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Two teachers think about and write about their lives as readers -- readers of children's books, professional books, and adult fiction, nonfiction and poetry. Yes, we still want to try to have read the Newbery, but our reading lives are much bigger than just that.
Statistics for A Year of Reading

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1. Slice of Life -- Hemming



One of the jobs on Mom's to-do list for me last week was to hem a couple of pairs of pants for her.

I should back up to say that my mom was a Master Seamstress in her day, trained under the iron rule of her mother, who was a Home-Ec teacher. (Raise your hand if you even know what Home-Ec is...yeah, I thought so...) When Mom started to teach me to sew, we nearly came to blows. She is a perfectionist. I am a generalist. But she cared enough that I learn to sew that she bought me sewing lessons from a teacher who was a little less like her and a little more like me. I became a functional seamstress.

Teaching Lesson #1 -- If you are not the right teacher for a student, have the humility to find the teacher who can best teach that learner.

After we got the pants measured and pinned, I went to work. I wanted to do a really good job. I wanted to make Mom proud that I'm at least a functional seamstress, and maybe just a little better than that. But I was having problems. The legs of the pants were tapered at the bottom, so the hemming was turning out bunchy. Since I wanted to do a really good job, I asked for help.

Learning Lesson #1 -- If it's not turning out the way you want it to, have the humility to ask for help.

I didn't even have the question out of my mouth before Mom knew what the problem was: the tapering. She came and showed me that if I switched the pins from horizontal to the hem to perpendicular to the hem my work would lay flatter. Then she confirmed my suspicion that it would help to take bigger stitches. Then she left me to it.

Teaching Lesson #2 -- Give just enough help to get the learning going again and then get out of the way.

Hemming the second pair of pants when smoothly. I didn't have to cut any off, the fabric was more considerate, and I was back in the groove of hand-hemming. My stitches were quick and even.

Learning Lesson #2 -- Just because one task is frustrating doesn't mean that every task like that is going to be frustrating. Don't give up. Persevere when things get hard...but also remember to enjoy the feeling when things go smoothly.

Teaching and learning...and hemming pants. Good stuff.


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2. Did You Know? A Fun New Informational Book Series


Last week, we went on an annual trip to IKEA and Joseph Beth Bookstore.  It is a fun way to get our heads back into school and to pick up some new books.  This year, I discovered a new informational book series for young readers-the Did You Know? series by Laura Lyn DiSiena and Hanna Eliot. It will be perfect for 3rd grade and I think younger and older students would like it too.

The first book I read was Hippos Can't Swim: and other fun facts (Did You Know?).  Kids LOVE facts. Isolated facts that are just fun to know.  I worry a bit about this because so many kids read nonfiction and just collect facts without going further.  This series of books is full of facts. I usually avoid books like that as there are enough out there. But this series is different.  The facts are more than just a sentence fact. They are embedded in an explanation and connected to other facts in ways that build some understanding.  For kids who are used to reading facts only, this is a great series to push them a little bit and to see how facts fit into bigger ideas and understandings.

These are great books for kids who need a bit of support reading nonfiction. I can see using them as read alouds or in small groups. But I think for all kids, these will be great reads for independent reading and kids will be able to read them cover to cover. The illustrations are fun with adorable animals doing crazy things everywhere. I think these illustrations will be great for kids who avoid nonfiction because they have a limited definition of what it can be.  These don't look like your typical nonfiction book.

Right now, I think there are 3 books in the series. But 4 more are due out over the next several months.  Woohooo!

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3. Poetry Friday -- You Are There




You Are There
by Erica Jong


You are there.
You have always been
there.
Even when you thought
you were climbing
you had already arrived.
Even when you were
breathing hard,
you were at rest.
Even then it was clear
you were there.

Not in our nature
to know what
is journey and what
arrival.
Even if we knew
we would not admit.
Even if we lived
we would think
we were just
germinating.

To live is to be
uncertain.
Certainty comes
at the end.



June and July have been travel months of for me: Indiana, Hocking Hills, Michigan, Colorado, and next up, Vermont. I like Erica Jong's answer to the question, "Where am I?" 

As Back to School ads and sales rev up and I feel like I should be thinking even more about the upcoming school year than I already am (no school nightmares yet, though...knock wood), I will hold onto that last stanza.

Sylvia and Janet have the Poetry Friday Roundup this week at Poetry For Children


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4. Small Art



Anybody who's been around me or this blog for very long probably knows that I am a huge fan of Hugh MacLeod (gapingvoid.com). I get a cartoon a day in my email very weekday and many of them are archived in a "comics" folder on my computer desktop. My business cards feature MacLeod's art.

My admiration for Hugh MacLeod continues to grow. This week, I was doodling around in Twitter, waiting for the timer to go off so I could move the hose from one part of the dry spot in mom's lawn to another, when I found this article he wrote: In Praise of Small Art. Go ahead and read it. It's a short article.

In some ways, it seems to me that Education (capital E) can be equated to Big Art. What we do in our classrooms when we close our doors is Small Art.

And the more I think about it, many of the classroom practices that are the most powerful are also Small Art: read aloud, Poetry Friday, 15 Minutes on Friday, reading/writing conferences, minilessons.

Small Art was at the heart of the poem I shared last Friday for Poetry Friday, and -- how far will this train of thought lead me? -- poetry is definitely a Small Art.

Today, right now, is Small Art. My life, constructed of these small installations, is Big Art, and to make the Big Art as beautiful as possible, each bit of Small Art needs to be well-crafted and intentional. Praise-worthy.

