Saturday, August 28, 2010


So do you remember that I really am trying to be a totally hip and with it kind of gal? In case you forgot, I am. I totally am trying to be hip and with it. I blog. I have a facebook account. I tweet. A little bit. Although I have not quite got the hang of that tiny url thing, at least not yet. This summer, I went to the ISTE conference where I did not win an ipad, despite the fact that I wrote my name on many, many win a free ipad raffle tickets. I am, I think, becoming slightly more techno savvy.

But when it all boils down to it, there is nothing I like better than holding a good old fashioned book. I like looking at the pictures. I like turning the pages. Ijust like books.

I laughed out loud, then, today when I read Lane Smith's newest creation, IT'S A BOOK. In this book, three friends- a monkey, a mouse, and a jackass- are friends. The monkey loves to read. The jackass, a totally hip and with-it techno kind of guy has never seen a book until he encounters Monkey reading. He has lots of questions-- Can you blog? How do you scroll down? Can you make the characters fight? Monkey answers the questions for a while, but that becomes impatient and hands Jackass his copy of TREASURE ISLAND. And you can guess what happens next…

This is definitely a picture book for older kids. I'd love to use it to introduce independent reading in a middle or high school classroom. So funny!!!!

Friday, August 27, 2010


A week when kids' stories, the I'm living with my auntie, My dad is in jail, My mom is mad because sister (age 15) is pregnant, I can't pay $10 for a football jersey because DCY doesn't give us money have been too much and too many for my heart to hold…

I climb the steps of the yellow school bus,
move to a seat in back, and we're off,
bouncing along the bumpy blacktop.
What am I going to do when I get home?
I'm going to make myself a sugar sandwich
and go outdoors and look at the birds
and the gigantic blue silo
they put up across the road at Motts'.

Read the rest of the poem here.

Poetry Friday is at BOOK AUNT (and by the way, I LOVE her blog's subtitle, "because other people can give you clothes and video games for your birthday"). My sentiments exactly!

Saturday, August 21, 2010


Cynthia Lord gets it. She totally gets it.

And that could pretty much be my review for TOUCH BLUE.

But you might want a little more.

OK, here it is.

TOUCH BLUE is the story of Tess Brooks, an eleven-year-old girl who lives on Bethsaida Island in Maine. When the book opens, the Brooks family, along with several other families on Bethsaida Island, are waiting for the ferry, which is bringing five foster children to the island. The islanders are taking the foster children in a last-ditch effort to save their school, which is in danger of closing because there are not enough children.

Tess has big plans for Aaron, the thirteen-year-old boy who comes to live with them. She hopes he will like reading, building things, fishing, and riding bikes, just like she does. Aaron, however, turns out to be a musician-- a gifted trumpet and piano player, who carries a suitcase of sadness, a deep longing for his own mother and home, an emptiness and desire to belong. And that, I would say, has pretty much been my experience with the foster children I have known. No matter how loving their foster/adoptive family, or how rich their lives, or how long they have been separated, there is always a dull ache, a longing for their biological family and home…

It's not like the book is all sad. There is a lot of richness and humor and wisdom too. Tess' father (a way cool dad/foster dad), is a lobster fisherman, and there is lots of interesting information about that occupation/culture throughout the book (I worried before I read TOUCH BLUE) that my urban students might not be able to connect or understand, but Cynthia Lord explains things so beautifully, that won't be a problem at all, in fact I think they will love learning about a way of life so different from their own). Tess' father is a wise, wise man. At one point, for instance, he tells Tess that the Brooks family will have to be "stubborn" in loving Aaron, that they cannot give up on him. And in my mind, that's a perfect way to describe the love I have had to learn for my boys. Stubborn. It's a good thing I was pretty stubborn before I ever had them. And there's also the theme of superstition throughout the book. Tess is a highly superstitious young lady and each chapter opens with a superstition, which then is somehow connected to the events in the chapter, e.g. the title of the book comes from "Touch blue and your wish will come true."

I loved, loved, loved RULES. And I have had a lot of fun reading HOT ROD HAMSTER to younger kids. But TOUCH BLUE is definitely my favorite of Cynthia Lord's books. Cynthia Lord is an author who gets it.

Friday, August 20, 2010


We had kids yesterday,
but my sons' first day of high school is today.
And I'm praying that somehow my two fellas
who had the perseverance
to get out of bed
four mornings a week,
all summer long,
for six a.m. football conditioning,
and studied
and took notes
and researched football film
and wrote
and revised
and performed songs on Garage Band
two or three hours a day
all summer long
will have somehow acquired
the school gene.

Judith Viorst
Will they let me go when I need to go to the bathroom?
And what if I get lost on the way back to class?
And what if all of the other kids are a hundred, a thousand, a million times smarter than I am?
And what if we have a spelling test or a reading test or an anything test, and I'm the only person who doesn't pass?

