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1. Teacher Tuesday. . .On Wednesday!

(I didn't want you to miss a word of librarian Vida Zuljevic's inspiring words about teaching poetry; the second portion of her interview is below. Come back tomorrow for the conclusion of the interview.)


Vida, what can students learn from reading/writing poetry that they might not be able to learn from other forms of writing, or for that matter, other forms of art?

Poetry is so attractive, lending itself for pure enjoyment of reading it and enjoying the poetic language, rhythm, and feelings conveyed. I am sure many teachers would agree that poetry is the most suitable form of writing to introduce figurative language, develop reading fluency including expressive reading, encourage imagination, and introduce new vocabulary from different content areas in an artistic way. Its variety allows students with a wide range of reading abilities and interests to enjoy reading in a non-threatening way. I want my students to learn that poetry can feed their souls with a special “food” it offers in abundance: imagery, rhythm, music, language, play, expressions, and that it can also be a seed from which their poetic souls can rise and grow to unimaginable heights.

What books do you particularly enjoy sharing with your students? Why do you particularly enjoy sharing these titles? Can you give a few specific examples from a book or two?

When I was taking classes toward my master's degree in literacy education, I was introduced to a variety of master poets and writers. Thanks to my professors Dr. Terrell Young (for all literature and all reading classes) and Dr. Sylvia Vardell (poetry class), I was totally immersed in an enormous number of fabulous books that  just swelled my soul and mind with superior writing craft and beauty of language and form. Books by  Ralph Fletcher, Janet Wong, Sharon Creech, Georgia Herd, Nikki Grimes, Langston Hughes, Paul Janaczko, Douglas Florian, Jack Prelutsky, to name just a few, became a regular part of the Poetry Bag that I carry with me to school, to  conferences, meetings, and teacher trainings, sharing my excitement with my students, colleagues and other audiences.


It is difficult to pull out a couple of books that I prefer over others. I can only say that Ralph Fletcher’s superior, honest, clear writing craft and his way of sharing poetic imagery through simple and yet strong word choice is the most appealing to me. When I read poetry to my students, I read from his books first, so that they can experience my connectedness to this poet's work, and I usually explain this to my students.

For example, I tell my students how I felt the first time I read the poem "Wind" from Ralph Fletcher’s book  Ordinary Things: Poems from a Walk in Early Spring: It was early spring, 2007. It was just about nine years since my family had arrived to the U.S.A. Nostalgia hits hardest in the spring because of familiar things and events related to spring in my country. Fragrances of blooming herbs on the hills around my city, the fragrance of early almond tree blossoms that filled my senses with everlasting memories, the wind that was cold and felt like it did not belong to that place at that time but still felt familiar and dear…and then I came across the poem "Wind." And I read it and reread it  several times and stopped only in disbelief that there was someone living in New Hampshire who somehow felt “my” spring and wind from across the ocean the same exact way I did and was able to translate these feelings into such a beautiful and powerful poem. 

After I talked about this poem and the connections I made reading it, I ask my fifth graders to talk to their peers at the table about similarly strong feelings they have about something important to them and then to write a poem about it. I had wonderful creative responses such as the following one:
THE TWO SIDES
By Alejandro
5th grade
When I was little,
My mother would say,
“I wish your uncle could come!”
And she’d sigh.
“Who is my uncle,” I’d ask.
“He is a wonderful, delightful man,
she would say,
and her eyes would fill up with tears,
and her face would frown.
“Can I go to see him, I’d ask
And mom would look up and say,
“It is so far.”
“How far, “I wouldn’t give up.
It is like two sides of the world,
My brother is on one side
And we are far away
on the other side.
You’ll see him
Some other time,”
She’d whisper.
“No, I want to see him now,
My sides are both sides,”
I said, and mom looked at me.
And she knew I was going to go…
She let me go during winter break
To see my uncle because
she realized that I DO have
two equally important sides
and that I don’t give up easily.

Please describe some of the poetry activities you do with your students. Can you speak to your students’ reactions/responses to these activities? 

I incorporate poetry into my teaching every day. The Poem of the Day is read after the Pledge of Allegiance is recited. Sometimes it’s related to an approaching holiday, sometimes to a season, the weather, a unit I’m teaching, or it is just so beautiful that I simply must share it. The students are invited to share their poetry or poetry they find in books that they'd like to share, as well. 

I established an Annual Poetry Contest in the two schools where I worked since starting to work as a teacher in the U.S. From Nov. 1 through Nov. 30 , students are asked to turn in up to three poems (topic, format, or language of their choosing). Then, a committee of 5-6 teachers evaluates the entries, and 12 poems are chosen for the school poetry calendar. The winning poets and their families are invited to a Family Poetry night organized in their honor. The winners read their poems and their families are invited are invited to read some of the poems. It always turns into poetry celebration. The students receive a free calendar and a free poetry book, bookmarks, poetry notebooks, pencils.

Two years ago, I sent 30 poems written and illustrated by my students to the publishing company and our first poetry book named We Are Comets, We Are Poets! (Our school’s mascot is a shooting comet!) was published in spring of 2010.
Last year, out of 372 entries for the contest, in addition to the 12 poems chosen for the Poetry Calendar, 64 poems were chosen for the Poetry Quilt that is permanently displayed in our library. The winning students received their free copy of a book, a reception, and a pizza party in the library.

Also last year, during the month of April (Poetry Month), I ran a variation of Poetry Slam in our library. The students were to find and practice their favorite poem and come to the library after they eat lunch to compete in performing poetry. The activity was well attended every time and the students asked if we can continue with it after the poetry month is over.

Several colleagues at my school are poetry lovers too who incorporate poetry in their teaching on a regular basis. They and many others are supportive of what I am doing in the library and willing to help, which is very significant in showing students that we all value poetry as an important part of reading, learning, and enjoying language. Others are appreciative and willing to try when I approach them with ideas or ask them to encourage their students to read and write poetry. The students are receptive and willing to try writing or sharing poems. 

Recently, my colleague and I started a Reading Blog with her second-grade class. I post a question to the second graders, and they come together as a class to answer my question. Their excitement and learning motivation are enormous. At this time, they are gathering powerful words from their reading material so that they are ready to write poetry. The students make a list of quality adjectives and strong verbs they find in the books they are reading, and then they write their poems in writing journals. Then, the students turn their poems in to the teacher, and she posts them on our blog. My colleague reports that this activity has incredibly stirred up enthusiasm for both reading and writing in all her students. And I noticed the same in the library. They dash to the shelves with poetry books; they are leaders in discussing poetic language and poets' craft; and they write fantastic poems. In all, there are endless possibilities. It only takes an enthusiastic, knowledgeable teacher who is willing to explore. And I truly believe that most of us are just that.
The activities/events above are just some of the many I incorporate into my library's everyday life.

What has been most surprising to you about incorporating poetry teaching into your curriculum?

I know that if we look through history of great poetry, male poets considerably outnumber females. Even if we add in great female poets who may have been ignored because of society's perception of "woman's place" of the time, we are still left with the fact that men showed their ability to be great poets. Despite this, it was to my surprise that boys would take on the invitation to perform poetry in front of an audience and to write poetry as easily and willingly as they did (because of the stereotype that perceives poetry as a “girly” thing). Generally, the boys start shyly, but when encouraged and given a lot of examples of wonderful poems by great poets, they loosen up and become leaders in poetry writing and performing.

(check back tomorrow when Vida shares some favorite resources, including poetry blogs!)

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2. Teacher Tuesday

Though we've never met, I feel a connection with Vida Zuljevic, a librarian in Pasco, Washington, who serves Pre-K through fifth grade at Virgie Robinson Elementary. The town that Hattie Brooks homesteaded near, in real life and in my novel Hattie Big Sky, was named also named Vida (for the postmaster's daughter). Vida explained that, in her language, Vida is the female form of the word vid, meaning vision, sight.  Catholics in Slavic countries in Europe celebrate St. Vid, believing that he sees everything, and he is worshiped (among other reasons) as the protector of people’s vision.I think her parents must have known what they were doing in giving this future librarian that beautiful and meaningful name! I think mint tea might be a lovely accompaniment while you read today's interview. 

First, Vida, we'd like to take a peek at your past. The photos she has shared are especially poignant as they are the only ones her family saved, as they escaped the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina.




