Wednesday, August 26, 2015

We Know Them By Name

Every time my students come in for Library, they know I will do at least four things consistently.

1. Introduce them to new books.
2. Introduce them to authors and illustrators, including photographs.
3. Read to them.
4. Teach them something.

I adore my entire time in the library with the students in our school. Connecting kids with books is one of my favorite things to do.

One thing I do differently now than I did 15 years ago, though, is I insist that kids use the names of the writers we are studying. I show students pictures of the writers and say their names as often as I can when discussing a text.

For example, today I showed my students the book trailer for Leo: A Ghost Story by Mac Barnett. I projected a picture of Mac Barnett when talking about his new book. I told students about him, how he lives in California and how I was lucky enough to meet him last year. I also showed the students a few other books by Mr. Barnett.
Geeking out with Jon Klassen and Mac Barnett
I do this for every author I highlight: show books, show pictures of the author, tell a short biography of the author.


Because I want students to know these talented people by name. I want kids to realize that there are faces that go with the books on these shelves in our library. That these books were made by people who are just as human and fallible as we are. These stories were written by people from California and Ohio and Canada, and they live in houses and feel happy and sad and scared just like we do. 

Writers usually don't ride these.
No matter what the writers may try to tell you, they are not Magical Beings Sitting on Clouds, Raining Down Gumdrops from their Rainbow Unicorns. But kids (and sometimes I) think of writers like that. Kids have no faces to go with the names of the thousands of books on our shelves.

It's about establishing reading and writing identities. The more I teach, the more I realize how important it is that students see themselves as readers and writers. Students need to understand that THEY TOO can make books and write stories, just like the authors we study. Peter Brown wrote a story about a teacher being a monster. We can also write stories from things in our lives, just like Peter Brown!

Geeking out with Peter Brown.

So, let's encourage kids to call writers by their names, not just by their books.

Instead of "Pigeon" books, let's call them "Mo Willems' Pigeon Books."
Instead of "Percy Jackson" books, let's call them "Rick Riordan's series."

We must learn about the writers' lives. This requires some work on the teacher's part, but we are living in an age of social media that makes it easy to find information. Tweet authors questions about their books. If we have a chance to meet them at a book signing, go! Take pictures with the writers. Share these with students. 

Geeking out with Debbi Ridpath Ohi and Lauren Castillo. 

It's such a small addition to literacy instruction, but one that reaps so many wonderful rewards.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Creepiest #nErDcampMI Picture Ever

I had two incredible days at #nErDcampMI 2015. I met up with amazing friends, met wonderful new friends, and learned from some of the most inspiring educators in the country.

I met (and became reacquainted with) fabulous authors and illustrators like Josh Funk, Jess Keating, Debbie Ohi, Liesl Shurtliff, and Lisa Graff.

Then, Caldecott Honor-winner Lauren Castillo walked into the room. (It was a room in a high school normally used for the school's theater department.) 


I adore her books, especially Nana in the City, and I couldn't wait to meet her.

After introducing myself, we took a picture together and I was embarrassingly excited. She's as cute as can be!

I'm an Amazon Woman next to her.

Later, as I zoomed into my glorious new picture, I noticed something above our heads.


What. Is. That? !!!!!

High school theater departments must be into horror shows or something? Of course it would happen to me that I get to take a picture with LAUREN CASTILLO and a creepy-nasty face is radiating a death glare at me.

So, I decided to make the most of it and recently I posted that creepy face to use as my profile picture on Voxer. 

Creepy Voxer Profile

I know my friends there are enjoying it daily!

Honestly, though, it was such a pleasure to meet Lauren. She's been a great sport about the 


Wednesday, July 1, 2015

#mustreadin2015: July Reading Update


I've read some really great books since April thanks to the #mustreadin2015 challenge.

I've also tried out some audiobooks in the past month. I've driven over 2,500 miles with two children in the past week, so I was able to "read" a few books along the way. (I've learned that I much prefer when the author reads their own writing.)

