Saturday, January 31, 2009


Ok, all you hip and with it 21st century folks, you have to see this!

WINTERGIRLS- Laurie Halse Anderson

Just finished reading an ARC of WINTERGIRLS (actual publication date- March 19). All I can say is WOW, WOW, WOW, WOW, WOW!  Laurie Halse Anderson is an amazing author! I want to buy copies of this book for my niece (and every other teenage girl I know! This is an amazing story!

WINTERGIRLS is narrated by Lia, an upper middle class senior in high school. Lia has been hospitalized twice for anorexia, and is still deep in the throes of this horrific disease. She lives with her father, a college history professor and author who wants to believe Lia is fine, her stepmother, and her nine-year-old stepsister, Emma. Her mother, from whom she is semi-estranged, is a cardiac surgeon. 

When the book opens, Lia has just received the news that Cassie, her long-time best friend, has been found dead in a motel room. Lia and Cassie have been estranged for several months, but the night she died, Cassie called Lia's cell phone 33 times. Lia did not answer any of these calls. 

Cassie, it turns out, has died of complications related to years of bulemia. She and Lia have supported each other's eating disorders for years and years. Now Lia must battle demons of guilt. Why didn't she answer the phone when her friend called? Why did she discourage her friend from seeking help for her struggles? Why did the two girls challenge each other to see who could be the thinnest? As the last one alive, is  Lia really the winner of this challenge?

Laurie Halse Anderson has done an amazing job capturing the voice of an anorexic. She captures Lia's steep descent into a dark, frozen place where there are no feelings, and consequently no hurt. Maybe more importantly, she captures that one moment when Lia decides to come back from this dark forest, to a place of light and hope.

 I know this book is going to be a huge hit when it comes out. I imagine thousands and thousands of girls reading it and somehow finding the courage to fight their own demons. I am going to mail my copy to my sweet niece tomorrow. I'm going to buy copies for my sons' high school and middle school teachers. It's a book every teenage girl needs to have available.

Friday, January 30, 2009


Last week, the ALA conference was in Denver. On Wednesday, Kate McClelland and Kathy Krasniewicz, YA librarians from Connecticut and leaders in ASLC,  were on their way to the airport when their cab was hit by a drunk driver. The cab rolled and both women were thrown out and killed.  I picture them at the conference, seeing old friends, sharing meals, poring over wonderful books, and I feel terribly that their visit to our city ended so badly. I imagine the teenagers at Perrot Library in Greenwich, Connecticut missing their book friends and mentors. I imagine families mourning wives, mothers, and grandmothers. I offer this poem in honor of all involved in this situation…

Do You Have Any Advice for Those of Us Just Starting Out?
Ron Koertge

Not surprisingly, libraries are a good place to write.
And the perfect place in a library is near an aisle
where a child a year or two old is playing as his
mother browses the ranks of the dead.
Often he will pull books from the bottom shelf.
The title, the author's name, the brooding photo
on the flap mean nothing. Red book on black, gray
book on brown, he builds a tower. And the higher 
it gets, the wider he grins.

You who asked for advice, listen: When the tower
falls, be like that child. Laugh so loud everybody
in the world frowns and says, "Shhhh."

Then start again.

Read the whole poem here.

POETRY FRIDAY this week is at Adventures in Daily Living.

Thursday, January 29, 2009


I'm always on the lookout for books that will grow kids' hearts and spirits. I want kids to be exposed to real heroes- ordinary people who are making an amazing difference in the world. Here is a new book I will definitely add to my real world hero collection.

Over the past year or so, many of us have read Greg Mortenson's THREE CUPS OF TEA. In case you haven't read this book,  Mortenson is a nurse whose failed attempt to climb K2 ultimately led him to build many, many schools in the remotest regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Now he's paired with Susan L. Roth to write LISTEN TO THE WIND, a picture book about his experiences. The book is narrated by the children of Korphe, a village in the mountains of Pakistan. The children tell of the day "Dr. Greg" stumbled into their village, cold, hungry, and sick, and of how he returned a year later to build a school in their village. The final few pages of the book are a photo album/essay of the village of Korphe, and of Mortenson going about his work. It's an inspiring story, and will probably make many children want to get involved in Mortenson's Pennies for Peace project.