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  • Favorite school lunch as a kid: It’s believed that memories supported by our sense of smell last longest in humans. My memory of sandwiches made by my beloved grandma and the smell of her freshly baked bread are still very much alive and always bring warm feelings to my heart. 
  • Best friend in grade school: Edina Vejzovic-Puzic (she also lives in the United States now). I found her after about forty years of no contact via some common friends and thanks to the Internet.
  • Times you were the new kid in school:  Because of moving a couple of times, I went to three different elementary schools (in my country, elementary school includes grades 1-8). I remember moving from an old school, in which I started my education, to a new, experimental school where everything was modern and felt “cold” with so much glass and iron and no friends…This move was in third grade, and there was a boy who’d pick on me, teasing me because I was the tiniest girl in class, kind of shy and quiet--in short, I appeared an “easy to pick on” girl. One day at recess time, he and another boy approached me, gave me a tiny box,  and said,  “gift for you” with a mischievous smile on his face. I don’t know why, but I took it. And when he said, "Open it,” I did. Sure enough, a little lizard popped out, and the boys screeched trying to scare me. It was to their surprise that I got down on my knees and started chasing the little lizard, managed to catch it, and then, while holding it, I petted its back. And the lizard calmed down, feeling my gentle touch. The boys were in awe. They said that they'd never seen a girl so brave to even hold a lizard, let alone pet it. From then on, the boys never teased me again, and what's more, we became very good friends.
  • Teacher who inspired you to stretch: My first grade teacher, Mr. Alikalfich.  In those days, coal for heating would be delivered to the school and teachers would be asked to help unload the trucks and store the coal in the school storage. It was on a November day that the truck came, and Mr. Alikalfich called my name and said to me in front of the whole class: "Vida, you’ll be the teacher until I come back. I need to help unload the coal from the coal truck. Come sit at my desk and read this part to the class (he showed me a paragraph from the text book), and then let them talk about it to each other until I come back." He did not ask me if I could read it; he did not show even a sliver of doubt about it or about my “teaching abilities.” It really gave me confidence, and I remember truly wanting to read that passage perfectly without mistakes and with lots of expression, which I of course did not have mastered by then, but my teacher’s trust in my abilities made me stretch to my highest potential, and I made it sound really good and my classmates respected that… This incident also ignited a spark of wanting to be a teacher, a plan I realized by going to a high school for teachers first and then to teachers' college and then university. One day, as I was walking down the hall at the teachers' college I was attending at the time, I spotted a tiny figure waking toward me, and I recognized my first grade teacher. I approached him with “Hello, do you recognize me Mr. Alikalfich?" He squinted at first, then smiled: "I knew it…I knew it from the first day of first grade that you were born to be a teacher, Vida." My heart jumped for joy. He remembered not only my name but also his faith in me. He went on to share that he too was there to take classes because new regulations for elementary teachers required upgrading their degrees with endorsements in specific areas of teaching.
-->The one thing you always wished you could do in grade school but never achieved: I really wanted to be on the school's Math Team and participate in math competitions. I liked math very much, especially in seventh and eighth grade. I was among the best mathematicians in my class, but the only girl. My math teacher was a pretty biased man who believed that girls are simply not born to be good at math--period.  He would even say it out loud in front of the class. He would never call on me to answer his questions (ignoring my raised hand signaling my readiness) until one or some of the boys figured out the problem and raised their hands. Each year that the team was formed for the annual math competition, my teacher would not even consider me as an alternative team member because “girls are not smart enough to understand math.” Back then, students and parents were not supposed to or even allowed to argue with or complain to the teachers.  So although I was good at math throughout my schooling, my love for it remained only on a personal level. I did not excel in math the way I wanted and had abilities to because of the bias my teacher had about girls and math.  
Vida, a mutual friend suggested I contact you because of your passion for teaching and writing poetry. Talk about the seed that planted such a passion. Have you always loved poetry?
Poetry was an essential part of the elementary school curriculum in former Yugoslavia. I liked to read, and I liked to play with words.  My first poem was published in a children's magazine when I was in third grade. As a teen, I was in the school's poetry club. I published poems regularly in magazines for children throughout my schooling. The roots don't come only from my education, but also the fact that I am from a city where poetry is part of the city's culture, cherishing a tradition of great poets from this region such as Aleksa Santic, Osman Dikic, Branko Simic, Mak Dizdar, Pero Zubac and others. I lived my teenage years developing a love for reading and reciting poems by these and other great poets such as  Yesenin, Prevert, Lorca, Neruda, and Lord Byron.
When I became a kindergarten teacher, I used poetry on an daily basis, whether chanting nursery rhymes, reading poems of popular children's poets, writing poems with the students in my class, or singing  children’s songs. Poetry was a part of me from my early childhood; I feel it was born with me in my heart and mind, and it waited for a couple of years to let me grow and learn to talk, read and write in order to start flowing out of there and let wonderful poetry in as well.
Why do you feel it’s so important for students to read poetry? To write poetry?
Because it’s beautiful! Yes, in my opinion this is the most important role of poetry in students’ and adults' lives alike--to bring beauty of language to their attention. The other forms of writing can have such an impact too, but because of its format and language richness, poetry seems to be the most accessible well from which we can take quick or longer sips of beauty and keep coming back to it for additional sips of beauty over and over.
What can students learn from reading/writing poetry that they might not be able to learn from other forms of writing, or for that matter, other forms of art?
Poetry is so attractive, lending itself for pure enjoyment of reading it and enjoying the poetic language, rhythm, and feelings conveyed. I am sure many teachers would agree that poetry is the most suitable form of writing to introduce figurative language, develop reading fluency including expressive reading, encourage imagination, and introduce new vocabulary from different content areas in an artistic way. Its variety allows students with a wide range of reading abilities and interests to enjoy reading in a non-threatening way. I want my students to learn that poetry can feed their souls with a special “food” it offers in abundance: imagery, rhythm, music, language, play, expressions, and that it can also be a seed from which their poetic souls can rise and grow to unimaginable heights.
What books do you particularly enjoy sharing with your students? Why do you particularly enjoy sharing these titles? Can you give a few specific examples from a book or two?
When I was taking classes toward my master's degree in literacy education, I was introduced to a variety of master poets and writers. Thanks to my professors Dr. Terrell Young (for all literature and all reading classes) and Dr. Sylvia Vardell (poetry class), I was totally immersed in an enormous number of fabulous books that  just swelled my soul and mind with superior writing craft and beauty of language and form. Books by  Ralph Fletcher, Janet Wong, Sharon Creech, Georgia Herd, Nikki Grimes, Langston Hughes, Paul Janaczko, Douglas Florian, Jack Prelutsky, to name just a few, became a regular part of the Poetry Bag that I carry with me to school, to  conferences, meetings, and teacher trainings, sharing my excitement with my students, colleagues and other audiences.
It is difficult to pull out a couple of books that I prefer over others. I can only say that Ralph Fletcher’s superior, honest, clear writing craft and his way of sharing poetic imagery through simple and yet strong word choice is the most appealing to me. When I read poetry to my students, I read from his books first, so that they can experience my connectedness to this poet's work, and I usually explain this to my students. 

For example, I tell my students how I felt the first time I read the poem "Wind" from Ralph Fletcher’s book  Ordinary Things: Poems from a Walk in Early Spring: It was early spring, 2007. It was just about nine years since my family had arrived to the U.S.A. Nostalgia hits hardest in the spring because of familiar things and events related to spring in my country. Fragrances of blooming herbs on the hills around my city, the fragrance of early almond tree blossoms that filled my senses with everlasting memories, the wind that was cold and felt like it did not belong to that place at that time but still felt familiar and dear…and then I came across the poem "Wind." And I read it and reread it  several times and stopped only in disbelief that there was someone living in New Hampshire who somehow felt “my” spring and wind from across the ocean the same exact way I did and was able to translate these feelings into such a beautiful and powerful poem.
After I talked about this poem and the connections I made reading it, I ask my fifth graders to talk to their peers at the table about similarly strong feelings they have about something important to them and then to write a poem about it. I had wonderful creative responses such as the following one:
THE TWO SIDES
By Alejandro
5th grade
When I was little,
My mother would say,
“I wish your uncle could come!”
And she’d sigh.
“Who is my uncle,” I’d ask.
“He is a wonderful, delightful man,
she would say,
and her eyes would fill up with tears,
and her face would frown.
“Can I go to see him, I’d ask
And mom would look up and say,
“It is so far.”
“How far, “I wouldn’t give up.
It is like two sides of the world,
My brother is on one side
And we are far away
on the other side.
You’ll see him
Some other time,”
She’d whisper.
“No, I want to see him now,
My sides are both sides,”
I said, and mom looked at me.
And she knew I was going to go…
She let me go during winter break
To see my uncle because
she realized that I DO have
two equally important sides
and that I don’t give up easily.