I am either stuck between these two goofballs, or they are stuck with me. Or both.

I also met my "June Reread Challenge" put forth by my Voxer friends. I read The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman a few years back. But, I loved it even more as I listened to Mr. Gaiman reading it himself.

Anyway, here are some of the titles that have, for different reasons, rocked my world in the past few months:

MG (Middle Grade)
The Categorical Universe of Candice Phee by Barry Jonsberg
The Imaginary by A.F. Harrold
Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes by Jonathan Auxier
The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky by Holly Schindler
Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson
Circa Now by Amber McRee Turner
Jack by Liesl Shurtliff
Nnewts by Doug TenNapel
The Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart
The Iron Trial (#1) by Holly Black 

YA (Young Adult)
**Winger by Andrew Smith
**The Alex Crow by Andrew Smith
The Selection by Kiera Cass
The Elite by Kiera Cass 

Adult (Not YA or MG)
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

I'm also currently reading Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley

And thanks to some super generous friends, I'm also currently reading the ARC of Crenshaw (pub. September 2015) by Katherine Applegate. Thank you so much for sending this amazing book my way, KS and CD!

New from the author of The One and Only Ivan

Join us for the #mustreadin2015 challenge and see what others are reading here. You can also see my original list from January right here.

** Andrew Smith is one of my favorite authors. I will read anything he writes. He is so raw and funny and I can't seem to predict where his plots will take me. I like that. In one of his books, a Mennonite "stuck his middle finger up" and screamed some choice words at one of the characters. I'm Mennonite. And that is freaking FUNNY.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Cheese, Earplugs, and Family Life Videos: Reflections on 16 Years of Teaching

I am leaving a district full of people who have watched me grow up.

I mean, really grow up.

16 years of growing up.

I was 22 when I began teaching in this school district.  I was directly out of college with no teaching experience. This district supported me, helped me, listened to me, and invested in me.  I am so very much indebted to the brilliant and wonderful people I've worked with here, many who became very close friends.

Next year I will be teaching in another city, closer to where I am moving. I am extremely excited about my new opportunity to work primarily with literacy instruction.  All day! (Dream come true!)

And so, this list is a tribute to my past.

Some Non-Academic Reflections on Teaching After 16 Years:

10. I lived in the neighborhood where I taught. It was weird at first. Kids from school were knocking at my door wanting to play with my own children...or just stalking me, either one. I've become aware of not walking around in my pajamas if there's a chance that a student could be over at our house. (Almost made that mistake once.) I'm also really good at running into students' parents in the liquor aisle and usually just laughing it off. One time, a parent said to me, "I will pretend I didn't see you here if you pretend you didn't see me here." Deal.

9. I was giving ISTEP, our state standardized test, during 9/11. We used to give our state tests in the fall, and I had no idea what was going on because I was closed up in a room giving the test. It wasn't until later that a teacher popped her head in and asked if I knew what was going on.  I didn't.  This was the year that I had a student from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia in my class. Her family ended up going back to Riyadh because of the harrassment they were receiving outside of school. I always wondered what happened to her. 

8. After my first year of teaching, I learned that one must never assume that an 8 year old can get on the correct bus in the afternoon. This new learning happened the hard way after the second grader took off walking to his house at dismissal...even though his house was over a mile away. An unhappy parent then threatened to call the school board. Lesson learned. See, first year teachers? We all have these embarrassing stories. The child was fine, by the way. 

This could be the child who decided to walk home. His name is burned into my brain with a scorching hot cattle prod.

7. I became a mom to two children while teaching in this district. I was petrified of going into labor while teaching, and I kept a towel near me at all times, just to be safe. On a side note, it is not enjoyable to be pregnant and be asked to sit in on the "Family Life Videos" that older elementary children watch. One student said to me, "I will never look at you the same way again." Yikes. 

6. Food does come up missing in the teacher's lounge sometimes. At one point, I had a big bag of cheese in the fridge while pregnant with my daughter. And darnit, someone took that cheese. I mean, really, how low can you get, taking food from a pregnant lady? Thankfully, my teaching partner's husband was able to rush to the store for me. How's that for a good friend? Thanks, JK. 


