Sunday, December 30, 2012

Slooooow Motion

Those of you who know me know that I have been tortured by writing a middle grade fiction book for, oh... forever almost two years now. Not really an long time in the history of writing a middle grade novel but sometimes it just feels like things are moving in slow motion.  A big kick in the butt-ski, however, was the critique I received at my regional SCBWI conference in October.  I basically started fresh, with the same plot, and suddenly my work in progress is looking fresh again.  Now, to keep up the momentum...

Lately I've been finding Amy Fellner Dominy's blog very helpful {yes, Amy, I am all the hits from Northern Virginia}.  She's been providing me {Yes, me personally.  I know she's speaking only to me, LOL!} with some very beneficial strategies and things to think about.  Last night I went back and divided my nebulous novel into chapters.  After each chapter heading I wrote:

Purpose: {What is the purpose of this chapter?}
Want: {What does my main character want in this chapter?}
Research: {What things do I need to research to enhance this chapter? This keeps me from yelling "to the cloud!" every time and getting distracted.}

Already things are looking a little less murky and I'm feeling a little more focused.  Thank you, fellow Amy!

Friday, December 28, 2012

In a Word: Inspiring Postings

This winter break has allowed me some much needed time to peruse the blogs and tweets of published authors and published authors to-be.  While nothing takes the place, obviously, of just sitting down and writing, it's nice to "check in" every once in a while with some inspiring writers.  Here are some blogs that I've been reading lately as I work on my early reader series and my two middle grade WIPs.

Sarvenaz Tash, as I mentioned in my previous post, is the author of The Mapmaker and the Ghost.  I love her blog and website because it just makes her seem so darn friendly (maybe she's not, but I doubt it).  Her blog fascinates me because it gives us a glimpse into her pre book release journey and it provides some great links to other writers whose books debuted in 2012.  In a word:  Inspiring!

Cynsations is always a worthwhile read because its author, Cynthia Leitich Smith, has the most interesting links and tidbits (maybe bookbites is a better term) to share .  For someone like me who is just beginning her writer's journey, Cynsations is valuable because it keeps me from getting too overwhelmed by all of the author resources on the web.  In a word:  Focusing!

Jessica Love Writes is the final blog I want to highlight today.  Don't ask me how I stumbled upon her blog, but I did and it's one that I check in on regularly even though we're not even writing for the same age group.  She is recently rep'd by Jill Corcoran and I am just so, so hopeful that her YA book will be on its way to publication pronto.   She is such a cheerleader for other YA writers - her time is coming soon!  In a word:  Optimistic!

Are there any blogs that inspire you or help you navigate through the often overwhelming?

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

What I've Been Up To...

Phew!  It was a long four weeks since Thanksgiving, with the last one being horrific.  Just a thank you, thank you, thank you to teachers and first responders who are just some of the most selfless people I know.  Thank you.

I was honored to have a post of mine up at Nerdy Book Club.  I was very nervous about it as @colbysharp will testify.  I mean, what more could possibly be said about Charlotte's Web?  Thank you to all of those who commented and shared their experiences with that damn chapter 21.

I've read two great books so far this winter break. The first one was The Mapmaker and the Ghost by newbie author Sarvenaz Tash.  Without meaning to, I'm sure, she hit on two areas of the Virginia curriculum:  explorers and Tesla.  This book will be an enjoyable read for my third and fourth graders - even without those "curriculum ties"!

The second book seems rather implausible if it weren't for the fact that it's based on a true story!  Ghetto Cowboy by G. Neri is a about a boy named Cole who joins his father in an urban cowboy.  A fascinating story with beautiful illustrations by Jess Joshua Watson.  Based on a 2005 article in Life magazine.  See a wonderful clip from This American Life here.

And finally, some of you know I've been working on an early reader series.  This winter break I hope to get a draft done of the second book in the series; my first book is out for review.  My goal for 2013 is to find an agent who will be as excited as I am to get this series into the hands of our youngest emergent readers.  One of my most favorite parts of being a school librarian in getting a book into the hands of a first grader, seeing that match between book and reader made, and then being able to say, "Yes!  There are more in the series!".

Happy New Year to all of my dear friends.  The InterWebz has allowed me to meet so many librarians, writers, and all around general do-gooders this year.  It's been wonderful!  Peace.

