March 31, 2014

Make Your Own Battle Bunny

This exists:
you can create your own scribbled-in version of Battle Bunny.


I learned about this from our awesome school librarian just a few days after writing a book review of Battle Bunny . . . meant to be.

See what other people have created, and get ideas for your own.

I am psyched to use this with my kiddos! Let's put the fun in creative writing :)

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March 26, 2014

Getting into Poetry

April is nearly here, and it is . . . National Poetry Month! 
We are linking up with some other lovely people for Workshop Wednesday to talk about POETRY :)
I loved writing poems with my 3rd graders this week. It was one of those magic moments--they were happy as clams to sit and write, because they cared about what they were writing about. We started out with this planning sheet: 

 Writing Lesson: Poetry
They made lists of things they think about a lot, things they love, places they've been, things they have seen, etc. Every time we wrote a new poem, I sent them back to this page to decide what their poem would be about. 
We did the planning together. I had the same graphic organizer under the document camera. I wrote my thoughts, they wrote theirs. We shared and talked and made lists (bliss).

Once we had a bunch of ideas written down, we were ready to go! This is when they got excited about writing poetry because they realized they could write about whatever they wanted. Freedom! With structure. :)

There are 7 types of poems that I teach in this unit--
Haiku, Cinquain, Clerihew, Quatrain, Free Verse, Acrostic, and Diamante. Each has its own rules and format. My kids loved learning about each one (which was a pleasant surprise). I use these poetry posters with the document camera as we look at each form of poetry.

Writing Lesson: Poetry

Their poems were lovely. A lot were about "My Dog" . . . that happens every year. BUT a lot of their poems came out creative, funny, and personal. We wrote the final version in our poetry booklets:

Have to say, it is one of my favorite subjects to teach :)

I hope you can use this in your classroom. Grab the posters and printouts here :)

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March 21, 2014

10 Picture Books to Share

Last week we looked at the first five books
on the New York Public Library’s list of 100 Titles to Read and Share.
Up next, #6 through #15!


#6 Herman and Rosie by Gus Gordon
3 Cheers!
Just enough story + just enough left up to the imagination.

My favorite line is,
 “It made him feel like he had eaten honey straight out of the jar.”


#7 How to Train a Train by Jason Carter Eaton
3 Cheers!
A step-by-step guide to your pet train. Delightful tips and tricks.
“Few trains can resist a good read-aloud.” :)


#8 Journey by Aaron Becker
This book gets 4 cheers!
Journey is a lovely blend of Harold and the Purple Crayon meets Where the Wild Things Are with its own unique magic. A girl having a lonely day draws a door in her bedroom wall, and the adventure begins! It is a celebration of imagination and friendship.



#9 Knock Knock: My Dad’s Dream for Me by Daniel Beaty
This book is out of stock at all my local book stores and still on hold at the library . . . can’t wait to see what all the fuss us about! As soon as I read it, I will update this review :)


#10 The Matchbox Diary by Paul Fleischman
2 Cheers
I really wanted to love this book. The illustrations were nostalgic, and story of the Italian grandfather telling stories of his youth to his great-granddaughter struck a personal chord with my own Italian roots. But it lacked rhythm and emotion in a story that could have hit very close to the heart. I can easily imagine the kids being bored by the middle.
The adult in me enjoyed it and the child in me skipped to the last page to see how it all ended.




#11 Moonday by Adam Rex
3 Cheers!
The perfect bedtime book for older readers.
 Like any good “sleepy time” book it starts in wonder and ends in slumber.
If this isn’t enough to hook you, I don’t know what is:
 What would you do if the moon wandered into your backyard?


#12 Mr. Tiger Goes Wild! by Peter Brown
This book gets 4 cheers!
Loved it! I loved the style of the illustrations, I loved the use of dull and bright colors to tell the story, and I loved reading this book to my students.  They were riveted and full of giggles. As we read together, I asked them a bunch of questions about how the illustrations give us clues about the characters, the setting, and the plot. They had great insights, and enjoyed it thoroughly.


#13 My Cold Plum Lemon Pie Bluesy Mood by Tameka Fryer Brown
4 Cheers!
The jazzy rhythm of the text makes the words sway.  A simple idea that comes alive with color! Gives kids and parents a simple way to talk about what mood they’re in and what they're feeling.


