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1. I'm on Manchester's Library Cards!

Manchester Libraries have redesigned their library cards and they thought that the children's cards ought to be illustrated. 

They used illustrations from my baby books as part of their publicity when the newly refurbished library was launched last year (do you remember the poster?). So they came back to me this time and asked if I would let them use my work on the library cards. It seemed such a lovely idea, of course I said yes.

They sent me some samples of the actual cards. Great aren't they? To launch them, they organised a days of children's events with me. We had a lot of fun. I thought it only fitting to read the three books featured on the cards, so I read Kangaroo's Cancan Cafe for the first time in a long time (complete with feather bower and high-kick dancing!), as well as Bears on the Stairs and Class Three all at Sea

I did two storytellings in the morning, then a workshop with older children and their parents in the afternoon. We had a great turn-out and it went really well.

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2. The best-of-the-year lists have begun

Teachers often ask how to keep up with the best new books. Good intentions are one thing, and real life (long days, class prep, paper grading) is another.

For those with limited time, I recommend going online near the end of the year when children’s book review journals post their “best of the year” lists. They tend to print these lists in their December or January issues, but well before publication you can find those same lists on their websites. Take a look at each one and see which titles pop up on multiple lists and make sure you read those few titles that everyone is talking about. But do try to read all the annotations and think about which books might work in your classrooms, either for the entire class or for free reading.

Here’s a list of the lists, with links.

Already out:

Coming soon:

And of course there are the ALA awards which will be determined during the Midwinter conference in Boston in January

The post The best-of-the-year lists have begun appeared first on The Horn Book.

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3. The Thing About Jellyfish

The Thing Aboutu JellyfishThrough NetGalley, I had the opportunity to read The Thing About Jellyfish, by Ali Benjamin, a middle grade book that will debut mid-September 2015. In this book, Suzy Swanson processes the death of her old friend Franny and the end of a friendship. She grieves the way that she and Franny grew apart before Franny drowned. Suzy’s way of making sense of this loss is to fixate on jellyfish: she reads about them and believes that Franny must have drowned after being stung by a jellyfish because otherwise Franny’s death makes no sense.

When I worked in children’s publishing many years ago, I remember that we had specific educational books and then we had fiction. Years after I left that industry, I learned that even fiction books need some kind of educational component in order to sell them to the school and library market…I say that to say that this book has a lot of educational material. The author really packs in the scientific info and uses a science teacher’s explanation of the scientific method to introduce each chapter. This is not a bad thing but it is noticeable. When you choose fiction do you consider its academic as well as its storytelling merits?

At the end of the book, the author explained how the book began with the copious research she did for a different project that was rejected. She repurposed that research to create Suzy, a character who finds subjects she is passionate about but misses the social cues that would tell her when others may not be quite a interested as she is.

As a reader, I came to feel a lot of compassion for Suzy because she is so lost. The first half of the book alternates between the present and Suzy slowly narrating just how she and Franny went from young BFFs to sitting at separate lunch tables and no longer hanging out in middle school. As a parent, the book is a reminder of a child’s rich inner life: you just can’t know all your child is going through. Suzy’s well-meaning parents put her in therapy and try their best but they aren’t really reaching her.

The tone of the book changes when Suzy decides to embark on a trip to see the one person she thinks will understand her interest in jellyfish. While I’m not one who believes that every wring must be severely punished, I was surprised at the lack of consequences in this book. Suzy steals significant amounts of money from family members but I guess they feel that she has been through enough so they don’t address the theft in a punitive way.

Towards the end of the book Suzy finally reveals her rather disturbing actions that may have done away with any chance that Franny would reach out to her again. Suzy is never found out and doesn’t get to speak to Franny again before Franny dies but clearly Suzy feels a lot of guilt, which can be its own punishment.

The post The Thing About Jellyfish appeared first on The Horn Book.