Read the rest of the poem here.

Poetry Friday is at Teaching Poetry K-12.

Thursday, August 19, 2010


OK, while we are on the subject of chickens and literacy, INTERRUPTING CHICKEN is another really fun new book Laura and I found last week at Tattered Cover. A little red chicken wants her father to read her a bedtime story. He is a little reluctant, claiming that she always interrupts. Little Red Chicken promises that she won't interrupt this time and off they go.

First, Father reads Hansel and Gretel. When he gets to the part where Hansel and Gretel are about to get themselves into deep trouble, Little Red Chicken can't help herself, and she interrupts. Next, Father Chicken reads Little Red Riding Hood. Again, Little Red Chicken feels the need to warn the main character about a dangerous situation. Father moves onto Chicken Little. And once again…well, you know what's going to happen. Tired and exasperated, Father tells Little Red Chicken she should write her own book. By the time she's done, Father is fast asleep.

Besides simply being a story that kids are going to love, I could see using this book in lots of different ways. I might use it to introduce what I call the "Rule of Three," how writers have things happen three times. It would be a great book to talk about what it means to be an active reader. Little Red Chicken is constantly thinking about the stories and carrying on a dialogue with the characters. And it would be a perfect book for those early weeks of school, when you are working on getting writing workshop up and running (I'd put it in a string with BUNNYCAKES and PATCHES LOST AND FOUND).

Our students come back to school today. I can't wait to share this book with a group of primary kids.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


I want every single kid in my class to become a card-carrying member of the literacy club that first week of school. That sweet six- year-old that has read every single MAGIC TREE HOUSE and is reading HARRY POTTER at home with his dad? He's easy. The little punkin that sits in the front row at group time, hair ribbon neatly tied, hands folded, eyes glued to the book? No problem. But my favorite, my very favorite, is that little guy who sits in the back row, making armpit noises and pitching pebbles at his buddies. Have I got a book for you, buddy!

In CHICKEN BUTT, a cute little guy, possibly related to the fellas sitting in back of my reading circle, pesters his newspaper reading dad. Guess what? Chicken butt! The next page features a different question, and a different body part. Guess Why? Chicken thigh! Every two page spread features a different question and a different body part. Eventually, the little boy's dad becomes annoyed and he is sent to the corner…but even then, the fun is not over!

I know this will be a favorite of first and second graders from day one! And it would make a perfect readers' theater!

Monday, August 16, 2010


I'm always glad to hear that a new friend has joined the world of kidlitosphere. Got an email today from Amy, a kindergarten teacher from Ohio. She's just jumped into the world of blogging at Today's entry is a Smilebox clip introducing kindergartners to their new classroom. If I was the mom of a five year old, I would love to sit with my child and help him/her prepare for school by viewing this clip and talking about all of the fun things that were going to be happening at school. Check out Amy's video and welcome her to the world of blogging!


A little boy settles down on his couch prepared to enjoy a good book. He's barely cracked the cover, when CHOMP-CHOMP-CHOMP, he's interrupted by a tiger who is behind his couch chewing gum. He quiets the well-meaning and very apologetic tiger and settles down again, but soon Tiger is back, growling like a bear. And then doing karate. And then blowing a whistle. And then finding the whistle when it falls underneath the couch.…

Laura and I both thought this book, crammed full of great sound effects, would be perfect for taming those oh-so-well meaning wiggly little tigers in our primary grade classrooms. Not to mention teaching the rituals and routines of independent or partner reading (by the end the little boy and his obstreperous tiger friend are actually curled up on the couch enjoying a good book together…)

I didn't know S.J. Fore's work, but when I googled her, I found out that there is another book in the Tiger series, TIGER CAN'T SLEEP. I'm definitely going to look for it.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

BUSING BREWSTER- Richard Michelson

Earlier this week, I got together with one of my all time favorite literacy all stars (and one of my most bestest friends), Laura Benson. We had a lovely dinner and then wandered next door to Tattered Cover. We ended up in the Children's Department, where we found a whole crop of terrific new literacy-related picture books that would be just perfect for the first day of school. I'll be blogging about a few over the next few days…

BUSING BREWSTER is a terrific picture book for both little and big kids.Brewster is entering first grade. All summer he envisions himself attending first grade with Miss Evelyn ("you'll read over my dead body!". Late that summer, however, his mama informs him he will, instead, be bused to Central, whose student population is mostly Anglo. Mama is excited because the new school has both a pool and a library…

The first day, Brewster and Bryan are met at the bus by a crowd of jeering sign waving, stick throwing adults. Later that day, after another incident, they end up in a kind of in-school suspension in the library with another child, who Bryan calls Freckle-Face. A kind librarian (who should probably be on Mary Lee and Franki's list of cool teachers) brings the boys together around books. R.G. Roth's geometric illustrations, done in shades of brown, gold, orange, and black, are absolutely perfect.