#14 Niño Wrestles the World by Yuyi Morales
3 cheers!
A recipe for picture book magic:
1 cup Monsters
¼ cup Older Brother Action
1 cup Spanish Vocabulary
a dash of various typefaces
Blend thoroughly for best results
Bake at a cosy 74° for 15 minutes
Serves: you and your little one 

Nino Wrestles the World


#15 No Fits, Nilson by Zachariah OHora
3 Cheers!
The kids in your life who have mastered the art of fit-throwing should definitely meet Nilson.
Tender writing and delightfully detailed drawings make this book a must read for high-charged children (and the adults who love them).



There are still 8 more picture books on the list-- coming soon!

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March 20, 2014

And the First Category is . . . Picture Books!

NYPL's 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing
This project is a perfect blend of two of my favorite things:
1. Lists 
 2. Reading

Couldn't be happier :) Let the reading begin!

For an explanation of my ratings, see here.

The LIST begins with picture books for children ages 2 - 6.


#1: Ah Ha! by Jeff Mack
3 Cheers!
Best for young readers and their parents, to be read in LOUD voices!
Join an adventurous frog in this story that uses only TWO letters.
The pictures tell the story--which makes it perfect for visual kids and parents alike.
Cleverly made and joyfully read aloud.

#2: Battle Bunny by Jon Scieszka & Mac Barnett
3 Cheers! 
A great addition to your at-home library.
This book was clearly designed with boys in mind!
It takes a simple woodland birthday story with mild characters and pastel pictures and transforms it into a rough and tumble delight.
Not only is the story an excellent romp, it also challenges the reader to follow both the underlying story AND the scribbled in bits.

#3: The Blessing Cup by Patricia Polacco
4 Cheers!
Any book by Patricia Polacco pulls at a certain chord in my heart that is attached to all the nice feelings of being at home and being loved and reading great books with my parents. My dad had shelves full of her books, and we spent hours after school reading them.
So I am already biased toward any story she writes.
The Blessing Cup is great for read aloud and older readers, as the length and vocabulary are more complex.
And what a great story for asking questions, like:

How do families face difficult changes together?
Who acted as a helper in the story? Do we know anyone like that?
What traditions does our family have to create hope in hard times?


#4: Flora and the Flamingo by Molly Idle
3 Cheers!
This wordless story will engage even young readers
(although be careful about little hands tearing the lift-the-flap features!)
A treat for all the tiny dancers.


#5: Hank Finds an Egg by Rebecca Dudley
2 Cheers
2 Cheers
Another wordless book, great for creating words and stories along with the child as you follow the pictures.
Nice photography, nice concept, overall a nice book, but it didn't particularly grab my attention.

More to come! 
The next batch of great books I'll review: 
#6 - #15

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March 19, 2014

Come on board for 3rd grade fun and reading magic :)

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THE LIST: 100 Book Reviews in 2014

About a month ago, I happened upon a list. A book list. A children’s book list.


At the close of 2013, the New York Public Library released their 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing (you can find it here). Throughout the year I plan to read and share all the books from this list!

And thanks to my own nearby public library, I am up to my nose in children's books!

Each book review will include a rating. Here’s the system:

3 Cheers—This is a good book, definitely read it.
2 Cheers—This is an okay book.
1 Cheer—This is an even less okay book.
*cricket* —This  book didn’t make a splash. Spend your time elsewhere.

As you can see, these are rigorous standards. Ahem.
BUT I do have some basic questions that will guide my ratings (there is a method to the madness).

Elements To Consider
  • Can I make personal connections to the story? Is it meaningful?
  • Are the illustrations captivating?
  • Is the language interesting?
  • Is it fun? (Reading to children is nothing if it isn’t fun!)

As always, some books are wonderful because they are light, funny, and a rollicking good time while other books become favorites because they appeal to my artistic taste. Both kinds of favorites are welcome to me!

There’s a Bully in All of Us (don’t feed it)

I read an amazing book by Thanhha Lai a few months ago. This is what I wrote about it then:

Inside Out and Back Again has set alight a spark in me, and for the past few days I have lived through the eyes of the main character, Hà.

Thanhha Lai weaves a thread of emotion back and forth between Hà‘s heart and my own.