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4. Punctuation: the junction between reading and writing

At a recent training on fluency, I found myself discussing strategies about how to help the “racing reader” — the reader who, when asked to read aloud, whips through the text on a page as fast as possible. One of the key strategies that I discussed with the tutors that I coach was building awareness of the purpose of punctuation with all young readers. This suggestion sparked a conversation about how punctuation, and grammar more broadly, gets taught in schools.

Far too often, punctuation instruction is delivered through grammar worksheets or exercises that ask students to choose the correct ending punctuation for a sentence, to put commas in appropriate places, or to correct incorrect punctuation usage in a given passage. When discussing punctuation in the context of fluency, we often teach readers to raise their voices when they encounter a question mark, but less frequently discuss why the author chose to use a question mark there in the first place. Rarely are students clued into the real reason they should give a hoot about punctuation: those symbols on the page are a road map given by a writer to help a reader understand how to read their words.

Luckily, a number of books exist that can be used with writers of all ages to highlight the essential role that punctuation plays in written communication and to foster this deeper understanding of punctuation.

eats shoots leavesEats, Shoots, and Leaves by Lynne Truss
This highly entertaining book shows how miscommunication can abound when commas don’t send the right signals to readers. As she writes in the introduction: “You might want to eat a huge hot dog, but a huge, hot dog would run away pretty quickly if you tried to take a bite out of him.” Truss also has two other titles The Girl’s Like Spaghetti (apostrophes) and Twenty-Odd Ducks (mixed punctuation) that employ the same humorous approach to punctuation.

PunctuationPunctuation Takes a Vacation by Robin Pulver, illustrated by Lynn Rowe Reed
What will happen when punctuation decides to take a break? As the punctuation marks go on strike because they feel underappreciated, Pulver’s book illustrates the challenges in communicating clearly when punctuation isn’t an option. The book lends itself to a number of follow-up activities where students could attempt to communicate a message without the use of punctuation.

Yo YesYo! Yes? by Chris Raschka
While not specifically focused on punctuation, Yo! Yes? explores the ways in which meaning can be conveyed or altered through the inflections in our voices that punctuation signals us to make and could serve as a great jumping off point for discussions about why authors choose a specific punctuation symbol at a certain time.

By using children’s literature as an entry point into grammar lessons, students can develop a richer understanding of the why behind punctuation, an understanding they can then use to hone their own skills as writers and fluent readers.

The post Punctuation: the junction between reading and writing appeared first on The Horn Book.

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5. Welcoming everyone to the neighborhood

Welcome neighborhoodWhen I saw Welcome to My Neighborhood: A Barrio ABC at the library, I was immediately intrigued. I am always interested in books about people of color and since my daughter is half Latina, I wanted to see what this book was about.

I’m all for “keeping it real,” but when I read the first page and saw that A was for Abuela — and for abandoned car — I wondered if this book was keeping it too real with its depictions of neighborhood blight. But as I flipped through it, I decided that it was not too much. Abandoned cars and other signs of neglect are a very real part of some kids’ lives. There is beauty everywhere in life and the narrator finds it in broken bottles “that are smashed like falling stars” and a vacant lot that has become a vegetable plot.

My husband, who is Puerto Rican, read the book to our daughter and when they got to the letter R, the book mentions Rincón, a town in Puerto Rico where he has family.

It is so very important to see yourself reflected in all types of media. And a book like this will probably be very affirming for kids who have similar experiences, but what about the kids that don’t immediately identify with the kind of neighborhood portrayed in the book?

The jacket copy suggests that after reading about this neighborhood, young readers can think about what is special about their neighborhoods. They can also reflect on memories that make their lives special because that is an important part of the book.

For example, if a student says the book doesn’t reflect his or her life, ask questions such as:

  • If your Abuela doesn’t make ham and cheese or teach you to play dominoes, what special things do you share with your grandmother?
  • People don’t play basketball where you live, okay, what do they play?
  • The mother wants the children to remember certain things, specifically about their heritage and the narrator admits to forgetting Spanish words. What are adult always telling you to remember?


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6. Telling and choosing our own stories

For this year’s Boston University/Boston Green Academy Summer Institute (which I’ve blogged about before), we decided to change up our usual routine of reading one book, and this year we chose two – Darius and Twig by Walter Dean Myers and Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson.

