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Showing posts from February, 2016


My friend Margaret from Reflections on the Teche runs #DigiLit Sunday. Lately she's been using one word prompts. Today is SAFE.
The first thing I thought of was the position of umpire. This makes me think about how we need to help kids take risks like running home in a baseball game or trying out a new poetic form. Wouldn't it be great if we took up the umpire position by calling out "Safe!" Whenever we wanted to create a safe zone for trying out new craft moves or ideas.


Learning to Create Non-Fiction

We've begun learning to read and create non-fiction. We are doing this with discernment. I am using the kids' interests as a springboard to discovery. We began the process by checking out
My writing group friends Tara at A Teaching Life, Margaret at Reflections on the Teche, and Julieanne at To Read To Write To Be told me about how they use Wonderopolis and I was intrigued to see how I could make it work in my room. So I used a simple form designed by Tara and tweaked by me to help kids gather their information from Wonderopolis. I allowed them choice but explained that not everything they've ever wondered about will be on there and they must find something on their. This helps with my limited amount of time. Free reign to the Internet to gather info about a wonder would take my 2nd through 5th graders a very long time. The first day amazed me. They had such focus and didn't waste time. They understood what I was asking and went right to it. They studied wonders rangin…

Where can children get book reviews published?

My post yesterday was all about how to write book reviews and why it is so good for kids to do this. If you'd like more ideas for writing book reviews, check out the link below by clicking on the image.
Today I'd like to share the many places kids can get their book reviews published. Providing this authentic purpose for writing can be a game changer for some students. The following places let kids write and submit book reviews. There may be consent forms associated with signing up. Be sure to have your kids use aliases so their real names are not exposed.

The Guardian
Reader Reviews
Spaghetti Book Club

Teaching Book Review

I'm a reader. I've always been a reader. I do believe that it's okay to just read and move on, but I personally need to process what I read. When I reflect on a book I've read and when I connect the book I've read to myself and to the outside world, I am changed. That book becomes a part of me.
Recently I began writing book reviews as a way to complete the circle of reading, writing, teaching, and sharing that I value so much in my life. First I researched how to write book reviews. I read some  articles to get perspective and set up some boundaries around how I would write book reviews. Then I jumped right in. As I wrote, I realized that I really wanted to include my voice. It didn't take long for me to create a three paragraph structure that flowed for me and seemed to garner good responses. In the first paragraph, I wrote about my personal connection to the book being reviewed. In the second paragraph, I summed up what the story was about. I didn't dwel…

Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson

Roller Girl
Victoria Jamieson
ages 9-12
Dial Books, 2015

I've always been a huge fan of coming of age stories. The ones out there tend to lean heavy in the boy coming of age direction, though and I'm a girl. Often that doesn't matter. I learned so much from Vince Vawter's Paperboy and from Gary Schmidt's Okay For Now. When it came to girl coming of age books though, I often found myself wondering why so many just became good and a bit more girly. That's not who I am and I could never identify.
Along came Victoria Jamieson's Roller Girl and changed all that. At 47, I grew up a little bit more after reading this book. I loved how Astrid changed and accepted who she was but let the past be what it needed to be as well--a part of her heart. I loved the scene where Astrid and her friend dye her hair blue:
Every 10 minutes or so she'd peek in and say cryptic things like, Oh, yes--we're cooking with fire now! ...  And now we add the blue. This is where things…

Albert's Almost Amazing Adventure by Marty Kelley

Albert's Almost Amazing Adventure
Marty Kelley
Islandport Press, 2016
ages 4-8
My mother spent most of her life prepping for the big ones: Christmas, birthdays, and trips to Disney World. She told her stories in the same way. "Well there was this time I was in Monaco with Princess Grace," she would say. Everything sounded so thrilling, you felt like your stories should be equally exciting. So, made them up. Now, at the ripe old age of 47, I prefer to look at each day as an adventure. This is why it was so nice to meet Albert in the new picture book by Marty Kelley.