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Week in Pre-View (12/10)

Hey everyone!  I hope you had a relaxing weekend!  My parents were visiting from up north and marveled at the "summer like" weather we're having!

This is a full week with a twist of half day early release.  But it's going to be another busy one.  Here's the run down:

Can you guess what book we looked at?
Picture by G.
Kindergarten - This week we begin reviewing possible Caldecott winners.  Can you tell what book we looked at first?  Isn't that just the cutest picture you've ever seen?

First - We are finishing up our picture dictionary activity.  This week they'll write the definitions of their words and if we have time, we'll put our dictionary alphabetical order of course!

Second - We'll be reading one of my most favorite books for this time of year:  Recess at 20 Below.  It's rare that we get temperatures of 20 Above around here, so my students are always curious.

Some second and third graders will be writing animal poems based on Martina the Beautiful Cockroach.  Thanks to @booksandbytes for the great idea!

Third - Third grade will be reviewing the thesaurus again.  Thankfully my very own blog reminded me of a fun holiday time activity I did several years ago.  You can steal the handouts there if you so choose.

Fourth - Fourth grade will be finishing up their YAPPY Online Safety bookmarks.  I hope they take there time since the third graders will snatch those bookmarks up, no doubt!

Fifth - Fifth grade will begin blogging this week!  I will post the link to their book recommendations once we have a few up there to share.

What are you up to this week?

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Week in Pre-view

This coming week is the first week in EONS that I will see (knock wood) all of my classes.  Between teacher work days, elections, hurricanes, book fairs, early release days, and assemblies, we've had nary a full week of library.

This week is CHOCK-O-BLOCK full (which means something will go wrong - knock wood, redux!), but here's my week in pre-view.

Kindergarten - This week I will be starting my Caldecott unit with my Ks.  The first week will just be an overview of the Caldecott Medal and then we will look at some Caldecott-winning books together.  I will explain to them that over the next few weeks, we will be looking at some books that might win the Caldecott this year.  {The books I will be working with over the next four or five weeks are Step Gently Out, We March, Green and Boy + Bot}.

First Grade - This week I will be working on dictionary skills with my first graders.  I found this adorable graphic organizer that lets the firsties pick a letter, think of a word that begins with that letter, write the letter, and then draw a picture of their word.  I plan to put them up on a clothesline in the alphabetical order, of course!

For my second graders, it's book talking!  They seem to be stuck in a rut and it's practically a knock down drag out over a few popular titles.  So along with teaching them the fine art of browsing, I'll be introducing them to a few new books that they can fight over peruse.

Third grade is starting a fun thesaurus project that I kind of invented after reading Try Curiousity's post.  I pulled wordless books from my collection.  Students will rotate through the books and after reading them, they will come up with a one-word review of the book.  They can use the thesaurus to jazz up their adjectives.

Fourth grade is a mixed bag.  Some of them will continue with Professor Garfield and creating their YAPPY bookmarks, all in the name of online safety.  My other third graders will begin note taking in order to prepare them for research projects coming down the pike.

And finally, I'm starting book recommendation blogging with my fifth graders.  I have to admit I'm a little nervous even after talking with blogger extraordinaire Oakridge Reads.  Purefoy Reads has also been a great inspiration.

My simple wish is to remain healthy for the few remaining weeks we have until winter break.  Wishing you healthy weeks too!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Annual Annals - Books We Re-Read Every Year

An hour or so ago I posed a question to my tweeps via Twitter:

Is there a book you read annually, for a special occasion, perhaps? I read Summer's Lease by Mortimer.

The responses I received (and continue to receive) are too good to just mark as favorites, so I'm listing them here as a kind of Annual To Be Read (Again) list.  I hope you discover some new bookish traditions!

@nicoeatsbooks One of my most favorite books is Love Walked In by Marisa de los Santos and I reread it at Christmas

@playthrutheday We read The Family Under the Bridge by Natalie Savage Carlson every Christmas.

@AnIowaTeacher Before each basketball season I read this: "Leading With the Heart" by Mike Krzyzewski. Gets me in the right frame of mind!

@rachelwrites007 Whenever I'm upset I read A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN by Betty Smith. It's my favorite book in the world. <3

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Ignore the Common Core?

