Saturday, May 19, 2018

Dreams Do Come True

I've wanted grandchildren for a while, and last May, my first one arrived and she is even better than I imagined. Seriously - there are no words.

We all want our children and grandchildren to inherit the best of our traits and pray that the worst will skip a generation or, better yet, disappear all together. My sweet grandgirl is happy, loving, smart, and...she LOVES to read! Hurray!

Whenever I am able to visit, we try to make it through her entire collection, which is considerable since she is not only the first grandchild on both sides and has bibliophile genetics, but she has an auntie who is a librarian, a grandfather who is a retired teacher, and me.

Each month, I use my Amazon Prime membership to send her two new board books. I always hit the closest holidays, books about counting and the alphabet, and lots of family love books. I call it Grandma's Book of the Month Club. My plan is that when she is older, we'll read chapter books, and if we are still living far apart, can FaceTime to talk about the books. We'll always have something to talk about :)

My double-fisted reader enjoying her UCLA counting book
(Daddy's alma mater)

Perched on her "thorne" (courtesy of Auntie Kim), enjoying one of her Valentines Day treasures. 

 She loves reading with Daddy.

Reading with Grandma during Spring Break.

She absolutely loves books about animals.
She's getting pretty good at making animal sounds :)

This Grandma's heart is happy that we have another generation of readers in the family.

As Fast As Words Could Fly

Fun Fact #1: Our school year ends on June 20. 

Sigh. Our 4th graders move to middle school next year, and they are chomping at the bit already. I'm telling you, they are acting like they are at a barnyard birthday party instead of school. It's exhausting.

Fun Fact #2: We eat lunch in our classrooms.

Sigh. Beside having to organize a massive clean up every single day, we are supposed to be continuing instruction while they eat - for instance, reading aloud, having them finish assignments, etc... Since they (and many of their parents, P.S.) believe that eating their lunch is just a continuation of recess, it can be a challenge, and it's much worse at this time of year. For instance, I had a sub last week and during lunch, in walked a guest speaker who was visiting our class every day that week, to find my boys in a dog pile instead of eating lunch.

So, I've been looking for ways to keep them calm and relatively quiet while they eat. Often I read aloud, but sometimes, especially recently, my voice needs to rest at lunch. Luckily, Google helped me find Storyline Online and we have been enjoying it all week.

Storyline Online is a program run by the SAG-AFTRA Foundation. streams videos of celebrities reading picture books aloud. There are 56 free videos currently available and the site streams 24 hours a day.

Yesterday, we watched Dule Hill read As Fast As Words Could Fly (2013), a  story based on actual events in the life of author Pamela M. Tuck's father, who was a teenager during the Civil Rights movement in 1960's North Carolina.

Fourteen-year old Mason helps his father, a civil rights activist, by transcribing letters for him and receives a manual typewriter as a thank you gift.

Mason begins to practice and finds that he really enjoys typing. His progress as a typist continues as local activists win the right to desegregate the local high school. Mason and his two brothers will be the first African-Americans to attend the previously all-white high school. It is not an easy transition for them - the bus driver refuses to pick them up, the principal is unwelcoming, and their classmates and teachers ignore them.

Mason's typing skills earn him a job in the school library, and eventually the opportunity to represent his school at a regional typing contest.

I won't share the ending, so I hope you will either read the book or watch Dule Hill's version online. He delivers a solid, moving performance and my class was completely silent and engaged the entire time - he completely drew them into the story and rather than returning to their usual noisy state when the video ended, there were hushed comments and quiet reflection. #teacherwin

Tuck's website includes a list of discussion questions  you can use with your class, if you would like to extend their learning.

Eric Velasquez beautifully illustrates this story, as well as nearly 30 others. His realistic style lends support to the book's genre, and encourages readers to visualize the character's experiences as part of history.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Author Birthday: Gary Paulsen

I'm noticing a pattern.

Since I've begun posting tributes on authors' birthdays, both here and, more frequently, on Instagram, I have noticed that most of my favorite authors are well into their 70's and 80's. Go ahead and say it - I'm old. But as far as I'm concerned, my age is a gift. Because I was born when I was, my childhood was filled with the works of Beverly Cleary, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Catherine Woolley, and E.L. Konigsburg.

My children's generation can claim that their shelves were filled with J.K. Rowling, Lynne Reid Banks, Roald Dahl, Judy Blume, and...Gary Paulsen.