Please describe some of the poetry activities you do with your students. Can you speak to your students’ reactions/responses to these activities?
I incorporate poetry into my teaching every day. The Poem of the Day is read after the Pledge of Allegiance is recited. Sometimes it’s related to an approaching holiday, sometimes to a season, the weather, a unit I’m teaching, or it is just so beautiful that I simply must share it. The students are invited to share their poetry or poetry they find in books that they'd like to share, as well.
I established an Annual Poetry Contest in the two schools where I worked since starting to work as a teacher in the U.S. From Nov. 1 through Nov. 30 , students are asked to turn in up to three poems (topic, format, or language of their choosing). Then, a committee of 5-6 teachers evaluates the entries, and 12 poems are chosen for the school poetry calendar. The winning poets and their families are invited to a Family Poetry night organized in their honor. The winners read their poems and their families are invited are invited to read some of the poems. It always turns into poetry celebration. The students receive a free calendar and a free poetry book, bookmarks, poetry notebooks, pencils.
Two years ago, I sent 30 poems written and illustrated by my students to the publishing company and our first poetry book named We Are Comets, We Are Poets! (Our school’s mascot is a shooting comet!) was published in spring of 2010.
Last year, out of 372 entries for the contest, in addition to the 12 poems chosen for the Poetry Calendar, 64 poems were chosen for the Poetry Quilt that is permanently displayed in our library. The winning students received their free copy of a book, a reception, and a pizza party in the library.
Also last year, during the month of April (Poetry Month), I ran a variation of Poetry Slam in our library. The students were to find and practice their favorite poem and come to the library after they eat lunch to compete in performing poetry. The activity was well attended every time and the students asked if we can continue with it after the poetry month is over.
Several colleagues at my school are poetry lovers too who incorporate poetry in their teaching on a regular basis. They and many others are supportive of what I am doing in the library and willing to help, which is very significant in showing students that we all value poetry as an important part of reading, learning, and enjoying language. Others are appreciative and willing to try when I approach them with ideas or ask them to encourage their students to read and write poetry. The students are receptive and willing to try writing or sharing poems.
Recently, my colleague and I started a Reading Blog with her second-grade class. I post a question to the second graders, and they come together as a class to answer my question. Their excitement and learning motivation are enormous. At this time, they are gathering powerful words from their reading material so that they are ready to write poetry. The students make a list of quality adjectives and strong verbs they find in the books they are reading, and then they write their poems in writing journals. Then, the students turn their poems in to the teacher, and she posts them on our blog. My colleague reports that this activity has incredibly stirred up enthusiasm for both reading and writing in all her students. And I noticed the same in the library. They dash to the shelves with poetry books; they are leaders in discussing poetic language and poets' craft; and they write fantastic poems. In all, there are endless possibilities. It only takes an enthusiastic, knowledgeable teacher who is willing to explore. And I truly believe that most of us are just that.
The activities/events above are just some of the many I incorporate into my library's everyday life.
What has been most surprising to you about incorporating poetry teaching into your curriculum?
I know that if we look through history of great poetry, male poets considerably outnumber females. Even if we add in great female poets who may have been ignored because of society's perception of "woman's place" of the time, we are still left with the fact that men showed their ability to be great poets. Despite this, it was to my surprise that boys would take on the invitation to perform poetry in front of an audience and to write poetry as easily and willingly as they did (because of the stereotype that perceives poetry as a “girly” thing). Generally, the boys start shyly, but when encouraged and given a lot of examples of wonderful poems by great poets, they loosen up and become leaders in poetry writing and performing.
What obstacles did you/do you have to overcome as you began to incorporate poetry teaching into your curriculum? For instance, I know that many adults say they are afraid of poetry; that they don’t understand it. I would imagine many students share those same feelings. If there is a student who’s hesitant, how do you make him/her comfortable?
I am happy to say that I had no obstacles incorporating poetry in my teaching. When  I got my first job in the United States as a pre-school teacher in Addison, Texas, I knew, literally, a few words of English, but I had 18 years of teaching experience with young children. So, in my first few months, this multicultural group of 2-to-3-year-old children I worked with heard hundreds of poems and children’s songs in Serbo-Croatian (my native tongue), and I heard and learned from them the most popular nursery rhymes in English. Regardless of language in which it was shared, poetry had the ability to sneak in one's heart as both the children and I learned from each other. I also paired it up with puppetry and music that go very well with poetry reciting, singing, and performing, which adds excitement and motivates children to participate.
When I moved to Washington State and started my schooling here to get my U.S. A. teaching degree, I was introduced to great children's literature, including incredible poetry for children with which I absolutely fell in love. And who wouldn’t, after reading Karen Hesse’s Out of the Dust, Janet Wong’s Jake and Min, Sharon Creech’s Love that Dog (all of which are outstanding novels in free verse format. These extraordinary books inspired me to try to write my own book in the same format. I Was Almost Five was published in 2010. Then, I cannot leave out other fantastic poetry books like The Rainbow Hands by Janet Wong, Ordinary Things, Moving Day, and A Writing Kind of Day by Ralph Fletcher, Thanks a Million by Nikki Grimes, Honey I Love by Eloise Greenfield, and many, many more.
At the first school, where I worked for eight years, only my first principal (who unfortunately left too soon) was very supportive of my puppetry and poetry activities with our students. After he left, I was faced with my colleagues’ and administrators’ unfamiliarity or lack of interest in what I was doing. The success with students who were involved and their families’ support was never in question, but my work was perceived by my colleagues as “Vida’s thing,” whether I was teaching poetry, collecting students' poems to send them to a contest for book publishing or publishing in the local newspaper, organizing Family Poetry Nights, or taking puppeteers to perform poetry in the community, it was always perceived as “Vida’s thing,” but it did not stop me. I knew that “Vida’s thing” was the “right thing” for our students.
My student’s essay “How a Pasco Teacher Influenced My Life, which won the Greater Pasco Chamber of Commerce grant confirmed that.
Felichiya, 5th grader then,  wrote:
"Mrs. Zuljevic, my writing teacher and librarian, inspired me in writing, reading and of course listening to poetry. And because of that it made my life more spirited and joyful…..
…So, I am really grateful to my wonderful teacher who opened a whole new world of literature to me. Thank you so much! And I will hopefully write, read, and listen to poetry all my life. I am really thankful to you Mrs. Zuljevic for believing in me! And maybe, someday, my poems will inspire somebody!!!..."
The plaque with this essay hangs on the wall above my desk, and I look at it every day, and it energizes me and inspires me to continue doing what I am doing with the same love and passion.
At the school where I have been working for the fourth year now, I have full support of my colleagues and administrators. Many of them share their love of poetry with students, help me evaluate the Annual Poetry Contest entries, come to Poetry Nights, and provide any support I ask for. I feel truly blessed working with and being part of  the greatest team of educators I’ve ever worked with.
What other resources (for example, web sites or blogs) might you recommend to other teachers and librarians who would like to follow your lead in poetry teaching?
First, I’d truly recommend to all who are interested in teaching poetry to read the book Poetry Matters by Ralph Fletcher. Five years ago when I was teaching  reading and writing to 3rd, 4th and 5th grade combo class of bilingual students, I read this book chapter by chapter and my students enjoyed it tremendously, and most importantly, they understood it and were willing to explore writing poetry and integrating important writing suggestions that Fletcher shared in each particular chapter. 

Another book that I highly recommend is Poetry Friday Anthology by Dr. Sylvia Vardell, professor at Texas Women’s University, and Janet Wong, acclaimed poet. This recently published book is a compilation of poems never before published uniquely like this, aligned with common core standards, sorted by grade level and accompanied by five ready-to-use activities. The extraordinary effort of two poetry bards resulted in an extraordinary book that must find a place on every teacher's/librarian's desk.
Here are also couple of blogs that I visit on a regular basis:
and many more…

If you were the Queen of Education, what would be your first decree?
If I were the Queen of Education, I’d immediately shift schools’ focus off of testing and test results and towards the true meaning of education—teaching and learning, and helping every child to love learning regardless of the difficulties they might have along the way.
What else would you like to say about poetry teaching in the classroom/library? 
I’d like to share this fabulous poem with you and other educators. I think it says it all.
I  Read It Because It’s Beautiful
by Karen Morrow Durica

Somehow a life without poetry seems…
Dismal
Empty
Flat—
Not much.
So each day in my classroom I read…
Sonnets
Haikus
Free verse—
And such.

An observer sat in my room one day…
Noted poem’s title
Evaluated delivery
Recorded “lesson” sequence—
Said dryly: “It seems

There’s no connection curricular-wise…
No anticipatory set
No vocabulary drill
No comprehension query—
Do they know what it means?”

I could have contrived a defense or two, but…
Spirits flowed with peaceful joy
Honesty prevailed
Simple truth explained—
“I read it because it’s beautiful,” I said.

She didn’t quite frown but recalled all the same, “We’ve…
Standards to meet
Timelines to keep
Pages to cover—
Important content to be read.”

I looked from her to my students’ gaze; they…
Had relished the words
Danced with the rhythm
Mused with the meaning—
Were richer in spirit than when we began.

I read it because it was beautiful. And beauty is…
Never superfluous
Never irrelevant
Always needed—
Always in my “lesson” plan.
Vida, this time with you has been completely inspiring. You made me stop and renew my awareness of the richness of language, the beauty of words, the power of poetry. My heart is lighter knowing that you, and many many wonderful librarians just like you, are opening literature's doors to children of all ages. Thank you!

 

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3. Teacher Tuesday

I must apologize for the technical glitches with getting today's Teacher Tuesday post up and running. The only thing I can figure out is that the post was too long. So, with Vida's okay, I will be dividing her wonderful interview into three parts, to run today, tomorrow and Thursday. Check back in on Saturday for a celebration of her students' poetry!


Though we've never met, I feel a connection with Vida Zuljevic, a librarian in Pasco, Washington, who serves Pre-K through fifth grade at Virgie Robinson Elementary. The town that Hattie Brooks homesteaded near, in real life and in my novel Hattie Big Sky, was named also named Vida (for the postmaster's daughter). Vida explained that, in her language, Vida is the female form of the word vid, meaning vision, sight.  Catholics in Slavic countries in Europe celebrate St. Vid, believing that he sees everything, and he is worshiped (among other reasons) as the protector of people’s vision.I think her parents must have known what they were doing in giving this future librarian that beautiful and meaningful name! I think mint tea might be a lovely accompaniment while you read today's interview. 

First, Vida, we'd like to take a peek at your past. The photos she has shared are especially poignant as they are the only ones her family saved, as they escaped the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina.



  • Favorite school lunch as a kid: It’s believed that memories supported by our sense of smell last longest in humans. My memory of sandwiches made by my beloved grandma and the smell of her freshly baked bread are still very much alive and always bring warm feelings to my heart. 
  • Best friend in grade school: Edina Vejzovic-Puzic (she also lives in the United States now). I found her after about forty years of no contact via some common friends and thanks to the Internet.
  • Times you were the new kid in school: I went to three different elementary schools (in my country, elementary school includes grades 1-8). I remember moving in third grade from an old school, in which I started my education, to a new, experimental school where everything was modern and felt “cold” with so much glass and iron and no friend. There was a boy who’d pick on me, teasing me because I was the tiniest girl in class, kind of shy and quiet. One day at recess, he and another boy approached me, gave me a tiny box,  and said,  “gift for you” with a mischievous smile on his face. I don’t know why, but I took it. And when he said, "Open it,” I did. Sure enough, a little lizard popped out, and the boys screeched trying to scare me. To their surprise I got down on my knees and managed to catch the little lizard, and then held it, I petted its back. The lizard calmed down, feeling my gentle touch. The boys were in awe. They said that they'd never seen a girl so brave to even hold a lizard, let alone pet it. From then on, they never teased me again, and what's more, we became very good friends.
  • Teacher who inspired you to stretch: My first grade teacher, Mr. Alikalfich.  In those days, coal for heating would be delivered to the school and teachers would be asked to help unload the trucks and store the coal in the school storage. It was on a November day that the truck came, and Mr. Alikalfich called my name and said to me in front of the whole class: "Vida, you’ll be the teacher until I come back. I need to help unload the coal from the coal truck. Come sit at my desk and read this part to the class (he showed me a paragraph from the text book), and then let them talk about it to each other until I come back." He did not ask me if I could read it; he did not show even a sliver of doubt about it or about my “teaching abilities.” It really gave me confidence, and I remember truly wanting to read that passage perfectly without mistakes and with lots of expression, which I of course did not have mastered by then, but my teacher’s trust in my abilities made me stretch to my highest potential, and I made it sound really good and my classmates respected that… This incident also ignited a spark of wanting to be a teacher, a plan I realized by going to a high school for teachers first and then to teachers' college and then university. One day, as I was walking down the hall at the teachers' college I was attending at the time, I spotted a tiny figure waking toward me, and I recognized my first grade teacher. I approached him with “Hello, do you recognize me Mr. Alikalfich?" He squinted at first, then smiled: "I knew it…I knew it from the first day of first grade that you were born to be a teacher, Vida." My heart jumped for joy. He remembered not only my name but also his faith in me. He went on to share that he too was there to take classes because new regulations for elementary teachers required upgrading their degrees with endorsements in specific areas of teaching.
  •  The one thing you always wished you could do in grade school but never achieved: I really wanted to be on the school's Math Team and participate in math competitions. I liked math very much, especially in seventh and eighth grade. I was among the best mathematicians in my class, but the only girl. My math teacher was a pretty biased man who believed that girls are simply not born to be good at math--period.  He would even say it out loud in front of the class. He would never call on me to answer his questions (ignoring my raised hand signaling my readiness) until one or some of the boys figured out the problem and raised their hands. Each year that the team was formed for the annual math competition, my teacher would not even consider me as an alternative team member because “girls are not smart enough to understand math.” Back then, students and parents were not supposed to or even allowed to argue with or complain to the teachers.  So although I was good at math throughout my schooling, my love for it remained only on a personal level. I did not excel in math the way I wanted and had abilities to because of the bias my teacher had about girls and math.  


