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Archive for December, 2008

Nonfiction Monday: Wanda Gag: The Girl Who Lived to Draw

Do you know a budding artist? Why not wrap up a copy of Millions of Cats and Wanda Gag; the Girl Who Lived to Draw by Deborah Kogan Ray?

In this book, readers are treated to the words from Wanda Gag’s diaries, letters, and papers.  Deborah Kogan Ray has written a biography which will introduce those readers not familiar with the creator of Millions of Cats  (A favorite book for me).

The combination of quotes from Gag and information about the her give readers a sense of a time long gone. Wanda Gag was born in 1893 in New Ulm, Minnesota.  Her family loved the arts and encouraged all seven children to either draw, write, sing and/or dance.

Wanda received much of her encouragement from her father, an artist.  “Always look at the world in your own way, Wandachen.,” were words frequently used by her father.

As much as her childhood was immersed in fairy and folk tales from the old world, her own life mirrored a fairy tale itself.  Her father died when Wanda was only 15.  Through perseverance and dedication, She set out to make good on her father’s dying words, “What Papa couldn’t do, Wand will have to finish.” 

Finish she did through scholarship, art school,working in the fashion industry, and helping her family make ends meet.  In 1929, her book Millions of Cats was awarded the John Newbery Honor by the American Library Association.

Deborah Kogan Ray provides readers with a wonderful companion piece to Millions of Cats.  We also learn a bit about the world of fine art that was also Gag’s world.  Her illustrations are compliment the text with wonderful vibrancy and detail.  They are the kind of that readers will spend time looking at before turning the page.  The book can be used at many levels: as a biography, an inspiration story and a story of persevere through life’s challenges.

The book concludes with an author’s note and bibliography.

Title: Wanda Gag: The Girl Who Lived to Draw
Author: Deborah Kogan Ray
Date Published: 2008
Pages: unpaged
Grade: K-5
Publisher: Viking Press
ISBN: 978-0-670-06292-8
Source of Book: Publisher sent for CYBILS consideration.

As always a list of great nonfiction blog posts can be found here.

Happy Hanukkah and Merry Christmas.  Happy Reading.


Poetry Friday: Robert Frost

The wild, unpredictable weather has made me think of Robert Frost all week. 

This week I experienced a new kind of stress,  having to travel as I do to work.  It was the one of if I go to work, will I be able to get home (buying chains is on my to do list). What came to mind was the infamous lines from “Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening”.


“The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.”


I discovered this website, dedicated to the work of Robert Frost and found another poem that fits this week: 


The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree
Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.

We are planning a trip to Key West Florida  this spring. I plan to visit his Florida house.  Enjoy the week.  Merry Christmas! Happy Hannukah!  Author Amok is hosting Poetry Friday.

Happy Reading.


Tidbit Tuesday

I enjoyed yesterday. A day home although school was in session. Reason?  I could not get out because there was 2-3 inches of snow and ice at my house.

Today, I returned to school. You should see the difference between the two states.  My car was the only one with evidence of a Sunday snow storm in the parking lot this morning.

Have you read the Washington Post article about the Newbery Award?  Great reading and I agree with most of it.  It is difficult for many of my students to read the titles that end up as Newbery.  The level of reading is quite often and challenge and then there is the content.  My school’s population hales from homes that could end up as a plot for the Newbery: “death, absence of parents, mental challenges”, and other tough social issues. 

I have come to believe that many of these students want to be entertained rather than to read about a story that mirrors their own.  My guess is that is the reason behind the popularity of Captain Underpants, Junie B. Jones, and other light but hilarious books.  Who wants to read what they are living?

I could not agree more with Lucy Calkins statement: “I can’t help but believe that thousands, even millions, more children would grow up reading if the Newbery committee aimed to spotlight books that are deep and beautiful and irresistible to kids.” 

I am glad for the creation of the CYBILS Award .  The award offers an alternative look at books that are not only written in a high quality manner but have great kid appeal.  Have you seen the nominations for this years books. They are amazing, all of them.

This year my goal is to foster a love of reading in all students but targting my fifth graders who will be off to middle school.  I have been book talking up books beyond the Captain Underpants and Junie B. Jones.  It means reading a lot of children’s books and interviewing what students like to read.  I have been challenging them to think outside the box.  But the biggest difference?  It is that teachers are now coming down to the library for checkout time.  This is separate from their class time.  Having teachers involved in student check out helps to foster that community of readers.  Being able to actually talk about books because you know the story line? Again, fostering that community of readers.  Fostering a community never forcing them to read a book.  Huge difference.