Our essential question for our rising ninth and tenth graders was about how much we determine our own lives and how much they are determined by others’ expectations of who we will be. I wasn’t sure going into the two weeks how well our books would play together, but I needn’t have worried. These two books about writers were rich ground to explore in our time together.

myers_darius & twigOur students were anxious to find out what would happen to Darius and Twig, the writer and the runner, who face challenges as they navigate coming of age in a world that is far from perfect. (I miss Walter Dean Myers already so much and his wonderful stories of our imperfect world.) Even the most reluctant readers this summer had thoughts about these two characters and the choices they made. And our some of our students found that kinship that happens sometimes with characters whose backgrounds related to their own.

woodson_brown girl dreaming_170x258Then, we began to write our own stories, and we turned to Jacqueline Woodson to teach us how. And she’s a great teacher. Somehow, in her beautiful, sparse vignette poems, our students found inspiration and ideas. But it was more than that – I think her poems became a permission slip of sorts to tell their own stories and to experiment with images and tones to craft their memories into words. I’ve usually had experiences where students have been intimidated by poetry, but that didn’t happen with BGD. Instead, our writers dove right in to writing their own experiences as poems.

All in all, the two books we chose for this year’s essential question fit together after all, and I’ve gotten interested in book pairs that allow us to focus on a theme when reading and can also serve as writing models. I’d love to hear if others have tried this or have pairs that worked well!


The post Telling and choosing our own stories appeared first on The Horn Book.

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7. When picture books bring on tears

At some point, it probably has happened to any teacher, parent, or caregiver of young children. You are reading a story to a child or group of children and something about the story hits you and makes you misty eyed. Other times you might read a story that causes a child to cry. Books that hit an emotional nerve in adults might not always do the same for young children and vice versa. Often, there are picture books with subtexts that make adults emotional, but young children may not pick up on them. In these cases, I would argue that asking the child/children open ended questions about the book can help us understand their perspective better than trying to explicitly tell the children your interpretation of the subtext.

heart bottleAn example of a book that has made me shed a tear is The Heart and The Bottle by Oliver Jeffers. This book deals with loss and grief in symbolic ways that young children may not fully comprehend. However, the lack of a clear direct theme or lesson can spark deeper thinking in individual children and interesting discussions when read in a larger group. The Heart and The Bottle is often surreal in its style which makes it easier to share in a group setting compared to books that deal with loss and other emotional topics in a more direct way.

knock knockUnlike Jeffers’ story, Knock Knock authored by Daniel Beaty and illustrated by Bryan Collier is grounded in realism. Knock Knock is based on a moving poem about Beaty’s absent father which he has often performed live. (Watch it here). It is hard for me to read this book without getting tears in my eyes. Parts of the story hit close to home for me and very close to home for children I have taught. I have recommended it to families of children dealing with absent fathers and read it to individual children — but not in a group setting. In an ideal world, group story times would be a place for healing where no topics would be taboo. However, it is important to respect individual families in the class and over the years many families dealing with issues like absent parents, divorce, or family problems in general have told me that they prefer we don’t read books that encourage their child to talk about these issues in a group setting. As a teacher, I believe that these types of discussions can be healthy, but I fully understand parents who don’t want their personal business potentially discussed in a classroom where other parents might find out and engage in gossip and shaming.

bad case stripesFinally, I would like to note that it is impossible to predict how children will react to stories. For instance, I never thought A Bad Case of Stripes by David Shannon would stir strong emotions in a child, but I once had a child burst into tears while reading it because their mom had food poisoning and they associated the book’s story about not eating Lima beans with their mom’s illness. On the other side, I know of many teachers and parents who tear up while reading The Giving Tree but the children hearing it have not had any emotional reaction to the book.

