Monthly Archives: January 2014

From Then to Now

True confession time: I haven’t always been a children’s literature fanatic (though, I’ve always been a reader). I haven’t even always wanted to be a teacher. My journey has been long, and that’s another story for another time. (And a side: I wouldn’t change anything about the last 7 years of my life.)

During my junior year of college, I took Children’s Literature, and that’s when the magic happened. This was in fall semester. My professor, Dr. Serck, had a tremendous influence on me. We talked a lot the Caldecott and Newbery winners in class, and that was my first true appreciation of some of the winning titles.

In January, the class was over, but I remember running into Dr. Serck in the education building the day the 2010 awards were announced (When You Reach Me & The Lion and the Mouse). Dr. Serck had shown us The Lion and the Mouse in the Fall, but I immediately went to get my hands on When You Reach Me. This was the first time I was truly excited about a Newbery winner.

My excitement built with each passing year, but I never got excited enough to watch the ceremony. Until this year. Today. This morning.

This is the first year I’ve gotten to go through a complete year of literature with students (in two different semesters with two different groups). I felt like I was “on top of it” as best as I could be through the year and I really had a feeling in my heart of what I thought some of the best books were. In years past, I usually hadn’t heard of some of the winning titles. As a young teacher, I just couldn’t keep up with it all. It’s getting easier to now, however.

When I found out the awards were at 7 AM Central time, I wasn’t sure how I was going to handle watching them. I know last year many teachers watched the announcements live with their classes. Teachers have to be at school at 7:30 AM, and students arrive beginning at 7:45 AM, so at best, I figured we could maybe catch the Caldecott announcements together and celebrate if they were any books we had shared together.

But, school was cancelled today due to frigid temperatures, high winds, and blowing snow. So, I planned to set my alarm for 7 AM to tune in live.

What a great experience! Through Twitter, I could feel all the anticipation built up of those also tuning in. Though we are scattered across the country, it felt like we were all together watching the awards.

I was celebrating when Mo Willems and Kevin Henkes won Theodore Giesel honor awards. I cheered when Aaron Becker, Molly Idle, and David Wiesner took the Caldecott honors, and when Brian Floca’s Locomotive took the medal.

I became very acquainted with Kevin Henkes this past year, and met Molly Idle. I also met David Wiesner the year before. I was celebrating as if some of my dear friends had won.



Kevin Henkes and I.



Molly Idle and I.



David Wiesner and I.

And then the Newbery. I was so thrilled that The Year of Billy Miller got an honor, and screamed when Paperboy won an honor. Two of my favorite books from the year. Paperboy may be one of the best books that I have ever read. I stayed up til 3 AM reading it, and read the whole thing in one night.

I have to ashamedly admit that I have not read Flora and Ulysses.  I had it on the day it was released, and was eager to read it, but I loaned it to the 6-8 ELA teacher at my school to read, and she had not yet given it back. (I e-mailed her this morning and she said it’s sitting on her desk– so whenever we get back to school, you can guarantee it will be my next read).

So much about my life as a reader has changed since 2010. Why? What’s different between then and now?

The books. It’s all about the books. Each time I read a new one, it changes me and I need to read another— and the cycle moves on. The more I read, the more I want to read. And the more I want to celebrate the good books that are in my hands.

Congratulations to all winners- so well deserved. And to those who didn’t win- thank you, and congratulations.  You’ll still be celebrated. Read. Recognized. You’ll still change readers’ lives.

And now, on to reading this year’s books. I can hardly wait for what is in store.

Book Brawls

My introduction of a graphic novel bin into the classroom this week has been the inspiration for this post. We had a lot of book fights in our classroom this week.

A book brawl, in my terms, is a desire to read a new book when someone else is already reading it. There’s no harm done, no names called, no punches thrown. It’s holding up a book and hearing two or more individuals say “I want that book!” … without any fighting going on. 

Some might say that book brawls could be avoided by clearly laying out rules and regulations. Delivering lessons about fairness and sharing. 

But, I say that book brawls are good. 

Graphic novels haven’t been the first things that have caused book brawls in my room. I witnessed them three years ago when I did my student teaching- I would read a book and leave it on the read aloud shelf in my co-op’s classroom. Students would race to see who could get the book the fastest.

They’ve continued in my own classroom- each time I get in a new order of books, there’s always tension in my room to see who will get the book first the moment we have any free minute to read. 