Celebrating his 79th birthday today, Gary Paulsen is every bit as tough and rugged as the men he writes. He prefers solitude to cities, and nature to the general public, he has strong opinions on modern society, is a true adventurer and a gifted storyteller.

Gary Paulsen writes for kids, to make an impression, to foster new ideas within them. In an interview with the New York Times (August 2006), Paulsen states, "Adults are locked into car payments and divorces and work. They haven't got time to think fresh. Name the book that made the biggest impression on you. I bet you read it before you hit puberty. In the time I've got left, I intend to write artistic books - for kids - because they're still open to new ideas."

Paulsen is the author of more than 170 books and doesn't appear to be slowing down any time soon. He is also a three-time Newbery award winner, but if you take the time to read a bit about him, or listen to him speak, it will become clear to you that he writes because he is driven to write, not because he is seeking accolades. 

He loves writing and he knows first-hand the impact the right books can have on a child. Paulsen had a difficult childhood, a gross understatement to be sure, and credits his local librarian with changing the course of his life.

If you know a reluctant reader, especially a boy, put a Gary Paulsen book in his hands, and you will soon see a changed reader.

Start with Hatchet. You won't regret it.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Miss Smith and More Miss Smith

My students loved Miss Smith's Incredible Storybook (2005), so when we checked our classroom library and found two more stories from the Miss Smith series, we were really excited.

Before I go any further, I have to say that Michael Garland's illustrations make me happy! Bright, colorful, detailed, and I love the golden glow in "Under the Ocean." My students were completely mesmerized by the illustrations and scanned intently for the smallest details.

We started out with Miss Smith Reads Again! (2008) in which Miss Smith and her class come face-to-face with dinosaurs when they enter Arthur Conan Doyle's book, Lost World. They narrowly escape a T-rex, ride a stegosaurus, and locate a pterodactyl's nest.

Miss Smith continually emphasizes that they should not interact with the characters, or it will change the story. Of course, the kids interact with the characters almost immediately, lose their teacher and the book that can get them back home. When they locate Miss Smith and her incredible storybook, in the pterodactyl's nest, they scramble for home, but not before one of the children manages to steal a pterodactyl egg.

Our third Miss Smith adventure, Miss Smith Under the Ocean (2011), begins with a class field trip to the aquarium. While there, Miss Smith gathers her students and begins to read aloud famous high seas adventure stories. They begin their adventure in the pea green boat accompanied by the Owl and the Pussycat. They sail the seas and meet The Little Mermaid, Long John Silver, Captain Ahab, and Robinson Crusoe, who all pile into the tiny boat to join them. They finally end up in Captain Nemo's submarine and get a great view of underwater life.

In typical Miss Smith fashion, she senses when things are about to go too far, and quickly reads the ending of each story to send the characters back into the book. As the class "comes to," they are back at the aquarium, heading for the bus.

My students had a few questions about continuity. "I thought she said they shouldn't interact with the characters," was a constant refrain. It would have been better to leave it out completely rather than leave it hanging with no follow up - kids notice!

Both stories were entertaining and would work well for younger students as well. In fact, I would recommend using them with young readers rather than intermediate-age children, and here's why: close your eyes and envision yourself  surrounded by 25 nine and ten-year olds. Imagine that some of them are sweet and innocent and completely adorable. And imagine that others have older siblings and friends, talk about all the inappropriate videos they watch, and have potty mouths to rival the proverbial sailor.

Now imagine yourself reading aloud the title of the poem, "The Owl and the Pussycat." Can you picture the smirks? Do you hear the giggles? Undaunted, you continue to read. Most of the class is not taking the giggle-bait anyway. Then you reach the title Moby Dick. Despite the teacher stink eye directed at them, several of the boys cannot contain themselves and the smirks and giggles become snickers and guffaws. Storytime comes to a screeching halt until the ringleader is removed from the classroom.

Yeah. That happened.


Wednesday, May 9, 2018


A few weeks ago, I attended an author event at my local independent book store, Eagle Harbor Book Co., in which Washington author Ben Guterson introduced his first novel, a middle grade fantasy about 11-year old Elizabeth Somers, an orphan who lives with relatives on her father's side of the family.

On the last day of school before Christmas break, she arrives at home to find an envelope duct-taped to the front door. The envelope contains three dollars, a train ticket, and a note telling her they are going on a three-week trip for the holidays and she would be going to Winterhouse Hotel. The house is locked tight, but they "thoughtfully" gathered a few items of clothing, stuck them in a plastic grocery sack, and hung them on the doorknob for her.