5. Speaking of friends, I didn't expect to make super close relationships with people at school. But I have. And that in itself is one of the reasons it's tough to leave. They become like family. Their families become like my families. In fact, one of those people even performed the ceremony that married my husband and me. You can read about that here.


4. Going overnight to camp with 150 kids is interesting. Fun too. That's another thing I learned. Oh, and if you do go to camp with a grade level of kids, just know that it will either be:
a. Pouring rain
b. Thunderstorming
c. Snowing
d. Blazingly hotter than Hades
And kids snore. A lot. Just sayin'.

Bring earplugs to overnight camp.

3. Having your own kids in the same school where you teach can be awesome but also ridiculous. Here are some quotes I've said in the past 6 years:

  • "Stop calling me Mrs. Mom at school. It's weird."
  • "Who wrote 'Take off your pants and take over the world' on my agenda board??!"
  • "I'll give you a dollar if you go down to the copier and print this out for me."
  • "Get out of the candy basket. That's for my students."
  • "Yeah, sorry, I brought your book to school. I didn't have my own copy so I borrowed yours off your bookshelf. Don't be mad."
  • "Here, you can have your book back. I don't understand why you don't want it, it's not like kids sneezed on it and wiped their rear ends on your book. Ok, maybe they did. I understand why you don't want it back."
  • "Take your scooters with you so you can ride through the halls today. It's Saturday so not many teachers will be there but don't run over anybody."
  • "I'm going to text your teacher right now and tell her what you are doing. I might even take a picture of this tantrum you are throwing and text it to her. How would you like that?"

The daughter, reading in my classroom library after school. This won't happen anymore when she heads to middle school in August.

2. Little kids grow up. And they become big kids. And they become taller than you and smarter than you. And then they come back to visit you and they can't believe how different you look and how small things are. But really, the only thing that changed was those amazing kids who are now in high school and college and beyond. And I cherish them with my entire heart and soul. Because that's why I love my job, not just for what happens in the classroom, but for who and what I am sometimes lucky enough to see 15 years down the road. Love you, Cole, Tony, Chelsea, Abby, Mariah, Christian, Miranda, Bryan, Alex, Alijah, Taylor, Jessica, Maddie and so many others!

Some of my first students looking adorable in costume. Did I think I was neat-looking? Smh.
I love when they come back to visit. "Have you always been this short?" they ask.

1. They took a risk with me, this district. So many years ago. I had no idea what I was doing. Thank goodness my first year didn't determine what kind of teacher I was to become. I was given the chance to take risks. I can never express the gratitude I feel for the chance they took on me.

And we are off to exciting new adventures.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

April Update: #mustreadin2015

Update: Spring

Happy April, nerdy friends!

Since January, I've read 16/37 titles on my growing TBR list for this year. You can find my original list here.

Listed below are a few titles I've read so far:

MG Novels

The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier
*The Meaning of Maggie by Megan Jean Sovern
Bird & Squirrel On the Run by James Burks
Bird & Squirrel On Ice by James Burks
Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
The Ruins of Gorlan (Ranger's Apprentice #1) by John Flanagan (Thanks, Glenn!)
Fourth Grade Rats by Jerry Spinelli
The Terrible Two by Mac Barnett and Jory John

YA/Adult Novels

The Infinite Sea by Rick Yancey (I'm obsessed with this series.)
100 Sideways Miles by Andrew Smith (I don't know what it is about his writing style, but I'm a big fan of anything Andrew Smith.)
Attachments by Rainbow Rowell
Paper Towns by John Green

Thanks to Carrie Gelson for hosting this update. You can find her list and other blogs here.
And thanks especially to my nerdy Voxer friends for introducing me to new titles every day.

Happy reading!

*The Meaning of Maggie has probably been my favorite title so far. Its hilarious blend of sad and funny and sweet completely stole my heart.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

A Book is a Superhero

My class this year is really into blogging.  We use and they love it.