Donalyn Miller addresses this in Reading in The Wild . She holds lotteries for new books so each of her classes gets a fair shot at getting the new books. She also uses waiting lists.

I draw sticks when it’s time for independent reading, and if you happen to be drawn and your eye is on one or more of our new books, you’re in luck. Of course, once you’ve read it, you have the chance to share it and pass it on.

It’s never happened that I have had a student say “I have never gotten to read (such and such) a book!” The students respect their reading relationships with their classmates and they want others to experience an enjoyable book, so books get passed on and on, and sometimes around for a second or third round if they’re what a reader is craving. 

Some students try to hide the books in their desks or baskets if they really don’t want to give it up. Usually, other students have their eyes on the book and they will ask their turn for the treasure.

I love book release days and days when I get in new book orders as much as the students. 

In a nightmare world, I would hold up the new books and students would show zero interest in what I was showcasing.

But in my classroom, and many others, students anticipate the new book arrivals and can’t wait to see what they might be reading next. 

Book brawls show us that students desire to read. That they are craving something new. That they are interested in what we have to share. All eyes are on the books as I pull them out of a Scholastic or Amazon box.

Book brawls build community. Readers get to talk about what they want to read next, recommend new titles, and practice sharing and loaning to other readers.

When I put the books in my classroom, I don’t say they’re MY books. I tell students that they’re our books and we get to share them with each other. 

Book brawls indicate that we must be doing something right in regards to reading. Students will do anything to get their hands on a new book. In some places, that’s not the case.

When Tedd Arnold’s newest non-fiction Fly Guy came out last week, I new it was going to be a hot read. There were a few students I knew would go nuts for it, but in all fairness, I avoided putting it on anyone’s desk. I did the usual routine of drawing readers as they went to select books. I was expecting disappointment when the first reader got their hands on it, but instead, there was excitement. 

“Oooh! You are lucky!”

I sit right next to her so I will get a sneak preview!”

Now she can tell me what it’s all about before I read it!”

That book has been passed around ever since, and will remain a staple in the room until the next edition of Fly Guy comes out. 

I have a Scholastic box of brand new books I got at the end of the week. I have them stamped and sorted, and I’m ready for the book brawls when I put the books into the hands of excited readers on Tuesday. 

I Want to Go Where He Is Going

As I was leaving school today, the sky was getting dark and the winds were blowing hard. I headed down the roads, and came to a stop at a stoplight. I noticed something about the truck up ahead- it seemed like it was a maintenance vehicle, something a plumber or electrician might drive while on duty. It wasn’t the truck that caught my attention- it was what was etched in the metal grates on the back:


Screen shot 2014-01-16 at 8.26.22 PM

I almost thought to quickly take a picture before the light changed, but I remembered the new Illinois law about cell phones and vehicles, so I decided against it. But I got to thinking- what kind of job does this man do? I kind of wanted to follow him to find out more- where is he going? What kind of job does this guy have? I had a desire to know more.

I came home and researched it, and I guess READING is a truck manufacturer of some sort. Why they call themselves READING remains a mystery. A pretty good name if you ask me- I kind of want to drive one of their trucks.

But, my desire to follow him got me thinking about what our lives are like as readers and what we want our students lives as readers to be- a desire to always want to go where he/she is going.

When I hop on Twitter and I read about someone’s latest adventure in a book, I immediately think “I want to go there too.” And so I get my hands on a book.

When I read a book preview and get to think about what the possibilities are for taking a ride in someone else’s life for a while, I want to go where the characters are going.

Isn’t that why we read fiction? Because we want to go where someone else has dared to dream about or has been fortunate or unfortunate enough to experience?

We get to put on masks, dive into a story, see the worlds of others in ways we couldn’t experience in real life. It’s a way to get away from whatever might be going on in our real lives and a chance to experience life from another point of view.

Sometimes we want to go where someone else is going because we want to know we’re not alone. Sometimes we want to go to have fun. Sometimes we want to go to learn something new.

We all have our reasons for wanting to plunge headfirst into the world of a book. Whatever they may be, it’s our right as a reader.

And it’s our goal as educators to help students understand this special bond they can develop with reading. We want them to see that it’s possible to leave their own world. That readers read to go where someone else is going- not because a teacher asked them to, assigned them to, or because they had to record minutes on a log.