Here's to Small Art!

Go make some.




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5. Readers Front and Center by Dorothy Barnhouse



Readers Front & Center: Helping All Students Engage with Complex Textby Dorothy Barnhouse
     Stenhouse, 2014

This is a book about LISTENING.
"We can't teach people if we don't know them and we can't know them if we don't listen to them." p.4
Dorothy Barnhouse takes Lucy Calkins' three components of a writing conference -- "research, decide, teach" -- applies them to reading conferences, and puts each phase under the microscope.

RESEARCH (chapter 1)
In the research phase, Barnhouse describes how we listen to a child read a small bit of text. Rather than focusing on issues of fluency, we focus on each student as a reader, listening to what they have to say and asking questions to understand what's behind their thinking. In this phase, we also refrain from probing to see if they "got it" or can retell the plot. We are listening to what students say about their thinking with an eye toward what we will teach about the way texts work, not just fixing some small misunderstanding in that particular text. "...correcting is not teaching. Correcting is small. It's about one word, one sentence, one text. Teaching is bigger. It attempts to take that moment and contextualize it." p.22

Questions we might ask (with a "tone of curiosity rather than interrogation") in this phase of a conference (p.24-25):
What's going on here?
What made you think that?
Where did you get that information?
How do you know?
DECIDE (chapter 2)
In the introduction to this chapter (p.28), Barnhouse writes, "...how does one decide what to teach?" and my marginal note reads, "Indeed!" The sections of this chapter are "Reading with Vision," "Reading with Agency" (I love how Peter Johnston's work informs Barnhouse's thinking!), "Reading with a Flexible Mindset," "Teaching with Vision: Noticing the How Not Just the What," "Teaching Readers to be Problem Solvers," "Setting Texts Up as Problems to be Solved," "Learning from Errors," and "Building Identities as Thinkers and Learners." This is the chapter that will change the way I conference with students. This is the chapter that lifts my eyes up from the text the student is reading and helps me to remember to keep my eyes (and my teaching decisions) on the way ALL texts work. This is the chapter will help me frame all conversations about texts around the way readers solve different aspects of the puzzle that texts provide. This is the chapter that will keep me grounded in Carol Dweck's "growth mindset."

TEACH (chapters 3-6)
These will be chapters to which I will return often for ideas about how to move students as individuals and in groups to texts of greater and greater complexity. The ways Barnhouse diagrams student thinking will give me new ways to capture the essence of a conference. And even though she gives a shout-out to Cathy Mere on the topic of using Evernote to track conferences, I'm going to try Google Docs this year. Or just stick with my tried-and-true clipboard and not obsess about record-keeping. (I'll update you about my record-keeping again once the school year is underway.)

The most important take-away from these chapters on teaching (for me) would be a deconstruction of the title of the book:
READERS Front and Center (it's about the reader, not the text):
Helping ALL Students (because it's about students, there will always be a text a little more complex than the one they are reading into which we can help them to grow)
ENGAGE (such a smart verb choice, because we want active involvement with authentic purpose)
with COMPLEX TEXT (which is a student-driven moving target, not a list in a program or even the exemplar texts in the CCSS).

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6. Sophie Scott Goes South by Alison Lester



Thanks to Joellen McCarthy (@imalwayslearning), I now know about this fabulous book Sophie Scott Goes South by Alison Lester.  Joellen is one of those people that mentions one great book every time I see her. And it is always a FABULOUS book that I have never heard of.

Sophie Scott Goes South is a book about a girl who gets to travel to Antarctica with her father, who is  the captain of the ship that takes a group there.  The book is about a fictitious character (Sophie Scott) but is based on Alison Lester's journey to the Antarctic.

The book reads like Sophie's journal.  It is filled with her writing and drawings. And since  this is based on the author's trip, there are lots of real photos throughout the book that show what Sophie is doing and seeing. The photos are incredible as the reader actually gets to see the real Antarctica.

I don't know much about Antarctica. I actually didn't even know I was interested in it. But some of the facts and information in this book are fascinating!  One of the most fascinating things I learned was that scientists leave underwater microphones in the ocean for years so they can analyze whales sounds. Who knew? I had lots of WOW moments and lots of wonderings when I read this book. I imagine kids will too.

This book has so many possibilities. It is a longer picture book, maybe one that would take longer than one sitting to read. It would make a great read aloud and I am always looking for great informational texts to read aloud.  The visuals really add to the text so that is one thing to study.  The text can definitely be used as a mentor text in writing. It is perfect for middle grade kids.

So happy to know about this book!  Fabulous!



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7. How to Outrun a Crocodile When Your Shoes are Untied


I read How to Outrun a Crocodile When Your Shoes Are Untied (My Life Is a Zoo) by Jess Keating before #nerdcampmi (one of my favorite days of the year-have I mentioned that?).  I had heard about the book on Twitter and thought it sounded like a great middle grade novel. Then I saw that Jess would be at #nerdcampmi so I definitely wanted to read it before #nerdcampmi in case I had a chance to meet her.

The book is fabulous! It is about a girl named Ana who is dealing with typical middle school problems.  She deals with cute boys, mean girls, school struggles and parents who are sometimes embarrassing.  This is the story of a preteen/teen girl who is beginning to figure out who she is.

Her story is unique in that her parents are zoologists so she lives at the zoo while her mom works on a research project. It is perfect because the story is both funny and serious.  There were lots of laugh-out-loud parts, but there were also real issues of middle grade and middle school kids. It seems to be the perfect combination.