Hey Alaska!  What's up, Minnesota?  Hellllloooooo, Nebraska!  Howdy, Texas!

It's me!  Virginia!  Welcome to one of the most exclusive clubs in the United States of America!  But what shall we call ourselves?  The We-Don't-DO-Common-Core Club?  The Un-Common Cores?  The Rotten to the Cores?

From twitter to the book vendor tables at conferences, the world, it seems, is ga-ga over the Common Core.  And by "ga-ga" I don't mean they necessarily like the CC; I just mean that it's all about the CC.  So where does that leave the states that are not official adopters of the CC?  Where does that leave school libraries?

Of course, my state of Virginia has its own Standards of Learning and the State has demonstrated how they align with the Common Core.  But with so much of the literature we're seeing now, from recommended nonfiction series to lesson plans now proclaiming that they "Align with the Common Core!", what are you, non-Core states, doing with them?  Ignoring them entirely?  Forcing a fit with your state standards?  Concentrating solely on your state standards?

Hope to hear from you soon!



Monday, November 12, 2012

Teacher Requests - Book Lists

Some of you read my post about The Best Email I Ever Sent.  I took the responses and made them into a giant To-Do list.  It feels really great to have projects that are eagerly awaited for by my teachers!

So last week I created two book lists using GoodReads.  The first was a list of books about art and the second was a list of books about music.  They aren't comprehensive lists of all the titles I have in my collection.  I chose titles that I think have been overlooked or titles that are fiction and have an art/music connection.  The real purpose of these lists is to have a place to list new books as they come in to my library.

So far my art and music teachers have been very thankful.  Next up is a list requested by a fourth grade teacher for grade-level reads.  This is such a difficult topic to address.  By reading level?  By age appropriate-ness?  How do you handle requests for books by grade level?

Friday, November 2, 2012

The Best Email I Ever Sent

I came back from the School Library Journal Leadership Summit refreshed, rejuvenated and inspired (more on that later) but I also came back with a slew of new books. 

I could have just added them to my Library collection, but I thought I'd get more bang for my books by sending out a simple email to my staff: What can the Library provide to make your Job easier?  

I linked the question to a Google form and told my teachers and staff that each respondent would get a free book for their classroom. 

Um. Responses. Lots. 

And they're not pie in the sky requests (although sometimes those are a fun challenge) and they're not responses I feared like "It's too noisy in the Library" - they were awesome requests for things that had never even crossed my mind. 

Totally worth giving away my books. 

The best email I ever sent.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Book Talkin' Redux

Since my book talks have been such a success, here is my book trailer "parking lot" (need a better name!) for all the trailers I will be showing to my students!!


Eh hem.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Book Talkin'

So this past week I book talked books to my third, fourth and fifth graders.  I have, of course, introduced books to my students, but never in a one after the other, showing trailers, holding up books, drawing names, revealing the glossy new covers in all their glory, kind of way way.

The kids. went. nuts.

Like, Colby Sharp nuts.

Okay, so I know all of you who book talk on a regular basis are asking yourselves what took me so long to drink the book talk Kool Aid?

I don't know.

But things will never be the same around here!

Here are just a few of the links that I used to introduce new books:


George's Secret Key to the Universe 

Marty Mcguire 

Ivy and Bean 

Encyclopedia Brown from Kidsmomo

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Take Me To Your Library - Rules from a Robot

Thanks to an inspirational presentation by one of our County's middle school librarians, I decided to give Xtranormal a try this year in order to cover some of the more...ehem...drier bits of library lessons.

I signed up for the Basic (read:  free) subscription and was able to create two similar videos with my allotted "XP" (Xtranormal points).  My two videos featured the same robots and background; one was for my primary grade students and the other was for my secondary grade students.

The kids loved the videos!  The younger ones were puzzled by the fact that the robot called me a friendly "robot".  Why did it say that?  It said I was a robot!  What did it mean that I was a robot?  Sometimes I forget how literal and how serious a bunch of first graders can be!  They are so earnest!  I cleared up any confusion and we were on our way to checkout!

