my #1 reflection much easier!

1) Right now, I'm not very happy at how grateful Bill and Franki are about no class parties and no progress reports, as they hang out in their lovely, quiet libraries, and don't worry about grades. :)

2) I got a student teacher this week. She is a lovely person, and my students love her. Unfortunately, the Ohio Department of Education currently has a license for 4th - 9th grade teachers that forces them to specialize. My student teacher's specialty is math/science, 2 subjects I haven't taught for the last two years because of my curricular support position in language arts. This year, I am in a self-contained classroom and teach all content area subjects. It would not be a stretch for me to make an argument about why math and science teachers need to have a strong literacy base of knowledge. However, rules are rules, and guidelines are guidelines, so my student teacher will be with me for just 4 more weeks, and then will move on to a middle school for her total immersion into teaching. I am trying to impress upon her how important workshop model is, whether it's for literacy or for math and science. Students need to have lessons, and then they need lots of opportunities to do practical applications of what they have learned. The other part of workshop I'm stressing is, during this work time, the teacher needs to be meeting with individuals or small groups to help them with skills that are giving them difficulty. This is good teaching practice, no matter what the subject area.

3) Two of the reading strategy groups I met with this week are students who need to be stretched a little. I taught them how to annotate, and most of them loved it! Since they are naturally strong readers, they sometimes read quickly through texts. They shared with me that annotating forced them to slow down and pay more attention to details they might have missed. It also helped them focus on vocabulary they didn't know; words that they only guessed at before. Now, they've tried to use context clues, and actually make a habit of having a dictionary by their side as they read. Next week, we'll be chatting about theme, author's message, and inferring the motivations of characters. Cool stuff!!!

4) I started a new read aloud with my students and they are loving it -- The Gollywhopper Games (see my review). We're going to have a lot of fun with this one. It's a good contrast from our last read aloud, The City of Ember.

5) My youngest daughter, a senior in high school, had a very difficult cross country season -- she contracted mono, and for all intents and purposes, her season ended after the 2nd race of the season. After being a varsity runner for 3 prior years, this season was incredibly disappointing for her. Then, 2 lovely recognitions came her way this week:
a) Her x-c coach nominated her to be an OCC (Ohio Capital Conference) scholar athlete, and b) She was named a member of the Student Athletic Council for her high school. One senior athlete from each sport is represented.
After such a tough season, these are two very nice recognitions.

6) Finally, I'm wondering why I'm having such difficulty getting to read books and blog about them. I hope I figure it out sometime soon!

That's all for now. Have a great weekend!

Friday Reflections--Bill

Okay, so this may be two weeks worth since I didn't "reflect" last week.

1. My 17 year old daughter got her driver's license last Tuesday. While my wife and I couldn't wait for her to achieve this mile stone for the independence it would give us, I must admit I'm a little hesitant about the independence it gives her. I'm reminded of the first time we took the training wheels off and she took off down the street. She's back on four wheels, and able to get even further from home. Fortunately, as my daughter herself says, she drives "like a grandma!"

2. Speaking of getting further from home, the same daughter is a junior in high school and tomorrow we will go on our first official college visit. Strangely enough, it's back to Ashland where my wife and I grew up! Am I really old enough to have a child looking at colleges? Hard for me to believe, but the answer is yes.

3. We have chosen Greetings From Planet Earth as our first Grand Discussion book which will be held next Thursday, November 6. So far much of the feedback from parents has been extremely positive about the book. One of my volunteers today told me that her son informed her that the book was historical fiction. She seemed a bit taken by surprise that a book written about a time period that we remembered is considered historical fiction. Yet another example of how our kids make us feel older.