So now I will leave the readers of Lolly’s Classroom with some questions:

  1. What children’s books cause strong emotions in you? What books have caused your students to feel strong emotions?
  2. Do you read books relating to potentially emotional topics in the classroom? At what age do you think hard topics like death, loss, and divorce should be introduced in books you read? Should parents be consulted before reading emotional books? Should parents be given any sort of veto power or opt out mechanism for their child regarding certain books?


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8. Bring Your Bible to School Day: What You Can Share

by Sally Matheny

Did you know Thursday, October 8, 2015 is “Bring Your Bible to School Day”? 

Legally, your child can take his Bible to school any day—you may not have known that either.

Students have the freedom to take and read their Bibles, talk about their religious beliefs, pray, and ask others if they’d like to join them as long as the actions are voluntary, student-initiated, not disruptive, and take place during non-instructional time.

Focus on the Family initiated the first “Bring Your Bible to School Day” in October 2014. Approximately 8,000 students participated in the event. This year that number is expected to increase.

So, how can parents help their children prepare for this special day?
Read more »

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9. Off to a fresh start

Hello dear education community. I’m back! Last year I was quite silent. This was due in part to the fact that I had moved to a new school. But mainly it was because I was simply at a loss for what to say.

My previous school was strictly disciplined to the point where students were basically only extrinsically motivated. This allowed me to help students attain high scores and cover vast areas of content (it was a self-contained classroom, so I taught all core subjects). Yet, to be frank, it was miserable. Although I did my best, I couldn’t deny that even after two years together, my kids never felt emotionally or psychologically safe in this school.

Furthermore, when I moved to a school that promoted restorative justice techniques, targeted interventions, and differentiation, I had glaring holes in my instruction. The posts I had written as a teacher at my previous school rang hollow because I realized that I had never had to struggle with motivating students without external systems and consequences in place. Also, my students were known to be particularly difficult due to various factors. Truly, my first semester was such a battle. By winter break, I ended up crying to my assistant principal about whether or not I could even finish the school year.

Fear not, friends; it does not end this way. Long story short, I learned to apply the growth mindset that I claimed to teach, and there were mentors and colleagues available to guide and commiserate with me along the way. And thankfully, my students grew to learn that I truly cared.

Now I’m blessed to be at a school that serves a tough population, engages the community, and freely trusts me to teach. Most of all, I’m blessed to be at a school that values reflection — the perfect balance to my tendency to freak out or quit a strategy too fast.

In a new spin of events, I am actually joining the math team this year. We’re piloting a blended, shared teaching style, and although I’m apprehensive, I’m also super excited. Looking back on my teaching journey thus far, there are definitely rueful moments. I now have a bajillion teaching credentials, and I feel like I’ve been regularly taking exams for the past three years. But, as I embark on my fifth year as a teacher (4th year in Oakland), I know there’s no stopping now!

The post Off to a fresh start appeared first on The Horn Book.

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10. Themed art: School

Here's an old one! Though I class this in my children's book style, it's actually from a series of advertising posters I did for Dai Ichi Kangyo Bank (now part of the Mizuho group). Ah, good times!

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11. What I Learned at Lake Stevens Elementary School

I was invited to bring Lilly Badilly to Lake Stevens Elementary School in Miami Gardens as part of the school’s Literacy Week. What better way to talk about reading than in the school’s lovely Media Center?

The children were fascinated by how the physical book is illustrated, printed and bound and how a CD is recorded. They learned about the biodiversity of the rain forest and how imperative it is that we each do our part to preserve our planet. We talked about life as an author, the many ways reading opens doors to life’s opportunities and how much more interesting a person can be when he or she is an avid reader.

The children demonstrated absolutely perfect behavior and had so many clever questions, making this was one of the best author visits I’ve ever had. One of the second grade boys asked me, “Is it true that mosquitoes make chocolate?” I was unable to answer that question. But following the visit I did a little bit of research, only to discover that mosquitoes are one of several insects that do in fact pollinate the cocoa tree. Who knew?  I love learning from the kids I meet.



Image 1



I wish to thank Principal Daniels for inviting me to Lake Stevens Elementary and Reading Coach, Mrs. Dinah Gay-Dorvil for coordinating the event and for welcoming me and hosting this memorable visit. I’ve never felt more welcomed at a school than I did here!