This is about the aftermath of war, and racial discrimination, and I am itching to read it to my little clutch of 8-year-olds. Will they understand?  I am too impatient to wait until the end of the year, when they are just a bit older. Do they need to be older?

The story takes place in Vietnam and Alabama. To be honest, both places are equally foreign to these kids.

And now? I am almost done reading the book to my 3rd graders. And I was right to be tentative.

Thanhha Lai beautifully displays Hà’s character, with depth and emotion. I came to know and love Hà as the story progressed, and I wanted my kids to progress with her.
In a culture where bullying is a trigger word, I wanted my particular group of kids this year to broaden their view. Hà escaped a war. She became a REFUGEE in a strange new place. She had to learn a strange new language. Hà experienced racial discrimination. I guess what I wanted was to give my kids the opportunity to put their first world problems into perspective.

It did not go the way I planned.

My smart, sensitive class thinks Hà is funny. They treat this heartbreaking character exactly the same way as the bullies in the book do. The kids in the book call her names—and my kids laugh. She struggles with English—and they giggle. I expected understanding and got something ugly. Not what I anticipated.

It was a reminder that my own response to stories as an adult is not a predictor of what children will get out of it.
My students can see with absolute clarity that the kids in the book are bullies. But seeing it in themselves? Not so easy. If Ha were in our class, I think she would have the same issues as in the story. We have some work to do.

But . . . Tuesday was Library Day. One of my girls searched for Inside Out and Back Again on the shelves, checked it out excitedly, and asked me, “Mrs, Seegmiller, what page are we on? I have to know what happens to Hà.” 

I will definitely try again next year.

The Advantage of Disadvantage

A new book by one of my favorite non-fiction authors is out and I am absorbed in it! This is not a children’s book, but it’s nice to stir things up a bit.

David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants by Malcolm Gladwell is proving to be just as good as his previous books. And as usual, the content makes me re-evaluate all my preconceived notions about my students and the way we educate them. 

Think of the students you teach. You know them well enough to know the specific things they grapple with: learning disabilities, loss of a parent, dyslexia, etc. What if those things are their greatest asset? What if some of those students can become better BECAUSE OF the difficulty, not in spite of it?

I am a huge advocate of reading. Read often. Read early, Read well. I read to my students everyday, and stretch out reading time for as many minutes as possible. But. As much as I believe in the power of reading, I also know exactly which kids will deeply struggle with it for a long time. What about them? What about carving out room for the skills that come easily to them?
“Most of us gravitate toward the areas in which we excel. The child who picks up reading easily goes on to read even more, becomes even better at it, and ends up in a field that requires a lot of reading . . . and on and on in a virtuous circle.”
Student who are not good readers are developing OTHER skills, just as powerful.
“Desirable difficulties have the opposite logic …”
That opposite logic is that a child with dyslexia is forced every day to compensate. They have no choice but to find OTHER ways of doing what needs to be done. They survive the school system without being able to read fluently, but they become devastatingly good at listening and talking and remembering. They know how to think around a situation and make it work for them. Could a teacher or a parent give a kid that kind of intense motivation? I don’t think so.
“What is learned in necessity is inevitably more powerful than that which comes easily."
As parents and educators, of course we want our kids to learn the art of persuasion or to think outside the box.
“But a normal, well-adjusted child has no need to take these lessons seriously.”
Think about it. The very skills we work so hard to teach are learned instinctively and with great effort by children who grapple with things like dyslexia.
“If you get A’s in school, you never need to figure out how to negotiate your way to a passing grade, or to look around the room as a nine year old and start strategizing about how to make it through the next hour.”
Disadvantages are the perfect preparation.

Re-think. Take another look. We are always seeking out our students’ strengths—it could be that their struggles fit in that category as well.

What Every Child (and Adult) Should Learn about Being Brave

Narnia. We all know it is magic.

I just finished The Voyage of the Dawn Treader this week and was completely wrapped up in its metaphors and movement.
There is a quest, started by Caspian to find the lost lords who served his father.
There is danger and rescue. There is Aslan.
Every person, big ones and little ones, YOU and ME, knows about adventure and danger BECAUSE WE ARE LIVING, we are human, we are vulnerable, we are learning to be brave.
There are things every person must face, and I am glad to have already met in this book ordinary children who fought sea serpents—and won. When my own troubles come slithering in, I already have the victory envisioned.

