Monthly Archives: March 2014

Building Bridges: IRC 2014 Recap

The dates of March 13-15, 2014 are days that will stay with me for a long time. I heard many featured speakers and authors, and I took something away from each session. Actually, I took a lot away from each session.  Here are some of the highlights of my time there:

One of the first sectionals I attended was with Steph Harvey, about thinking and intensive learning in grades K-2. She spoke about how our mission is to move information to knowledge in students, and the big key step in between information and knowledge is the process of thinking. She shared that our students need to be thinking intensive readers, listeners and viewers. In whatever students are doing, they need to be thinking about it. 

I have heard so many great things about Dick Allington, that I put his sectional down as a “must-do”— and it was fantastic. He shared his findings in research that throwing harder texts at students is not going to increase success or motivation. If we expect readers to be successful, we must make sure they are engaged in a large volume of texts. Spot on, and very straightforward about key issues. 

After Mary Pope Osborne’s luncheon, I went to a sectional by the great nonfiction writer, Nic Bishop. Did you know that most of his book’s photographs are shot within the walls of his home? He brings in animals (like snakes) and recreates their environment, often spending days establishing a shot that is just right, and then often waiting several more days for the animal to do the right thing. It was so interesting. I already loved his informational texts, but I appreciate them on a completely different level now.

Of course, the day couldn’t slip away without attending a session lead by Dr. Maria Walther. If you are an elementary teacher and aren’t familiar with her books, do yourself a favor and invest in them. She is able to connect texts in so many different ways and I appreciated every idea she shared in her sectional.

A special feature of IRC is the late night “Hear The Authors Read” sponsored by Anderson’s Bookshop. It was a treat. Dan Gutman informed us his publisher asked him to write picture books, and so he wrote a rhyming book, Rappy The Raptor, which is about a raptor who raps. Dan read the whole book for us, and it was great and had everyone laughing. Look for this book in 2015. 

Aaron Reynolds read from a new graphic novel he is working on called Inventing Mongo. Another story that kept the audience laughing. And the audience did not stop laughing when Candace Fleming read from her new series about a 5th grade boy (no title yet). Mary Pope Osborne shared that she is writing books for a little bit older students that are longer, and she shared an excerpt. Jack and Annie are older and go back to WWII. 

The next day I had the pleasure of hearing Tim Rasinski, who shared many great vocabulary and spelling strategies, and I heard Jan Richardson twice, who shared many fantastic guided reading strategies. The areas I felt I was lacking in were so well covered by these two experts!

I also was awarded with the K-5 State of IL Reading Teacher of the Year. I was so blessed to have Eric Rohmann, Candy Fleming, and Maria Walther as my special guests. It was also so great to have Debbie Diller as the keynote speaker- she was inspiring. 




I have been a huge PETE THE CAT fan since its beginning. I think it is so great for young readers and highly engaging. So, it was so awesome to sit in on his sectional. We sang, we rocked out, we danced, and we celebrated literacy. Most exciting was singing some of his new songs from his new books, the NUTHOUSE series, including “Polka Dot Pants”- it might be a year or two before we see that title come out, but it will be well worth the wait. 


I didn’t get to attend Becky Anderson’s sectional about her favorite new books, but I did browse the shelves (of which there were many) which contained the titles, and I scored a copy of Mac Barnett’s newest, PRESIDENT TAFT IS STUCK IN THE BATH. This one is sure to be a winner. It comes out next week on March 25.


Saturday morning I woke up early to attend a breakfast where Nancie Atwell delivered the keynote- I could not stop tweeting her pieces of wisdom. She had so many. Check out my Twitter archives for some very powerful pieces of wisdom.

And, lastly, it was my great honor to meet THE Jon Scieszka. I have been a huge fan, and especially appreciative of his advocacy for boys and literacy, so it was a pleasure to finally meet him. His sectional and his luncheon speech were both hysterical and it was so great to hear the voice behind his crazy books.Image

I returned home full of new ideas- with a full mind and a full heart. It was so great to connect and build bridges in so many different directions. Truly a great and inspiring conference.




Celebration of Six

I’ve felt kind of down in a slum lately, but today as the sun appeared and the temperatures began to rise, I realized there’s a lot to celebrate today.


1. I think we are seeing a peek of spring… and that means more sunshine, warmer temperatures, and chances for me to exercise outside and get in good shape. It is on walks that I clear my head, do my thinking, get new ideas, and pray. I can’t wait until all of the slush is cleared and dried up.


