Wednesday, May 29, 2013


That crazy time of the school year, when everything moves at warp speed, and the paperwork seems to multiply every night. I am still trying to read, at least a little. This weekend, I finished Bobbie Pyron's 'THE DOGS OF WINTER. This story is set in Russia, in the late 1990's. The Soviet regime had fallen, typical support agencies had collapsed, and people were living in dire poverty, with little support from the government. Many children (perhaps even two million), lived alone and uncared for  on the streets of Russia.

THE DOGS OF WINTER is loosely based on the life of one of those children, Ivan Mishukov. Ivan is very young, only about four, when his beloved grandmother dies. His mother becomes involved with an unscrupulous man and then disappears. The man attempts to take Ivan to an orphanage, but the boy escapes, and turns to life on the streets, where he is taken in by a pack of wild dogs. DOGS OF WINTER chronicles Ivan's life with the dogs.

A survival story sure to be enjoyed by any dog lover.

Friday, May 24, 2013



Welcome to Poetry Friday.
Jama Rattigan is hosting the poetry smorgasboard over at Alphabet Soup

And me, well, in this age of Common Core, and all things "rigorous," I'm always looking for ways to provide a rich reading menu for students and teachers. My teacher buddies get sick of hearing me remind them about the importance of exposing children to multiple texts. And how many read alouds I think children need to hear every day (a minimum of five, in case you are wondering!). Along those lines,  I'm always looking for ways to help teachers infuse more poetry into their classrooms. I recently stumbled across a new book that has lots of possibilities.

SOMETHING FISHY by Barry Louis Polisar is a collection of ocean-animal-ish related poems. They're short, and rhyme-y, and generally a little funny. I think they'd be a perfect way to open an intermediate, or even middle school science lesson. 

Take Polisar's poem, "Amoeba."

"An amoeba is as basic as
An animal can get
With qualities suggesting
It could be a perfect pet…"

Yep, I'd definitely use it to open a seventh grade life science lesson on these organisms. 

I could open a lesson on food chains with "The Smallest Fish."
Mirror, mirror, on the wall
Who's the smallest fish of all?

… You could measure this by weight,
But each fish is another's bait. 

Similarly, I could use Polisar's "Pot-Bellied Seahorse" or  "Horseshoe Crab" or "Jellyfish" in lessons on describing animals or animal reproduction. I can see myself reading these poems aloud, then asking students to choose an animal's unusual features and wrap them into a poem.

I could also see myself using SOMETHING FISHY in reading and writing workshops. "The Crocodile and the Gator" would be perfect for opening a lesson on comparative texts.

"A crocodile is long and sleek
And different from a gator;
Faster in the water,
His range is so much greater…"

Polisar's "Killer Whale" or "Baited" would be terrific for opening a lesson on author's message.

And if I wanted to talk about satire in a middle school English class, I might open with Polisar's "Another Pied Beauty," 

"Glory be for spot and bass;
For trout and slug and snail;
For fresh fish swimming in the lake;
For dolphin, shark, and whale…"

Look for SOMETHING FISHY. It's a fun new poetry book with lots of possibilities.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

TIPTOE JOE- Ginger Fogelsong Gibson

Tiptoe Joe has a secret.

He goes from friend to friend- from Donkey to Rabbit to Moose to Turkey to Owl- inviting them to come along and see.
ˆDonkey, donkey, come with me,
I know something you should see."
His animal friends thud, and swish, and clomp along behind him, all the way to the end of the book, where Joe's surprise is finally disclosed.

I've read this to three groups of kindergartners- all to rave reviews. They loved Joe's tennis shoes ("Just like Pete the Cat!" exclaimed one group). They loved the repeating phrase, which made the book easy for these just-getting-started readers to pick up and read on their own. They loved making the sounds with the onomatopoeia on each page. 

Put this book in a basket of "everybody reads" in kindergarten or first grade. Or pair it with Kevin Henkes JULIUS, BABY OF THE WORLD or Marla Frazee's BOSS BABY. It would also be a terrific sibling present for a baby shower.

A must have for any kindergarten or first grade classroom.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013


The therapist holds up her index fingers.
They are about an inch apart.
She pushes them closer until they are touching.
This is the normal parent/child relationship, she says.

The therapist holds up her fingers again.
This time, when she pushes them together,
there is a space between them,
like elevator doors
that do not quite meet.

This is life with Reactive Attachment disorder.
No matter how hard you try, she says,
there will always be a gap.
It has nothing to do
with anything
you have done
or not done
as a parent.

I like this therapist.
Like her a lot.
She is one of five, or six, or seven
that I have met over the last ten years.
My favorite so far.

Salt of the earth.
Rock solid.
Steely resolve.
But always a glint of humor.
A smile that dances at the corner of her eyes.
She likes kids.
You can tell.

She has worked hard to reach
my seemingly unreachable son.
And I love talking to her.
Often go even when he doesn't.

But tonight
those not quite touching
elevator doors
break my heart.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Poetry Friday

From Wikimedia Commons

It's funny, I think, how a poem can wrap itself around your heart in different ways, at different times in your life. Don Graves introduced me to Marge Piercy's poem, "To Be of Use" almost twenty years ago. I still remember sitting in his study in Durham, New Hampshire, hearing Don read the poem aloud.