Today, one student was blogging about why she thinks the book Wonder by RJ Palacio should win our March Book Madness bracket championship.

Reason #5 why Wonder should win, by Ellie:

"Wonder is like a superhero because I feel more alive since we read it."

Wow. A book is like a superhero. How powerful is this?! 

They've often saved my days, that is for sure.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Love is Crankenstein, Star Wars, and Shakespeare

My husband and I recently celebrated our first Valentine's Day.

Here are two of the gifts we exchanged:

T$ (my hubby) knows how much I love Dan Santat, recent Caldecott-winning author/illustrator of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend.  When he saw Crankenstein Valentine, he knew I would have to own it.  I totally scored in the husband department.

(I have a special place in my heart for Mr. Santat. When my daughter was in fourth grade, she did a research report on imaginary friends.  During her presentation, she read Beekle to her class.  I tweeted Mr. Santat about her presentation and her subsequent "A" grade. He responded by sending her an autographed copy of Beekle in the mail.  Who does that?! So awesome. He deserves all the recognition - and more - that he is receiving.) 

Recent Caldecott-winning genius.

Also, I could not believe that there was a Star Wars book written in Shakespeare's iambic pentameter: 

HAN: Pray tell, what shall the cargo be?

OBI-WAN: -Myself
The boy, two droids, and ne're a question ask'd.

HAN 'Tis what, a touch of local trouble here?

OBI-WAN Nay, let us simply say it thus: we would
Imperial entanglements avoid

HAN Aye, there's the rub, so shalt though further pay.
Ten thousand is the cost, and ev'ry bit
Shalt though deliver ere we leave the dock.

LUKE Ten thousand? Fie! We could our own ship buy
For such a sum as this.
HAN -A goodly jest!
For who should pilot such a ship -- shouldst thou?

LUKE Thou knave, I could indeed!. . .

This seemed perfect for a guy who loves The Force.


Valentine's Day is another perfect excuse to buy books for the ones you love. 

Monday, January 12, 2015

Make Way for Ducklings and Gender Stereotyping

Last week, my third grade class and I read through Time's Top 100 Picture Books of All Time.  As we clicked through the list, my students "oooohed" and "aaaahed" over the books they knew, and questioned the ones they had yet to read.  That list can be found here.

After having what might be considered a small tantrum about some of the classics my students had never read, I made it my mission to make sure my students were familiar with many of the older texts.

One of these books they hadn't read was Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey.  Published in 1941, this staple of my childhood follows the delightful journey of Mr. and Mrs. Mallard and their ducklings as they find a safe place to live.

Make Way for Ducklings has received many accolades, including winning the Caldecott in 1942.  This sweet entry into Anita Silvey's Children's Book-a Day Almanac also calls attention to this classic book.

Soon after I finished the book, one student raised his hand and asked, "So, why did Mr. Mallard just leave Mrs. Mallard when she was sitting on the eggs and teaching the ducklings?"  


He was referring to the section of the plot where the father duck leaves before the ducklings hatch in order to find out what else there is to see up the river from their nest.

This began a firestorm of conversation. 

"Because he's the dad!  He's allowed to leave to provide for his family!"

"Nuh uh.  The mom needs a vacation too."

"The mom needs to stay and sit on her eggs!"

"Yeah but the dad duck could sit on the eggs too!"

"It's like they say, 'A woman's work is never done.'" (This one cracked me up.)

During the conversation, I was half-laughing, half-very curious about the emerging talk of gender stereotypes taking hold of these nine year old kids.

I've read Make Way for Ducklings hundreds of times: to myself, to my own children, and to my students.  I admit that Mr. Mallard's desire to leave has indeed crossed my mind.  

So I am left with the following thoughts:

1. No matter how many times one reads a book to children, the response and reaction can never truly be predicted.

2. Stereotypes pop up in the most unpredictable places.

3. Conversations about stereotyping can and should occur in the most unexpected places.

4. Allowing children to respectfully and excitedly disagree with each other is appropriate.  And needed.  Controversy=engagement.