4. I was reminded yet again of how much I love my job yesterday. The annual Fall Harvest, (Halloween) parties were held at our school, and there wasn't one in my classroom! At the top of my list of reasons I love being the librarian, is NO CLASSROOM PARTIES!! On the same note, Frankie at A Year of Reading emailed me this morning saying the same thing, no classroom parties and no grade cards, for Frankie, it's the first time in 22 years! WE LOVE OUR JOB!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

City of Ember movie -- What the Kids Said


On Monday, I shared with you what I thought about the City of Ember movie. Today, I liked to share snippets of what students and parents had to say (**WARNING -- there may be spoilers ahead**):

-"I didn't like it any better the second time." This from a student who loved our read aloud so much, he got his own City of Ember book and read ahead so he could go see the movie the weekend it premiered. He managed not to let any of the movie secrets out of the bag because he didn't want to ruin it for me. But he loves Jeanne Du Prau. He is reading The People of Sparks, and should soon be starting The Diamond of Darkhold. Another fun note on this one, is that now his dad is hooked and reading all 4 books!

- One parent shared that he had not read the book, but really enjoyed the movie. None of the things that troubled me about deviations from the text got in the way of his enjoyment of a thriller of a movie.

- Standing outside the movie theater with a big circle of some of my students, we did a quick vote on who liked the book better and who liked the movie better. Nine out of ten DEFINITELY liked the book better!!

- "I wonder why they didn't mention about the mole in the book. I thought the book was different, but I enjoyed the book and the movie too!"

- "I liked the book more than the movie. I liked how they found the boats more in the book."

- "I liked The City of Ember book because there was a longer journey to Sparks, but I didn't like it because it wasn't as fun of a journey. In the movie, I didn't like it when the guy at the desk already knew about the storeroom, so he took Lina to the mayor."

- "I think the movie would have been better off without the mole."

- "I never imagined the river where the generator was. I imagined the Pipeworks walls to be nothing but dirt and wires instead of looking so technical."

- "I liked the book and the movie the same. What I liked about the movie more than the book is how the lockers turned into boats. What I liked about the book more than the movie is how they had to figure out what candles and matches are."

- "I like the book better than the movie. I like how they find the boats better in the movie."

- "I like how the Instructions are in the shape of the city in the movie."

- "I hated the rat/mole, but liked it when it ate the mayor."

- "This may sound cruel, but I really did not like the mayor so I was happy when he got eaten by the mole."

- "I liked the book a lot better than the movie because the movie skipped a lot of good parts, and 5 minutes into the movie, you were halfway into the book. It felt like it went very fast."

- "I loved how Doon, Lina, and Poppy found the boats. I also loved the mole."

- "I liked the mole because he made it really exciting (and because he ate the mayor). I also liked the way they got out in the movie."

- "I thought City of Ember, the movie, wasn't as intense as the book."

- "I wish that in the book the lockers would have been the boats like they were in the movie."

- "I think it's cool that Lina and Doon's dads were working together."

**So, there you have it. Mini-reviews of the movie vs. the book by my students.

-

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Itch is a Favorite Novel This Year


Each month when the new issue of School Library Journal comes out, I immediately turn to the reviews. I know it's a geeky librarian thing, but I really can't wait to see what's new. Unfortunately, right now I'm about a month behind in my reading as I have been busy working to become a better librarian by taking a class working toward my librarian teaching certificate. So when I read a really good book in my limited free time, I get very excited. I had not heard of this book, but the review looked interesting so I reserved a copy at my branch of the public library, and when I started reading it, I couldn't put it down.

Set in 1968, Delores Colchester, called Itch by her grandfather, is being raised by her grandparents in Florida. Life is good, she's got a best friend who isn't all prissy and likes to fish. She's got a grampa that loves her and his 1958 turquoise convertible Chevy Bel Air, a gruff but loving grandma that worries about her all of the time, and a thinking swing. Suddenly, grampa has a heart attack and dies in his sleep while sitting in his favorite automobile, and Itch's life is about to change drastically. In order to move on, Grandma Eunice decides to move the both of them to Ohio to a trailer next door to her cousin Effie. Since they can't drive, they hire one of the locals to drive them and their belongings to Ohio and Itch starts her new life.