Ana is a character you care about quickly and I was glad to see that this was the first book in a series. She is likable and vulnerable. She is trying to figure out how to fit in and how to be herself.  She is dealing with lots of different relationships and juggling lots of things as middle schoolers do.

And this book happens in the zoo. I found this part fascinating. I am not a zoo person. I go, but it is not my favorite place. However, we do live right near the Columbus Zoo, one of the best zoos in the world from what I can tell. The amazing Jack Hanna lives in our town. And I am a big fan of Jack Hanna. So it was fascinating to me to read some behind-the-scenes zoo stuff. I want to pay closer attention-next time I am at the zoo-to the work going on and those buildings that seem to be empty.  The fun of this book is that author Jess Keating used to be a zoologist. So that part of her story made the zoo part of this far more interesting. Love how she took that and brought it to her life as a writer! I love that she is a zoologist/children's author. (Her website has a great feature called #KeatingCreature which shares some great creature info and is lots of fun!)

I don't see this as a book I'd put in a 3rd grade classroom --it seems more perfect for 5th and 6th grade. Maybe even the end of 4th. I had several kids in mind when I read this book--kids who were ready for a tiny bit of romance, kids who like to read about real kids in real life, without the sadness that goes along with some middle grade fiction.  I had kids in mind who liked to laugh a little bit when they read but they like humor embedded in real life stories of great characters.

This is really a perfect middle grade novel for upper middle grades. I sometimes worry that our kids are reading all things sad. (And I love a good, sad book.) My youngest daughter is also a fan of sad books. But I know she has said to me more than once during middle school--I want to read a good book, but not one where someone dies or that I'll cry. Our middle grade kids want stories about kids like them, going through every day preteen stuff, figuring out the world around them. This is that book.

I can't wait til the next in this series comes out (January 2015) and I am definitely holding onto this one for a few 5th graders I know this fall.



Our #TeamShortcut photo. See, we aren't even tired at the end!  Jess is on the left, dressed as Beekle!)

(On a side note, I did meet Jess Keating at #nerdcampmi.  We decided early on that for the #nerdrun, we would be part of #TeamSaunter. We had no desire to win, but thought we would support camp by taking part and celebrating some book characters. So a group of us did just that. Well, it was great to walk with Jess and to turn #TeamSaunter into #TeamShortcut. It was great to have some time to chat and to make some new friends.   Jess is a great author --one that I am happy to have had the chance to meet! Can't wait to read more of her books! And to maybe Hack that #nerdrun map again:-)



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8. Poetry Friday -- War Some of the Time


Found on the website Indexed



War Some of the Time
by Charles Bukowski


when you write a poem it
needn't be intense
it
can be nice and
easy
and you shouldn't necessarily
be
concerned only with things like anger or
love or need;
at any moment the
greatest accomplishment might be to simply
get
up and tap the handle
on that leaking toilet;
I've
done that twice now while typing
this
and now the toilet is
quiet.
to
solve simple problems: that's
the most
satisfying thing, it
gives you a chance and it
gives everything else a chance
too.

we were made to accomplish the easy
things
and made to live through the things
hard.



Now that Franki got me (and apparently most of the rest of her social network) started with the daily news digest theSkimm, I finally feel like I know a bit about what's going on in the world. Unfortunately, most of what's going on in the world seems to be war, now that the World Cup is over. Depressing. I'm with Bukowski. Wiggling the toilet handle or making the perfectly browned piece of toast -- the little things in life -- are keeping me grounded and positive.

Tabatha has the Poetry Friday roundup this week at The Opposite of Indifference.


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9. A Book for All Writers



The Night Gardener
by Jonathan Auxier
Harry N. Abrams, 2014
review copy from the public library, but I will want this one for my classroom library


This is a creepy Victorian tale of two orphans who find themselves working in an English manor house that is overrun by an ominous tree and visited at night by a mysterious spirit-man.

At the heart of the book, however, and what makes it a "book for all writers" is STORY and storytelling. Molly holds her brother Kip's world together with storytelling. Stories give them hope and help them deal with the uncertainties of life. Molly uses stories as currency, keys, and salve.
"I think I figured it out." She sniffed, looking up at the stars. "Hester asked me what the difference between a story and a lie was. At the time, I told her that a story helps folks. 'Helps 'em do what?' she asked. Well I think I know the answer. A story helps folks face the world, even when it frightens 'em. And a lie does the opposite. It helps you hide." 
Here's to more good stories, like this one. Here's to the writing that will bring them to life.


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10. A Book for All Readers



I Kill the Mockingbird
by Paul Acampora
Roaring Brook Press, 2014
review copy from the public library, but I'll be buying a copy so I can transfer all my dog-eared pages



We rarely review YA books, but exceptions can be made.

This is a book for book lovers.

Three good friends on the brink of high school hatch a fake conspiracy to ensure that everyone will actually read their summer reading assignment -- To Kill a Mockingbird.

There's a romance subplot, a cancer subplot, and a poke-mild-fun-at-Catholics subplot. There are literary allusions to children's literature right and left (the three good friends are, and have always been Readers).