If you go to the site in general and type in "library" or "library rules" or even "elementary library" you get quite a few hits.  I have yet to explore them all, but I have a feeling some of them might be "borrowable" and cover some of the same topics I cover in my library.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

In the Home Office: Third, Fourth, Fifth Grade Book Menus

This year I have planned my lessons for every class for each week for the entire year.  It's really just a pacing guide because I have found that the end of the year sneaks up on me (hard to imagine in September) and I wonder where all the time went.  

Part of my plans include book talks and book trailers for every class once a month.  It doesn't sound like a lot, but I have to admit that last year my book talks were few and far between.

One problem (or wonderful challenge) with book talks is that there is then a mad rush for the books I've book talked and there are inevitable hurt feelings and discouraged students.  So I decided to create these book talk menus.  Students will leave their menus in the Library (any hints for managing the paper would be appreciated) for all third, fourth, and fifth graders.  Each time I book talk new books or highlight oldies but goodies, students can jot down the books of interest to them.  They will then have a running list of titles to chose from throughout the year.

Any suggestions for the format of my book menu?  I haven't made the photocopies yet. ; )

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Hello from the Library, Y'all!

Weeee'rrrrrrreee baaaaaaaaaaaaack!

Not quite.  The Library looks like that awkward stage where you've just dumped everything out of your clothing closet because you've decided to "reorganize" it at 11:00 at night and then you get tired and go to bed leaving everything on the bedroom floor.  But hey.  Students don't return until Monday, so I've got plenty of time.  Yeah.  That's the ticket!

This week we have our annual joint meeting with the librarians from our public library system.  We really do share the love.  The librarians are so supportive - I just love collaborating with them and of course, their summer book talks are the best.  Ah, the beginning of summer.  It seems like only two months ago.  Oh.  It WAS two months ago.

How are you doing?

Monday, July 9, 2012

Rebecca Stead's Liar & Spy: Another Jewel in the Crown

Title:  Liar & Spy

Year Published:  Available August 7, 2012

Author:  Rebecca Stead

You May Know Her: As the author of the Newberry Award-Winning book When You Reach Me.

You May Find Her: At her website and on twitter at @rebstead.

Review You May Not Have Seen:  A review from the Katie on the Teens at the Arlington Public Library (TATAL) blog.
The Delta/Plus

Liar & Spy, Rebecca Stead's forthcoming work of middle grade fiction, takes place in a different borough from Stead's book previous work, When You Reach Me, but it is, just the same, like a love letter to her beloved New York.  

Georges, a seventh-grader, has just relocated with his father and mother to an apartment, not far from their former house.  Money is the issue, and Georges and his mother seem to pass like ships in the night as she works double shifts as a nurse at the hospital.  Soon Georges meets a fellow apartment-dweller, Safer, who enlists his help in a rather Rear Window-esque situation that involves a man in black and the lobby surveillance camera.

Weaving its way through the book is Georges relationship with his father, his mother, and kids of the wearing, bullying sort.  As the book continues, you realize that indeed Mr. X is the least of this book's mysteries, but that is classic Rebecca Stead.

Liar & Spy is a deceptively simple book, both in its length and in its lean prose.  This, I believe, is one of Rebecca Stead's great talents. But of course her books are extremely intricate, slowly revealing themselves, as the reader peels back the layers.

Many of my fifth graders picked up When You Reach Me after I glowingly book talked it to them three years ago (I had predicted it would win the Newbery - please, please, hold your applause).  This year, I plan to read Liar & Spy to my fifth grade lunch bunch.  I cannot wait to see the looks on their faces as they hang on every detail, find connections to their own lives, and as the book comes to its powerful, yet low-key (can that be?), conclusion.

Liar & Spy will take its place on my bookshelf next to When You Reach Me as a gem to be read again and again.

This book gets five out of five dog ears from me!

15 Second Sell in the Stacks
(This is when I'm in the stacks, a student shows me a book and says, "Have you read this, Ms. B.?"  I have about 15 seconds to "sell" it.)

"Liar & Spy is by my favorite author, Rebecca Stead.  This is a story about a boy names Georges who moves into a new apartment and is quickly recruited by a neighbor to join a spy club.  The two of them together try to get to the bottom of a mystery involving a suspicious-looking man in the building, named Mr. X.  All along, Georges is pretty lonely as his mom works long hours at the hospital and his dad tries to drum up some work after having lost his job.  Not to mention, the bullies at school play a mean game of dodge ball.  You'll love this book."