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12. Intentions and He Said, She Said

alexander_he said, she saidI have written before about our summer program* with Boston Green Academy, and we just finished our two-week institute with ninth and tenth graders from BGA and my students from Boston University. For this summer’s core text, we chose the book He Said, She Said by Kwame Alexander, and it has been fun to watch the students absolutely fall in love with the book.

It is the story of a popular teen named Omar who sets his sights on an ambitious girl named Claudia. She resists at first, thinking he is just a jock with nefarious intentions. In order to win her over, Omar gets involved with a cause that Claudia is passionate about, and their relationship shifts as they come to see each other and activism more clearly.

The essential question we chose for this summer for our anchor text and supplementary texts was, “What matters more, our intentions or our actions?” Omar’s initial intentions in getting involved with Claudia’s cause are, well, less than honorable, but they drive him to commit his time and energy to a great cause. And Claudia sometimes has intentions that aren’t unkind, but they manifest in actions that are harsh.

As students engaged the text and had discussions about the essential question, they had quite a lot to say about actions and intentions, and it allowed us to connect to goal-setting and putting those goals into action. Our students had lots of disagreement about whether intentions or actions were more important, and they were deeply into the book and the debate. In addition to our essential question, we were also able to have great discussions about gender norms, peer expectations, and authors’ intentions.

Throughout the institute, our students kept sneaking books home with them to read all the way to the end as quickly as possible. And when we asked what the best thing was about each day, our students always said the book was the best part! It was a very rich experience for all involved.

* This year’s team also included Marisa Olivo and Rosemary Finley from BGA and Scott Seider from BU.

The post Intentions and He Said, She Said appeared first on The Horn Book.

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13. Back to School We Go!

A few of my books have school related illustrations in them.  I thought I'd share some with you.

Taking the bus to school isn't always easy.  Here children taunt Alicia May.
From My Sister, Alicia May, written by Nancy Tupper Ling, 
illustrated by Shennen Bersani.

The first day of school can bring surprises, like your best friend's new haircut.
written by Barbara Meyers and Lydia Criss Mays
illustrated by Shennen Bersani.

School can teach you about staying healthy.
written by Beverlye Hyman Fead and Tessa Mae Hamermesh,
illustrated by Shennen Bersani.

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14. To school in winter...

"Squishy slime sucked at their rubber overshoes ..." from A Christmas Coat: Memories of my Sioux Childhood by Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve. 
Illustration by Ellen Beier.

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15. Fire-Breathers Academy, Patrick Girouard

A spread from the first book in a series of five about the Fire-Breathers Academy.

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16. “My Language, Your Language” Book Sample Illustrations

I did some illustrations for a cool series of educational/learning books from Cloverleaf books. This one is called “My Language, Your Language”. Samples below.







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17. What is life?

Did you learn about Mrs Gren at school? She was a useful person to know when you wanted to remember that Movement, Respiration, Sensation, Growth, Reproduction, Excretion, and Nutrition were the defining signs of life. But did you ever wonder how accurate this classroom mnemonic really is, or where it comes from?

The post What is life? appeared first on OUPblog.

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18. A Curious Tale of the In-Between, by Lauren DeStefano

Pram has never truly been told the tale of her beginnings.  A beginning that started with her still inside her mother, even as she hung from the branch of the tree. Pram was orphaned right from the start, but was taken in by her two no-nonsense aunts. Pram is even short for Pragmatic -- named such because it was deemed sensible for a young lady, and sensible is just what the aunts wanted for Pram.

But Pram has always been the opposite of sensible.  She’s dreamy, and her oldest and best friend is a ghost named Felix who appeared one day in the pond by the home for the aged where she lives with her aunts.

Pram is forced by the state to actually attend school at the age of eleven and this is where Pram meets her first real life friend. She gets into an argument with Clarence before school even starts when he informs her that she is sitting in his desk. By lunch time they have discovered that both of their mothers are dead and with this the seeds of their friendship are planted.