Oh, and there's a teaching subplot. Mr. Nowak, Fat Bob, has these words of wisdom before he dies of a massive coronary:
"It's not enough to know what all the words mean," he continued. "A good reader starts to see what an enritre book is trying to say. And then a good reader will have something to say in return. If you're reading well," he told us, "you're having a conversation." 
I raised my hand. "A conversation with who?"
"With the characters in the book," said Mr. Nowak. "With the author. With friends and fellow readers. A book connects you to the universe like a cell phone connects you to the Internet."
Mr. Nowak's the one who inspires the three culprits who hatch the I Kill the Mockingbird plan. And in the end,
"All the teachers are talking about it...If you're a teacher, you dream about having students who will try to change the world someday because of something you do or say in the classroom."
Indeed.



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11. So Many Things to Love About Comic Squad: Recess!



The world has been very excited about Comics Squad: Recess!! for a very long time!  And it was worth the wait! What a great book. I am sure I am going to need several for the classroom this year. Kid are going to go crazy with this one!




If you haven't read Jarrett Krosoczka's Nerdy Book Club post about the book, it is a fabulous story of the book and how it came to be.  


Here are 10 of the things I love about this book!

1. It is a great size!

2. It has 8 different stories!  So great for read aloud or independent reading. So many possibilities!

3. Babymouse and Lunch Lady intro the book together! What could be better?

4.  It is VERY funny!

5.  There is a lot of orange inside!

6.  It seems to be good for ALL ages--like 0-99, I think!

7.  It is a collection of stories from some of the best graphic novel writers around. This is a great way to introduce kids to new authors OR if they already love these author, they get something new!

8.  There is an ugly sweater in the book. Any book with an ugly sweater is a real treat!

9.  You can learn to draw Betty in 12 easy steps (maybe)...!

10.  There will be a Comics Squad #2!

Thank you authors for an incredible new book! 

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12. Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff


Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff.  is a MUST READ in 2014. It is so good that you should rearrange your TBR stack and put this one on top. I actually think it is so good, that you should read it even if you don't read much middle grade fiction.  I can't think of anyone I know who shouldn't put it at the top of their stack.

I am a HUGE Lisa Graff fan.  I think her books are PERFECT middle grade novels. There are not many authors who can write for that age with enough depth to actually change the readers who read the books, and also in a way that it is accessible to 9-11 year olds. Lisa Graff is one of those authors.
I loved The Thing About Georgie when it came out years ago and I have loved everyone one of Graff's books, especially Umbrella Summer and The Life and Crimes of Bernetta Wallflower.

Absolutely Almost may be Lisa Graff's best book yet (even though her others are amazing!). The book is about a 5th grader named Albie who is not so good at anything. He struggles with lots of things, pretty much everything, including learning.  Albie is a character you love from the very start.  He is a great kid, someone you'd love to hang out with.  He has so many strengths and his new babysitter sees all of them. Albie comes to learn lots about himself in this book. I checked around on the web and pretty much everyone loves this book. If I haven't convinced you to read it, here are some other reviews:

Review by Betsy Bird

Carol's Corner

Barbara O'Connor

Two Reflective Teachers

Debbie Alvarez

And read all of the Lisa Graff books that you haven't read while you are at it. I love them all!

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13. Poetry Friday -- Chicory




CHICORY
by John Updike


Show me a piece of land that God forgot—
a strip between an unused sidewalk, say,
and a bulldozed lot, rich in broken glass—
and there, July on, will be chicory,

its leggy hollow stems staggering skyward,
its leaves rough-hairy and lanceolate,
like pointed shoes too cheap for elves to wear,
its button-blooms the tenderest mauve-blue.

How good of it to risk the roadside fumes,
the oil-soaked heat reflected from asphalt,
and wretched earth dun-colored like cement,
too packed for any other seed to probe.

It sends a deep taproot (delicious, boiled),
is relished by all livestock, lends its leaves
to salads and cooked greens, but will not thrive
in cultivated soil: it must be free.


I love chicory. Mostly for its blueness, but also for its love of freedom. Maybe that's why I picked it for my poetry website, which I killed and brought back to life again here. It is a work in progress.

I just realized about an hour ago that today is Friday. Summer and travel will do that to you.

Linda has the Poetry Friday roundup at Write Time.


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14. Take Away the A



Take Away the A
by Michaël Escoffier (author of Brief Thief, Me First! and The Day I Lost My Superpowers)
illustrated by Kris Di Giacomo
Enchanted Lion Books, due out September 12, 2014
review copy provided by the publisher


You will want this book. I guarantee it.

Best. Alphabet Book. Ever.

This is the kind of mentor text that makes you want to try writing this way...right NOW.

Here's a taste:

"Without the A
the BEAST is BEST.

Without the B
the BRIDE goes for a RIDE.

Without the C
the CHAIR has HAIR."

See what I mean?

I wish you could actually see the book, because the other part of the fun is finding the duck, the mice, the octopus, the monkey, and the cats in spreads other than their own throughout the book.

Need a quote for a slide in your word study/vocabulary presentation? From the press release:
"Since we are really only able to think about the world, ourselves, and the nature of life itself (along with everything else) within the vocabulary that is available to us, the richer and more nuanced our language is, the richer our possibilities for thinking and understanding become. From this point of view, the ethical, political, cultural and intellectual imperatives for deepening a child's sense of language and its possibilities are profound. Giving them the idea that language is a vital material with which they can make and build and shape their world is so clearly of vital importance."

What are you waiting for?

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15. Blogging Live from nErDcampmi! 2014!