Vida, a mutual friend suggested I contact you because of your passion for teaching and writing poetry. Talk about the seed that planted such a passion. Have you always loved poetry?

Poetry was an essential part of the elementary school curriculum in former Yugoslavia. I liked to read, and I liked to play with words.  My first poem was published in a children's magazine when I was in third grade. As a teen, I was in the school's poetry club. I published poems regularly in magazines for children throughout my schooling. The roots don't come only from my education, but also the fact that I am from a city where poetry is part of the city's culture, cherishing a tradition of great poets from this region such as Aleksa Santic, Osman Dikic, Branko Simic, Mak Dizdar, Pero Zubac and others. I lived my teenage years developing a love for reading and reciting poems by these and other great poets such as  Yesenin, Prevert, Lorca, Neruda, and Lord Byron.

When I became a kindergarten teacher, I used poetry on an daily basis, whether chanting nursery rhymes, reading poems of popular children's poets, writing poems with the students in my class, or singing  children’s songs. Poetry was a part of me from my early childhood; I feel it was born with me in my heart and mind, and it waited for a couple of years to let me grow and learn to talk, read and write in order to start flowing out of there and let wonderful poetry in as well.

Why do you feel it’s so important for students to read poetry? To write poetry?

Because it’s beautiful! Yes, in my opinion this is the most important role of poetry in students’ and adults' lives alike--to bring beauty of language to their attention. The other forms of writing can have such an impact too, but because of its format and language richness, poetry seems to be the most accessible well from which we can take quick or longer sips of beauty and keep coming back to it for additional sips of beauty over and over. 

(I think this is the perfect place to take a break -- check in tomorrow for additional sips of Vida's thinking about poetry!)

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4. Friend Friday

I know he is a liar and a thief, but I dare you not to take Will Sparrow into your heart! Sold off by his father for a few mugs of ale, Will does his best to keep fit and fed. But when hunger trumps his better judgment, he must take to the road. And not the high road; not in the least. A warning to the faint of heart: much thievery and lying abounds in said tale. Our Will is not a very good thief, however, and he is soon at the mercy of road warriors much cagier than he.

Will Sparrow's Road

Eventually, Will finds his way to a group of "fair folk" and to family. But what a family, including a cat girl and a dwarf very handy with his fists. 

Will Sparrow's Road is Karen Cushman's first male main character and she nails it. Kirkus calls it "a compelling coming-of-age road trip," but it is much more than that. It is a feisty look at what it takes to find a place to belong.

Of course you will want to add this to your library, and of course, you will purchase it from your local independent bookstore!


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5. Thursday's Thought

The secret of getting ahead is getting started.

Sally Berger

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6. Teacher Tuesday

Had I known that answering an email from Michele Meyer would result in my performing the Ohio State University fight song in front of the student body of Botkins Local School, I might have hesitated before hitting reply. But then I would have been deprived of a delightful connection with a small school with a huge heart!

O-H-I-O!

Michele and I connected over Hattie Big Sky . . .and kept connecting. It was one of the highlights of my professional life to meet her in person and spend the day at her school, a day, I might add, that began with my seeing my name up in lights! Okay. Not lights. But I was up there on the reader board at the local gas station and that is a pretty big deal.


Michele is a reading specialist, working with student in grades K-6; she says, "working with all grade levels and skill levels makes my day fly by quickly!" Botkins Local School is a small rural school in West Central Ohio which prides itself on a long-standing history of academic success. Trust me: Michele could give the Energizer Bunny a run for the money, so you might need a triple shot of something caffeinated before reading today's interview! 


First, let's take a peek at Michele's past!
Second grade (L) Pre-K (R): Already wearing OSU red!


  •  Favorite school lunch as a kid: Ooooooo…our school cafeteria supervisor was my grandmother’s sister and she was an incredible cook.  Hot ham and cheese sandwiches steamed in a foil wrapping was something I always looked forward to eating.  (Maybe the huge foil ball the student body created after lunch made the meal extra special.)  A close second had to be Turkey & Gravy over Mashed Potatoes.  This meal was reserved for special occasions such as holidays and Grandparents’ Day.
  • Best friend in grade school: Anne Freiburger. We bonded the day we made it to the finals of our First Grade Spelling Bee after spelling e-l-e-p-h-a-n-t.  We are still friends to this day and share so many childhood memories.   We were both late-comers in our parents’ lives and laughed about having parents the same age as other friends’ grandparents when we were in Grade 4!  We had siblings that were friends as well.   Because of all of that, we had very similar upbringings and have many reasons to remain in contact to this day.  I look forward to keeping up with Anne (and her siblings) weekly thanks to Facebook. ;-)
  • Times you were the new kid in school: I had the pleasure of never moving from my hometown my entire childhood!  However, I did go from my Catholic Grade 1-8 building to our town’s public high school.  The high school blended students from the town’s public K-8 school and three smaller parochial schools.  That was a bit intimidating – going from 22 in a class to 240! 
  • Teacher who inspired you to stretch: From grade school through college, I consider myself fortunate to have been blessed with fantastic teachers my entire education.  One teacher who sticks out as one who “inspired me to stretch” was my eighth grade teacher, Mr. Heberle.  I clearly recall the formative feedback he would write on my papers.  He challenged me to “step-it-up” a notch or two!  I clearly recall working on a project for class that had me so fired up, I never wanted to speak to Mr. Heberle again.  I have to laugh about that now because today he is one of the people I would love to hear from most! 
  • The one thing you always wished you could do in grade school but never achieved:I live with few regrets.  J However, if I had to pinpoint one thing I wish I could have done in grade school but never achieved, I would have to say sing a solo.  I am still a bit envious of someone who can get up in front of people and belt out a gorgeous tune.
Michele, you have such a passion for getting kids connected with books. I wanted to interview you because I was completely in awe of the ways in which you expanded on Hattie Big Sky in your classroom. Let's talk more about what you call "book-end activities." What prompted you to start incorporating them in your curriculum?

I started using book-end activities with a group of high-achieving 6th Grade readers I worked with each day.  My goal was to challenge the students to put their higher-level thinking skills into action to demonstrate their understanding of a book in a new and creative manner. 

 Book-end activities allow true-blue fun and demonstrating academic knowledge/growth to marry.  I believe students can be creative in convincing me they understand about characters, events in a story and meaning of new words.
Perilee with baby Lottie

When our class presents our book-end activities, we always invite the other reading groups to participate (a.k.a. learn and have fun!).  Because many of our book-end activities are open to the other students in the class who are not in our reading group, I consider these activities “advertisements” or “trailers” for the book our class has read.  There is no better book recommendation than one from a fellow classmate and pal.  Check!  Another goal met…inspire others to read more.
Bucket brigade to save the burning barn!

What kinds of books lend themselves best to extensions?  Feel free to share titles of books that your kids have especially connected to.

Books that have rich vocabulary, figurative language and dynamic characters are the kind of books that lend themselves best to extension activities.  Some of my favorites are Where the Red Fern Grows, The Westing Game, The Beef Princess of Practical County and, of course, Hattie Big Sky.

Teachers are notoriously resourceful – how do you come up with all of your creative ideas for book-related activities?

I am a begger, a borrower and a stealer!  I have many great friends who are incredible teachers who share their cutting-edge work and ideas with me.  If they give me something I like, I may tweak it and make it my own. 

Magazines are another favorite resource of mine.  Websites like Scholastic, International Reading Association and Google are my best resource friends.  My crazy imagination takes off sometimes and all I need is a little spark of an idea to run wild with it.  I jokingly call myself the “Connection Queen”. 

Also, we often brainstorm as a class when it comes to forming ideal book-end activities.  Here’s how it works:  one student comes up with a good idea; two other students toss out additional tweaks to that good idea to make it great;  and three others add their twist to that great idea.  VOILA! A marvelously entertaining and educational activity has been born. Teamwork works!

Talk about some other ways you use literature to supplement the curriculum.

Literature can supplement the curriculum in countless ways.  One of my favorite ways is through word walls.  We create a life-sized vocabulary wall for many books we read that hold new vocabulary words from the book we are reading.  Words from A-Z (with an additional area for important numbers) pack our hallways.  Students use words from the wall to write summaries, create descriptions and analyze characters or settings.
Word Wall

Thanks to the literature we have read, our class has learned about everything from the ins and outs of the stock market to customs of other cultures to how to show a steer!  We have learned about historical events such as homesteading and the Holocaust as well.

Give us a few examples of activities, like Hats off to Hattie Day, that have grown out of your connections, please.

Our class has planned a Where the Red Fern Grows party where everything is centered around the theme of nature, hunting, country living, determination, loyalty and pursuing a dream. 

Another fun day has been Westing Game Direction Day.  This day is structured similarly to our Hats off to Hattie Day.  Students are responsible for creating different whole class/team activities that demonstrate a specific character’s quirks, talents, interests, occupation or disposition.

Why do you think these literature extensions are important? What do students gain from them? 

Literature extensions are vitally important if you want books to come to life and if you want students to have a memorable experience with those stories.  The more students can relate and create, the better they are and the more they learn. 
Pin Violet's tail back on!

