February 18, 2015

Children Make Terrible Pets

ImagePicture books have a way of showing me the world from new points of view, in simple ways and often funny ways. Humor opens doors :)
Awhile back I read Mr. Tiger Goes Wild with my students--it was one of my favorite Interactive Read Alouds. I loved the book, so I naturally wanted to see what else the author, Peter Brown, had written. Among many books, Children Make Terrible Pets caught my eye.

For all patient mothers who have listened (and listened and listened) to the ongoing plea for a dog or a frog-- this story is for you. And for your animal-obsessed children. :) Peter Brown deftly explores the question: What if a wild animal took YOU as a pet? The results, as you may imagine, are fantastically funny, and may hit close to home (I remember the snakes my brothers would bring home). Enjoy!


February 4, 2015

5 Valentine's Day Stories to Love


I am completely biased, but Valentine's Day is probably best spent in an elementary school. There's a party, and LOTS of card giving! Hearts and chocolate and innocence. I love it.
I also love to share stories. Here are a few of our classroom favorites this year:

1. Love, Splat by Rob Scotton. The illustrations are delightful and funny! There is also Splat the Cat: Funny Valentine, an engaging lift the flap book, perfect for younger readers (but not so much for 3rd graders).

2. Happy Valentine's Day, Dolores by Barbara Samuels. This is a new favorite! I immediately bought my own copy. The story and pictures are very simple, and it was a spot-on tool for teaching character development. We also made a LOT of inferences using the pictures.

3. Valentine's Day by Alice K. Flanagan. It was nice to add a NONFICTION book to our Valentine's Day repertoire. Easily understood and lots of good vocabulary.

4. Valentine Hearts Holiday Poetry by Lee Bennett Hopkins. This I Can Read book is great for students to read on their own once they have heard it read aloud.

5. Arthur's Valentine by Marc Brown. Classic.
Arthur's Valentine

Share the love! What are your favorite stories?

January 28, 2015

Interactive Read-Aloud Lesson: How Do Illustrations Add to Our Understanding of the Story?

This week my third graders and I are taking a deeper look at STORIES, particularly at the clues that illustrations give us about the setting, the characters, and the plot. I was looking for picture books that would generate thoughtful discussion--fortunately we had a book fair last week, so I had several brand spankin new picture books! After reading Mr. Tiger Goes Wild! with the kiddos, it was obvious that this one was a perfect fit for the discussion I wanted.

How Do Illustrations Add to Our Understanding of the Story

Learning Goal: I can explain how illustrations add to the text in a story.
Key Questions:
What clues do the illustrations give about the characters?
What clues do the illustrations give about the setting?
What clues do the illustrations give about the plot? 
Can you make predictions based on the illustrations?

FYI, these are the ELA Common Core Standards for Reading: Literature that this lesson meets:
1st Grade: RL 1.7 Use illustrations and details in a story to describe its characters, setting, or events.
2nd Grade: RL 2.7 Use information gained from the illustrations and words in a print or digital text to demonstrate understanding of its characters, setting, or plot.
3rd Grade: RL 3.7 Explain how specific aspects of a text’s illustrations contribute to what is conveyed by the words in a story (e.g., create mood, emphasize aspects of a character or setting).

We started by talking about our learning goal 
{I can explain how illustrations add to what is written in a story}.

Mr. Tiger Goes Wild!
QUESTION: What clues can we find to help us understand the CHARACTERS, especially Mr. Tiger?Student responses included . . .
  • Mr. Tiger has his eyes open and everyone else has them closed.
  • The colors are dull except for Mr. Tiger.
  • Everyone looks posh.
  • Most of the animals are herbivores (I was so delighted with this observation by several of my students!). Mr. Tiger is different because he is a carnivore. Maybe this makes him more wild.

QUESTION: What clues can we find to help us understand the SETTING?
Mr. Tiger Goes Wild!