Today, we are blogging live from Day 2 of nErDcampmi! This is the 2nd annual event and it is one of our favorite days of the year!  Colby Sharp and his wife Alaina Sharp and The Nerdy Book Club gang invented this camp--an edcamp focused on Literacy. Brilliant.  You may have read about how awesome it was on our blog last year!  All day, we'll be adding photos and thoughts to this blog post, live, as they happen!  You can also follow nerdcampmi on Twitter today #nerdcampmi.

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16. It's Monday! What Are You Reading?


For the It's Monday! What Are You Reading? round up, visit Jen at Teach Mentor Texts! Thanks, Jen for this weekly event!

It was a good reading week.  I read more than usual, even though I had other things I probably should have been doing. These are my favorites from the week--these are all MUST READS in my opinion as I loved them all!

PICTURE BOOKS


Elizabeth, Queen of the Seas--This was an amazing (story of an elephant seal. It is based on a true story and has great illustrations by Brian Floca. I had not heard of this book but fell in love with it immediately!  A very happy surprise read. this is one that will make a great read aloud in the fall.


My Teacher Is a Monster! (No, I Am Not.)-Every Peter Brown book is a MUST READ in my opinion. I so love this new one about a boy and his teacher. Love the way the story unfolds and I find new things in the pictures every time!


Pardon Me!-Thanks to Beth at Cover to Cover for sharing this book with me during my last shopping spree.  This is an almost wordless picture book. A fun story with great illustrations.  Kids will love it and I don't think you can ever have too many good wordless (or almost wordless) picture books.

MIDDLE GRADE


Rain Reign-This is definitely one of my favorite reads of the year.  This is a great story of a girl named Rose and her dog Rain.  Rose is diagnosed with Asperger's and she is character who will stay with me for a very long time.  This is the perfect middle grade novel--great issues to discuss without being too heavy for 4-6th graders. Love this one. (It doesn't come out til October and it seems unkind to share it when you can't really get it yet, but it is so good that you should order it right away and block off some time on its release day to read it!)

PROFESSIONAL BOOKS


The Revision Toolbox, Second Edition: Teaching Techniques That Work-I loved Georgia Heard's Revision Toolbox when the first edition came out so I was excited to see this one. This one is the same great thinking bout revision and the importance of changing our students' stance about revision. Georgia also includes lots of specific ideas for narrative, informational and persuasive writing which I needed as I think ahead to the school year.


And I am currently reading Digital Leadership: Changing Paradigms for Changing Times by Eric Sheninger. I have followed the author on Twitter (@NMHS_Principal) for a while and have been hearing lots about the book. Even though it is intended for administrators, I am learning lots and seeing the impact technology can make on a whole school.  I have not read much but I already have lots to think about.  

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17. Poetry Friday: The Prairie Town


Main Street, Burlington, Colorado, Reflected in the Bank Window

The Prairie Town
by Helen Santmyer


Lovers of beauty laugh at this grey town,
Where dust lies thick on ragged curb-side trees,
And compass-needle streets lead up and down
And lose themselves in empty prairie seas.

Here is no winding scented lane, no hill
Crowned with a steepled church, no garden wall
Of old grey stone where lilacs bloom, and fill
The air with fragrance when the May rains fall.

But here is the unsoftened majesty
Of the wide earth where all the wide streets end,
And from the dusty corner one may see
The full moon rise, and flaming sun descend.

The long main street, whence farmers’ teams go forth,
Lies like an old sea road, star-pointed north.




Trade out the "teams" for pickup trucks, and this is my hometown. Where I'll be for a couple of weeks starting next week. Looking forward to some "Mom Time!"
 
This poem was a Poets.org poem-a-day recently.

Heidi has the Red, White and Blue edition of the Poetry Friday Roundup at her blog, My Juicy Little Universe.


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18. June Mosaic




As of yesterday, we've been out of school exactly a month. It's been a busy month, and just glancing at the mosaic, you can see it's been a green month!

Row 1: The big orange big orange kitty meets the big orange classroom fish, who is home for the summer. We love Snowville Creamery milk, yogurt and creme fraiche. So, naturally, we drove all the way to Pomeroy (near Athens) for their open house. We stayed until the cows came home. Speaking of home, we're already finding evidence that there will be a bumper crop of acorns this year.

Row 2: Dew on the cuke. The fountain in Goodale Park (those are baby elephants spouting off on top -- so cute!), along with the irrelevant sign about ice, the lily bloom, and the

Row 3: ducklings. This dinner on the patio at Mazah's new home inspired the beginning of my "wishes" series of poems (the poem that goes with this photo can be seen at Today's Little Ditty). It has been the Summer of the Black Swallowtail. It all started with this egg on my parsley and these hijackers who came on dill I brought from the community garden. See rows 6 and 7 for where we're at now with this fun project!

Row 4: Ruth Ayres and her family made these cute cookies for all the bloggers who attended the All Write pre-conference dinner. I had surgery on both thumbs June 3. Just this week, I was released from the splint and given permission to swim again. The healing process is amazing. There's that cuke again, and a shasta daisy.

Row 5: Ohio Monsoon Season. 2.5 inches of rain in about an hour created Easement Lake. This is the first time it has ever come all the way up under our back fence into our yard. Then that night, we got another 2 inches, for a total of 4.5 inches in less than 24 hours. It still amazes this girl who came from the arid high plains where in a good year they get 17 inches of precipitation...for the year, and we got a third of that in a day.