On one of her first days in Ohio, she discovers the fairgrounds and a girl about her age, Gwendolyn (Wendy), twirling her baton as she practices for the talent show that will open the fair. The two become friends, and Itch and her grandma attend the show to see Wendy win for the sixth time in a row. Something doesn't quite add up for Itch when when she watches Wendy perform, for all of the perfection, Wendy just doesn't seem too happy. The two meet up again during the first weeks of school, although Wendy isn't in school for the first several days, and Itch becomes friends with the other girls at the Breck Girl table, Anne Marie and Connie. Not exactly the kind of girls that Itch would have been caught dead with before, she makes it work along with another friendship with Billy the paper boy who is also in school with them.

Itch begins to see that Wendy's "perfect" life of dance lessons, stage presence coaching, baton lessons and competitions isn't all it's cracked up to be. She also begins to see the evidence of abuse on Wendy's back and legs. Itch becomes intrigued and starts to ask questions that are answered with vague excuses of absence from school due to sickness and general clumsiness. Eventually Itch witnesses an episode in which Wendy is abused by her mother and finally has the courage to speak up thanks to her grandmother's help.

The characters in this book are awesome. I love Itch's grandfather who is a no nonsense guy who is not afraid to stand up for what is right. He speaks his mind when he has an opinion, and probably loses friends for it, however, when he passes on, everyone in town attends his services out of respect. He is also full of homespun advice that sticks with Itch, even when he's gone.

Grandma Eunice is a tough old gal who cares deeply for her grand daughter, but shows it in different, less affectionate ways. One of my favorite parts of the book is watching Itch and her grandma grow ever closer after grampa dies.

Itch and Billy Applegate develop a friendship that borders on the like, like variety, but author Kwasney keeps it simple and innocent as it should be.

All in all, this is a fabulous book! Even though it deals with such a serious topic ,author Michelle D. Kwasney manages to mix in some humor through the grandparent characters. Itch: a Novel develops characters and builds the plot to the climactic events about as well as anything I've read this year and the beauty of it is, is that this book can be read and understood by our fourth and fifth grade readers. I'm not sure how this book didn't receive much attention, it's one of the best I've read this year.

And finally, the cover really caught my eye, there's something about those books with trailers on the front this year!

Monday, October 27, 2008

City of Ember movie - My Review

Today, another teacher and I invited our students and their families to join us at our local movie theater to watch the movie, City of Ember. We had both recently finished reading aloud the book of the same name to our classes, and this seemed like a fun extension of the read aloud.

We were amazed at the turnout for this movie on a beautiful Sunday afternoon. With the exception of 2 other families, our students, their siblings and/or parents, and the two of us practically filled the entire theater. Most people first made a stop at the snack bar (after all, what's a movie without the popcorn?!), and then we were ready to begin.

I actually liked the beginning of the movie a great deal. It really set up the importance of what the "Builders" had decided to do to help the continuation of mankind. It also gave me a visual of what the box that was passed from Mayor to Mayor looked like. The box was a little more high-tech and sci-fi than I had imagined, but it worked for this movie. I loved how it literally showed the box being passed from one mayor to the next, and it also displayed how many years were left until the box would open by itself. Again, I enjoyed the foreshadowing of the last stop it made when it passed into hands that were holding yarn before being shoved into a closet full of even more yarn (those of you who read the book know what I'm talking about). Nice technique.

When we finally see Ember for the first time, it was much as I had expected: dull colors for both clothes and buildings, light fixtures everywhere (though the hanging ones confused me a little), Clary's greenhouses, Doon's home, his father's shop with all its invented gadgets, Lina's home, and Granny's yarn store, with yarn everywhere.

Things that weren't quite as I had pictured: robots in Doon's father's shop, Ember is in more of a circular shape, and Assignment Day was different. It wasn't bad, just different.

Bill Murray is good as the mayor, but he's not quite as grotesque as the mayor I pictured from the book. The actor that plays Looper is perfect casting. Lina (turns out I've been pronouncing her name incorrectly) and Doon were ok for me, but Poppy was darling!