In Kelley's, Albert's Almost Amazing Adventure, Albert is one of those rare individuals who likes the day to day normal things that happen. He takes pleasure in having made a friend or watching someone eat a hot dog with mustard. So, when he comes back from a trip to Maine, he can't wait to share these things with his friends. As he's sh…

Respecting Differences

My daughter Annie and I read together quite a bit. About six months ago, we read Ann M. Martin's Main Street #1: Welcome to Camden Falls. In the beginning, Annie was sad because the girls lose their parents in a car accident which is like her worst fear. As the book moved forward we both began to fall in love with the characters. Annie was interested in how everyone in the book reacted to a character named Robbie, a sixteen year old boy with Down Syndrome. We stopped and did a little research, talking about what Down Syndrome is and how people with Down Syndrome might be different from us. Annie loved how a couple of the girls in the book were fiercely protective of Robbie. She kept asking me to re-read scenes where Robbie is mistreated until one of the characters steps in.
Fast forward to this weekend. Annie and I were headed on a two hour trip in the car. We stopped at the library to pick up an audiobook for the trip. Main Street #2 was available and we were both excited to hea…

The Water Castle by Megan Frazer Blakemore

The Water Castle
Megan Frazer Blakemore
illus by Jim Kay
Walker Books for Young Readers
8-12 years old

When my children were 6 and 8, we drove to Rangeley Maine for a vacation listening to Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbit. It was slow going at first. The language is more old fashioned and my kids weren't sure why the characters used poor English. I tried not to over-talk anything and let them take it where they were. Suddenly as they realized what was happening, they became mesmerized. After the audiobook, we sat and talked about living forever and what that would mean. Their discussions, as all children's do, amazed me. They know so much in such a little time lived. 
A few days ago I read The Water Castle by Megan Frazer Blakemore and was struck by the same thinking. My children recognized the theme as well. She does mention Tuck Everlasting early on, so the connection was made for us as well. In this case the fountain of youth was more of an extended better life than …


Non Fiction 10 for 10 Much of the writing and thinking we do is around writing "small moments" or "slices of life". Whatever you call it, having good mentor text for different kinds of families and people can be so important. When kids read that differences can be interesting to learn about, they often feel more free to write about who they really are.

The War that Saved my Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Three years ago, high in the mountains in Maine I stayed up until 4:15 in the morning because I couldn't put down Kirby Larson's Hattie Big Sky. I was so absorbed in my reading that the world ceased to exist for a while. I was that reader growing up. I was the one who always said, "Just one more chapter." Hattie Big Sky had all the pieces I craved in a story. There was a strong girl character and good historical information to learn and excellent writing. Interestingly enough though, I tend to fall in love with supporting characters. As I've mentioned before I adored Vola in Pax and in Hattie Big Sky I found Perilee to be so intriguing.
This weekend I dropped everything and read Brubaker Bradley's The War that Saved my Life. I was racing merrily along in the book, when my eight-year-old daughter Annie decided she wanted to hear it. So, I read the rest aloud to her. We stayed in our pajamas all day on Sunday tucked between the sheets, stopping only to use the…

The Order of the Trees by Katy Farber

As long as I have been reading, I have been drawn to stories about women  (and girls) who did things on their own. I read everything I could get my hands on. There was The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Island of the Blue Dolphins, and Anastasia Krupnik.Then later, there was Maiden Voyage by Tania Aebi about an 18 year old girl who sails around the world alone except for her cat. But the book I kept thinking about while reading Katy Farber's The Order of the Trees was The Legacy of Luna by Julia Butterfly Hill who climbs a 1,000 year old Redwood tree in Northern California and lives there for more than two years! I never wanted to live in a tree, but there is nothing more appealing than passion and care for the way one chooses to live one's life.
In The Order of the Trees, Farber crafts a mysterious story of a baby found at the base of an old growth tree. The man and woman who find her, adopt her and name her Cedar. The rest of this middle grade book centers on Cedar's sixth gra…

Poetry Journaling

It is my pleasure to host this week's Poetry Friday. I encourage you to visit the blogs of those who have posted, read their poetry, and connect with them through your comments.
Last year I put a bright red hummingbird feeder outside my screened-in front porch. "How will the hummingbirds know how to find it?" my husband asked. I shrugged my shoulders. I was neither a gardener nor a birder yet, but I had my hopes. Not ten minutes after, I heard a rustle and looked up from my journal to find a miracle. A tiny green bird was drinking from my new feeder. I felt like I was watching a fairy slip through a secret door on the side of my house.