Row 6: Three views from The Inn at Cedar Falls, where the central Ohio Choice Literacy writers were treated by über-editor Brenda Power to an amazing writing retreat with the theme "Renewal." Two swallowtail caterpillars

Row 7: and the chrysalis that another made while I was at the retreat. The butterfy "nursery" in my office. The first two tomatoes of the year (black cherry), and there's that cuke again, with some almost big enough to harvest! Watch for my "Cucumber in a Tomato Cage" to make an appearance on the Choice Literacy newsletter, The Big Fresh!



Almost every month, inquiring minds want to know: How do I make my mosaics?
First, I take thirty or more (and sometimes less) pictures every month.
Next, I make a set on Flickr. (This month's set is here.)
Then, I go to Big Huge Labs and use their Mosaic Maker with the link to my Flickr photoset.
Finally, I download, save, insert, comment, and publish!

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19. Breathe: Early Summer Edition


All around me, esteemed colleagues are reading and reflecting on professional books, tearing through #bookaday books that make them bubble with excitement, and taking coursework to advance themselves professionally.

I'm growing corn.



And carrots.



And swallowtail butterflies.



I haven't written any articles or many blog posts, but I have had a poem accepted for a new crowd-sourced anthology and I am pretty pleased with a new series of poems (code name "Wishes") I am working on for the Summer Poem Swap (and who knows what other venue).

I am healing,



celebrating good news about our test scores, and volunteering most days for our Summer Lunch program.

It's not like I've been sitting on the couch frittering my time away these past three weeks. I have to remind myself of that, remember not to beat myself up because my "did it" list isn't filled with the same things my esteemed colleagues' lists are, and continually celebrate every moment of my happy, busy, productive (on my terms) SUMMER!


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20. Catching up On Professional Journals



March 2014 Teaching Children Mathematics (NCTM)
"Digital Date Equations"

Although this is not a particularly new activity -- use the digits of the date to create an equation -- I have a couple of big take-aways:

  • I rant that teachers of reading and writing need to be readers and writers themselves. If I follow the same logic, then I need to create equations, too.
  • By making some equations of my own, I know how hard it is to keep the digits in order.
  • If we begin the school year making these equations, we will be able to have conversations about order of operations, estimating, mental math, inequalities (and more) all year long instead of during a particular unit of study. Like read aloud, Poetry Friday, and 15 Minutes on Friday blog writing, this seems to be a small but mighty practice.

My equations for 6/24/2014:
(6 ÷ 2) x 4 = (2 + 0 + 1) x 4
(6 + 2 + 4 + 2 +0) = 14
(6 ÷ 24) + (2 x 0) = 1 ÷ 4
6÷ 4 = (2 x 4) + 1 + 0
62 x 4 > 20 x 14



 March 2014 Language Arts (NCTE)
"Addressing CCSS Anchor Standard 10: Text Complexity"

This article includes a really nice chart that summarizes all the ways a text can be complex:

Level of Meaning and Purpose
     Density and Complexity
     Figurative Language
     Purpose
Structure
     Genre
     Organization
     Narration
     Text Features and Graphics
Language Conventionality and Clarity
     Standard English and Variations
     Register (Archaic, formal, domain-specific, scholarly)
Knowledge Demands
     Background Knowledge (experiences)
     Prior Knowledge (specialized or technical content knowledge)
     Cultural Knowledge
     Vocabulary Knowledge

ReadWriteThink Text Complexity strategy for primary readers (following this link will take you down a really nice rabbit hole of ReadWriteThink resources for all levels)

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21. Poetry Friday -- The Writer's Wish


Flickr Creative Commons Photo by see like click

The Writer's Wish

Come, words.

Pour down like rain in the night,
with or without the thunder.

Sit on my shoulder like the wren on the fence.
Sing to me; sing through me.

Rise dependably, like sun behind clouds.
Glow with promise and purpose.

Follow me down the pine-scented forest path.
Follow me, or perhaps lead me. Better yet, walk with me.

©Mary Lee Hahn, 2014



My theme for my poems this summer seems to be "Wishes." Two have been sent out to Summer Poem Swap recipients, another is ready, and I'll keep this one for myself, and for my fellow writers at the Choice Literacy Writing retreat.

Buffy has the Poetry Friday roundup this week at Buffy's Blog.

Two spots remain on the roundup calendar for July-December 2014. Feel free to take a second helping if you'd like!

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22. Celebrate!


Check out more Celebration posts at www.ruthayreswrites.com

1. Franki has unveiled her new digital learning blog: Click Here Next. What an amazing resource for teachers K-5 who are anywhere on the spectrum of learning about and using digital tools in their classrooms!

2. My multi-equational "Gardener's Math Poems" poem-set was accepted for publication in Carol-Ann Hoyt's upcoming (October) anthology of poems for children about food and agriculture.

3. One of the swallowtail caterpillars that I am hosting in a big jar on the counter by the fish tank is now a chrysalis! 

4. The Choice Literacy writing retreat. What a gift to be able to relax in a beautiful setting, connect with smart and funny teacher-writers, and have the gift of TIME to be able to write without interruption.

5. This cute little baby:


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23. Friends With Fins: Interview with Author Jaclyn Friedlander


I had a fun surprise a few weeks ago when I heard from a past student, Jaclyn Friedlander.  She was a 4th grader in my class a while ago so I was thrilled to hear from her.  It turns out that Jaclyn has written two books for children! So exciting as a teacher to remember a child writing in 4th grade and then continuing that passion into adulthood!  Jaclyn was always an amazing person--filled with life and ready to change the world.  I am excited to be back in touch with her after all of these years.