It makes me smile to think students are able to use a talent to convey their understanding of a scene, character or event from a story.   It is amazing to see the students work collectively to come up with educational and fun activities, costuming and even refreshments.

Do you find your students suggesting titles/activities?

As I mentioned earlier, our brainstorming sessions in class are intensely spirited and a bit hard to keep up with on occasion!  However, they are extremely productive.  All ideas are welcome and encouraged.  However, only those ideas that are well-developed and proven fun activities are approved for the activity day.   I work with a creative crew of fun-loving kids.  They require little of me to create an interactive, entertaining and education afternoon of book fun.

What has surprised you about these book end activities? Perhaps a specific student reaction, for example.

A very soft-spoken student surprised me by going all out and transforming himself into the “Ultimate Rooster Jim” character from Hattie Big Sky.  The student even went to his barn and had a picture taken of him reading alongside his chickens as part of his project!  Now that is proof he studied this character and knew the good, bad and smelliness of him. 

Trying parsley for the first time!

How does your administration support you in these activities?

Our administration is supportive of our students extending their thinking and being creative in demonstrating their academic growth.    Often times, our principal and superintendent stop in to participate in some of the activity day fun.

Your students’ families?  

We’ve had a mother voluntarily send in homemade strudel (a Hattie Big Sky staple) with her son for our class!  Need I say more?  We have also had a grandmother provide authentic shorthand notes from her schooling as a secretary when we were learning more about secretarial duties and the art of shorthand (Thank you Ms. Sydelle Pulaski, Secretary Extraordinaire, from the Westing Game for inspiring this activity).

Your community? 
We have taken a virtual tour around our small town trying to equate Billy Coleman’s adventure (in Where the Red Fern Grows) of going into town to pick up his pups from the train depot to what he’d see and where he’d go if he were to arrive in Botkins, Ohio.   

What do you wish I had asked you about this book-related activities that I didn’t? Any last words/thoughts?   

Believe it or not, I think you have left me speechless which doesn’t happen often.  Great questions!

The only one thing I wish you would have asked me was the affect of connecting with an author (via email, SKYPE, in person, etc.) on a student! I could go on for pages about that.  Kids still walk into my room and talk about your visit.  Amazing…just plain, awesome and amazing.

I think this interview gives you a good idea of why Michele's reading room is a favorite school gathering spot. I so admire and appreciate Michele -- and all her educational colleagues! -- working so hard and creatively to ensure that students love learning. It does my heart good!

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7. Friend Friday

Before I introduce you to today's friend, I must warn you. The minute, the MINUTE, you finish one of Rebecca Stead's books, you will turn right to the first page to read it again. Her stories are double-helixes of words -- rich, dense and full of the very stuff of life. (She also has the coolest website so be sure and check it out!)


Her newest is the much-acclaimed Liar and Spy.


Read it! But don't say I didn't warn you.

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8. Thursday's Thought

Nothing is impossible. 
The word itself says, "I'm possible!"

Audrey Hepburn

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9. Teacher Tuesday

May I just say how much fun I'm having "meeting" amazing teachers and librarians from all over the country? I'm very delighted today to introduce you to Laura Given, a librarian at Parkview Center School in Roseville, Minnesota, which she describes as a "first-ring suburb just north of St. Paul." Her library serves students from kindergarten through eighth grade. I am in awe of Laura because she has taken her passion for children's books to a whole new level of commitment. She noticed that her home state did not have a young readers' choice picture book award. And Laura is a can-do kind of person. Start a new state award? No problem! You might want to pour an energy drink to sip while you find out what Laura's been up to.

But first, a little peek into her past!

Seventh grade Laura eager to take on the world!

  • Favorite school lunch as a kid:  Hot Turkey with Mashed Potatoes and Gravy
  • Best friend in grade school:  Tena W. - She lived kitty-corner (or catty-corner) from me.
  • Times you were the new kid in school:  Only once in first grade. I went to a Montessori school for Kindergarten and switched to my neighborhood school in first grade.
  • Teacher who inspired you to stretch:  My 8th grade English teacher. She had a writing group that met on Friday’s before school in the library.
  • The one thing you always wished you could do in grade school but never achieved:  Climb the rope in gym class.

 Now let's get to the heart of this interview. Laura, you shared with me that you are trying to create a young readers picture book choice award in your state. 


You crazy girl! What on earth prompted you to take on such a huge project?

I’m not sure I understood what a huge undertaking it would be at first, but it has definitely been a fun process so far.

Tell us what you've done to get the ball rolling:


First of all, I asked around to see if I could join in on someone else’s lead. But there were no takers. That’s when I knew that if I wanted to see this become a reality, I would need to step up and lead myself.


After that realization, I did a lot of research. I wanted to find out what everyone else was doing. Cynthia Leitich Smith’s website was a huge help because part of her site is devoted to State Awards for Children’s and Young Adult Books. I used that as a spring board to find as many state student choice book awards as I could. I looked at their guidelines for selection, currency of nominated titles, number of nominated titles, requirements for student participation. I made a gigantic spreadsheet and took notes on the fabulous ideas that I wanted to somehow incorporate into the new MN award. 

You initiated a “pilot” project, featuring 15 picture books* for students to commonly read and vote on. How did you hit upon this step?


I was very excited and motivated to get started on this new Minnesota picture book award idea, but it became apparent that this was going to be a slow process. At one point I was discouraged and thought that an “official” award might not happen for a very long time. I had too much energy and excitement around the idea to wait that long. That’s how my pilot award 15 Books came along.

I took all the research and ideas I had up to that point and put it out there for anyone to join me. My colleague and good friend Anna Zbacnik (@a_to_z_library) of A to Z Library Lady joined in, and we had a lot of fun with the pilot.

Describe the steps you’ve taken to implement this project to date. Please be as detailed as possible, in case some other insane, I mean, incredible librarian wants to follow your lead. (just teasing!)


First I contacted the board of Minnesota Youth Reading Awards (MYRA), the organization that runs the Maud Hart Lovelace Award (the Minnesota student choice award for grades 3-8).


Then, as I mentioned earlier, I researched all the state awards I could and ended up starting my pilot award.


While I was finishing the first year of the the pilot award, MYRA decided the organization was ready to move forward with the idea of introducing a new award. 

What followed was a complicated process behind the scenes involving bylaws and Robert’s Rules of Order. Eventually I was voted onto the MYRA board as the chair of the new picture book award, and then the real fun began: reading lots of picture books and finding other picture book lovers to join me.


We now have a group of picture book lovers from around the state reading picture books to help determine what 10 books will be the first nominees to be announced April 25, 2013.


How did you come up with the name for the award?

We wanted the name to be “Minnesotan”, but we also wanted it to not sound too cheesy. So the Hotdish Award, and the Skeeter Award, as well as the Loon Award were all veto-ed. Minnesota’s State Motto is "L'Etoile du Nord", which means “The Star of the North.”

I like thinking of the nominated books as the stars.

What are the next steps?

Star of the North readers are reading picture books and will be sending recommendations on to our selection committee in early 2013. The selection committee will look at the top titles and determine the final list of 10 nominees. Those nominees are kept in a locked vault until April 25, 2013, the date they'll be announced to the public.

After the announcement, students have until March 2014 to read or have read to them 8 of the 10 nominees to be eligible to vote. Student votes are collected in March of 2014, and on April 25, 2014 the first Winner of the Star of the North award will be announced, along with 10 new nominated titles for 2014-15.

 (note from Kirby: this gives me chills! So thrilling!)

What are the criteria for this award?

The following limitations are set on the nominated titles:


  1. All titles are classified as Picture Books (they may be fiction or nonfiction).
  2. Titles’ copyrights are from previous 2 years (nominees announced in 2013 will have copyrights from 2012 or 2011).
  3. Titles are in print and available to order.
  4. List of nominees reflects variety in perspectives and genres.
  5. Consideration made for Minnesota connections and MN Authors or Illustrators.
  6. Caldecott Award winning titles will not be considered.
  7. Titles will be reviewed by at least one professional review source.  
  8. If a title is part of a series, it will only be considered if it is able to stand alone without relying on familiarity with the other titles in the series.
  9. Books based on movies or television shows are not eligible for nominations unless the book preceded the movie or television production.   
  10. Titles may not be a holiday book, a toy, a puzzle, a pop up book or formula fiction.
  11. Nominated authors and illustrators must be alive at the time of nomination and living in North America.
  12. The previous year’s WINNING author and illustrator are not eligible to have a nominated title for the following year.
  13. Only one title per author or illustrator is allowed in the list of nominees.
  14. Titles will be chosen with an audience of 5-8 year-olds in mind.
  15. Titles are quality, engaging picture books.

How did you arrive at these criteria?

It was a long process. Ultimately we wanted to make sure we were creating a list of books each year that libraries, schools, families and kids would embrace as a quality, engaging list.

I know why young readers choice awards are important to authors/illustrators – they’re an amazing affirmation of  our work by the very audience of readers we’re working for. But why are state young readers choice awards important to schools and libraries? And, perhaps most importantly, why are they important for kids?

Student choice awards help create a reading community. Participating in the reading and voting allows students to feel connected to other readers around them, as well as be a part of something larger than their class and their school.
Awards and recommended lists are great ways to find quality reading choices - we often teach this to students. There are not many awards where kids feel a part of the award process and have their opinion heard. State awards are a place where that can happen.

What has been the most surprising thing that’s happened to you since diving into this project?

With my pilot picture book award, students and I read the books out loud together. This created an amazing shared reading experience with my primary grades. The excitement and “book bonding” that happened was more powerful that I could have imagined.


I have also been blown away by the support and excitement from teachers, librarians, and book lovers around the state. It is an amazing feeling to be a part of this award from the very beginning.

How could your fellow Minnesotans lend a hand with the Star of the North Award?


Become a member of the Minnesota Youth Reading Awards. For the low price of $10 a year, you can support the award and help students be a part of the voting process.


Also if you love reading picture books, consider becoming a reader for the Star of the North. We would love your input and help.

What else would you like to say about the Star of the North Award and its inception?