It will be interesting come January 26, 2009. What will the Newbery committee decide this year?  I have perused some of the contenders but not read any. (one that comes to mind is The Underneath by Kathi Appelt.)

What are your thoughts about the Newbery Award?

Happy Reading.


Nonfiction Monday: Winter Trees

I am snowed in today while my district (25 miles to the north) is open for business. Funny thing about the weather around here.

So today is the perfect day to talk about Winter Trees by Carole Gerber. (after a reminder at 7-Imp yesterday about this book).  A boy and his dog discover the magic in winter as they take a walk  in the wintry forest. 

Leslie Evan‘s bold yet simple illustrations makes it easy for even the youngest readers know what someone walking in the winter might see.  The illustration are a combination of linoleum block prints, watercolor and collage.  This book could also be used as a primer for how to draw trees in winter.

Gerber’s text brings the reader along on the walk in a playful way. Yet, within the text is lots of information to uncover about trees in winter. For example:

“They stand distinct as skeletons,
We clearly see the form of each:
the egg shape of the maple tree:
the taller oval of the beech…
The V formation of the birch;
the yellow poplar, wide and high;
the spreading structures of the the oak,
its branches reaching toward the sky.”
The illustrations compliment the text presenting a way to recognize trees in winter.

 A guide for identifying trees is available at the end of the book.

The book is as quiet as the snow keeping me home today.  I have a fascination with winter trees and the fractals they create against the sky.  This would be a terrific book for any young nature lover.

Title: Winter Trees
Author: Carole Gerber
Date Published: 2008
Pages: unpaged
Grade: K-5
Publisher: Charlesbridge
ISBN: 978-1-58089-168-4
Source of Book: Publisher sent for CYBILS consideration.

For more great nonfiction books, visit Picture Book of the Day. To see my house in the snow, visit here.

Happy Reading.


Poetry Friday: Featuring Silver Star Students


I asked teachers to share any poem from students. This came from first grade.
Fast fish. Slow fish.
Blow fish. No fish.
Go fish. I’ll do it fish.
Teacher fish. School fish.
Please fish. Me fish.
Bad fish. Mad fish.
Sad fish. Glad fish.
Dad fish. Mom fish.
Her fish. Here fish.
E fish and even more fish.
Miss fish and… a SHARK!
-Cheyanne, first grade
Ms. Sims’ third graders have been working on color poems. Here are a few:

Pink is a Rose
And Cotton Candy
And a Crayon.
Pink Smells
Like a Rose and a Candle.
Pink Tastes Like Cotton Candy
And a Smoothie
Pink Feels Like A Soft Blanket
And a Pillow
Pink Sounds like Kids
Laughing and the Ding of a Bell.
Pink is Love
And a Kiss.
~Delaney, 3rd grade 
Red tastes like blood
Red is big
Red is a brave color
Red is a rose
Red is a fire
Red is scrap paper
Red is a backpack
Red smells like a crown of wax
Red smells like a crown
Red tastes like strawberries
Red feels like a kiss
Red is apples
Red is a teacher’s test
- Emily, 3rd grade

Green is a leaf, Green is a
Sign sometimes, a piece of paper
Too, a lamp can be green,
Green smells like air fresheners
Even HOT spinach too,
Green tastes like cucumbers
And nice ripe pickles. Green sounds
like grass swishing back and forth
it even sounds like
leaves blowing through the air,
Green feels like me going
through a jungle, Green feels like leaves falling upon me.
~ Alison, 3rd
Black is a black sunshine
Black tastes like chocolate.
Black smells like fear.
Black is a spider.
Black sounds like BOOM, BOOM!!!!!!
Black feels like I’m getting MAD!!!!!
Black sounds like bats flying at night.
Black tastes like chocolate milk.
Black smells like chocolate.
Black feels like a scary room.
Black is the dark.
Black is the night.
~ Aidyn, 3rd grade


Gold smells like cake with frosting
Gold feels hot
Gold is coins, crayons and pencils
Gold tastes like toast and honey
Gold smells like a pie
Gold is a car
~ Jaden, 3rd

Elaine at Wild Rose Reader is graciously hosting Poetry Friday this week There are already some great links posted.  Hop on over.