As we sat in our seats, I realized I was riveted by most of the movie. Could have definitely done without the gigantic mole in the Pipeworks, even though it did serve a purpose toward the end. There were enough of my favorite parts of the book included in the movie to satisfy me: Poppy chewing on the Instructions in the closet while Granny is tearing apart the furniture, Clary being a good friend to Lina, Doon and Lina finding the mayor in his secret room with his hoarded stash, Lizzie spilling her stolen cans all over the street in front of Lina, the power outages.

I'm a realist enough to know that not all could be included from the book into the movie, so I was fine with that. However, what I didn't enjoy as much in the movie is a pretty big deal: the process of solving the mystery of what the Instructions said. We had so much fun doing that as a class; I was sorry to see it glossed over. Lina and Doon worked so hard at solving the puzzle in the book; it just sort of fell together in the movie.

I also liked the actual Instructions in the book, and therefore, the mode of escape. Things felt slightly contrived in the movie, and again, they seemed to be going for more of a high-tech escape. I will say that having the boats right in front of us the entire movie was fun after I realized what they actually were -- very clever. Still, I personally liked how basic the escape was in the book: boats, paddles, candles, matches, river... GO!

I earlier said how much I enjoyed the beginning. The same can be said for two parts of the ending. When they climb the stairs from the river, and enter the room with signs all around it, things start to click into place, and brings the movie full circle -- nice touch. I also liked the twist of whose feet the note, attached to the rock, lands on.

Bottom line, I was very happy I got to see this movie with my students. There was a shared feeling of excitement in the theater that was almost palpable. The conversations outside the theater when the movie was over were loud, excited, full of energy, and priceless. I think activities like this are just one more way for us, as teachers, to get our students to lead literate lives.

So, that's what I thought about the movie. Tune in tomorrow to see what our students had to say about City of Ember.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Friday Reflections - Oct. 24

Happy Friday!

Some things I am reflecting on this Friday evening:

1) My youngest daughter, the same daughter who brought home a cap and gown order form two weeks ago, will be turning 18 at midnight tonight. It certainly makes me reflect on how fleeting time can be. She may be a legal adult now, but, for me, she is still my little girl.

2) After spending much of the first 6 weeks of school getting to know my students as readers and writers through interviews, assessments, and conferences, this week I started reading and writing strategy groups with my kids. In our reading workshop, strategy groups take place during the independent work phase of the workshop. I feel that the work we do in these smaller groups really helps each child grow as a reader. I absolutely love this learning opportunity with my students.

3) I found out yesterday that I will be getting a student teacher this coming Monday. This weekend, I am going to really reflect on what I want her to know about reading workshop and writing workshop. In fact, in our school district, we have adopted the "literacy workshop model" as the vehicle for teaching language arts. I want to share as much as possible with her about some of these best practices in literacy teaching.

4) We have been looking at revising together in our classroom during writing workshop. I rely heavily on Georgia Heard's, The Revision Toolbox, when I teach revising. I love her idea of breaking the "toolbox" into 3 sections: words, structure, and voice. This week, we looked at the "word" section of the toolbox -- we talked about specific nouns and powerful verbs. We also tried to improve sentences like, "It was fun," and "I had a nice day."

5) I have a busy weekend ahead of me -- my goddaughter's wedding open house, my daughter's 18 birthday tomorrow, going to the movie The City of Ember on Sunday and meeting part of my class there, a family birthday celebration for my daughter my parents, my husband's dad, and my brother. All fun stuff; just busy.

That's all for now. Have a great weekend!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

James Preller (Part II)

I just have to tag on to what Bill said yesterday about James Preller.

On a professional note, I am delighted that James Preller will be coming to our school, and I'm especially looking forward to watching him do some writing workshop-style seminars with our older students. As I read his blog, I love his writing tips, and I will be using them for revision mini-lessons in my classroom to enhance our writing workshop before he even comes for his visit. I trust that the students will love meeting an author whose blog we will be following.