One thing I am thrilled is part of the Star of the North Award is the idea that picture books are for everyone. Even though the nominated titles for the award are chosen with 5-8 year-olds in mind, students up through 8th grade are allowed and encouraged to read and vote.

Thank you, thank you, thank you, Laura, for sharing all this great information! You are an inspiration and I imagine that everyone who reads this interview will feel a little like an auntie when the first Star of the North awards are announced!

Follow Laura on Twitter, @LibLaura5, or check out her blog!



* Full disclosure: one of the books that I have co-written with Mary Nethery is on this list but I was unaware of that fact when I invited Laura to be interviewed. Scout's Honor!

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10. Friend Friday

I first met Terry Trueman at a Children's Literature Festival in Warrensburg, Missouri. Terry is one of those larger-than-life kind of people and I am not. So our first meeting would not have led me to believe we could become friends. But Terry's heart is huge and we have shared many encouraging (and discouraged!) emails back and forth. Though it's been out since August, I'm pleased to celebrate his latest book, Life Happens Next.


Here are the official details: 

Stuck in Neutral, a Printz Honor Book, introduced the world to Shawn McDaniel, a fourteen-year-old kid with cerebral palsy. But what happens next?

Shawn's got a new perspective on life. But no one has a clue. That's because they can see only his wheelchair, his limp body, his drool. What they don't see? His brain, with perfect auditory memory. And his heart, which is in love with a girl. And his fierce belief that someday someone will realize there's way more to him than his appearance.

How do you connect with others when you can't talk, walk, or even wave hello? In the sequel to Stuck in Neutral, which ALA Booklist called "an intense reading experience," Shawn McDaniel discovers a new definition of "normal" and finds that life happens next for everyone.

Before you read the book, be sure to hop on over to Terry's energetic and engaging website.

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11. Thursday's Thought

Winning can be defined as 
the science of being totally prepared.

George Allen

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12. Teacher Tuesday

I'm delighted to introduce you to Brian Wilhorn, from Vesper Community Academy in Vesper, Wisconsin. I don't know quite how he does it, but Brian is the reading teacher AND the lead teacher for the 4-year-old kindergarteners through the sixth graders. That's a large age span and set of differences. I am in awe of this guy. And you will be, too, after you read the interview below.

Brian in 4th grade-- note the books in the background. A sign of things to come!


Brian, let's take a little peek at your past:

  • Favorite school lunch as a kid: A tie between the chicken gravy over biscuits and Salisbury steak.
  • Best friend in grade school: It changed year to year. (I think teachers tried spreading us out between classrooms.) I met Jeff W. in ninth grade and we’re good friends to this day.
  • Times you were the new kid in school: Always attending the neighborhood school kept me from ever really being the new kid until college, but I was probably the most out-of-place-kid in junior high shop class.
  • Teacher who inspired you to stretch: The professor in my college freshman writing class, whose name I’ve unfortunately forgotten. She taught me that writing is more than good grammar and following directions. She told me my biography was boring. She was right. I completely rewrote it.
  • The one thing you always wished you could do in grade school but never achieved: Color inside the lines and have fancy, neat handwriting.
Brian, you shared with me that one of your big passions is providing context for your students. This resonated with me because, as a writer, I sometimes assume readers know things that they don't, necessarily. For example, when I began talking to students about Hattie Big Sky, I quickly realized I needed to explain what "homesteading" was. I've been so impressed by the ways in which you use blogs to
enrich your readers' understanding of the books they’re reading. How did your blogs come about?

 
Help Readers Love Reading came about as an extension of my reading presentations. The biggest request I receive from teachers is for more books, so I created the blog as an answer to that request.


The MrWReads blog started as a way to quickly give students links, videos, resources, and directions for lessons. Then the reading part slowly took over as I started adding visual resources for my class read alouds.


Why do you do it?

 
I started Googling things for myself from the books I’d read before I started sharing with students. When reading Alvin Ho by Lenore Look, I Googled Johnny Astro on a whim and was thrilled to discover it was a real toy and that the commercial was on YouTube. Then I found a site that created Shakespearian curses, just like Alvin’s dad. (Thou grizzled, lily-livered giglet!) In many cases the online resources come from my own searches. I’ll look something up, find it fascinating, and think, “Hey! My students should see this!”
I don’t create online resources for all the books we use. The resources come about when I feel we can really dig into a book as a class.


Do you have students help you in this process? If so, how?
 

Not directly, but now that you mention it, that could be a great way to combine self-chosen reading, research, and writing. For the posts I’ve done, I just try to imagine what my students might not have locked away in their background knowledge and create posts to share that information.

What has most surprised you since you began blogging about books and reading?

 
By far the biggest surprise has been the response to my posts (here and here) on Wonder by R. J. Palacio. I started writing them to use with my students shortly after the book’s release, but as Wonder’s audience has grown, so has the interest in the online resources. Those posts have generated around 9,000 page views in September, 2012. By comparison, in September, 2010 the entire MrWReads blog generated 58 views.


What are the biggest impacts you’ve seen on your students?
 

I’ll be the first to admit that these online resources are not necessary for readers. Great books work their magic with readers on their own. But I think the visual resources can help readers more clearly see the story in their imaginations. Our rural community doesn’t have crosstown buses or a subway. Our acres of cornfields are pretty far removed from the Florida Keys.

The biggest impacts have come from historical resources. Learning that the church bombing in The Watsons Go to Birmingham - 1963 actually happened added to the seriousness of the story’s events (see the post here). Students realized that Kenny’s sister, Joey, really could have died that Sunday morning. Reading newspaper reports about the 1935 Labor Day hurricane in the Florida Keys helped students understand how incredible it was that Turtle and her cousins survived on the pirate’s key in Turtle in Paradise (read that post here). In Wonder, when students said that touching Auggie gave you the plague, learning what the plague actually did helped students realize how hurtful Auggie’s classmates’ words were, even if they didn’t realize what they were saying (here is that post). 


These posts of yours seem like a ton of work. Why is it worth the effort? Would you encourage other teachers to try something like this?
       

They can be a lot of work, but I get lost in the research and enjoy fleshing out my own understanding of the story. Sometimes it’s like I’m tracking down the author’s own research.

Any time that teachers spend learning more about their subject matter is time well spent. When students say, “I didn’t know...” or “Did he really...” or “I can’t believe...”, then I’m always glad I took the time to share whatever it was they didn’t know.


What resources have been particularly helpful to you in generating these blog posts?
       

Mostly a combination of my own curiosity, my students’ knowledge, and Google.

What practical tips do you have for other teachers who might want to launch an effort like this?

  
Try to keep posts from becoming some sort of assigned reading. Don’t let learning kill the enjoyment of the story. Try to use natural breaks in the story to quickly share images, but don’t let the story get fragmented.
       

Also, start by seeing what is already out there. When I started the Wonder posts, I didn’t know that author R. J. Palacio already had similar resources on her own site. That would have been a great place for me to start.

How could authors and/or publishers help you in your efforts to provide context for your students?

 
 Authors and publishers are so easy to connect with today. Sometimes you just need to ask. When creating the Wonder resources, I tweeted R. J. Palacio asking if the Avatar Miranda mentions was the cartoon TV series or the James Cameron movie. A few hours later she tweeted the answer. (It was the cartoon.)


Brian, thank you so much for taking time to share these insights. I'm sure there are many teachers out there who are going to give this a try! And as a passionate researcher myself, you've given me incentive (and permission!) to make my Author's Notes and webpages more informative.

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13. Friend Friday

I've been a fan of Frances O'Roark Dowell since I read her Chicken Boy. In nearly every book she writes, she takes us into the life of a little kid dealing with big stuff. Her work is honest, true and brimming with heart.

Still on my to-read pile is her newest, The Second Life of Abigail Walker.
After reading this review by Kirkus, I cannot wait to crack open that beautiful cover:
 
When Abby’s one-time friend whispers to her, “You’re dead,” Abby knows it’s true. Maybe not dead physically, but dying inside. Avoiding Georgia and Kristen, who make snarky remarks about her weight in the lunchroom, the sixth-grader makes new friends, including two Indian-American boys whose easy tolerance is refreshing. . . As she did in The Secret Language of Girls (2004) and its sequel, The Kind of Friends We Used to Be (2009), Dowell weaves themes of friendship and personal growth into a rich and complex narrative.  . . Middle school mean girls are not uncommon, in fiction or in life, but seldom has an author so successfully defeated them without leaving her protagonist or her reader feeling a little bit mean herself. (Kirkus)

Congratulations, Frances!

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14. Thursday's Thought

No act of kindness, 
no matter how small, 
is ever wasted.

Aesop

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15. Teacher Tuesday

I admit it. For the longest time, I treated Twitter like a date for a root canal. Then Colby Sharp got me connected. And am I glad he did! Otherwise, I would have missed out on knowing Katherine Sokolowski, fellow Nerdy Book Club member and teacher extraordinaire (follow her: @katsok). Katherine's from the Land of Lincoln and teaches in the same town in which she grew up. As someone who was the new kid nearly every year of her school life, I am so in awe of that kind of stay-puttedness. (note: I just invented a new word)

Not only do we get to chat with Katherine today, we also get to meet one of her awesome students, Matt. Let's dive in!

First, the getting to know you bits:


Katherine, where do you teach?
In Monticello, Illinois. It’s a tiny town in Central Illinois (5,000 people) and I grew up here as well.
This is my third year in fifth grade, thirteenth year in this district. (I taught fourth grade for ten years.)
Matt, what grade are you in?
Fifth Grade. I've been at this school for two years, but have been in this school district since Kindergarten.
Here's the embarrassing part that I force all my interviewees to do--
A Peek at Your Past 
Mrs. Sokolowski in 5th grade

  • Favorite school lunch as a kid:
    • Katherine:Pizza
    • Matt: Chicken Nuggets
  •  Best friend in grade school:  
    • Katherine: Kara
    • Matt:Kyle 
  •  Times you were the new kid in school: 
    • Katherine: once
    • Matt: never
  • Teacher who inspired you to stretch:
    • Katherine: Jan Tuck – first grade
    • Matt:Mrs. Sokolowski (and this is not just because she's sitting right next to me now)
  •  The one thing you always wished you could do in grade school but never achieved:
    • Katherine: Not care so much about what others thought of me.
    • Matt: Get straight A’s

Katherine, as a teacher who’s passionate about books, it must kill you to hear kids say they don’t like to read. How often do you hear this? Why do you think you do?