In addition to a terrific story, Susan L. Roth's amazingly detailed collage illustrations- a myriad of colors, and textures, and shapes, and details-- are beyond wonderful, and leave me wondering whether it is too early to start making predictions about the 2009 Caldecott winner. I also loved the two-page spread where Roth explained how she went about making the collages. 

This book has made it onto my new favorites list. It could grow the hearts of children from 5-105!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


Samantha Hansen is a spunky ten-year-old naturalist, who loves, loves, loves rocks. She lives with her mother, who designs birthday cards and feeds the family weird kinds of birthday cake on a daily basis, and a teenage sister, whose secret belly button piercing sets off the metal detector at the airport. Sam spends most of her time making lists about rocks and other natural phenomena,  trying to control her temper as she deals with an oh-so annoying older sister, and gathering snippets of information about her father, who has passed away. 

This is a fun, fairly light, read about a girl who loves science. There's lots of "rock information" embedded throughout the book, and I could see using the book as a read aloud during a unit on geology, or a unit on the Grand Canyon. Sam is a consummate list maker, and I could also see myself sharing the book during discussions of that genre. I do have to admit that I was a little uncomfortable with Sam's developing interest in boys- I know fourth graders are starting to care more about the opposite sex, but it's not something I encourage.

Monday, January 26, 2009


Ok, so the Newbery and Caledecott Awards were announced today, and I failed dismally this year. I have not read either award winner, nor have I read ANY of the Honor books. YIKES! 

This sounds like one my boys might like, so maybe we'll do it as a family read aloud.

Newbery Honor Books
After Tupac and D Foster- Jacqueline Woodson
Jacqueline Woodson is one of my all-time favorite authors. I haven't read this one though…

Savvy- Ingrid Law
I didn't know, until today, that Ingrid Law is a Colorado author. Our school library has this one, I gotta get reading…

The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba's Struggle for Freedom- Margarita Engel
I haven't even seen this one. 

The Underneath- Kathi Appelt
I started this book. The writing is absolutely beautiful. I didn't, however, love the book- I really don't like animal fantasy, and as far as I got, it was pretty sad. Maybe I'll go back and try it again, though…

The House in the Night-
written by Susan Marie Swanson and illustrated by Beth Krommes
I've never heard of this book. I looked at it online tonight, though, and it looks beautiful.  

A Couple of Boys have the Best Week Ever- Marla Frazee- 
I love the CLEMENTINE series, but I have not read this one. 
How I Learned Geography- Uri Shulevitz
Haven't read it or even read about it.
A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams
I've been meaning to get hold of this one- does that count?

Saturday, January 24, 2009


I feel like I died and went to heaven last night. ALA is having their midwinter meeting in Denver. The exhibit hall opened last night- I was one of the first people in the door and one of the last people to leave (my boys are now absolutely sure that their mother qualifies as one of the world's biggest nerds!) All of the publishers are there with their latest and greatest, and I got to look at tons of books that people have been blogging about, e.g. BLACK

I bought a couple of books, the new DIARY OF A WIMPY KID, which I had planned to go buy for the boys this weekend, and SAMANTHA HANSEN HAS ROCKS IN HER HEAD. Mostly, though, I picked up free ARC's!

Here's a list of what I will be reading for the next few weeks:

LISTEN TO THE WIND- Greg Mortenson (this is THREE CUPS OF TEA for kids, I also got the THREE CUPS OF TEA chapter book for kids)
JUST GRACE GOES GREEN (third grade-ish novel)- Cherise Mericle Harper
DRAGONBREATH (young novel)- Ursula Vernon
WOULD YOU RATHER (gross choices to ask kids- dinner table conversations with the boys!) Justin Heimberg and David Gomberg
THE VALENTINE CAT (young novel)- Ann Whitehead Nagda
PETE'S DISAPPEARING ACT- (dog novel)- Jenny Tripp
TROLL'S EYE VIEW- (fantasy)edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling 
MY VICKSBURG (historical fiction)- Ann Rinaldi
MY BROTHER ABE (history)- Harry Mazer
CHASING LINCOLN'S KILLER (historical fiction)- James Swanson
CLOSED FOR THE SEASON- (mystery)- Mary Downing Hahn 
THRE GREAT RECEIVER- (football)-Elena Yates Eulo
CITY BOY (YA)- Jan Michael
THREE WILLOWS- (YA)- Ann Brashares
FOREVER (YA)- Meg Cabot
WINTERGIRLS (YA)- Laurie Halsen Anderson
FLYGIRL (YA) Sherri L. Smith
THE UNKNOWNS- YA mystery- Benedict Carey
ANNIE'S GHOSTS- (memoir/mystery)- Steve Luxenberg
DREAMING IN HINDI (adult memoir)- Katherine Russell Rich
THE WRITING ON MY FOREHEAD (adult novel)- Nafisa Haji
HOW WE DECIDE (adult nonfiction)- Jonah Lehrer
JOKER ONE- Donovan Campbell
THE WORD SNOOP- Ursula Dubosarsky

FUN, FUN, FUN, FUN, FUN!!!!!!!!!!

Friday, January 23, 2009


Our challenges
may be 

The instruments 
with which we 
meet them
may be 

But the values

upon which our 
success depends-

hard work
and honesty

and fair play

and curiosity

and patriotism

these things
are old.

These things
are true.

They have been
the quiet force
of progress

our history.

What is required
of us now is 

a new era
of responsibility

a recognition
on the part 
of every American

that we have duties

to ourselves
our nation
and the world

that we do not 
grudgingly accept

but rather 
seize gladly

firm in the knowledge
that there is nothing

so satisfying
to the spirit

so defining 
of character

than giving 
our all

to a difficult task.

Barack Obama
January 20, 2009

Thursday, January 22, 2009


     Tuesday night at the dinner table, we are talking about the inauguration. Wanting to make sure that the boys understand the huge significance of this day, I remind them, probably for the 475th time, that Barack Obama is the first African American president. K., used to a mother that repeats herself, just kind of blows me off.  Z., however, pauses for a second, "Do you think we will ever have another black president?" he asks.
      I hope so, Zay. I hope so…

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


January 20th.
Inauguration Day.

 I will wake 
my two handsome
Hershey-skinned sons

and we will watch

as someone
 with skin 
like theirs

 to do his best
to lead 
our country

down paths 
of wisdom,
 and righteousness,
and justice
for all.

Let freedom ring!
Let freedom ring!
Let freedom ring!

Friday, January 16, 2009


Next week we will begin what I hope will be a new era of peace. 
It seems a time for a poem of peace.

John Mole

This is the blackbird that wakes with a song.

This is the sun
That shines for the blackbird that wakes with a song.

This is the earth
That welcomes the sun
That shines for the blackbird that wakes with a song.

This is the snow that fell through the night
That covers the earth
That welcomes the sun
That shines for the blackbird that wakes with a song.

Read the rest of the poem here.

POETRY FRIDAY  is at Karen Edmisten's blog.

Thursday, January 15, 2009


I'm really trying to take the hip and with-it-ness thing seriously. Although I'm not totally sure I fully understand its value, I'm trying to twitter at least once or twice a day. At least once a day, I log on to the English Companion ning, where I feel a little like I do when I go to Lowe's or Home Depot- there's a lot of really cool stuff, and I wish I could figure out a way to find what I need or enter into the conversation in a methodical way. 

Most of all, I want to be a hip and with-it teacher. More and more, I believe that our kids don't learn, or even think, in the same ways that I do. I'm making a conscious effort, then, to use more technology with my students. This afternoon, I tried WORDLE with my fourth and fifth grade intervention group. We are just finishing a book called STATUE OF LIBERTY. We are working on identifying main idea and differentiating between important and interesting). The kids have been taking notes about important ideas on post-it notes. 