As time goes on, Pram doesn’t tell Clarence that she can speak with ghosts, but she does agree to accompany him to a spiritualist show where he hopes his mother’s spirit will reveal herself. Things don’t go as Clarence hoped and instead the spiritualist is very interested in Pram. What Pram and Clarence cannot know is that the spiritualist is anything but a charlatan, and a girl like Pram is very valuable to her.

What follows is a haunting and frightening ghost story that straddles the world of the living and the dead. Lyrical and tender, DeStefano’s story will scare readers without tipping into horror. This is an achingly beautiful story of love and loss, of friendship and family. A Curious Tale of the In-Between is for the deep reader, and I can see it becoming that touchstone title that ferries readers into more complex and intricate stories.


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19. Back to School Week: Collaboration is a Thing You Do NOT a Learning Outcome!

For years and years and years (I've worked in libraries for a long-time) I've talked about and heard about the importance of school and public library collaboration. And, over the years, I've talked about and heard about how hard it is to be successful in this area. It actually seems to me that the challenges and barriers that I've been talking about and hearing about for a couple of decades haven't really changed. And, they certainly haven't gone away.

image by George Couros on the best ways for leaders to use technologyThe fact that conversations remain the same over a long period of time, got me thinking - Maybe we are going about this the wrong way. Maybe, instead of the focus being on what we regularly call school and public library collaboration (the thing we do), what we really need to focus on is what is required in order to have positive lasting outcomes/impacts for students and teachers (what we want to achieve). This was brought home to me this week when I read the post Building Relationships Through the Use of Technology by George Couros. The ideas embedded in the image he included in that post (shown on the left) really resonated with me.

What if as the new school year starts you didn't talk about or focus on the act of collaborating with your school or public library, but instead talked about and worked towards answering the question, What should the outcome of public library school library collaboration be for students, teachers, parents, and school staff? What would be different and would you be more successful by the end of the school year? Taking the Couros post image as a model would you go from "Good Answers" like:

  • Making sure that library staff know about assignments
  • Being able to teach school staff (teachers and administrators) about library resources
  • Making sure to purchase materials that support teacher/student needs
  • Being able to add website links that support teacher/student needs
  • Having the chance to work on lessons with teachers

To Better Answers like:

  • Build relationships for long-lasting success within the public/school library community
  • Change cultures
  • Learn from each other - students, teachers, parents, administrators and other school and public library staff
  • Develop outcomes and stories that can be used in advocacy efforts
  • Drive change
  • Lead
  • Support learning of students no matter what.

Of course, as with many things in life, this is often easier said than done. But, it's doable, I'm certain. For example, this year instead of going into classrooms or talking with your counterpart colleagues about the resources you have for students and teachers, what if you had conversations that focused on what teachers, students, administrators, staff are:

  • Working on
  • What are they successful in/at
  • What they are finding difficult to accomplish
  • What would they like to be able to do more easily
  • What would they like to change

Would that lead to stronger relationships with everyone and as a result a better chance to bring about positive outcomes? As you think about the outcomes and the conversations you can have with your library counterpart and school personnel and parents and students remember, the outcomes are what the students, teachers, staff, and parents gain. While through these gains library staff might find that their resources and expertise and time are used successfully - the focus of the outcomes you work towards in this area should be about the people you serve, not about you and your library. The outcome is in what changes in the academic and formal and informal learning lives of those you work with.  For more information and resources about outcomes, visit YALSA's wiki.

I don't think the idea of collaboration is a bad thing. But, I do think that we spend a lot of time talking about the thing - collaboration - and not what the impact of the work needs to be for students and teachers and families. Change the conversation, listen to those you want to serve before you tell them what you can do for them, build relationships, focus on the goal for the user, and see what happens.

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20. Will we ever need maths after school?

What is the purpose of mathematics? Or, as many a pupil would ask the teacher on a daily basis: “When are we going to need this?” There is a considerably ruder version of a question posed by Billy Connolly on the internet, but let’s not go there.