Each year I’d say 1/3 of my students tell me they don’t like to read or they say they do, but I know they are just telling me what they think I want to hear. I think many students haven’t found their way to books they enjoy. When they have to force themselves to read what is assigned or what they cannot connect to, I think they have a hard time imagining that reading could be something they enjoy.

You shared with me that one of your students didn’t see himself as a reader, though he was devouring graphic novels right and left. Tell me about that.

In that instance I was talking about the student I have with me, Matt, but it would hold true for many kids. I think they often haven’t enjoyed reading before and immediately connect with graphic novels but don’t see it as “real reading” because it’s fun. There are pictures and they seem like comic books. I also think some parents get worried they aren’t “really reading” and try to help them get away from graphic novels. I always share the fact that my husband is brilliant, a successful engineer, and reads a steady diet of comic books. Reading, of any format, is encouraged in my classroom. Matt is a fabulous example. He rocks our reading class.

What roadblocks do you see placed between kids and books?

I think there are several roadblocks. Our kids are so busy, they are involved in much more than I was a kid. That limits their time to read.

At my students' age level, not as many parents read aloud to their children anymore; parents feel that since their students can read, read alouds aren't needed. I think the shared story as part of a family ritual is important. It helps children see their parents as a role model for reading.

Also, I think that having the choice to read is critical. When we use whole class novels we aren’t reaching all of our students. Not only do they not all at the same level, they have different interests. If there's a book we really want our students to experience, why not do it as a read aloud and encourage them to find what they love to read for independent reading?

What are the strategies parents and teachers can use to help kids recognize their innate desire to connect with story?

Great question. As a parent and a teacher, I feel it is my job to be a role model for my children and students. I talk about what I am reading a lot. I let them see me cry as I read. I tell them I am exhausted because I HAD to stay up late to find out what happened in my book. I let them see how I connect to reading. ( my emphasis: Kirby) 

I think this helps them find a reason they should connect. I talk about my reasons for picking books – and abandoning them when I cannot. I let my reading life open up so my students and my boys can see it. I think this is something all parents and teachers can do. The more I share of myself with my students and kids, the more they open up too.

What would you love to say to the parents of your students about the importance of reading?

I think, as a parent and teacher, having my children consider themselves readers is absolutely critical. Reading correlates to success later in life. But I think Nancie Atwell said it best when she said:
There's nothing better for you  - not broccoli, not an apple a day, not aerobic exercise.  In terms of the whole rest of your life, in terms of making you smart in all ways, there's nothing better. Top-ranking scientists and mathematicians are people who read a lot. Top-ranking historians and researchers are people who read a lot. It's like money in the bank in terms of the rest of your life, but it also helps you escape from the rest of your life and live experiences you can only dream of. Most important, along with writing, it's the best way I know to find out who you are, what you care about, and what kind of person you want to become.
So I think reading is a gift that can help our students succeed. But reading also taught me who I was, just as Ms. Atwell said. I wouldn’t be the same person I am without books. Reading makes me a better person.

Matt – Mrs. S. said you described yourself as someone who didn’t like to read. What does that mean to you?

I really can’t read books that have a lot of pages or that have big words. When the print is small I have hard time.  This made me feel like I wasn’t a reader.

How did it feel when you realized you’d read 18 books in the first two weeks of school? (I’m sure you’ve read lots more books by now!)

Good, because last year in the first two weeks I hadn’t read any books. Now I’m on my 34th book.

What could authors do to help you and kids like you enjoy reading more?

Make graphic novels because it is something I’m interested in. Also, anytime pictures could be in novels it helps. (Like Wonderstruck.)

What do you think gets in the way of kids reading books for fun?

Not knowing what books to read. Also, when I get to choose books to read it makes it more fun.

I’m going to leave space below for Mrs. S to interview you, Matt, and vice versa about what you both like about graphic novels.
Mrs. Sokolowski and uber reader, Matt!

Matt – what is your favorite book this year?
Well, Earthling by Mark Fearing.

Why did you connect to that?
It took me awhile and it is a graphic novel, but I understood it and it was funny.
(I like long graphic novels like Ghostopolis.)

What do you think makes a good reading classroom and teacher?
A nice teacher that doesn’t yell so much, I like teachers that are kind.  Also it helps if teachers like to read.

Is there anything you want to ask me?
Could you get more graphic novels?

Anything else you want to say?
A lot of graphic novels.

I really, really appreciate Mrs. Sokolowski and Matt for spending this time with us today. If I could say anything to Matt, I would say thank you. Because he has encouraged me to explore graphic novels more. Though I devoured comic books as a kid, as an adult, graphic novels have been a bit of a puzzle to me.

I know I am going to sleep better tonight knowing that yet another of our country's amazing teachers has made an indelible bond between kids and books. And I'll sleep better knowing thoughtful, curious and generous kids like Matt will soon be in charge of things.

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16. Friend Friday

Okay, Joan Bauer isn't exactly a friend. I mean, she doesn't even know me! But I feel like I know her thanks to an inspiring and encouraging talk she gave at SCBWI several years back. What I remember most about it (besides the dead hamster; long story) was her comment that humor enables us to look at the hurts of life. And her books certainly tackle life's hurts, with large doses of humor.

I have not read her latest, Almost Home, but one look at the cover is enough to make me move it up the to-read pile.

 
Here's the book's description: 
When twelve-year-old Sugar's grandfather dies and her gambling father takes off yet again, Sugar and her mother lose their home in Missouri. They head to Chicago for a fresh start, only to discover that fresh starts aren't so easy to come by for the homeless. Nevertheless, Sugar's mother has taught her to be grateful no matter what, so Sugar does her best. With the help of a rescue dog, Shush; a foster family; a supportive teacher; a love of poetry; and her own grace and good humor, Sugar comes to understand that while she can't control the hand life deals her, she can control how she responds.

 Cannot wait to read it!

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17. Thursday's Thought

All truth is good. 

Not all truth is good to say.

Anonymous

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18. Teacher Tuesday

There are nine milliion things that amaze me about the wonderful teachers and librarians of this great county. One of those is how great teachers mesh their own unique personalities with their work. Today's teacher-guest, Tony Keefer, provides a great example of that. His Great Books Poll is rooted in his own passion for sports. Slip into your favorite team jersey and then read on to see what I mean.

This doesn't look like Ohio anymore!

Where do you teach?
 
I am a 4th grade teacher at Scottish Corners Elementary in Dublin, Ohio.  Dublin is a suburb of Columbus, Ohio.  I get to teach all the subjects.  It is sometimes difficult but I love having the same group of kids all days.  We build a great community of learners and I get to see kids who may struggle in one area, succeed in others.


Tony, here's where we take a peek into your grade school past!



  • Favorite school lunch as a kid: Peanut Butter and Jelly, applesauce and some sort of cookie.  I didn’t eat the school lunch very often.
  • Best friend in grade school: I had lots of really good friends it would be hard to pick a best friend, but Todd Keyser lived around the corner so we were together a lot.
  • Times you were the new kid in school: I never had to be the new kid.  I grew up in a small town and we were in the same house from elementary through my sophomore year in high school.  It was a great place to grow up.
  • Teacher who inspired you to stretch: I had a few who made me work hard.  Mrs Murray in third grade was wonderful.  Mrs. Farkosovsky in middle school pushed us really hard in history.  But I think Mrs. Gedney and Mrs. Murphy, two of my high school math teachers really stretched me the most as a learner.  They both loved math so much that it made me want to love it as well.  I still love it today.  I should send them a thank you letter or something. (note from Kirby: Yes, you should.)
  • The one thing you always wished you could do in grade school but never achieved: Great question.  Skip school?  Seriously, I don’t know what I would have wished to achieve when I was in grade school.  School back in the 70s was pretty fun and easy as I remember it.  I do have memories of wanted to be a pro athlete, but what boy doesn’t wish that at some point.  And now that I am 43, I think I am way past my prime to make the NBA.

Now, to the main reason we're chatting. You do something very lively in your classroom, something called the Great Books Poll. Tell us how the Great Poll works.
Love that my good friend Derek Munson's on this list

We have this sign outside our room that announces the top books in our room.  Each week we all get 2 votes.  I tally the votes and redo the sign.   It is kind of like the college football polls that come out every week, only better because it is about books and kids are in charge. (ed: my emphasis)  The only real rule we have is the book must be one we have read fully or have heard read aloud.  It can’t be a book we are in the middle of reading or one we think will be awesome.

What motivated you to initiate this activity? How long have you been doing it?

Last year I started a March Book Madness (like the college basketball tournament) and it was a huge success.  I will do that again this spring, but I thought it would be interesting if we did something that lasted all year.  So far the response has been fun.

How do you find time to work this weekly Poll into your already full schedule?

It took me about 10 minutes to explain during the first week of school so that wasn’t hard to fit in.  It takes about a minute for the kids to write book titles on index cards each Monday to vote.  Then on Tuesday, when they see the new poll outside our room, we spend a few minutes before read aloud talking about the books on this week’s list.

How do kids respond to participating in the Poll?


So far they seem to like it.  They really like the conversation about the new list, especially if a new book appears.  This generates interest in new titles.  As the year progresses it will be interesting if the votes become tougher.  Right now most kids are still holding onto a favorite from third grade as one of their books.  I think that it cool, but it will be interesting to see as they develop as readers if this will change.

What has most surprised you about this activity?

The fact that one of the picture books I read aloud the first week of school was on the poll for two straight weeks.  It was Enemy Pie, a great story, but it was surprising to me that over half my class chose it the first week and about 6 chose it the second.  Fourth graders often times don’t want to admit they like picture books.

What kinds of skills and abilities do you see this Great Books Poll fostering in your students?