Thank you to Random House for providing me with a free ARC of Liar & Spy, no strings attached.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Library Without the Library, Part Two

Okay, so you know that old saying about the best laid plans...?

Getting hand, foot and mouth disease (ew) was not in my Planner!  How did that happen?  So the last week and most of this week has been taken up with a hodgepodge of substitute plans and half days and basically phoning it in.  Not how I like to wrap up the school year.

So, I guess you call this post Library Without the Library AND the Librarian!

Here's how I dealt with the I was...and not in any particular order.

Pale Male:  Citizen Hawk of New York

My firsties were working hard on their animal research projects, so I called in the book Pale Male:  Citizen Hawk of New York by Janet Shulman and illustrated by Meilo So for my substitute and then had her show them the Pale Male website.  Of course I didn't realize that the You Tube clips would be blocked at school so I guess you could call it a Pale Male Fail.  OH!  That's a good one.

For one of my other classes I took the sage advice of one of my Tweeps, @ontheshelf4kids , aka Ellen, who suggested that I have my substitute read any one of Willems' pigeon books and then use this handy cheat sheet to have them draw the pigeon.  Thank you, Ellen!  I can't wait to see how they came out.

And finally my second graders practiced their skills of estimation by using 600 Black Spots, a pop-up book by David A. Carter.  I cannot take credit for this excellent connection to the math curriculum.  That goes to one of my wonderful colleagues in my county.  You slowly open the book to each page and ask the students to estimate how black spots are on each page.

I also had my substitute just read some Really Good Books to my kids and, I must admit, I cancelled a couple of classes as well.  With state testing in the library, library in the classrooms and the librarian at home, we're just going to chalk this week up to experience!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Library in the Classroom - Week One

Image of Here Come the Girl Scouts cover
Here Come the Girl Scouts! by Shana Corey Illustrated by Hadley Hooper

This week begins the challenge of Library without the Library.  Our state testing has taken over THE WORLD {ehem}, so I get out to the classrooms for a change of scenery.  {<---positive spin}.

In Kindergarten, we will continue to collaborate on telling time to the hour.  Last week I did a pre-test of sorts by showing the students 8:00 am and 10:00 pm on a clock and asking them to write down the time.  Then they had to draw a picture of what they would be doing at each of those times.   We'll repeat the pre-test as a post-test after we've read a few new books in the Library that focus on time.

We are so fortunate to have author Monica Brown visiting our school in June.  I always seem to run out of time when preparing for these visits, so I'd better get cracking.  First grade and Multiage (1/2) will visit Monica Brown's website with me.  Before we do so, we'll write down things we'd like to know about Ms. Brown and then see if her website answers any of our questions.

I have been waiting several weeks to share Shana Corey's Here Come the Girl Scouts with my second graders.  I took some of Juliette Gordon Low's quotes from the books and put them onto strips of paper.  After handing them out to the students, I will ask them who they think said these quotes.  I am dying to hear their ideas.  After the big reveal, I will read Corey's book to them.

Third grade will most likely be sapped from taking their first SOL ever, so I'm sure a nice rousing game of Book-Tionary will fit the bill quite nicely.  Here will be my first five illustrations:  Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus (warm up), The Name of this Book is Secret (don't ask me how I'll draw THAT!), Frankie Pickle and the Closet of Doom, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, and Scaredy Squirrel.  I'd better get practicing.

Fourth grade has come right off their spectacular Voki project (I'm a little behind in posting the finished products, eh hem) so I wanted them to get a look at an ebook called The Artifacts.  Truth be told, I know nothing about it but Ms. Reid wrote up such an intriguing post about it, that I have to investigate further. Thanks again, Ms. Reid, for another great lesson plan!

I'm not sure I will get a chance to see my fifth graders this week due to state testing.  : (

What do you do when there's library without the library?

Have a great week!

Saturday, May 5, 2012

In the Classroom: Book-tionary

This is the time of year where planning for my library classes becomes a little bit of a sticky wicket.

With our state Standards of Learning (SOLs) testing (three weeks!), field trips, field day, a visiting author, school-wide assemblies, (you get the idea) our schedule is an ever-changing serendipitous discovery of...We Can't Come To Library!