While the train ride is uneventful, the bus from the train station to the hotel contains some passengers who make Elizabeth very uncomfortable - and so the adventure begins.

Elizabeth's three weeks at Winterhouse are filled with intrigue and fun. She has plenty of food to eat, a new wardrobe, a warm, clean, comfortable room, and discovers that a mysterious benefactor has paid for everything. Guests are invited to attend movies, lectures, and parties, they can check out recreational equipment, and best of all, at least to Elizabeth, they have access to the hotel's extensive library.

At Winterhouse, Elizabeth meets a cast of quirky, but lovable characters, finally makes a friend who is as quirky and smart as she is, and finds adults who actually care about her. She also discovers a mystery to solve, family secrets to learn, and...she cannot seem to get away from the mysterious couple from the bus.

Guterson has filled this novel with word ladders, anagrams, ambigrams, and Vigenere ciphers, which will keep readers guessing right along with Elizabeth. He also sprinkled the titles of some of his favorite children's novels throughout the book, which is sure to cause his young readers to say, "Hey! I love that book, too!"

Chloe Bristol, a Disney background artist, illustrated the book, perfectly matching the feel of the story with her unique style. The cover she created for this book is wonderful - a painting of the front of Winterhouse Hotel, with the windows cut out so you can see inside. In true teacher fashion, I laminated mine, so it can withstand the abuse it will take in my classroom ;)

Winterhouse is a solid debut and I look forward to the other two books in the trilogy. 

Monday, May 7, 2018

Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge

This beautifully illustrated story is another old favorite that I shared with my class today. I have several students with great-grandparents who are starting to lose their memories, something that often frightens children and/or causes them to question whether or not that grandparent still loves them if they can't remember them.

Wilfrid lives next door to a nursing home and befriends Miss Nancy, a 96-year old resident who is losing her memory. Wilfred wonders what that means and begins asking all his trusted adults, "What is a memory?" They give him a variety of answers, and he reflects on his own life to come up with a collection of items that represent his own memories. In the heartwarming conclusion, he shares his collection of memories with Miss Nancy since she has lost her own.

A great follow up to this story is this activity, a freebie for all you teachers out there - Happy Teacher Appreciation Week!
You can put them in pairs or small groups to share their memories, or use your fair sticks to call 2-3 students up to share for each category.

Australian author, Mem Fox, has a way of creating the sweetest stories that stay with you forever, and Julie Vivas, who has illustrated 4 of Fox's books, does a wonderful job of creating the colorful, folksy, family feel of the story. Fox's first book, Possum Magic, also illustrated by Vivas, was published in 1983 and became a bestseller. Her most recent book, I'm Australian Too, was published in 2017.

Fun Fact: Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge is her father's name.

Storyline Online is a great resource - is your voice tired, do you need a few minutes to regroup, are they getting tired of hearing your voice? Try Storyline Online, a site which streams videos featuring celebrated actors reading children’s books. Readers include Viola Davis, Chris Pine, Lily Tomlin, Kevin Costner, Annette Bening, James Earl Jones, Betty White and dozens more.

Here's Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge read by Bradley Whitford

Mem Fox talks to kids

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Smelly Socks

Once a week during our Morning Meeting, the school counselor comes in a presents an Open Circle lesson. Today, the discussion was about honesty. The students had some very interesting things to say about when it is difficult for them to be honest.

Most of them, of course, hesitate to tell the truth when they are afraid of getting in trouble. But a rather large number of them admitted to lying to their parents about whether or not they had a) bathed, or b) brushed their teeth.

This was unsurprising to me because I've raised 4 children and survived those stinky tween years, when, for some inconceivable reason, they don't want to be bothered to clean themselves and don't mind walking around smelling like a wet dog with rotten egg breath.

So...when they returned from specialist this morning, this was the read aloud I shared with them :)

Robert Munsch, a favorite with children and adults, partially because of his slightly gross sense of humor, takes on the topic of stinky tweens and my class thought it was HILARIOUS! Tina goes to great lengths to get her fabulous new socks and she is so happy about them, that she refuses to take them off. People and animals complain about the stench, but still she refuses. Finally, her classmates take matters into their own hands and drag her down to the river and scrub them while they are on her feet. The last two pages might be the best part of the whole story.

Michael Martchenko, who illustrates many of Munsch's books, sticks with his trademark bright, joyful pictures of spunky, sassy children. His pictures double the pleasure of reading Munsch's books.

Interview with Robert Munsch

Interview with Michael Martchenko