Mr. Tiger Goes Wild!
We looked at many pictures throughout the book, and made the following observations:
  • He lives in a town or city.
  • It is very dull colored and boring at the beginning.
  • Guesses as to which city it might be included: New York City, Paris, and London. The kids guessed these cities mostly because of the pigeons. :)

QUESTION: What clues can we find to help us understand the PLOT?
Mr. Tiger Goes Wild!

The previous page says that Mr. Tiger has a wild idea . . . and then we turn to the picture of Mr. Tiger walking on all fours. No words. Just an illustration showing us what his wild idea was. I read it once without showing the picture (the kids agreed that there was missing information) and then again, this time showing them all the pictures. They understood so much more! (Just the learning moment I was looking for! ZING!)

Then we compared these two illustrations: one of Tiger being wild in the city and one of Tiger being wild in the wilderness. How are they the same? How are they different?
Wild Ideas 2
Wild Ideas 1

Reading and talking about this book was a BLAST! The children were riveted. Success! Thanks to Peter Brown and Mr. Tiger.
What kinds of questions do you ask during read aloud?

January 14, 2015

Curl Up with a Good One

nicole with a sick day for amos mcgee
I thought that I could outrun the common cold this time. Every school year it is a race of endurance to see how long I can keep ahead of the germs. Eventually it catches up with me, and this week I found myself working around a raspy voice and constant sneezing. What a perfect time to pull out A Sick Day for Amos McGee!
This 2011 Caldecott Medal winner by Philip Stead is a delight to read, especially when I am under the weather. The story follows Amos McGee through his daily work routine, and he is easy to love immediately, for the care he puts into simple jobs. The smallest details make up the heart of the narrative. He makes a breakfast of oatmeal and tea. He waits for the bus. He plays chess with the slow-moving elephant and tends to a sniffly rhino (no small task). There are many jobs to do, but Amos makes time to care for each animal one by one. He knows exactly what they need. When one day Amos stays home sick, roles reverse, and he is taken care of by the very friends who are usually looked after by him. It is tender and beautifully accompanied by the woodblock and pencil drawings of first time illustrator Erin Stead. Not only is this book a nice reminder that good things often come back around to help you, it also happened to solve a puzzle for me. Once I found myself in Barnes and Noble, searching for the perfect thank you gift. I needed a book that was warm and real and delightful. It needed to have emotional depth but also be buoyed up by lightness and ease. As soon as I pulled A Sick Day for Amos McGee off the shelf, I knew it was a perfect fit.

January 1, 2015

A Look Back at 2014

2014 has come and gone. When I started this blog last March, my goal was to find and share really great books, AND share how things are going in my classroom. So much has happened in the past year!

Let's take a walk through some of my favorite posts of 2014 . . . 

Why Books?
Ah--the very first post, a very good place to start. I go back occasionally and read this post to remind myself what my intentions are and why I write about books.

What Every Child (and Adult) Should Learn About Being Brave
I loved writing this post, and LOVED reading The Voyage of the Dawn Treader to prep for it. Fictional stories really do help us navigate through our own world and our own personal dragons. When I read this book to my class, I wanted them to get a sense of their own power to overcome trials, like the characters in the book do over and over again. Children need that. And so do I.



Getting Into Poetry
When April arrived, I was ready for National Poetry Month! We wrote 7 different forms of poetry as a class. Each student made their own poetry booklet. It was amazing to see them take ownership of their writing!


All Kinds of Poems


Teachers. We Need to Slow Down.
This post hits home for me, especially as I get ready to dive into end-of-year testing.  I need the constant reminder to slow down and find BALANCE.
Test All The Things!

Review #43: Mysterious Traveler
One of the best books that I read in 2014 is written by Mal Peet and Elspeth Graham. Mysterious Traveler is a beautiful story, and one that I would recommend to everyone.

Review #43

Staying Healthy Through the Winter Months: 6 Tips for Teachers
Stay clean, stay strong, stay healthy!

Teachers, Stay Healthy

Here's to a fabulous new year! I hope 2015 finds you learning and growing!