A few weeks later, a teacher friend came to observe my classroom. As a gift, she brought me a book of poetry by Kristine O'Connell George. In 26 poems, Hummingbird Nest chronicles a two month period about a hummingbird nest found in a backyard patio. It is like a sneak peek inside someone'…

Pax by Sara Pennypacker

When I was in college, I bought a set of tarot cards. I wondered if they were real or if I would need to put on a magic show of sorts in order to get people to believe in them. I studied how to read a tarot card spread. As I learned, I realized that tarot cards weren't magic. They are true because all humans must go through the human experience which includes many similarities. Tarot cards represent these human experiences. First, there are four minor arcana in tarot cards which represent the elements of fire, water, air, and earth. Then, there are the major arcana cards which are stages of life that all humans have to go through. Some of these include: The Fool (freedom and adventure), The Magician (realizing potential), The High Priestess (trusting intuition), The Devil (restrictions and entrapment), and Death (the end of something).
In Sara Pennypacker's new novel, Pax, we are brought into the intimate world of 12 year old Peter and his 5 year old fox Pax as they go through…


I've been finding myself lately
   in the pages of books
   in the silence of early morning hours
   in my daily writing
   and when I listen

I had forgotten
   how each book changes me subtly
   how early morning hours bring me peace
   how writing feeds my thinking
   and to listen

I can't wait
   to study books more closely
   to make the most of every morning
   to write my one true story
   and to listen

Using Podcasts for Learning Writing

     This has been a most interesting digital week for my gifted and talented students. I've been looking for a way to engage them, lift their writing, and give them a way to share who they are with their school. After some research, I decided to teach them how to podcast. I thought it would be fun. I thought we'd learn how to do it. I didn't imagine it would be all consuming for my students. They are loving the whole process and we haven't even gotten to the product yet. I don't know if I've ever said that before. So let me say it again...      They are loving the whole process and we haven't even gotten to the product yet. 
     It occurred to me that I should document the process and that is what this post is about.
Introducing Podcasting First, I explained podcasting to my students. Then, I shared a few podcasts with them so that we could just let the words wash over us. Finally, we listened to podcasts and paused them when we wanted to s…

The Wolf Wilder By Katherine Rundell

This book is recommended for grades 4-6. As always, it is the guidance of an adult that might help make this book work for younger children as well.      When a novel is set in pre-revolutionary Russia, there is at once a contradiction of austerity and explosions of color. A quick search on google brings up:
     It is in this Russia where Katherine Rundell sets her new book The Wolf Wilder. The protagonist of the story is Feodora who lives deep in the snowy woods with her mother. The woods are cavernous and treacherous, but inside their cabin there is good food, dancing, and the joy they find with their wild animals. Here live the Wolf Wilders who take in wolves born and bred as luxury items of Russia's rich who discard them when they reveal themselves to be inappropriate as pets. Feodora's mother has raised Feo with these wolves as her siblings. She is more wolf than girl and this becomes her challenge after soldiers take her mother into custody. In order to find her mother…

Talking into Writing

I struggled with what to write this morning. My mind bounced all over the place. A slice of my younger life? A slice of my teaching life? A slice of my parenting life? There are so many slices and the writer must select one just for today. I imagine the choosing is much like “All a sculptor has to do is to take a big block of marble and just chip off all that isn’t necessary for the figure.”  So I have chipped away all that is unnecessary for you to understand today's slice.
"I just have to tell you a story about something, listen if you feel like it..." said my new friend. "I had a moment of outrage and I need to spend time venting, so I'm coming to you," said another. "It's going to be a tough day for me today, so I just wanted to check in before I head out," said the third.
Recently three women and I decided to create a Voxer group about our writing. I refer to it as my writing group when my husband asks why my Voxer seems to be ringing all the…

Gifted Writers

I have an intimate group of four gifted writers twice a week. We share who we are and write about it. Then we share again and help each other write what we really meant. It's one of the joys of my week, this group. They are shyly starting to trust that I really do want to start where they are and move them to where they want to be. They asked me what the rules of their writing were today and when I told them there were not rules except that it was a true story about themselves. There was a palpable sigh, then one of the girls said, "It's never like that anymore. I miss writing."

"But you write every day," I said.

"We have so many rules and we are supposed to use the same transitional words," she explained. "It's like they want 25 essays about the exact same thing. Who wants to read that?"

I couldn't disagree with her logic. No matter how much we teachers say we are trying to inject life into their writing or follow the researched…