 Arctic cold is headed our way. I am hoping for snow on Monday.
Happy reading.




































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































WWW: Who’s Reading What

I just finished listening to  Love, Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli. Oh, my.  I love this book. There is something so magical about Stargirl. Something so simple and yet complex.  I think the magic lies within the fact that at fifty-five I am taken in by the characters as much as my fifth graders are.  If I were a middle grade student I would start a “Stargirl Society” as Spinelli’s website suggests.  It is the kind of book that makes you take a rest from listening to stories for a bit because you do not want the magic of that story to evaporate.  I am left with a yearning for a third book.  I want the book in which Stargirl and Leo meet again.  So for now, I will appreciate the upcoming solstice on my daily trek to work, thinking about Stargirl and her own preparations for the solstice.

I interviewed Mr Johnson’s fifth grade class about what they are reading:

Their teacher, Mr. Johnson is reading about The Reagan Diaries.  He is impressed with Reagan’s self-reliance and personal responsibility and says that it is an inspiration to read.

Alyssa gobbled up the third Sisters Grimm book by Michael Buckley .  Now I have to add to the series as I only have the first three.

Sophie finished The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex.  Did you know that there is a Smekday site? It is here.  She like that the aliens were scary but not so scary.

Austin is hanging onto Troll Fell by Katherine Langrish.  I think it is quite a challenge for a fifth grader but he is enjoying and and reports to me what page he is on. Austin likes the fantasy and adventure.

Christian finished Sparrow Hawk Red by Ben Mikaelsen.  He, too, loved the adventures of the street rats.  Christian is challenging himself to read books that are more on his level and this Mikaelsen book fit the bill.

I had a couple of fourth graders finished The Homework Machine by Dan Gutman. Lena and Kailee report that they liked the different voices telling the story.  They like the blend of the funny and sad parts.

So what is on your nightstand?  Anything new?  I am almost finished with Girl Overboard by Justina Chen Headley

Happy Reading.


Tidbit Tuesday: Book Challenges and Collaboration

The library media specialists met last week during early release(and actually this is the second meeting we have had).  Why is this blog worthy, you ask?  Because last year we were not allowed to meet during school time, we were told to stay in our building and collaborate. 

News flash: Sometimes our buildings had other things planned and staying to collaborate was not part of the plan.  Luckily, many of us have wonderful building administrators who understood and supported our need to meet.

This year is different.  The library media program has been moved back under the umbrella of curriculum (we were two years under instructional technology).  This means a change in district office managers and a recognition that meeting BOTH with staff and our colleagues is necessary.

So getting back to last week’s meeting.  Two big topics included protecting the right to read and collaborating with teachers.

My district has a long history with book challenges.  I had a book challenge during my first year (26 years ago) as a library media specialist.  Last spring, Feed by MT Anderson was challenged at the middle school and moved to high school. It also resulted in a review of the reconsideration policy. As a group we spent time at this meeting discussing about what to do when a parent/s is concerned about what their child is reading. 

The other part of the meeting centered around collaboration with staff.  This is always a tricky subject.  First of all, teachers are so overwhelmed and over loaded with “must dos” for the classroom.  Asking them to collaborate with you or offering to collaborate with them often results with a glassy-eyed looked, “Oh, no, you want me to do what?”

So some of our conversation centered around ways to sneak in collaboration.  I look for teachers open to the idea.  It has worked well with fifth grade as I love American Colonial Life and the American Revolutionary War. So I can easily teach research skills around these topics and work with fifth grade.  This year I am hoping that the third grade team will be open to working together on comparing two cultures: the tribes of the northwest.

I had an “AHA” moment last week during the meeting when a colleague share frustration of doing research for teachers.  The concern was planning out and researching for curriculum only to have it change the following year.  It was referred to as “a waste of time”.  WHOA!  Is that not what collaboration is all about?  Meeting teachers where they need the support?  Knowing your students and changing to meet their needs? Sure this year they may need help with “XYZ” and next year it could be ”ABC”.  I am still stunned by the comment a week later. 