I think two biggest things will be learning to be better evaluators the of books and learning how to better recommend great books to friends.  I think they will learn if a book the love gets passed around the class that maybe other kids will love it as well.  That is already starting to happen with the graphic novel series Bone.

Would you encourage other teachers to give this a try in their classrooms?

I would. It takes little time and it allows for kids to take some ownership in championing favorite books.  Teachers do a great job of sharing great book titles with their students, but something like this that is owned by the kids may be even more powerful than what we do.

Tony, thank you so much for sharing this. One thing that occurs to me is that the Great Books Poll might be a fabulous tool to encourage kids to read outside their favorite genres. And I think it's so rewarding to see how empowering kids enhances their passion for reading.

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19. Okay, One More Day

I know it's Wednesday, but Katy Van Aken sent me so many great photos of her champions at work on their year-end plays, I just had to share them. Enjoy!

Play Bill

Magic afoot!

Hattie, Aunt Ivy and Uncle Holt

Team work!

A not-too-scary scene

Planning

More planning!

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20. Thursday's Thought

The greatest use for a life is to spend it for something that will outlast it.

William James

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21. Friend Friday

It's hard to believe that such a sweet-looking person as Stephanie Bodeen (S.A. Bodeen) could write such scary, creepy books as The Gardener and The Compound. Now she sets her main character adrift in The Raft.


Congrats, Stephanie, for another fast-paced read, which has received praise like this: 
 
"This book will satisfy anyone who likes a good survival story.”—School Library Journal

"A compelling survival adventure.”—Kirkus

Kirby's word of warning: don't read this on a plane! 

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22. Simply Sunday

I don't generally post on Sundays but I have two simple and simply wonderful things to share.

First, a tasty and quick dinner from Kevin and Amanda's blog:

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite sized piece
1/2 cup fresh sage leaves
1.5-2 T butter (yes, butter!)
S & P

Salt and pepper the chicken pieces, tossing to coat. (I used salted butter so would skip the salt next time).
Heat butter over med/med-hi heat until browned and fragrant.
Add chicken in one layer. Top with sage.
Cook for 2-1/2 minutes, then flip and cook 2+ minutes more.

Serve with pasta or by itself. Yum! And I'm not even that fond of sage.
(no photo because we ate it up so quickly!)


Second, if you are an iPad user like me and get frustrated because your big fingers keep hitting the wrong thing on the screen, buy one of these:
SPIGEN SGP iPhone 5 Stylus Pen Kuel H10 for iPhone 4 / 4S and iPad 2, The new iPad, Samsung Galaxy S3 [Reventon Yellow]
My son-in-law got one (in black) and once I used it, I had to have one, too. Mine is yellow, which goes very nicely with my orange iPad case. And it plugs into the earbud port so it's always right there and handy.

You're welcome.

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23. Teacher Tuesday

Thank you, Colby Sharp, for introducing me to wicked good librarian, Cathy Potter. I'm so hoping to meet Cathy in person at ALA midwinter (it's in my backyard, Seattle! If you're coming, let me know) but her passion for connecting kids and books is one that transcends the weary bonds of time and space. Cathy's the school librarian at Falmouth Elementary School, in Falmouth, Maine, serving 907 students in grades K-5. Sit back, sprinkle some blueberries on your oatmeal, pull on some L.L. Bean wool socks and get better acquainted with today's amazing featured librarian.

Let's take a quick peek at Cathy's past:

Looking forward to her first book talk

  • Favorite school lunch as a kid: Fried bologna cups with mashed potatoes in the middle (I’m not kidding. They’re really yummy.)
  • Best friend in grade school: Kim (We stayed friends through high school, and we were college roommates. We still keep in touch.)
  • Times you were the new kid in school: 0 (I grew up in a very small town and stayed with the same group of kids from Kindergarten through high school.)
  • Teacher that inspired you to stretch: Mrs. Wentworth in fifth and sixth grades. She was so great, I stayed in her class for two years. She allowed students to choose their own books and had us keep track of the number of books we read over the course of the year. In fifth grade I read 100 books and received a reading award from Mrs. Wentworth. I made a lot of visits to the school library that year! A Wrinkle in Time, Tuck Everlasting, and Bridge to Terabithia were some of the books I read that year.
  • The one thing you always wished you could do in grade school but never achieved: I wish I could have made it into the advanced swimming level. I was a weak swimmer, and I didn’t pass my swim test one summer. I ended up being the oldest kid in the beginners’ class. I quit swimming lessons after that year.

Cathy, you told me about your dual passions: a desire to help older readers feel good about reading picture books and sharing your love for graphic novels. Let's talk more about both of these topics!


What brought you to the realization that some older readers avoid picture books?

A number of the upper grade (gr. 3-5) teachers at my school ask students to read picture books as part of their literacy programs. The teacher and I sometimes hear students make comments about not wanting to read picture books because they think they’re for younger children. I occasionally have students tell me that their parents don’t want them bringing home picture books from the library because they’re not challenging enough. That’s when we realized we needed to do some education about the power of the picture book.

Why do you think there is a stigma about picture books? 

There’s a false perception that a 32-48 page book doesn’t contain the substance that a 200 page chapter book does. Also, sometimes people assume that if a book has illustrations the book must be easy or that the kids are just looking at the pictures.

What do you think older readers can gain from picture books? 

When students read picture books, they employ visual thinking skills, learn new vocabulary words, improve their fluency, learn to appreciate art and learn about the world around them.

How have you encouraged your students to dive in to this genre? 

In our library, we don’t use the term “Easy” to describe the “E” (picture book) section. “E” stands for everybody, and picture books are for everybody. I use a lot of picture books in my library classes, and I point out to students when a picture book is aimed at an older audience.

Last year our school took part in Picture Book Month which was founded by Dianne de Las Casas. One of my third grade classes created a video about how picture books are for everyone, and we posted it on the library web site and Dianne posted it on the Picture Book Month site.

Can you share a few picture book titles that have worked well for older readers? 
Dear Mrs. LaRue, Letters from Obedience School, by Mark Teague









David Wiesner's wordless picture book requires higher level thinking








Probuditi! by Chris Van Allsburg



 






Small Beauties, by Elvira Woodruff









Irena's Jars of Secrets, by Marcia K. Vaughn








The Boy Who Drew Birds, by Jaqueline Davis









Jon Klassen's book is great for inferring, predicting and using visual cues






















You also have a passion for graphic novels. Can you first define, in your own words, what a graphic novel is? 

A graphic novel is a format for telling a story using comic book elements: illustrations, speech bubbles, thought bubbles, captions and panels. Graphic novels encompass all genres: fantasy, mystery, biography, realistic fiction, informational, etc... 

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Tell us what you enjoy about them and what you see your students enjoying about them. 

I enjoy seeing stories represented in both visual and print ways. The text and pictures equally important, and the reader must rely on both to understand the story. Many of our students are visual learners, and having the visual elements helps them understand the story. Students are able to immerse themselves in the story and enjoy the book. The more they enjoy reading, the more they read! 

Can you recommend a few titles to add to the classroom/library? 

Amulet series by Kazu Kibuishi

     
Babymouse series by Jennifer Holm and Matt Holm


                       Lunch Lady by Jarrett J. Krosoczka


                                  Sidekicks by Dan Santat


                       Binky the Space Cat by Ashley Spires


                The Olympians series by George O’Connor

Tell us about what happened when you brought a comic book illustrator to your school and what you saw your students gain from that experience. 

A couple of years ago I worked with the art teacher at school, and we brought a comic artist into third and fourth grade art classes for a month. The artist taught students about the elements of graphic novels, and he worked with students to create their own graphic novels. Many teachers embraced this project and continued the work in their classrooms.

During the art residency, the art teacher, comic artist, and I offered a workshop for parents about graphic novels. We also encouraged families to attend the Maine Comic Arts Festival. That year, I noticed that students and teachers read more graphic novels than ever before. Out shelves were empty because all of the comics were checked out. It was a turning point in our school. Many teachers and parents began to embrace graphic novels as a valid form of reading.

It’s interesting to note that you see a high value in the visual component of books, whether picture books or graphic novels. What skills and abilities do you think these visual genres promote in your students? 

Even though there are illustrations, graphic novels do not spell out everything for readers. Readers must infer as they read. Terry Thompson (Adventures in Graphica) explains that readers are must infer what happens in the gutters or spaces between the panels. Students also learn to use their visual thinking skills to notice details from the illustrations in picture books and graphic novels. Last year I read Grandpa Green by Lane Smith to third and fourth grade classes. Smith’s illustrations are quite detailed and include a lot of symbolism. It was interesting to see each class pick up on different details from the illustrations.
 
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What else would you like to share on this topic? 

Support your local comic book store. I shop for the school library at an independent comic book store in the area, and I’m always amazed at the selection of books available. The owners of our local shop are really knowledgeable about comics. I always leave with a smile on my face and a bag full of books!

Thank you, thank you, Cathy. I think I'll let Winston the Wonder Dog have the last word here!

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24. Thursday's Thought

Somewhere on this great world, the sun is always shining
 and it will sometimes shine on you.

Myrtle Reed

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25. Friend Friday

True confession: not a huge fan of pigeons. Even those that drive buses. Maybe especially those that drive buses. But, thanks to Barbara O'Connor, I am a huge fan of Sherman, the one-legged pigeon, and his new friends, Stella and Gerald. And Mr. Mineo. Especially Mr. Mineo who, like me, didn't much care for pigeons until he took over his brother's flock. I adore Mr. Mineo!

On the Road to Mr. Mineo's

Another true confession: I have not only read On the Road to Mr. Mineo's (three times!), I have blurbed it. But you would, too, if you were plunked down in Meadville, South Carolina where NOTHING ever happened. And then something did happen. Like a gosh-darned one-legged pigeon landed on the roof of Gerald's garage and even though all Stella has ever wanted was a dog, well, when a one-legged pigeon plops into your life, you run with it.

You will kick yourself if you do not run right out and buy Barbara O'Connor's latest masterpiece. And you will really kick yourself if you do not buy it from a wonderful independent bookstore.




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