The post Will we ever need maths after school? appeared first on OUPblog.

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21. Trimming down a classroom library

I recently found myself facing the dreaded task of packing up my entire classroom. Trying to see this as an opportunity to reduce the number of boxes labeled only with question marks, I sorted through papers and miscellany, recycling and tossing with gusto. Math papers that I never used? Recycled without a second thought. A plastic bag filled with a mixture of sequins? Donated to the art closet. I was slimming down my classroom materials without remorse…until I came to the last section: my classroom library.

My classroom library is, as I believe nearly all libraries are, a thing of beauty. Eighteen categorized sections and counting, displayed in neat baskets or arranged in an orderly fashion on the shelves. But now, as I pictured having to lift and carry all of these boxes out of my classroom, the sheer quantity of books daunted me. Surely, there were some books that I could leave behind or donate.

Nicole_Hewes_ Classroom_Library_5

For some people, the task of sifting through those books may have been as simple as I found paring down my papers to be. But for me, a lifelong saver and hoarder of books, this was a challenge of near-mythic proportions. Almost since I learned how to read, I’ve been a rescuer of books discarded from libraries, a purchaser of those books on the “last chance” shelves. I simply cannot stand the thought of a book floating around unread, unloved, and without a shelf to call home.

In the past, as I’ve tried to pare down my own collection of books, I’ve struggled to discard titles unless I vehemently hate them (a feeling I rarely experience). But I was determined to make a good-faith effort to look through each of my classroom bins with a critical eye.

I sat down on the hard, scratched tile floor in my nearly-bare classroom and started going through my books, bin by bin, looking for outcasts that I could discard. As I sifted through the books in each category, I found books in need of repair, which I set aside to add to my “book hospital” bin, but the “consider discarding” pile remained especially lean a couple hours into the project.

As I sorted, I tried to consider what criteria might help me determine if it was time to toss a book. I was vaguely operating with the assumption that I would consider discarding books that were older and featured dated information, centered around very obscure topics, or were lackluster or unlikely to spark student engagement. But soon I found myself making exceptions to these rules — for classics and especially for books about weird topics, since you never know what book is going to pique the interest of a reluctant reader.

I’m sure you can see where this going. By the end of the day, I had several books to repair with packing tape and a small pile of eleven to discard — mostly books that contained false information (though I kept some of those, too, to show students that knowledge evolves.) I couldn’t bear the thought of a future student saying to me, “Do we have any books in our library about…?” and then thinking of a book that I’d left behind at one point in time.

So when it came time to move everything, I happily heaved all of those boxes of books and transported them across the state line, still contemplating when, if ever, it would feel okay to get rid of books.


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22. A View From Saturday

The View From Saturday. E.L. Konigsburg. 1996. 176 pages. [Source: Bought]

I enjoyed rereading E.L. Konigsburg's The View From Saturday. Though I don't usually "enjoy" (seek out) stories with multiple narrators--alternating narrators--in this case it was just right or practically perfect. Readers meet a teacher, Mrs. Olinski, and the four students on the sixth grade competitive team for the Academic Bowl. (They are Noah, Nadia, Ethan, and Julian.) All five narrate The View From Saturday. Mrs. Olinki's chapters are of the BIG competition day, and each chapter generally ends with a question being asked of the competitors. Usually. The chapters narrated by the students cover much more time, generally are full of flashbacks. It is in these narratives that characters are developed and relationships explored. All four students in her class were connected BEFORE they were chosen.

View From Saturday is a great friendship-focused, school-focused coming of age novel. Each narrative is definitely unique. And I like how interconnected the stories really are.