Today, I asked them to summarize the book, then they took turns sitting next to me as I typed the summaries into Wordle. (Originally I had intended for them to type their own, but I couldn't get Wordle to work on the computers in our technology lab, and I didn't want it to be a seven day activity, with one kid per day typing their summary on my one little laptop.  I asked them to use their summaries to predict which word would show up the largest on Wordle. They chose colors, fonts, vertical/horizontal alignment, etc. We printed two copies per kid- one to take home and one to post in the hall. I wanted to import one into here, but hip and with-it gal that I am, I still can't quite get the hang of that (or importing Franki and MaryLee's 21st century logo either!)

Anyway, the kids loved it! And I mean LOVED IT!!! It wasn't exactly perfect, but I think it really did help them to try to pick out important ideas and words. I want to play with this tool some more! I think it has a lot of possibilities!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

ELEVEN- Patricia Reilly Giff

Sam is in the attic searching for his birthday presents when he finds an old yellowed newspaper clipping. The little boy in the picture is him. The only word he is able to read is "missing." All of a sudden, Sam's whole world is turned upside down. Who is he? Who is Mack, the man he has always believed to be his grandfather? How did he come to be in this little town in New York? Because he cannot read very well, Sam enlists the help of Caroline, a new girl in his class, to solve the mystery of his identity.

This is a great story on a lot of levels. First, it's a terrific page-turning mystery. I couldn't put the book down. I wanted to know who Sam was. I wanted to understand how all of the pieces of his life puzzle fit together. It's not so complex, though, that a fourth or fifth grade reader couldn't enjoy or understand the book. 

Next, I loved that Sam was surrounded by people who loved him and cared for him, but those people were not a "traditional" family. Instead, he was being raised by his grandfather Mack, and by Onji, Mack's friend and the owner of the deli attached to Mack's woodworking shop, and by Amina, who owned an Indian restaurant and cooked yummy dinners and read to Sam every night. So many of the kids I know are being raised by grandparents, or aunts and uncles, or family friends, or foster parents. I love that Sam's family looks a lot like many of my students' families. 

I also loved the friendship that developed between Sam and Caroline. I think it's so important for intermediate grade kids to see healthy, "non-romantic" boy/girl friendships. I love that both characters brought something to the table- Caroline was better at reading books, but Sam was better at relationships. And in the end, they both helped each other to grow.

Finally, I think Patricia Reilly Giff does a remarkable job getting inside the head of a struggling reader. Sam doesn't see letters and words, instead, he sees spiders crawling across the page. It's incredibly frustrating, and he has basically given up ever learning to read. I love that Giff is realistic- she doesn't present him as moving from a non-reader to a reader in one day. Instead, at the end of the book, Sam realizes that he really wants to read, first so he can stay connected with Caroline, and second, so he can pursue his woodworking dreams. 

This is a terrific read! I can't wait to share it with my fourth and fifth graders tomorrow!

Friday, January 9, 2009


Kit Wright

Way down Geneva,
All along Vine,
Deeper than the snow drift
Love's eyes shine:

Mary Lou's walking
in the winter time.

She's got 

red boots on, she's got
Red boots on
Kicking up the winter
Till the winter's gone. 

Read the rest of the poem here.

Poetry Friday is at Picture Book of the Day.


John Mole

This is the earth
This is the earth
That welcomes the sun.
This is the earth
That welcomes the sun
That shines for the blackbird that wakes with a song.
This is the snow
That covers the earth
That welcomes the sun
That shines for the the blackbird that wakes with a song. 
Read the rest of the poem here.
Poetry Friday is at 

Thursday, January 8, 2009


On Sunday afternoon, I take Son #2 to his basketball game. Son #1, having watched his brother play in approximately 5,734 games in the last five years, decides to stay home. When we return, all of the cushions from the couch, not to mention three of the stools that go with our kitchen table (which I purchased last summer) are on the back patio. My son's digital camera (the one that he uses for his high school photography class, the second one I bought this fall, after the first one was stolen) is perched precariously on a top of a pile of three of the couch pillows, which are stacked in Leaning Tower of Pisa fashion on top of the stool). Some people might get a little concerned about having their furniture outside, or perhaps they might worry about the safety of the digital camera, but me, well, I am the mother of two teenage boys. On other occasions, I have come home and found two or three dogs that do not belong to me in the backyard. I have found windows broken or body-shaped holes in walls that have mysteriously appeared in my absence. I have found four or five half-naked members of the high school football team sitting on my garage roof.  So, a little furniture out on the back patio-- well, don't sweat the little things, right?