Jaclyn has written 2 children's books in the Friends With Fins series (The Talent Show and The Fish Capturing Pirate) as a way to teach children about ocean conservation. She's also created an educational video and a book for the iPad.  I love the story of how these books came to be and am excited to share Jaclyn's story with my new group of students this fall.  I love to hear about the process writers use but even more interesting to me with Jaclyn's interview is the way she is using these books to teach kids about a global issue that she is passionate about. Her work is a great model for kids about how to use writing and media to make a difference in the world.

There are lots of ways for our students to learn from Jaclyn.  She has done several author visits and she is also available for classroom Skype visits.  You can visit Jaclyn's website at friendswithfins.com and you can follow her on Twitter. Friends with Fins also has a Facebook page and you can follow Friends with Fins on Twitter (@friendswithfins)

Enjoy the interview: 

Franki:  How did you get interested in writing for children?

Jaclyn:  When I was in 8th grade I was voted in the yearbook “Most Likely to Write a Book.”  I’ve always been a people pleaser so I added it to my list of things to doJ  That’s part of it, but in all seriousness, I have always enjoyed writing.  I’ve kept journals, notebooks, poetry books and I’ve written for several newspapers.  Writing is something I’ve always been interested in and when I got the idea for the Friends with Fins series, it just felt like the right time

Franki:  How did you get interested in ocean conservation?

Jaclyn:  I’ve always been interested in marine biology and if I hadn’t gone to school for acting, marine bio would have been my #2 choice.  When I moved to Los Angeles, I called several aquariums looking for a place to volunteer.  That was almost 4 years ago and now it’s something I’m HUGELY passionate about, and extremely educated in. I now not only volunteer for the aquarium, I also work with an organization called Heal the Bay as a member of their speakers bureau and as a beach captain for beach cleanup days.  I could talk for hours about conservation issues, ocean animals and the many different species.

Franki:  Can you talk a bit about your writing process? You have 2 books in the series. What process did you use to get those to publication? 

Jaclyn:  Someone said to me, if you want to be a writer, just write, so I did!  I saw a need at the aquarium for a current video that taught conservation in a fun and exciting way for children, so I wrote and produced a video called Friend with Fins that is basically ‘Sponge Bob’ meets ‘Blues Clues’ and focuses heavily on West Coast conservation issues. It is now used at some aquariums and in classrooms as a teaching tool.   It was so successful that once I finished that, I wrote a 22 minute pilot to try and have it turned into a children’s show and from there got the idea to write the books.  Once the first book was written, finding an illustrator became a challenge but after that obstacle was out of the way it was smooth sailing.  I decided to go the self-publishing route for several reasons.  The first reason was because I didn’t want to risk the book never being seen.  I have seen many extremely talented writer friends look for a literary agent for years and sit on really brilliant stories that never reach the public.  Also, I wanted to stay on my own time schedule.  I wasn’t interested in deadlines or having someone to answer to.  I’m really glad I made the decision I did because after I found my illustrator and completed the first book, I put it out in paperback and Kindle form and then it was suggested to me that we make a version that is read along for the iPad, which I also did.  Shortly after that, a teacher here in Los Angeles, Johanna Denise, reached out to me and offered to translate it into Spanish so that it could be enjoyed by both Spanish and English speaking children.  Once it was out there, it took on a life of its own.  I did some author visits at elementary schools and kids at every school were asking what the next Friends with Fins adventure was going to be, so I decided it was time to write the second book.

Franki:  Which character in your books do you most connect to and why?

Jaclyn:  I connect the most with the character of Amanda because in the stories she is a Marine Messenger who lives in an airtight dome helping sea creatures.  She travels around with another Marine Messenger in their submarine and they send conservation message back to the surface.  That’s something I wish could be real!  I would LOVE to spend time exploring the ocean and I wish there was more that I could do to make a difference.

Franki:  Can you tell us a little bit about the illustrator of your book and how he came to illustrate your books?

Jaclyn:  My illustrator, Christian Hahn, is an extremely talented 14-year-old artist.  He is my husband’s cousin and it’s actually a funny story how I decided to use him.  I had been meeting with adult illustrators in Los Angeles and wasn’t finding what I was looking for.  Many of them were very talented but their art was much more mature and realistic than what I was looking for.  I wanted something that had a youthfulness to it and that I thought children would connect with.  When I was talking with some of the family about my artist search, he overheard, went to his room to show me some of his sketches and drawings. I asked him if he would illustrate my book and he had several rough drafts for me before I even left that evening! When I’ve done author visits in the past, Christian has been able to come to a few of them, which is a valuable experience for both him and the students.  The students can see someone just a few years older than themselves published and accomplishing his goal of being an artist and he has learned public speaking and is being recognized for his talent.

Franki:  What do you talk about when you do author visits?

Jaclyn:  When I visit schools my goal is to make learning about conservation fun! After reading the book and making it come to life for the students, I do an interactive presentation that educates and entertains simultaneously.  A highlight of the presentation is four different varieties of sharks’ teeth to show similarities and differences between species, which is always a crowd pleaser.  I also utilize the Friends with Fins video and answer questions about green screen, animation, acting, production and goal setting. 


Franki:  How do you hope that your books will impact children?

Jaclyn:  I would love for children to get into good conservation habits and perhaps even teach their parents.  Using cloth grocery bags, cutting apart six pack soda plastic rings, and not using balloons (or at least disposing of them properly) are just a few of the nuggets I try to teach kids.  I also want these books to entertain and show children some of the many interesting animal species that live in in the ocean.