A great "Did that really happen?" kind of book. I know this book would evoke tremendous conversations not only about integration, but also about respect, friendship, and how we treat each other. I can envision myself using it with books like SISTER ANNE'S HANDS, THE OTHER SIDE, and SIT-IN. Can't wait to share this one with kids on Thursday!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


Cathy and Mandy challenged fellow bloggers to participate in 'TEN PICTURE BOOKS YOU COULDN'T LIVE WITHOUT' today. I don't know if I could pick one hundred picture books I couldn't live without and this list certainly is not anything close to inclusive of favorite books or authors, but here are a few of my favorites. Especially interesting to me was how my educational philosophy and beliefs kept showing up in my choices…

WOLF by Becky Bloom
This is probably my favorite picture book of all time. The main character, Wolf, is out scavenging for food one day when he comes upon three friends- a pig, a duck, and a cow, who are sitting in the sun reading. Instead of eating them, he embarks upon a journey to become a reader and ends up being a member of their "literacy club." I am a simple woman and this book encapsulates my whole theory of literacy instruction- that every kid needs to be surrounded by people who make him/her WANT to learn to read, then needs to TAUGHT the SKILLS AND STRATEGIES he/she needs, then needs lots of time to PRACTICE and become fluent. I use this book with kids every year, and I also often use it with adults when I do professional development.

2) SISTER ANNE'S HANDS by MaryBeth Loribecki- This is a book I have loved for a long, long time. Actually, I am not even sure it is in print any more. It's the story of a little girl attending elementary school in the 1960's. When she is in second grade (I think), her teacher, Sister Anne, is African American. Some parents, unhappy with this, remove their children from the classroom. Powerful lessons about respect and dignity and compassion, also about the power of one teacher in a child's life.

3) MOIRA'S BIRTHDAY- I believe communities consist of rituals and traditions. When I had a classroom, we read MOIRA'S BIRTHDAY and put that person's name in every time someone had a birthday. I probably read the book at least twenty times a year, the kids never got tired of it, and neither did I. I love Robert Munsch because his books elicit so much laughter, but also because they elicit rich discussions. Robert Munsch is a storyteller and his books are super readable so that even the most struggling reader in the class can manage them and become part of the literacy club.

5) SIT-IN by Andrea Pinkney- I want my kids to learn about history, about the hard choices people have made, and about the courage people have shown. I want them to say, "Did that really happen?" This book, about the lunch counter sit-ins, is one of my newest acquisitions.

6) LIFE SIZE ZOO- I want my classroom to be a place of wonder. I want book with pictures that are so dazzling and eye-catching that even the most reluctant reader can't wait to pick them up. LIFE-SIZE ZOO, with it's enormous and beautiful photographs is a book that every child will pick up and read. Nic Bishop is another photographer I have to have in my classroom library. Also Steve Jenkins' collage nonfiction.

7) THERE'S A BIRD ON YOUR HEAD by Mo Willems- I want my classroom to be a place of laughter, and this book, as well as others in this series, make me laugh every time I read it. Gerald and Piggy are great friends, and have wonderful friend adventures. They also have typical friend problems. This series and the PIGEON series are books all kids can read. Mo Willems is an author that never writes a bad book.

8) THOSE SHOES- Most of my students have hard, hard, hard lives. Many are being raised by grandparents, family friends, or foster parents. They live in a world of television and pop culture and see all of the things other kids have. NEW SHOES is about a little boy who lives with his grandmother. He desperately wants a pair of shoes his grandma can't afford. They find a pair at a thrift store, but the shoes don't really fit…

9) THE THREE BEARS by Paul Galdone- I believe that kids' oral language hugely impacts their ability not only to read, but also to write. Fairy tales and folk tales, which come from oral tradition, are one of the best ways I know to develop kids' innate understandings about story and book language. I read folk tales, fairy tales, trickster tales, Native American legends, and mythology to kids on a daily basis. Most of the time, I start with a fairly traditional version of the story. Paul Galdone's books are old (THREE BEARS was published in 1972, but they are really well done) then move into other versions. Books from this genre also develop understandings of culture and tradition so necessary to comprehending other literature.

10) TWILIGHT COMES TWICE by Ralph Fletcher
And of course I couldn't live without poetry. I love and use hundreds of poetry books. Ralph Fletcher is one of my favorite kids' poets. This book is extra special because Ralph dedicated it to me!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Another F word

OK, so today I want to talk about the F word. No, not that F word. I want to talk about another F word. The one schools talk about all the time. Especially early in the school year.