I am a little curious though, as to the reason for moving a good portion of the furniture that is regularly in the house to the patio. When I inquire of Son #1, he tells me he has been making a video, and hops onto my computer to show it to me. The video begins with Son #1 walking out the door of our family room onto the patio, doing a little trash talking about his ability to dunk a basketball, then showing that he can actually perform this feat. At one point, the camera zooms in to show the ten foot marking on the handle of the basketball hoop, at another point he says he is going to the NBA, and zooms in on the NBA label on the basketball. The video, probably about a minute in length, is a little shaky, but hey, what can you expect from a camera perched on top of a pile of pillows on top of a kitchen stool on the patio? This video is a crafted piece of work, with a clear beginning, middle, and end, wide outs, and close-in shots. I suspect that Son #1 (who has struggled his entire life with school kinds of learning) has spent as much time thinking about how to craft this piece as I do any piece that I write. I am sure he has probably spent most of the afternoon playing around with the piece, filming and re-filming, trying to get just the right effects. I know he and his brother will probably repeat this activity several more times over the next few weeks. 

This morning, three or four days after the filming, (and after the stools and couch cushions are returned to their rightful place in the house), I read Franki's entry about a new book that is coming out. SKELETON CREEK, though, is not just a book. It seems that every twenty pages or so, you have to stop and go online, because part of the "book" is actually done in video segments. Franki thinks that the book will be especially intriguing to reluctant readers, who start a book with great enthusiasm, but then quickly lose interest. When this reader picks up SKELETON CREEK, he/she only reads twenty or so pages before getting to view another video segment. Franki shares a link to an interview of author Patrick Carman, where he talks about his composing process- how he wrote the chapters, but also how he wrote the scripts and worked with a videographer. I can't wait until this book/video adventure is published in February, because I suspect my sons, not to mention all of my intermediate grade readers, will absolutely love it.

Being the hip and with-it gal that I am, I'm trying really hard to get my head around all of this. I suspect our roles as  teachers of reading and writing are going to change dramatically over the next few years. I suspect it's true that "composing" a piece of writing will no longer be about simply crafting words, instead, "writing" might also involve images and film clips. Writing one piece might actually be about writing two or three shorter pieces, e.g. a small moment memoir or essay, a video script, and maybe some captions for pictures, almost a mini multi-genre piece. Kids will probably still  need to learn to write persuasive essays, but they also need to know how to create effective power point presentations.

So I'm wondering, as I prepare to get my boys up and as I think about the reading and writing lessons I will teach today, what does all of this mean for me, the hip and with-it, 21st century twittering and ninging gal that I am?? It's a little bit scary…
P.S. If I was a just a teeny little bit more hip and with it, I could figure out how to upload MaryLee and Franki's cool 21st century icon!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009


As many of you are aware, I am a totally hip and with-it kind of gal! OK, well maybe not totally (if you talk to my sons, probably not even close!), but I'm working on it. In 2008, I started this blog. In 2009, I started to twitter. And now, I am ning-ing along at the English Teacher Companion! It kind of feels like CLICK, CLACK MOO! 
Twitter, twitter, ning! Twitter, twitter ning! Twitter, twitter, ning!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009


A little girl wants to make a cherry pie, but first she has must travel round the United States to gather the ingredients. She and her dog start in Pennsylvania , where she gets steel to make a pie pan, drops by New Mexico for the clay to create the mixing bowl, visits Hawaii to get sand for the glass mixing cup, etc. Ultimately, the little girl ends up at home in time to make a pie (recipe included) for the Fourth of July. The illustrations are bright and colorful, but also very clever- in each place the little girl visits, you can find a landmark or sight unique to that area, e.g. Mount Rushmore and  the Golden Gate Bridge. 