Every reading experience we share with students invites them to go where we have gone and where our favorite characters have gone. As long as the reader can open the book and make meaning of the words, or listen to someone else tell the story, there are no barriers to stop them from going down those roads.


I use Amazon Prime because with my subscription, it guarantees that my books will be delivered to my doorstep on their release date if I pre-order them. Amazon reassures me of this by including the GUARANTEED delivery date every time I check out. For the most part, Amazon has come through on their guarantees.

But not today. I was eagerly awaiting Bob Shea’s newest picture book, Buddy and the Bunnies: Don’t Play With Your Food! and Laurie Halse Anderson’s newest novel, The Impossible Knife of Memory. I was glad to see the UPS man pull up and drop a package at my door. Unfortunately, it did not contain the two books I was waiting for. 

I did some investigating, and I don’t really know where my books are. Shea’s book has shipped and is in transit, and Laurie Halse Anderson’s book is marked as “Shipping Soon.” I imagine the frigid temperatures and Arctic blast have something to do with the delay. And I understand. 

I imagine when the day ends, Amazon will send me an apology e-mail with a new estimated arrival date, and if I respond, they’ll make up for their shortcomings by offering me a 2 month extension on my Amazon Prime membership, though that’s not necessary. Like I said, I understand. I am not mad, just disappointed. 

But then I got to thinking- why am I disappointed? I scan the piles and stacks of books that are scattered across my apartment that are still waiting to be read. It’s not as if I had completely run out of reading materials. I have learned that I will always, always have books to read. For a book lover, I don’t think there’s ever any getting ahead. There will always be TBR piles and lists. As more and more books are released, the lists get longer. It’s so hard to get ahead when trying to balance a work schedule, maintain friendships, keep up on coursework, and all else that I (we) have to do. 

It’s nice to have the books here on the day they are released, but even if they don’t make it, I know I am guaranteed another book to read.

When we keep a healthy stash of books, we are always guaranteed that there will be something to read. And when we have a library nearby, we are also guaranteed that we will have access to something we haven’t read.

There are books at our fingertips. The books usually guarantee that they will pull us in and take us for a ride. A guarantee to a glimpse into someone else’s life. A guarantee that they will change us. No matter what book I have read, I am never the same person I was before I read the book. (even picture books). The books shake my schema up and add new understanding and ideas to what I already know. A guarantee that we will learn something new about ourselves or someone or something else. 

I don’t know when those two books will arrive, but I’m not worried. They will get here when they get here. Until then, I am guaranteed that I have plenty of books to keep my mind occupied. I am guaranteed that I have plenty of other books to share with my first grade students. I am thankful for that. 

Through The Grapevine: 2014 Picture Books

I wish that there was a finalized list from publishers of all the great books we can look forward to this year. (Though, maybe there is and I don’t know about it). However, through the grapevine, I’ve heard about several titles that I’m looking forward to reading and sharing with students in 2014. I’m sure there are many, many other great titles that are slated to be released, but I don’t know about them yet. If you know of some, please share! Also, feel free to share any 2014 MG/YA novels!

(these are in no particular order, and some do not have covers yet).

What’s Your Favorite Animal by Eric Carle and a collaboration of some of my favorite authors and illustrators. To be released January 21

Awake, Beautiful Child by Amy Krouse Rosenthal to be released May 15.

Uni The Unicorn by Amy Krouse Rosenthal- to be released in Fall.

The Farmer and the Clown – A wordless picture book by Marla Frazee. To be released in Fall!

Nelly Gnu and Daddy Too by Anna Dewdney to be released May 6. Anna breaks away from the Llama/Mama relationship and focuses on Nelly’s relationship with her dad.

The Pigeon Needs A Bath by Mo Willems to be released April 1.

My Teacher Is A Monster! (No, I Am Not.) by Peter Brown to be released July 1.

Eye to Eye by Steve Jenkins  to be released April 1.

Skippyjon Jones: Snow What by Judy Schachner to be released in the Fall.

Peanut Butter and Jellyfish by Jarrett Krosoczka to be released April 8.

Stella’s Starliner by Rosemary Wells to be released March 25.

Some Bugs by Angela DiTerlizzi to be released March 4.

President Taft is Stuck in the Bath by Mac Barnett to be released March 25.

A Pet For Fly Guy by Tedd Arnold to be released April 29.