Many of us, me included, were raised in what was, at one time, considered a "typical" family. Whatever that is. I had a dad, a mom, two younger sisters, a dog, and periodically some of those little turtles that lived in the bowls with the plastic palm trees.

Many (most?) families are not like that any more.

Take our family for instance. Our nuclear family consists of me (a short, chunky little Anglo gal) and the two huge and very handsome (or at least their mama thinks so anyway!) African American boys. One of the boys' football playing friends is being raised by his dad because his mom passed away two years ago. Still another one is being raised by his mama and grandmother, his daddy is in prison. Another one is being raised by his grandparents, yet another is being raised by his mom and stepdad, but his grandfather actually brings him to all of the practices and regularly volunteers for football activities. One of the boy's friends actually lives with a football coach. A girl that we love lives with her mom, stepdad and two younger stepbrothers, but spends weekends on the other side of town with her dad and biological brother. Last year, two little guys at my school were being raised by two daddies.

I think it's important that we as teachers acknowledge and honor ALL of these different kinds of families in our classroom. When we make comments, even seemingly innocuous comments such as, "Take this home to your mom," or "Remind your mom and dad that back to school night is tonight," we hurt kids who may already have deep wounds in their souls around the issue of family. In doing so, we alienate them. And make it harder for them to learn and grow into the people that they are intended to be. And that's just wrong.

And while we are talking about families, let's acknowledge the people who are outside of the physical home, but very much present in children's lives. My boys' family is way bigger than just the three of us. If I asked them to make lists of the people who love them and take care of them, Narcy, their longtime football coach, would be at the top of their list. Lance, a basketball and track coach, is another really important man in both boys' lives. The "football and basketball mamas" regularly school my boys on issues of conduct and life. Mr. Nelson, biological grandfather of on member of son #2's basketball team, but heart grandfather to nine more, stopped by the middle school to check on the boys on more than one occasion. Miss Christina, the young woman who babysat that first year regularly provides input on issues related to girls and relationships. And as teenagers, the boys' circle of friends-- football teammates, girlfriends, peers- are definitely part of their family. If I am really honest, I know there are lots of times my boys go to those people long before they come to me. All of these people, and probably twenty-five more, are members of the boys' family.

I make a point, then, of talking to kids about "families" very early in the school year, usually the first or second day. I show them pictures of my sons and explain that my boys don't look like me because they are adopted. I tell the story of our family-how I had always, since I was a very little girl, wanted to be a mom but was over 40 and had never married or had children, that the boys were students at my school, and that their own mom had had some problems and hadn't been able to take care of them since they were very little, that they had been living with a foster mom who didn't take very good care of them, and that I brought the boys home one Easter weekend, and they became my sons when they were seven and nine. We talk a lot about how sometimes even though people love you a lot, they can't take care of you, and that in those cases, sometimes a grandma, or aunt, or uncle, or a family friend, or foster can love you and take care of you better. And that's ok.

We spend time enlarging our definition of the word family. We talk about how families are really the people who love you and take care of you. I explain to kids that my own family- my mom and two sisters live two hours away and can't always be there for me. When I need something, I call on friends from my book club, or sometimes friends from work or church, because those are the people that love me and take care of me. I ask kids to make lists of the people that love them and take care of them. For some of my students, the list includes a mom and dad, but for many, it's an aunt, or an uncle, a football or basketball coach, a pastor, or former teacher, or best friend. And all of those are legitimate family members. All of those are people who can support the child academically and emotionally. And all of those should be considered legitimate family members. This year, I'm going to ask kids to make circular collages about their "circle of support." That will help me, very early on, to know about kids and the "families" that support them.

And while I am on the subject of family, I want to talk for a minute about hidden assumptions. It's been more than a little disturbing to me, especially over the last couple of years, the assumptions that have been made about my family. Teachers at the high school see two not particularly excited about school African American boys being raised by a single mom and immediately draw lots of conclusions about about who we are as a family. They assume, first of all, that I am not educated (I have a Ph.D.). Many teachers assume I don't care about my sons' education, even though I have not missed a back to school night, or parent teacher conference since the boys started at the school two years ago. My sons don't always turn in their homework, are not on the honor roll, and regularly fail tests. I care about those things too, and do my best to encourage success and provide appropriate positive and negative reinforcement, but sometimes I have to decide that my relationships with my sons are more important than their grades. And there are lots of people who are not honor roll students who are successful in life. And that being decent, caring, kind human beings is also important. That doesn't mean I am a bad mother, or that I am not supportive of my children's education.

Family is no longer about moms and dads, brothers and sisters, living in brick homes in the suburbs. Family is about the people who love and support and care for children, who feed and clothe them and read stories and do homework, but maybe more importantly, care for their hearts and souls. Those are the people we ought to be talking about in our classrooms…