I fell in love with "To Be of Use" and have read it hundreds of times. I've used it repeatedly in workshops to talk about the importance of providing kids with work that is authentic and rich and deep. In fact, it's been kind of a theme song running through my work with teachers and kids.

But I am in a different season of life right now. The past two years have been long and spirit draining. Last week, a friend sent me a note reminding me about Piercy's poem. She alluded to these lines, in the middle of the poem. I went back and reread "To Be Of Use." And it was like I was reading an entirely different poem than the one I had read before. I'm struck, probably for the millionth time, by how much of a poem's meaning lies in the reader, not in the black squiggles on the page.

And I'm so grateful for poetry's healing touch.

And for this friend's sweet presence in my life.

"To Be Of Use"

…I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.

Marge Piercy

Read the rest of the poem here.

Ed DeCaria is hosting Poetry Friday at Think, Kid, Think.

Monday, May 13, 2013


I've loved Kevin Henkes' books for a very  long time. If I had to choose a favorite, I'd choose LILY AND HER PURPLE PLASTIC PURSE. In the past year or so, Henkes' has released three PENNY books, a new series of easy readers, and those are fast becoming favorites. I reviewed PENNY AND HER DOLL in October, and the newest book in the series, PENNY AND HER MARBLE, just came out last week.

Penny is out with her doll, Rose, when she finds a big, shiny blue marble on Mrs. Goodwin's front lawn. She picks it up, admires it, and then puts in her pocket and takes it home. Once she gets home, however, the marble does not seem quite so wonderful. In fact, Penny feels so badly about taking the shiny blue marble that it almost makes her sick. She worries about the marble all that day, then dreams about it all that night. Penny has a big decision to make…

Perfect for starting conversations about stealing. Perfect for any beginning reader. Perfect for any primary grade classroom.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

A SPECIAL GIFT FOR GRAMMY- Jean Craighead George

One of my all time very most favorite people was my mom's mom, my Grandma Grace. Grandma Grace was a librarian in the Chicago Public Library System. She was a single mom and raised my mother alone, from the time my mom was four years old. She lived a thousand miles away, so I didn't see her more than two or three times a year, but she was a really, really special person in my life. I think of her often, including this weekend, when we are celebrating the moms and important women in our lives.

Recently, I came across a book that reminded me of my grandmother. A SPECIAL GIFT FOR GRAMMY is one of the last books Jean Craighead George wrote before she passed away in May, 2012, at the age of 92. In this book, the main character, Hunter, collects a pile of stones and leaves them on his grandmother's porch.
"What do I do with a pile of stones?" asks Grammy.

"What everyone does with a pile of stones," he answered.

"Of course," says Grammy.
Grammy leaves the stones on her porch, and over the course of the next few weeks, the mail carrier, a repairman, a Brownie Scout, some family members and neighbors, gradually find uses for the stones. Finally, there are only a few left, and Hunter and his grandmother have to figure out what to do with them.

A sweet picture book celebrating the love of a grandmother and a little boy.

Friday, May 10, 2013


Forest by Oliver Herold, Wikimedia Commons

 Life feels like a lot right now.  I googled poems about peace and found this one. I'm posting a few random lines that I loved.

"The Peace of Wild Things"

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound…

I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief…

For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

— Wendell Berry

Read the rest of the poem here.

Anastasia has the Poetry Friday roundup here.

Saturday, May 4, 2013


It hardly seems possible, but it's been almost two months since I've blogged about books. First I did the Slice of Life Challenge for 31 days straight in March, then I did a poetry challenge with Mary Lee over at Year of Reading in April. But now I'm back to talking books most days, with a little slicing and MAYBE some poetry thrown in.

My latest read, completed this afternoon when I should have been doing housework, is CLEMENTINE AND THE SPRING TRIP. I love Clementine. I love her spunky, really-did-mean- well attitude (the scene where she tries to help Margaret by cutting her hair in the bathroom at school is one of my all time favorite sure to sell kids on reading scenes). I love that she names her cat Mascara, because she thinks that some of the world's most beautiful words in the world are found in the bathroom. And I love her relationship with Mrs. Rice, the school principal.

In CLEMENTINE AND THE SPRING TRIP, the entire third and fourth grade are headed out on a field trip to the Plimoth Plantation. Clementine is planning to partner with Margaret, because she knows her good friend does not like to touch anything dirty, and she thinks Margaret will need lots of help dealing with place where the houses have dirt floors and the class has to plant in the dirt, but then a new girl, Olive, moves to town. Clementine isn't sure how she feels about having another student with a foodish name, and is even less sure when she discovers that Olive has invented her own language, which Clementine can't quite grasp, but her teacher, Mr. D'Matz, thinks that Clementine and Olive will be perfect field trip partners.

This book has so many really funny parts. The fourth grade has strict rules about lunch items that make noise, "no crunching, no smacking, no snicking…" (snicking is the noise that your tongue makes when it sticks to the roof of your mouth when you eat peanut butter or other sticky items), and Margaret gives third grade Clementine strict instructions about what she can bring in her lunch box. The class ends up on Bus Seven, home of the dreaded "Cloud," a smell so bad that Clementine has to go lay under a tree and smell pine needles when she even thinks about the bus. Clementine falls in love with a chicken and becomes a vegetarian mid-trip. This is a book sure to keep third and fourth graders turning pages.

Another fun read by Sara Pennypacker!