When I think Newbery, this is the kind of book I think of most of the time.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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23. Inspire interest in STEM with science biography picture books

With all of the push to get young children more interested in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) topics, many schools, libraries, and after school programs are integrating these topics into their activities. And, with so many great picture book biographies of scientists available, there is no reason that storytime activities and at-home reading time can’t also complement these activities and help to inspire young children to pursue their interest in STEM topics. Check out some of these books to bring out the inner scientist in your preschool through third grade students.

on a beam of lightOn a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein by Jennifer Berne, illustrated by Vladimir Radunsky
This book starts with Einstein’s childhood and introduces readers to a boy who didn’t talk, but did look with wonder at the world around him. As it progresses through to his later life, the book focuses on the way that Einstein thought and how this led to his contributions to science. The illustrations fit well with this focus as they have a decidedly dreamy quality to them. Perfect for younger readers.

LookUpLook Up!: Henrietta Leavitt, Pioneering Woman Astronomer by Robert Burleigh, illustrated by Raúl Colón
Though Henrietta Leavitt may not be a name that is familiar to most, she made key contributions to the field of astronomy during her time at the Harvard College Observatory during the late 1800s. This biography brings her work to life through a combination of beautiful artwork and a compelling story. Leavitt’s story and the included information about astronomy will inspire young children to study the stars.

TheWatcherThe Watcher: Jane Goodall’s Life with the Chimps by Jeanette Winter
Jane Goodall remains one of the most famous primatologists ever and this book tells her life story starting during her childhood in England through to her time working among the chimpanzees in Tanzania with the scientist Louis Leakey. The book also includes Goodall’s important work as an advocate and activist for chimpanzees and, as such, will introduce children who love animals to the world of activism as well.

sisson_star stuffStar Stuff: Carl Sagan and the Mysteries of the Cosmos by Stephanie Roth Sisson
Another great book for children who are interested in stars and the field of astronomy, this book offers an insight into Carl Sagan’s life and inspiration. Starting with a trip to the New York World’s Fair in 1939 and his nights spent looking out his window to stare at the stars, this book follows Sagan throughout his life and career as a renowned astronomer who worked with NASA. This is a wonderful addition to any collection of science picture books.

ABoyAndAJaguarA Boy and a Jaguar by Alan Rabinowitz, illustrated by Catia Chien
The only book on this list written by its subject, this book tells the story of Alan Rabinowitz, a biologist and conservationist whose love of animals helped him to overcome his stuttering when he found that he could talk to animals without any problem. This winner of the 2015 Schneider Family Book Award will inspire all students to pursue their passions.

This list offers a few suggestions for great science biographies, but there are plenty more to choose from. Let me know in the comments if your favorites didn’t make my list. I also love learning about new science biography picture books!



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24. When Sophie's Feelings Are Really, Really Hurt

When Sophie's Feelings are Really, Really Hurt. Molly Bang. 2015. [September] Scholastic. 40 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Sophie loves to paint. She also loves the woods. Now Ms. Mulry is telling the class: "After school, find a tree you like a LOT. Look at it carefully--the trunk, the branches, the leaves. Tomorrow your'e going to paint that tree from memory."

Premise/plot: Sophie's feelings get hurt during art time at school. One of the boys--Andrew--teases her about her painting, telling her that her painting is all wrong. Can the teacher intervene and reassure Sophie that there isn't a right and wrong way to paint a tree?

My thoughts: I liked the text. I did. I like Sophie as a character. And I liked how expressive the story was. Did I like the illustrations? Yes and no. I actually really liked Sophie's drawing of a tree. Her art assignment was beautiful. And I liked the brightness of the colors. But overall, I didn't "love" the illustrations.

Text: 4 out of 5
Illustrations: 3 out of 5
Total: 7 out of 10

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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25. Diary of a Mad Brownie - an audiobook review

I can't republish certain reviews that have already appeared in print or elsewhere online, but I can point you to where you might find them.

The Enchanted Files: Diary of a Mad Brownie by Bruce Coville. (Listening Library, 2015)
Suggested for ages 8-12.  298 minutes.


Diary of a Mad Brownie is the first book in Bruce Coville's new series, The Enchanted Files.  I listened to the audio book, and I can tell you that it was the most fun I've had listening in a long time. And it's read by a full cast!

Read my review here: http://www.audiofilemagazine.com/reviews/read/102097/

My copy of the book was supplied by AudioFile Magazine.

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