So! This is your list of what I learned about being brave—here I will be brief—if you want the full effect, read the book.

1. Direction is Important 
Bravery in this story has purpose. As a constant motif throughout every chapter, the Dawn Treader sails East. Each island is a step along the way. They know where they are going from the moment they set sail. East, east, east, toward the sun.

2. The end of the world is not the end of the world
I want my students to know this.
I want my future kiddos to know this.
I want to know this.
When Lucy, Edmund, Eustace, Caspian, & the gang reach the first island, they are immediately caught and sold as slaves. In the whole scheme of the book, it is a small piece of the adventure, and (spoiler alert!) they do escape the slavetrader. Of course they do. It is not the worst thing to happen—just the first thing.
When my students bring a problem to me, often their eyes are filled with “this-is-the-end-of-the-world.” No, it’s not. It is the beginning.

3. Dragons Can Be Conquered
Even if the dragon is You.

4. Make It Narnian
For children, and more often for adults, life is murky. If something in your world is hard to understand, imagine instead what it would look like in Narnia.

Ordinary people become kings and queens. Your loved one struggling through addiction becomes a knight in armour, battling off the seven snare-clawed demons circling his head. Make the worry into a metaphor and suddenly it snaps into focus.

So be brave like Lucy! Be changed like Eustace! It is nice to read a children’s novel and feel closer to God and closer to he truest version of myself. You don’t get that very often.

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Just Keep Learning

This is my fourth year of teaching; the thing I feel most is relief and steadiness because I have my sea legs. Now I am looking around, figuring out where the ship is going. It took a lot of work and stumbling around for the first few years! Do problems come up? Only every day. But I am becoming more comfortable with the structure and the pacing and the flow of it all. I still work hard to find my balance—and maintain my balance. 

Looking back, I am astounded at the opportunities to grow that have heaped themselves at my feet. In a school setting, we are thrown into close quarters with a specific group of people. Some bring out the best in us, and some bring out the dragons. Kids, parents, coworkers—they all take their piece of you or build a place with you. As hard as that process is, I wouldn’t trade it for anything less demanding. 

Looking ahead, there is still so much to learn—I went to a class hosted by a local university about integrating agriculture into science lessons (growing pumpkins and such) and I sat down next to MY 3rd grade teacher. To her credit she hasn’t aged a day (teaching must be good for the skin . . . or something). There she was after 20 years, the teacher that heavily influenced me to become what I am now. If anyone could sit back and feel confident that they have this teaching thing down, go home, and binge watch episodes of Downton, it would be her. But no, her first thought was to take another class. Learn something new. Shake things up and re-write her plans to include terrariums and seed packets. She is still inspiring me.

Just keep learning.

Why Books?

Some of my first memories involve books--turning pages with tiny hands, pouring over pictures, hearing my mom read those stories over and over until I could tell them too. Words became a way to engage with the world, a way to make meaning at a time when everything was new. Do we ever really out-grow stories?

We are surrounded by them: newsfeeds, status updates, conversations, and articles. They make their way to us in texts, tweets, 6 second sound bytes. We are filled up with stories. We are motivated by them; we thrive on the details of people's lives (fictional or our neighbors). Stories harness our emotional abilities--to empathize, to wonder, to respond. And stories satisfy our rational side--to question, to piece together, to infer.

Countless conversations with my husband start with, "So I read this article today . . ." and the story comes bubbling out. Because something deep compels me to add meaning to the story by making it a shared experience. Reading anything alone is nice. Reading with someone I respect and love is better. And reading with my roudy group of third graders is magic.

Really. Magic. As in, something that cannot be quantified or fully explained. Right now we are reading Matilda together (I'll be talking about her more in later posts . . . can't help it!) and with each new group of kids it is a completely new experience. The funny bits are funnier with 24 kiddos giggling along. The sad parts are sadder as you try to make sense of it. And even though we are all wrapped up in our own lives, for those few minutes we enter the same world. We step onto the same emotional page, and ride out the story--together.

As a reader, as a teacher, as a sister, as a wife, and one day as a mother, I believe in celebrating stories.

What will follow on this blog is a string of stories, new books and old books, that strike a chord in me. And I can't help but want to make that story a thousand times better by sharing it.