On a personal note, when I opened my email Tuesday, and saw an email for me from James Preller, I have to tell you --that was way too cool!!! How often does an author, whose work you enjoy, email you? For me, not many, which makes it all the more exciting! His email had a link back to his blog, sharing that his editor just called him to let him know Six Innings had been named to the New York Public Library's "100 Titles for Reading and Sharing." Congratulations to James for the well-deserved recognition his Six Innings received!

We look forward to our visit with James Preller at Bailey! Kudos to Bill for orchestrating all of this.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

James Preller's Coming!

As part of my job in the library, I'm responsible for hosting an author at our school, every other year. We haven't done it in at least two, and probably three years, since I played the "rookie" card last year. I knew I wasn't getting out of it this year, so I met with the PTO chairmoms for the author visit and threw some things out for them to consider.

The first, and probably biggest, was to decide how big we wanted to go. We had a choice of going with a local person which would make the communication, travel and expenses easier, or we could try to get a big national name in, although I was a bit afraid we might be too late for this. Not surprisingly, they opted for the big national name and I wasn't totally disappointed, why not go big. I had prepared a list of authors that I thought we could still get based on visits to their websites and showed them some of the books for each that we had on hand in the library.

Almost immediately, they went for James Preller, author of the Jigsaw Jones Mystery series for our younger readers, Along Came Spider(Karen's review) and Six Innings for our older readers. I was more than excited about their choice, since my partner, Karen, had communicated with James on numerous occasions through our blog. In addition to Karen, my friends Maria and Joyce have had electronic conversations with him, so there was a natural tie-in to our building.

And so the wheels were in motion. The only real snag we hit was that he wanted to come for 2 days to make the travel worth while, understandable. I was unable to find another interested building, so I threw out the idea of having a two day visit. The first, a typical author visit day, the second a more intimate writer's workshop, if you will, with smaller groups. James has been more than accommodating and my library committee is excited about the possibilities, too.

Today I got two pieces of good news that make me even more excited for March. The first is that the flight is booked, so James Preller is coming, and the second is that his book, Six Innings, that I reviewed here was recently chosen as a New York Public Library Top 100 book! Read more about it here. Congratulations, James! Bailey is looking forward to your visit.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Peter Spit a Seed at Sue...Longing for Summer

Could it be with the first real cold weather of fall that I'm already longing for summer? I don't really like the cold weather that winter brings in Ohio, but thanks to my ancestors who couldn't go any further south or west, here I am. That may be the reason that this book appealed to me so much, the simple fun of eating watermelon and spitting the seeds at your friends. What says summer better than that.

The book starts on one of those lazy, boring summer days when all a kid wants to do is stay cool. Even the old dog is hot and bored. Nothing sounds like fun until a man peddling watermelon starts passing out the sweet summer sensation. After the first bite, Peter spits a seed at Sue, hence the title, and the rest is downhill from there. Jackie French Koller captures the fun of a seed spitting fight with her simple rhyming words. Soon the mayhem spreads all over town and the pictures by John Manders are laugh out loud funny with seeds stuck everywhere, on people, on windows and cars, and on laundry hanging on the line. Everything comes to a screeching halt when the mayor shows up. She does not look happy with the events, until she spies a baker with a cart full of whipped-cream pies!

Monday, October 20, 2008

I Know An Old Teacher


Actually, I know lots of old teachers, but that's another blog post completely! I started a new book in THE PIT last week that has been good for lots of squeals and laughs. I Know An Old Teacher is a twist on the much used old lady and the fly theme. Anne Bowen takes the familiar rhyme, mixes in a teacher keeping the classroom pets for a three day weekend, and fun ensues!

The teacher swallows a flea in her tea, a spider that crawled beside her, a fish that goes swishity swish, a rat in two seconds flat, a snake named Jake that is as smooth as a chocolate shake, and Lizzie the lizard that gets stuck in her gizzard. The kids are having a great time repeating the verses along with me, and I must say, it gets a little loud from time to time, go figure!