Deep Down

My parents visited me in IL in my apartment over Thanksgiving, and my mother (who has always told me I have too many books), after making a thorough inspection of the place, determined that I would be getting bookshelves for Christmas.

I couldn’t argue. I have books in every nook and cranny of my place. They’ve overrun my shelves and my storage containers. They hog the places in my closet where other belongings really belong. I had to shuffle some clothes around in my dresser to vacate two drawers in order to accommodate important books. And when those spaces quickly became full, I had no choice but to begin keeping piles of books on my floor spaces.

New bookshelves seemed like an ideal gift. Why didn’t I think of that? 

And so, we carefully picked some out on the internet to be shipped to my place. And on Christmas Eve, my mom surprised me with a small used bookcase she got at a furniture store and repainted. I knew just the places for them. 

When I returned to IL from being at home in IA, I shuffled some things around and assembled the beastly set of shelves we had ordered. I rearranged some books so I could put all of my autographed picture books on the small set of shelves. 

See for yourself:


I probably don’t have to tell you that both sets of shelves were immediately filled and stacks of books still remain on the floor. 

A few people have suggested that I might be a book hoarder. 

But I think there is a fine line between book hoarder and book lover/reading teacher.

You see, I believe a book hoarder collects books just to be collecting books. Buying books for the sake of buying books. Accumulating them just because.

That’s definitely not me.

I think long and hard before I buy a book.

If it’s a picture book, I preview it. I think about which ones of my students would like it. I think about its read aloud potential. I think about how it could help my students grow as readers.

If it’s a middle grade novel/young adult book, I also preview it. These books are for me, so I decide if I’ll like it, and determine how it will challenge me as a reader and a human being. I read young adult books- not adult fiction. I think young adult literature is far more interesting than adult fiction.

And if it’s a professional book, I also preview it to decide how it will maximize my teaching potential and how it could change my classroom and my teaching methods.

I don’t buy books to have them. I buy them to use them. For my students. For me. Each one of them was selected with much thought and consideration. And when they’re in my possession, I wring them out and utilize each and every word and letter to its potential. I share the ones for my students again and again, and I savor the words of the books that are for me. 

You can call me a hoarder. A collector. A nut. Someone who is obsessed. A fanatic. You can even tell me I have too many books. 

But really, deep down, I’m just someone who loves reading and who wants to share that love. 

A Little Bit Better


While I wanted to make new year’s reading resolutions with my students, I didn’t feel like I was ready to today. I’m not talking about the kinds of resolutions like “I will read 40 books this year.” I wanted them to set goals- what are you having trouble with as a reader? And, how will you get better? Then I realized that I ask these sorts of questions at the end of almost every individual conference I do with the students. 

So I left that subject aside and we dug in to one of our read alouds for today- Squirrel’s New Year’s Resolution by Pat Miller. It’s a story about a squirrel who learns what a resolution is and goes around to different animals trying to figure out what her resolution should be. Meanwhile, with each animal she encounters, she finds a way to help them, and at the end of the book the animals help Squirrel realize that her resolution is helping other people. 

Within the first page of the book, I said “Who can tell us what a resolution is?” The group was off to a good start, but we used the book to help us figure out a clearer definition. We then started talking about what kinds of resolutions people make- losing weight, helping more people, saving more money, etc.

And then one of my boys chimed in, “Shouldn’t we all make a resolution to read more?” What struck me was not the fact that he wanted to make a reading resolution, but more so that he started it with the words, “Shouldn’t we all?” 

I had my usual “probe” ready- and I said “And tell me why you think that?”

And he went on to explain that the more you read the more you get at it, and if everyone made a resolution to read more, they’d all get a little bit better.

That’s pretty profound for a first grader. It’s something I’ve been drilling in their heads for the last four and a half months. 

As Jim Trelease says- the cycle of pleasure reading is like biking- the more you do it, the better you get at it. The better you get at it, the more you like it. The more you like it, the more you do it. And so on.

We won’t set formal reading resolutions- we’ll just keep encouraging each other to read more. And as we read more, we’ll get better at it. And the better we get at it, the more pleasurable it will become. 

It offers its own rewards. 

So instead of resolutions, we will together as a class work on encouraging each other to do it more- offering recommendations, sharing books, and the like.  We’re starting the cycle off right. And I hope that if the cycle is strong enough, it will move them far beyond first grade.