You'd think this would make planning easier, but it does not.  You'd think I could say, "Hey, I'll just plan the rest of the year out, and if they don't show, my lesson is planned for the next week."  But I don't like library like that (most of the time).  I like to time my lessons with the seasons or what's going on in the classroom, or how close we are to hosting our visiting author or prepping my students for the visit from our public librarians.  If I'm going to the classroom (SOLs are given and taken in the Library - did I mention, three weeks!) I need to plan for a full half hour. I actually like this opportunity to spend a little extra time with my students without the pressure of fitting in book checkout (I do have longer chunks of time with my students but it feels different when I'm in the classroom without an "agenda").

Here is one activity that my students LOVE.  In fact, they might love it a little too much.  I call it  "Book-Tionary".  Creative, eh? : ) 

I use the whiteboard/dry erase board in the classroom and begin to draw a character or scene from a book.  The students have to guess the book I am drawing.  I usually begin with the pigeon from Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus.  Once they catch on, it's mayhem.  My one rule is that they cannot call out - so when I look out over my little guys I see about 25 students turning red just trying not to blurt out the answer while their little arms are waving around like crazy. 

Allow for plenty of hang time to differentiate.  I also tell them that I probably will NOT call on the FIRST person who raises their hand.  Helps to take the pressure of those who need a little more time to think.  Come ready with a list of books (it's harder than you think to think on the fly).  With older students, I let them write down the title of a book they'd like me to draw; they love it when their book comes up and they get a good chuckle (okay, hearty laugh) at my artistic ability.

What do you do when you're blessed with a little extra time with your students?

Friday, April 13, 2012

It's the End of the Year As We Know It!

We're back from Spring Break and it is totally incredible how little time we have left before the end of the school year.  Well, yes, some days will seem long, but the time 'til the end of the year will seem to fly by, especially with almost three weeks of Standards of Learning (state) testing.

It's been a busy week; I cannot believe it was only a four-day one!!

After much gnashing of teeth and a little help from my Twitter friends, I created a Virginia version of "Over in the Meadow" and "Down East in the Ocean:  A Maine Counting Book" using the wild animal suggestions from my kindergarten students.  I'm thinking of spiffing it up and actually submitting it to an agent for review.  Of course it would be dedicated to my Kinders!  But ah, I'm getting ahead of myself! 
: )

With my first and second graders, I used the book "A Sock is a Pocket for Your Toes:  A Pocket Book".  Then we created our own pocket poems.  My students ROCKED it!!!  Some of the poems made me laugh, some made me say "Awwwww!", and one darn near made me cry!!  The format was simply:

A ________________________  is a pocket for your _____________________.

Try it with your primaries!  

Fourth grade continued with their Voki projects and thanks to @sducharme , the process went like a dream.  Here is one example of their Voki-ness:

Voki by B.P.

So many other things went on in the Library this week, I've just about lost count.  Not to mention a County-wide librarians meeting and a staff meeting!  How was your week!?

Until next time,


Thursday, March 1, 2012

Hey Diddle, Diddle - SmartBoard Poetry Activity

For several weeks I have been concentrating on nursery rhymes with my students with autism class.
I love this visually friendly version of Mother Goose
by Tomie DePaola

I decided it was time to get silly and create our own version of Hey Diddle, Diddle.

I created this SmartExchange resource where students can drop and drag images to make their own retold nursery rhyme!

Hope you find it useful!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Saturday Soup - CHOMP by Carl Hiaasen

Title:  Chomp
Year Published:  Available March 2012

Author:  Carl Hiaasen
You May Know Him: As the author of the very popular MG/YA series Hoot, Scat and Flush and author of many adult novels as well.
You May Find Him: At his website.

Review You May Not Have Seen:  Time for Kids review by Jack Wetzel

The Delta/Plus
I have a confession to make.  I abandoned Hoot.  Yes, I just could not get through this Newbery Honor Book.  Yet for some reason I picked up Scat (okay, that doesn't sound very good) and I loved it.  So I was curious when I received my ARC of Chomp.  Would I abandon it or would I love it?  And what was so different between Hoot and Scat that I could read through one but not the other?  And how do you get a job without experience, if you need experience to get a job?  But I digress...