Franki:  Your books have some online features and iPad apps. Can you talk about the process for creating the iPad version?  

Jaclyn:  I am lucky to have amazing technical support at home in my husband, Timothy Riese! He helps me with all of the formatting for the electronic versions.  The fun part was getting some of my actor friends together to record the voices of the characters for the iPad version. 

Franki:  You were a big reader and writer when you were younger.  Are there any books from your childhood that you remember loving?

Jaclyn:  I have always loved children’s literature and to this day prefer young adult novels to regular adult fiction.  I loved being read to by parents and teachers.  My favorite books were The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, A Wrinkle in Timeand then series like Boxcar Children, Nancy Drew, and the Bobbsey Twins.  My favorite picture books were Chicka Chicka Boom Boom,  DownBy the Bay and Gloria Houston’s But No Candy.

Franki:  Was there any work that impacted your writing of Friends with Fins-any authors you learned from? 

Jaclyn: When I was in elementary school we watched videos called “The Voyage of the Mimi” that taught history and then had companion workbooks and reading material.  That was a huge inspiration for me and that was the original idea behind the Friends with Fins video.  I would still like to see it go in that direction as a series of teaching tools that cross several media platforms. I was also really inspired by authors who came to visit our school when I was a child likeMem Fox and Tomie Depaola.


Franki:  Will there be another book in this series coming soon?  What are your plans for the series?  

Jaclyn:  Several kids have requested that I write a young reader chapter book of Friends with Fins.  I’m not sure if that’s going to happen or not, but I’m definitely thinking about it.  I would like to put out at least one more Friends with Finspicture book and I’m talking with production companies about turning the books into a children’s series, so fingers crossed!


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24. Celebrating Mr. Schu with a Donation to The Reading Village

Flickr Creative Commons Photo by Will Clayton

Even though our blog birthday was on January 1, we are celebrating it all year! On our 8th Birthday, we decided to celebrate 2014 by celebrating others who inspire us every day. Each month, on the 1st (or so) of the month, we will celebrate a fellow blogger whose work has inspired us. We feel so lucky to be part of the blog world that we want to celebrate all that everyone gives us each day.

Our year-long blog birthday celebration continues as we honor blogger and Super Reader, Mr. John Schu at Watch. Connect. Read. We have so many reasons to celebrate Mr. Schu! His blog is one that keeps us up to date on new books, new authors, and new book trailers. Mr. Schu reads more than anyone we know and by knowing him, we read more too!  He has shown us what a reading community can look like in a school, with the library as the hub. We aren't sure how he does all that he does but we know that the reading community is better because of him. We love his Newbery Challenge and his Book Release Calendar. We love the Sharp-Schu challenges and the Trifectas.  

Mr. Schu is generous with his book giveaways as he is always one to pay it forward with books. Mostly we are celebrating Mr. Schu because of his generosity to this reading community that we love.  It seems he is always giving something to children, teachers, and librarians. His passion is contagious and we are so glad to celebrate him and his blog today!  If you don't follow John, you can find him on Twitter at @MrSchuReads. And if you want to hear Mr. Schu himself talk about his library, I had a chance to interview him for Choice Literacy a few years ago.

To honor John, we are making a donation to The Reading Village. This organization is one that is working hard to build a culture of literacy in Guatemala.  Building leaders in literacy and bringing a culture of reading to communities is key to making change.

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25. Reading History


Last week, the historian in my house was hustling to finish his current read so that he could begin a book about World War I on June 28, the date 100 years ago when Austrian archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated and the domino effect of events leading to the declaration of World War I began.

I was between books as well, so I dove into


World War I for Kids: A History with 21 Activities (For Kids series)
by R. Kent Rasmussen
Chicago Review Press, 2014
review copy provided by the publisher

Just about everything I know about WWI, I learned by reading the graphic novel from the Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales series, TREATIES, TRENCHES, MUD, AND BLOOD. In many ways, I liked World War I for kids better.

Hale's book is more of a sequential story of the war, whereas WWI for Kids is more topical. I personally like the topical approach.

Rasmussen begins with a very clear introduction that focuses on WWI as "the most important turning point of the 20th century." He makes the point that "Change is the essence of history..." and suggests that the reader not focus so much on particular battles or on who won or lost the war, but on "what events were truly significant, why they happened as they did, and how they were connected with one another." He also encourages close attention to maps when studying the war. "It is impossible to understand any war without knowing something about its geography." I can imagine reading aloud this entire introduction both as a book hook and because Rasmussen does such a succinct job teaching the reader how to read and learn about history.

I had a hard time with the first two chapters (The Road to War and Stalemate on the Western Front) and chapter 4 (Other Fronts), but the ones that were organized around topics rather than politics and chronologies were fascinating to me. I learned about the horrors of Trench Warfare, the changes of technology in The Weapons of War, The War at Sea and the development of submarines, The War in the Air and the development of airplanes, and the role of animals in Animals Go To War. It was fascinating to learn about how and when the US become involved (Enter the United States), but I lost some of my reading stamina in the chapters The Home Fronts, Ending the Fighting, and Beyond the Armistice. One of the things that kept me going throughout the book were the archival photographs, the maps, and the sidebar information and stories. I think it will be important to share with young readers who are just beginning to tackle longer nonfiction that these variations in preference and stamina are normal.

I imagine that this book, and its companion World War II for Kids: A History with 21 Activities (For Kids series)will be very popular in my 5th grade classroom.


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