The illustrations are done by Stephen Gammell who also did The Relatives Came, one of my all time favorites. The detail and color is amazing. The pictures of the teacher swallowing a spider and a rat downright gross in a really fun way. The teacher's wild red hair is hilarious and brings laughter from the kids every time.

By the way, my friend I like to call Vince, remember him from The Sea Serpent and Me? Came to me last week and told me that he had another new book recommendation for THE PIT, and guess what it was...I Know An Old Teacher on the exact day that I started sharing it. He's good!

Another review at The Friendly Book Nook, Charlotte's Library.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Friday Reflections on Saturday

I liked Karen's idea of Friday reflections so well, that I asked her permission to join her from time to time. Hopefully they are interesting to others, but if nothing else, it's good to process a week and look at accomplishments and goals for next week.

1. We wrapped up the first book fair of the year on Thursday. It's an understatement to say that it was a success as our sales were drastically up from last year's fall fair. In these economic times my aid Yvonne and I were feeling pretty proud of ourselves. The Scholastic people were too!

2. I worked on a couple of assignments for the librarian class I'm taking. I wish I felt that it was more than just jumping through hoops, but at this point that's how I'm feeling. That's not to say that I haven't gained anything from the class, but I do notice it cutting into my reading time and I miss that. It will all be over in a few weeks and then I can focus on reading and blogging.

3. I agreed to be on the committee for the Dublin Lit Conference as the representative of my school. For anyone who knows me, this is a major announcement! I've only attended this premier conference two times and both times as a presenter. Both times I left as soon as my session was over. I guess I'll spend the whole day this year, and, actually, I'm looking forward to it. Come see us, Karen and I will be doing a session and one of the authors is a favorite, Barbara O'Connor!

It seems like there ought to be more to say after a busy week, but that's it for my first installment. It's almost game time, so I need to go cheer on the Buckeyes!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Friday Reflections

Well, this is the second edition of my Friday Reflections, and I'm feeling pretty fortunate right now. Reflections for this Friday:

1) Today was a day off, and I enjoyed it to the fullest, doing all sorts of things I can't normally fit in my schedule during the school year. I woke up at 5:30 (AM!) to walk with a friend, followed by some strength training at Curves, picked up some paint for the wonderful painters that have stained our house this week, and needed some fabulous green paint for our front door and shutters, went to lunch with friends (more about that later), did errands, got 2 new beautiful pair of black pants (everything goes with black) one size smaller than I have been wearing (!!!), wrote an article, had a fabulous Italian dinner, and am now playing on my computer, doing blog stuff. Great day!!

2) The 2 friends I met for lunch are my grade level teammates. We literally work beside each other five days a week. But we realized, during the course of our conversation, that being in close proximity at work, doesn't always mean we're staying abreast of each other's personal lives. This out of school experience helped us catch up on each other's lives. In addition to that, we did some thinking about where we're headed in writing workshop and Book Clubs. The relaxed atmosphere really allowed for some creative, uninterrupted thinking.
We will definitely be putting more of these "dates" together on our calendars!!

3) Did I mention last week how much I love sharing City of Ember with my class?!! We are having so much fun with it, and the conversations that take place each day are fabulous!! I am so lucky I get to be a teacher, and see the excitement and anticipation on my students' faces as I read aloud. What a great job!!

4) Because this was a 4-day week, and I was out at a district language arts meeting for one of those days, I didn't have a good feel for how writing workshop went this past week in our classroom. To coin a phrase of Regie Routman's, I need to remember to always "teach with a sense of urgency". We have important work to do together this year in 5th grade, and it is my job to make sure that what we do is important and meaningful. Food for thought.

5) That language arts meeting I attended this week was both good and bad. Good -- it really pushes me professionally to be in a group of smart people, all looking for "best practices" in literacy instruction. Bad -- as if my "to do" list wasn't big enough, there are always more new tasks that need to be done after a meeting like this. I'm considering this my contribution to literacy back in my building.

That's all for this week. I hope you all have a great weekend!!