Chomp is a hilarious addition to Hiaasen's other ecology-adventures Scat, Hoot and Flush.  This time we follow Wahoo and his animal-wrangling father Mickey Cray on their latest hire as animal handlers to the stars.  Unfortunately the job entails following the high-jinx of an adventure host in a sort of a ripped-from-the-Discovery-channel-esque spoof:  the intrepid explorer is "lost", this time in the Florida Everglades, along with an entire camera crew and catering caravan.  We are also introduced to Tuna, a girl who is searching to be rescued from a real-life drama involving an abusive father.

I loved Chomp and will recommend it to my fourth and fifth graders.  I'll tell them to be a bit patient with the sections that seem to get a little stuck in muck like the Everglades where this story takes place, but to definitely add another Hiaasen winner "To Be Read" list.

This book gets four out of five dog ears from me!

15 Second Sell in the Stacks
(This is when I'm in the stacks, a student shows me a book and says, "Have you read this, Ms. B.?"  I have about 15 seconds to "sell" it.)

"Ohmygosh.  Have you read {insert Hoot, Scat, or Flush}?  You'll totally love this one.  This kid and his dad are in charge of making sure this fool television star doesn't get eaten alive by some creature in the Florida Everglades.  Totally hilarious.  Get readin'!"

Thank you to my local independent bookstore One More Page Books for hooking me up with this ARC.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

How to Cite a Book

A few days ago one of my fourth grade teachers asked me to teach a lesson on how to cite a book.

I have done this lesson before, but I decided to use the SmartBoard this time, and since I would be teaching the lesson close to Valentine's Day, I couldn't resist using a few hearts in my presentation.

It's not the fanciest lesson - I need to work on my "cuteness" factor, but I'm linking to the Notebook file in case you find it useful.

Students will be bringing a book that they are using for an upcoming report, and after I model creating a citation on the last page, they will try creating their own citation using their own book.

I welcome any suggestions, for course!

Happy Valentine's Day!

Monday, February 6, 2012

More-us of the Thesaurus

Today when I arrived at school there were a stack of quizzes in my mailbox.

Not quizzes for students.

Not quizzes for me to grade. 

Quizzes for me to TAKE! 

As a reward for three prior weeks of guide word immersion (including a rockin' Smartboard lesson from Oklahoma Ag in the Classroom - I mean, who knew, right?), I asked one of my fourth grade classes to create quizzes for ME.  

Their quiz had to consist of five questions, multiple choice, with at least three being questions about guide words. 

They rocked it!! 

I spent about an hour and a half taking those dern 26 quizzes!  

And they got me good on some of the questions.  

The cutest questions had to be ones that asked what a thesaurus could be used for...their "wrong" options were very funny. 

I can't wait to hand their papers back to them for them to grade.

I hope I did okay! {fingers crossed!}

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Donald Hall and a Step in the River

No man ever steps in the same river twice, so Heraclitus philosophized, and it was a hot, dry summer that I happened to step into that proverbial river at just the right moment.

I was living in Los Angeles and I had just come home one evening from my job as a library assistant at UCLA.  I turned on the television and by chance landed on a documentary about two poets, a husband and wife, who lived in an old ancestral farm house in New Hampshire.  Later I would come to find out that this was the Emmy award-winning documentary Donald Hall and Jane Kenyon:  A Life Together, but for that hour or so I was entranced.  Perhaps I was just homesick for New England or perhaps it was simple the wonder of hearing how extraordinary poetry can sound when it is spoken by its creator.

A couple of years later, back on the East Coast, I was reading an issue of the New Yorker and was shocked to see Jane Kenyon's birth and death dates listed after her poem.  Unbeknownst to me she had just died of leukemia at age 47.

I immediately wrote to Mr. Hall.  I think I addressed the envelope something like "Donald Hall, poet, Wilmot, New Hampshire".  I'm sure my letter was incoherent and I think it contained several typographical errors.  I received a note back from him barely a week later.  It had even been postmarked on my birthday.  He was kind, caring, gracious and personal in his letter, mentioning his wife Jane and mentioning my comment about naming horses.