5. Community read-alouds to an entire class provides a foundation to springboard thoughts and discussions on other days and in other formats.  

What classic picture books have you read recently that have similar underlying messages or issues?

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Must Read in 2015: Finally, Commitment

Full disclosure:
I had a difficult time writing my #mustreadin2015 list this year.  Strange, because I had no challenges blogging my 2014 list last year.  You can find that list here

I did not want to commit this year.  The piles of books next to my bed are growing like weeds.  How can I commit to any of them and not to others?

These are a small portion of the stacks in my house, and most of these aren't on my lists.  
#help #trainwreck 

So, I am telling myself, "Self, these are the books you will definitely read.  The others that you will also read (because there will be others), can just be added to the list as you go."

Be sure to check out Carrie Gelson's blog to see her list and many others!

Here is my list for 2015, in no particular order:  
(And thank you to my nerdy husband T$ and nerdy friends Lesley, Jason, Michele, and even #strohreadsnation for encouraging me to stop procrastinating and just commit already.)

MG Novels
The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier Read Jan. 2015
Fourth Grade Rats by Jerry Spinelli Read Mar. 2015
Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes by Jonathan Auxier Read June 2015
Jack by Liesl Shurtliff Read June 2015
The Meaning of Maggie by Megan Jean Sovern Read Jan. 2015
Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell
The Secret Hum of a Daisy by Tracy Holczer
Revolution by Deborah Wiles
The Mark of the Dragonfly by Jaleigh Johnson
Greenglass House by Kate Milford
The False Prince by Jennifer Nielsen
Circa Now by Amber McRee Turner Read Apr. 2015
Bird & Squirrel on Ice by James Burks Read Feb. 2015
Bird & Squirrel on the Run by James Burks Read Feb. 2015
The Terrible Two by Jory John and Mac Barnett Read April 2015
Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt Read March 2015
One For the Murphys by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
Adventures with Waffles by Maria Parr Read August 2015
The Crossover by Kwame Alexander Read Feb. 2015
Ranger's Apprentice: The Ruins of Gorlan by John Flanagan  Read Mar. 2015
All the Answers by Kate Messner
The Iron Trial by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare Read June 2015
Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson Read Apr. 2015
The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky by Holly Schindler Read June 2015
The Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart Read June 2015
Nnewts by Doug TenNapel Read June 2015
The Categorical Universe of Candice Phee by Barry Jonsberg Read June 2015
The Imaginary by A.F. Harrold Read June 2015
Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate Read July 2015
Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley Read July 2015
How to Outfox Your Friends When You Don't Have a Clue by Jess Keating
The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond by Brenda Woods Read August 2015
A Handful of Stars by Cynthia Lord Read August 2015
Brixton Brothers: The Case of the Case of Mistaken Identity by Mac Barnett Read August 2015

YA Novels
Paper Towns by John Green Read Jan. 2015
100 Sideways Miles by Andrew Smith Read Feb. 2015
Winger by Andrew Smith Read June 2015
The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness
The Infinite Sea by Rick Yancey Read Jan. 2015
A Little Something Different by Sandy Hall Read Feb. 2015
The Alex Crow by Andrew Smith Read June 2015
The Selection (#1) by Kiera Cass Read June 2015
The Elite (#2) by Kiera Cass Read June 2015
The One (#3) by Kiera Cass 
Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein Read August 2015

Adult Novels
Attachments by Rainbow Rowell Read Jan. 2015
Appointment in Samarra by John O'Hara
Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
David and Goliath by Malcom Gladwell
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
Landline by Rainbow Rowell
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson Read Jan. 2015 thanks to T$.
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins Read Mar. 2015
A Million Little Pieces by James Frey Read Mar. 2015 thanks to T$.

Join us!

PS I also got married this past November (in a bookstore!), so I guess "commitment" is a theme. You can read about my little love story here.

He's promised to blaze through my #mustreadin2015 list "like Sherman through Atlanta."