I could get a lot of mileage out of this book. First, it's just a fun read. Kids would love following the little girl's travels, in a variety of modes of transportation, around the United States. They'd enjoy hunting down the landmarks from each area. I could also see using the book with fourth or fifth graders to teach a quick lesson on natural resources- if you know the old alphabet book,  Q IS FOR DUCK, this book has that kind of "guessing appeal." And people that are not domestically challenged could try out the cherry pie recipe. 


Sunday, January 4, 2009


As many of you know, this year I was a CYBILS panelist for Intermediate Grade/YA Nonfiction. Since the middle of October, I've read almost sixty terrific nonfiction books- everything from biography and memoir, to science experiments, to real-life historical mysteries, to girls' health books. Our panel had to have all of the books read and select our top 5-7 by the end of the year. The shortlists were announced on January 1st. I got the books read, but still have 10-15 that I have not reviewed. I'll be finishing those up over the next few weeks. 

LINCOLN THROUGH THE LENS: HOW PHOTOGRAPHY REVEALED AND SHAPED AN EXTRAORDINARY LIFE is one of the books that made it onto our shortlist. The book chronicles how Abraham Lincoln, one of America's most beloved presidents, used photography, the newest technology of his era, to propel himself into the White House, free the slaves, and ultimately, save our country. As I read it, I couldn't help but think of how Obama used the internet, text messaging, etc. during his 2008 campaign.  Or of Franki and Mary Lee's conversations about 21st century literacies

Historian Martin Sandler has done a masterful job telling the story of Abe Lincoln's life through stories, quotes, photographs, and drawings. Each two-page spread addresses a certain period or event in Lincoln's life. The left page contains a quote from Lincoln and a few paragraphs of text, and usually a photograph or drawing. The right-facing page contains one large image, usually a photograph. Commenting about the book, one of the CYBILS panelists said, "It's not often that we find a book where the author does such a masterful job melding story and images." I totally agree with her. 

LINCOLN THROUGH THE LENS would be a terrific read aloud for Lincoln's 200th birthday in February. The text and information  are appropriate for kids from second or third grade all the way through adult. Because of the way the sections are divided, it would also be an outstanding read aloud for middle and high schoolers (and yes, I absolutely do believe we should be reading aloud to older kids!)

Happy Birthday Abe! And thank you, Martin  Sandler!

Thursday, January 1, 2009


Yesterday, Angela, who is a middle school teacher, asked me if I thought Maya Angelou's LETTER TO MY DAUGHTER  was appropriate for young teens. I can't figure out how to respond directly to Angela, so I'm going to do it here and hope that she reads my blog regularly and will see this. LETTER TO MY DAUGHTER is a wonderful memoir. I enjoyed it thoroughly (as I do all of Maya Angelou's work) and will return to it again and again. In general, however, it's not a book I would give to most middle school kids to read. Angelou has been through some really tough experiences, and includes those in this book. I think some of them would be hard for middle school kids to read about and to understand. I think there are many author memoirs that would be more appropriate. 

If I had a middle schooler that was very mature, or if I was aware that a child had been through some experiences similar to Maya Angelou's, I might share this book. I would want to read it first, however, and let the middle schooler know I was available to read/discuss it with them. If it was one of my students (as opposed to my own child), I would want to talk with parents about the content, and get permission before I gave the book to a child. Depending on school district policies, I might also want to clear it with my principal.

In general, I am not a big advocate of censoring books. At the same time, I definitely think that teachers need to be aware of kids' chronological, mental and emotional ages and stages as they help them select books. I worry when parents of kindergartners tell me that they are encouraging their five year olds to read three hundred page books, simply because the child can read the words. I worry when second graders read short chapter books with difficult content, e.g. SARAH PLAIN AND TALL, simply because of the length of the book. I worry when my high school son has to read CATCHER IN THE RYE because it's a "classic coming of age" novel.  Even though kids can read and understand the words,  sometimes, the ideas are just too big for them to wrap their heads and their hearts around. At best, they don't take much away. Worse, the book disturbs them or presents them with content they are simply unable to handle. Still worse, it turns them off to reading completely.

Hope that answers your question, Angela. Happy Reading in 2009!