Years later, when my son was born, I sent Mr. Hall a copy of his book Ox Cart Man (together with a self-addressed stamped envelope, of course) asking would he please autograph it for my son.  Sure enough, in just a couple of weeks the book was literally signed, sealed and delivered to my doorstep.

He did the same for my daughter, when she was born, signing a copy of Old Home Day.

I own almost every book that Mr. Hall has written.  I read in the news recently that at age 83 he has proclaimed himself done with poetry.  

When he was selected as United States Poet Laureate in 2006, I went to see him at the National Book Festival on the National Mall.  As I stood by while he signed one of his books for me, I mentioned that he had once signed books for my children.  He didn't respond for a moment but then he looked up at me and said, "I'm glad I did that."  So am I.

How fortunate for me that I stepped into the river at that exact moment in time, that warm, jacaranda-scented night in Santa Monica.  A step in the river that changed my life.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Pura Belpré Challenge: Grandma's Gift by Eric Velasquez

Today I read the 2011 Pura Belpré Illustrator Award Winner to my own two children who are in first and second grade.  They seemed to love it and my son even made a text-to-text connection to Too Many Tamales (awwwwwww!).

What was it... {drumroll please}

Title:   Grandma's Gift
Year Published: 2010

Author/Illustrator:  Eric Velasquez
You May Know Him:  as the author/illustrator of Grandma's Records and illustrator of I, Matthew Henson
You May Find Him:  at his blog

Review You May Not Have Seen: 

The Delta/Plus
I had recently purchased Grandma's Gift for my own school library's collection, but I had not realized that it was a Pura Belpré winner.  I also had not read it (blush, blush).

This book may have won an award for its rich, realistic illustrations, but to me the story was just as compelling.  This is a wonderful book that both teachers and librarians can use in many ways.  Pair with "Too Many Tamales" to discuss holiday traditions.  Read along-side "The Story-Teller's Candle" to talk about Puerto Rican Christmas traditions, both past and present.  Use it to discuss the concept of "gifts".  What was Grandma's gift?  You could also use this book to study community or illustrate the differences between city life and country life.  The list really does go on.

This book is one that I will be reading to my students year after year.  

Now to find that copy of Grandma's Records... 

15 Second Book Talk in the Stacks (These are when I'm in the book stacks with my students and they hold out a book to me and say, "Have you read this one, Mrs. Blaine?".  I have about 15 seconds.):  

"This is one of my new favorite books that recently won an award for best illustrations.  It's about a boy who spends Christmas break with his grandmother.  First he helps her make a yummy traditional Puerto Rican recipe and then they go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City where they see a self-portrait of an important artist.  Can you guess what artist that might be?  Do you think you can guess what language he and his grandmother share?  Have you spent any special times with your grandmother or grandfather?  If you have, you'll love this book as much as I do."

From the the award-winning illustrations to the story itself, Grandma's Gift gets five out of five Dog Ears from me!

Thank you My Own School Library for providing me with this copy of Grandma's Gift.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

2012 Goals for the New Year

Ah, goals for 2012. Sounds frighteningly like resolutions, doesn't it? Meh, I'm not so big on resolutions, but I do like to set a goal or two...

In 2011 I fell short on some and surprised myself with others.

For example, when I look at my GoodReads goal for 2011 I want to laugh myself silly. This year I don't think I will be too worried about meeting a number goal, but rather a genre goal. I am woefully inattentive to fiction "for boys" and I need to remedy this. I'm starting off the year with book one of the Ranger's Apprentice Series and so far I'm enjoying it.

Another goal didn't sneak up on me until October: NaNoWriMo. And that minor goal (to write at 50,000 word novel during the month of November) took me until the end of December. December 31st to be exact. But I did it. Will wonders never cease?

I've joined the Nerdy Book Club members in their quest to read copious amounts of award winning books, but decided that instead of the Newberys or the Caldecotts I was going to choose the road less taken and read the Pura Belpre award winners and honor books. I don't suppose that reading the delightful "The Storyteller's Candle" to my third grade students in December had anything to do with it, but perhaps...

And finally the wonderful Page in Training has cooked up a scheme to introduce more non-fiction to students, both young and old. I'm happy that she's allowed me to work with her on this year-long project called Passport Nonfiction. I'm excited to see where it takes us and how it evolves. Join us!
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