So my “aha” moment?  That in order to collaborate with staff, you have to be flexible and change of lessons is inevitable. I do not think I have ever had a period of time where my lessons looked exactly the same.  When I first began in the library, teaching the card catalog and the Dewey Decimal system made sense. Now can you imagine spending weeks on these things?  It goes back to what is my personal mission for the library:

I want students to
~love reading
~be able to find what they are looking for
~love learning

I want teachers to
~ know that I support them
~ I will meet them wherever the curriculum takes them
~I will collaborate in any small way that I can

And you know, I think this is where the process of the national board certification process kicks in.  A teacher who goes through the process gets that your curriculum may change from year to year. Gets that what you research and plan with a teacher might not be a yearly event.  I am thankful for that experience last year because I find myself being more open to change and flexibility.

What are your thoughts about collaboration and the library media program?

Happy Reading.


Nonfiction Monday: In Celebration of Human Rights Day, December 10

Did you know that this upcoming day has been around for 60 years? Wow, who knew?  Thanks to two books that arrived at my house, I now know.   Did you know that there are 30 articles speaking to our guaranteed rights as humans?

In a new book, We Are All Born Free, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Pictures, thirty artists illustrate a specific article in such a manner that elementary students can easily understand this document.  The appendix includes a brief bio of each artist as well as a simplified version of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The artists hail from all over the world and include recognizable names such as John Burmingham and Peter Sis (who did the cover), Debi Gliori, and Bob Graham.  Jon Boyne (The Boy in the Striped Pajamas) and David Tennant (Dr. Who) wrote the foreward for the book.

Title: We Are All Born Free, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Pictures
Amnesty International
Date Published: 2008
Pages: unpaged
Grade: K-5+
Publisher: Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
ISBN: 978-1-84507-650-4
Source of Book: Publisher sent.

In a time when bullying, meaness, and violence run rampant in our schools, this is a welcome title. The world would be a better place if we all tried to live by these rules.  Head over to Picture Book of the Day to read about other nonfiction.

 Happy Reading.



Poetry Friday: Lune Haiku and Sunday Scribblings All Wrapped Up in One

Tricia at Miss Rumphius Effect challenged us to writing a type of haiku: the lune.  The syllable structure is reversed thus creating a crescent shape like the new moon at the end of the lines.

Well, I am a week late (has that not been the theme of my posts this week?) But here is my poem.  It also ties in with the Sunday Scribbling’s prompt: “winter’s tale”.

december moon glows on fields

snow blankets cover

twinkle lights, stars dance


geese honk their good byes

mice scurry on snow

winter’s silent tale begins


If only snow really was here.  Read more great poetry at Mommy’s Favorite Children’s Books. Read more winter’s tales at Sunday Scribblings.


Happy Reading.




WWW: Who’s Reading What?

It is one of those weeks.   Those weeks where the hours slip by you and what you set out to do, doesn’t get done.  That is why I missed “Tuesday Tidbits” yesterday.  It is why “Nonfiction Monday” was written so late on Monday.

Today  I get to spend time with my peers and talk about the reconsideration process of books.  So I planned for that yesterday.  During the day I chatted with students and staff about what they are reading.

Ms Sims’  third grade class just finished Clementine by Sara Pennypacker.  Ms Sims said the students could relate to the book and were learning lots of new vocabulary.  They also laughed a lot as did their teacher.  She is considering Sarah Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan.  There is a change of pace and style!  I just went to the website for Patricia MacLachlan. Can you believe she is seventy year old and she did not start writing until she was 35?  Wow.

MsSims is reading The Almanac of the Deadby Leslie Marmon Silko outside of school.  I have heard of him but never had read anything by him.

Mrs. Lang’s first grade girls are all into the Junie B. Jones stories by Barbara Park.  I asked them why and they all said the books are funny and interesting.  I am trying something different this year during library class. Instead of having lots of activities when students finish with check out (activities that do not get done), students come back to the carpet to read their book. The kids who are not checking out, find a book or magazine to peruse while waiting.  So simple but it seems less chaotic in the library these days.

One of my favorite moments for seeing kids read was last night.  We played bingo at Family Library Night las night. In the midst of me calling the numbers and parents and children playing (again a packed house), what do I see? A fifth grade boy with his nose in a copy of Dear Dumby Diary by Jim Benton

I scarfed down the advance copy of Cruel Intent by J.A. Jance over the holiday.  She is a “go to” author for pure escape. This is the second Ali Reynolds series book I have read.  The  tales are always page turners and I must put it down or stay up all night reading! I am in the middle of My Name is Sally Little Song by Brenda Woods and am reading some of the work by Marcus Borg.  My journey to school is frightening as I am listening to Coraline by Neil Gaiman.

So what is on your nightstand?

Happy reading.