2. I am almost done with a manuscript for a children’s picture book I have been writing. And… I have a friend who is going to illustrate it! Who knows where this will go….. nowhere… or somewhere… Either way, it’s something I’ve been wanting to do for a while, and even if it is just published independently, it will be a dream come true.


3. Special Guests. This Friday, I am receiving the 2014 State of Illinois Outstanding Reading Teacher of the Year K-5 award. My special guests in lieu of my family will be two of my outstanding author/illustrator friends, Candy Fleming and Eric Rohmann, and also one of my reading mentors, Dr. Maria Walther. I am so honored that they are joining me for the special event, as I am so far away from my family.

Image4. Planning is underway for the 2014 Children’s Literacy Festival I direct at our school, which began last year. I hope to be able to reveal all of the authors/illustrators planning to come SOON, but for now, I am happy….no, thrilled, that Peter Brown is going to join us. Peter’s books are outstanding and I know the children who attend are going to be inspired by his presentations. We are looking at November 6, 2014!



5. Report Cards…. are done! Friday marked the end of our third quarter, which means we have entered the final quarter for the year. Can it be? Already? I feel like I am just getting started with all of the wonderful students in first grade this year. It has been fun and enjoyable to see them grow and develop in the past months I’ve been fortunate enough to spend with them. Here’s to a great last 8 weeks jam-packed with reading and learning.

Image6. Spring break is two weeks away. I am looking forward to being with my family in Iowa, and friends in Nebraska, whom I’ll split my time between. I don’t get to see either of them often enough, so it will be a week of relaxing, visiting, and of course, reading.

It’s easy to get out of a slum when you look at what you can celebrate! What are you celebrating?




Let It Soar

When I opened today’s box of newly released books, I found imagination was a trend among the books. A very powerful book that was released today was written by Toni Morrison and Slade Morrison, illustrated by Shadra Strickland. The book is  Please, Louise.


I was kind of feeling depressed as I read through the beginning of the book. Louise is sad and lonely in a big world. The sky is gray and it begins to rain. But the narrator begs Louise to look beyond the world. The narrator is suggesting that there’s more waiting for her– beyond the trees, the street, junkyard, and an old house. 

And then… Louise steps into the library. The narrator introduces the library as “A shelter from any storm. In this place you are never alone.” 

Louise takes the plunge into books, and then the narrator says my favorite line of the whole book,

“Imagination is an open door.
Step in here and let it soar.”

Suddenly, the colors come alive. Louise forgets her fear and sadness. She has found a door to new places- new adventures- new people- new things.

And Louise proudly takes her books home for more. 

Imagination is something we as teachers promote and encourage, but sometimes our practices don’t align with that goal in mind. There are good things about sites like Pinterest, but those places also provide many activities which allow little imagination among children.

Cutting out pieces so a child can assemble a cute duck to hang on the wall leaves no room for imagination. When 26 ducks are hanging on the wall and they all look alike because they were all made from the same pieces, how do you tell whose is whose? 

We need to provide times, materials, and opportunities for children’s imaginations to soar.

Also included in this book box was an autobiography of sorts by Lois Ehlert.



There is so much to love about this book. Lois Ehlert starts off by saying,

“When I was little, I read all the books on the library shelf, and I thought maybe someday I could make a book.”

Lois says that she was fortunate enough to live with creative parents who worked with her hands- and provided her materials so she could make art. She knew what she was working on wasn’t a book overnight, and another quote I love says,

“Everyone needs time to develop their dreams. An egg in the nest doesn’t become a bird overnight.”

Lois goes on to show us how she finds art in the ordinary. How she uses her imagination to create new things. Everything from crab apples from a tree near her grocery store that she used for a cat’s nose to black locust seedpods that she found in a park that she used as mouse tails. 

Lois Ehlert didn’t learn to become a great artist- writer and illustrator- from cookie cutter Pinterest projects. She used her imagination. She let it soar. She read, and read some more- every book on the shelf to be exact.

Another book that was not released today, but is new and was included in my box, is Lou Berger’s Dream Dog. There is no need for me to review this book- Margie has already done so wonderfully at Librarian’s Quest. Please check it out there, and check out this book about a boy who uses his imagination which eventually leads to a dream come true.


Children need so many opportunities to use their imagination. Let them. The best lessons are the ones you can’t plan. Children need it. Let them read. Let them enjoy. Let them soar.