December 17, 2014

25 Favorite Christmas Picture Books

I hope everyone is enjoying the holidays!
One of my favorite things to do is snuggle up with the family 
and a stack of treasured holiday books.
This is my list of 25 Favorite Christmas Picture Books
 (in no particular order):
  1. The Trees of the Dancing Goats by Patricia Polacco
  2. Winter is the Warmest Season by Lauren Stringer
  3. The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry
  4. The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg
  5. The Hat by Jan Brett
  6. An Orange for Frankie by Patricia Polacco
  7. The Missing Mitten Mystery by Steven Kellogg
  8. The Wild Christmas Reindeer by Jan Brett
  9. Snowmen at Night by Caralyn & Mark Buehner
  10. The Christmas Wreath by James Hoffman
  11. How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss
  12. Strega Nona's Gift by Tomie dePaola
  13. Madeline's Christmas by Ludwig Bemelmans
  14. Welcome Comfort by Patricia Polacco
  15. An Early American Christmas by Tomie dePaola
  16. The Baker's Dozen: A Saint Nicholas Tale by Aaron Shepard
  17. Olivia Helps with Christmas by Ian Falconer
  18. It's Christmas, David! by David Shannon
  19. Christmas Tapestry by Patricia Polacco
  20. The Night Before Christmas by Clement C. Moore
  21. Book of Christmas Carols by Tomie dePaola
  22. Twelve Days of Christmas by Jan Brett (I learned from this book that traditionally the 12 days of Christmas are celebrated AFTER December 25, until Jan 6, Three Kings Day)
  23. The Snowman by Raymond Briggs
  24. The Three Snow Bears by Jan Brett
  25. The Legend of the Poinsettia by Tomie dePaola
Merry Christmas!

December 15, 2014

Why I Still Believe In Santa Claus

Growing up, I always knew that Santa Claus was fictional--and let me be clear, that made him no less important, no less real. Being fictional didn't threaten my belief in him, it protected it. Santa Claus has always represented a rare kind of magic, a kind that lingers even as we grow old. It is magic rooted in kindness, in mystery, and in memory.

I grew up in a home FULL of stories. My mom raised us with stories, and we loved them. We read all the Harry Potter series and the Narnia books together. Those stories were real to us, and we shared that as a family. You know the feeling--when you read a story, you are THERE. You experience the emotions and the adventures. It makes a place in your mind that can handle dragons and battles and heroes. Having a lot of practice in that department, it was easy to put Santa right alongside Hagrid and Mr. Tumnus. Actually, one Christmas morning my parents included a gift under the tree signed, "Love, Hagrid." It was the newest Harry Potter book. We didn't bat an eye about having presents from Santa AND Hagrid. It fit. It made sense to us.

Part of being human is learning how to differentiate between fact and fiction. In my experience, fiction is one of the best tools for understanding life. Fiction has always helped me to process the facts more clearly. Albert Einstein even had his two cents on the topic: "If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales."

I'm grateful to have parents who taught me to believe.

We were (and still are) very chill about Santa at our house. We knew there would be presents from him, but we never left milk and cookies. There was definitely no Elf on the Shelf.  It made perfect sense to us that Santa Claus would make an appearance in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, because they belong in the same world. Santa making a visit to our local mall, however, always made me deeply uncomfortable. That was against the rules.

Because I had this particular version of Santa in my home, there was no Moment Of Clarity, no Devastating Revelation, no Loss of Belief. There was no tragic moment when I finally 'found out' the truth. The truth was all I knew, and I loved it.

At home, we loved stories. And we loved Santa, because his world and our day to day world are complimentary. We read the Christmas Carol and watched the Muppet's Christmas Carol every year. We didn't spend much time talking about Santa or focusing on him. Who was the main man at Christmastime? It was Christ. We spent more time talking about Him and less time about Santa. We celebrated in our own way, as a family--it was a balance that worked.

And now, as an adult, I still read stories, I still get swept up in the magic, and I still believe in Santa.