Monday, February 20, 2017


Not sure exactly what to say about this book.

I loved it.

I borrowed it from the library and now I need to go buy my own copy, or maybe 5 copies, so I can pass it to every kid I know.

Middle schooler Castle Crenshaw, a.k.a. Ghost, has spent his entire life running. His earliest memory goes back to the night he and his mother ran down the street as his father chased them, waving a shot gun. He's spent pretty much the rest of his life trying to forget that incident. But the trauma has shaped him. Hugely.

Castle happens upon the Defenders, an elite middle school track team. An informal encounter with one of their best sprinters leads to an invitation from the coach and Castle finds himself on the team. He doesn't have track shoes, though, and makes the unfortunate decision to steal them from a local sporting goods store.

Ghost is real and it's gritty. But it's not all dark. The main characters are middle schoolers. Middle schoolers are funny. A lot of the time. And Reynolds' characters definitely fit into that mold. Castle reads Guiness record type books and random facts are scattered throughout the book. I know kids are going to love those too.

Jason Reynolds gets urban kids. Gets my boys. Gets the kids I teach.

I wish I had had this book to hand to my own, African American, fatherless, track-running sons about ten years ago. Castle is my boys. Coach is the men who worked with them, practice after practice after practice. Decision after decision after decision. Year after year after year.

Get this book. Now.

Oh, and did I mention it's the first in a series and the next one comes out next fall.

The book won the CYBILS intermediate grade fiction category last week.

Here's a link to the New York Times review (written by another favorite author, Kate Messner).

Here's a link to a National Book Foundation interview.

Friday, February 17, 2017


As a former primary grade teacher, I want my students exposed to poetry at a very young age. I'm always on the lookout then, for poetic picture books. For my youngest readers, I want books that will make their way into their mouths, and into their hearts, and that children will ask for again and again and again.  I found one this week in Sharon Gibson Palermo's WINTER, WINTER, COLD AND SNOW. It's a really simple book, with a rhythm that reminds me of Bill Martin's classic BROWN BEAR, BROWN BEAR. Listen for a minute:

Winter, winter, cold and snow;
Chickadee, Chickadee Who do you know?

I know Bear, asleep in her den;
she might wake up when the sun shines in

The little guys always love animals, and this book has some old favorites like bears and owls, but also some that are more unusual- beavers and woodchucks, for example. I see lots of potential science discussions and wonderings about where animals go and how they take care of themselves in winter. The paper collage illustrations are colorful and interesting, yet not too busy for young children.

Pretty sure that WINTER, WINTER COLD AND SNOW is one that my little younger kids are going to love! I'm looking forward to sharing it on our next snowy day.


Tuesday, February 14, 2017


The questions started at 8:30 this morning, with my first kindergarten reading group.

"Dr. Carol," she says anxiously, "do you think we are missing the party?"

"No, sweetie, the party is at 2:00. That's after math, and after recess and after lunch and after specials. You're not missing the party."

We read for a few more minutes, then with a five year old's sense of time, she asks again.

"Are you sure?" she says anxiously. "Maybe they are doing cards. I didn't get a chance to do my cards yet."

"Sweetie, there will be lots of time for cards. Cards are this afternoon. We are only going to read for a few minutes, then you can go back in and do your cards."

We return to our book. We read a few more pages.

"They might be having candy. I brought candy," she says anxiously. "I need to go back inside."

I assure her, once again, that they are not having candy or anything else, for quite a while. She asks, more than once, if I am sure. Finally, at 8:50, I give up, and the group of three returns to the class.

After all, no one wants to miss cards. Or candy.

Saturday, February 11, 2017


Twice a year, I participate in the #pbtenforten, where people share their favorite ten picture books. During the summer, it's fiction picture books. Every February, it's nonfiction. 
This year, I'm sharing a group of picture books that blend poetry and nonfiction. 

Freedom Over Me
This 2016 Newbery Honor Book was one of my favorite CYBILS nominees.
Poems told from the point of view of slaves about to be sold.
Definitely for older readers. 

Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph
by Roxanne Orgill, illustrations by Francis Vallejo

Somos como las nubes/We Are Like the Clouds
by Jose Argueta, illustrated by Alfonso Ruano

Fresh  Delicious: Poems from the Farmer's Market
Poems by Irene Latham, Illustrations by Mique Moriuchi

Now You See Them, Now You Don't
by David L. Harrison, illustrations by Giles Laroche

The Alligator's Smile and Other Poems
by Jane Yolen, illustrations by Jason Stemple

When the Sun Shines On Antarctica
and Other Poems About the Frozen Continent
by Irene Latham, illustrated by Anna Wadham
also Dear Wandering Wildebeest by Irene Latham

Squirrels Leap, Squirrels Sleep
April Pulley Sayre, illustrated by Steve Jenkins

Winter, Winter, Cold and Snow
by Sharon Gibson Palermo, illustrated by Christina Song

Write Me a Poem series
Valerie Bodden
This four book series delves into different tools the poet uses. 
A nice addition to any elementary library. 

Tuesday, February 7, 2017


I met him when he came to our school last year.

He was a fourth grader transferring from a neighboring school. Happy. Busy. Personable. One of those kids who was capable of absolutely terrific work, which he sometimes did, and sometimes didn't do, depending on whatever particular projects he had pending.

And he always had projects pending. A superhero to draw. A question to research. An origami project to create. Those independent projects truly were his top priority.

I saw a similar kid when he started fifth grade. He always did terrific thinking. Devoured books voraciously. Sometimes wrote well. If he didn't have something more interesting going on.

But there were always projects. Most recently, it was fancy paper airplanes. He and all his buddies dug through the recycle bins for paper. Or begged it off of unsuspecting teachers (not to mention any names). He folded plane after plane after plane. Taught all of the other fifth graders to fold them. For a couple of weeks before winter break, plane flying replaced soccer during lunch recess.

And then after Christmas a different kid came back to school.

Quiet. Distant. Blatantly refusing to follow directions. Accomplishing nothing.

I tried to talk to him. No response.  I called his mom. He told me that got him in trouble, which wasn't my intent at all. I just wanted his mom to know I was worried about him. I missed his projects.

Finally he talked to his teacher. His dog died over Christmas break. Things are never going to get better. He is always going to be like this.

His teacher talked to him. Talked to his parents. They were surprised. Thought he was ok.  He wasn't.

Our principal, a total dog lover, talked to him. Still not ok.

Yesterday, he made it down to the principal's office again. She was in the assistant principal's office with another student, and I talked to him again. Told him about losing my mom's dog, Boo, in October and how sad that made me feel. Reminded him of Jack in LOVE THAT DOG,  a book he had read in fourth grade. Offered him a journal I had in my desk. Asked if he wanted to talk to our school psychologist.


Not a glimmer of that smart, question asking, project planning kid I know.

I really miss that kid.

I hope he finds his way back to us soon.