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Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Tag Archives | Reading Aloud

Pinkerton & Friends

I had a “Why in the world….?” moment the other day. It was unexpected and a little strange and it was this: When I imagine picture books that I am writing and/or thinking about writing, I imagine very specific illustrations. From a very specific illustrator. Even though I admire the work of many illustrators. (I admire this one, too, of course.) But always, always, in my first imagining, I “picture” the illustrations by Steven Kellogg.

I love Mr. Kellogg’s work. But I love the work of a lot of illustrators and would aspire and hope for many (very different) illustrators to make art to help tell my stories. I can switch my imagination to other illustrators if I think about it, but without thinking about it…it’s Steven Kellogg’s art. When this realization came to me I pulled some of his books off the shelves in my office with the question: Why is Kellogg my default, the first one whose work I imagine?

All I can think is that the years 1999-2002 were what I think of as The Pinkerton Years. You might think it strange that I can pinpoint the years, but I know we were less involved with Pinkerton (and by that I mean not reading Pinkerton stories on a daily basis) by the time Darling Daughter came along late in 2002. Prior to that, we could hardly leave the house without a Pinkerton story with us.

These were also the first of the allergy/asthma years—#1 Son was critically ill too much of the time, and with his doctors we were struggling to figure out what was causing such severe reactions. The only clear allergens were pets, and he came to understand first that he could not be around puppies or kitties, or anything else furry and cuddly and fun. A terrible sentence, of course, when you are three and wheezy.

So we read a lot of books about pets, and before we read Ribsy and Because of Winn-Dixie we read Pinkerton stories. A lot of Pinkerton stories. #1 Son adored Pinkerton. Pinkerton, a Great Dane, is possibly the most hilarious dog to ever be featured in a book—he is huge and ungainly and always getting himself in a fix. His expressions, his “knees and elbows,” his giant floppiness, and his curiosity and giant heart make him quite a character.

Very quickly we learned to spot Kellogg illustrations from across the library/bookstore, and pretty much wherever there are Kellogg pictures, there are animals. Not just great danes, but boa constrictors, mice, cats, pigs, ducks in a row, horses, spaniels….. And wherever there are animals, there’s a fair amount of chaos—at least in a Kellogg book. (Articles and interviews suggest he has lived the fun and chaos in a home we could not have entered and lived to breathe—lots of pets!)

The detail in Kellogg’s illustrations is tremendous, the hilarity aptly conveyed, and the sweetness and rollercoaster high emotions of kids and Great Danes alike comes alive on the page. I could read stacks of the books in one sitting to my wheezing boy. We used them to get through nebulizer treatments, and to “push fluids,” and to encourage rest for a kid all amped up on steroids. They were magical and we poured over the illustrations long after the reading of the story was done. The medicine could go down without much fuss as long as Pinkerton was along.

Those were exhausting, worried years, and all I can think is that I somehow absorbed Steven Kellogg’s art in my sleep-deprived anxious state…and it’s now in my bones. Thank you, Mr. Kellogg, for your stories, your art, and your presence in our family’s life. You are the default in my imagination and I’m grateful.

 

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Thomas the Tank Engine: The Complete Collection

thomas-200pixOnce upon a time, we had a little boy who was completely enthralled with all things having to do with trains. When he fell for Thomas the Tank Engine, he fell hard, and he was not yet two. We have an extensive collection of Thomas and friends (thanks to the grandparents) complete with a living room’s miles worth of track, corresponding stations, bridges, and assorted other props. That boy is now in engineering school, and I can’t help but think that Thomas and friends (as well as Legos® and blocks etc.) had a hand to play in his education/career choice.

It had been awhile since the trains roamed the living room for days on end, when my daughter brought her babysitting charges over last spring. They could not believe their eyes when they saw our train paraphernalia—I’d not met such Thomas fans in nearly fifteen years. The 8×10 oval rug was soon transformed into a set for Thomas adventures and stories—both those familiar from books and shows and those made up on the spot.

I now have several young friends in storytime who love Thomas. Slowly I’m remembering the names and personalities of the train cars. It gives me an “in” with these preschoolers, I think—I speak their language. I know about cheeky Percy and wise Edward. I know that Thomas has the number one on his engine, whereas Edward has a two—although both are blue, it’s a beginner’s mistake to mix them up. I know that James, the Red Engine, can be a real pain at times—he’s a bit of a snob and a little too proud of his red paint. I know Annie and Clarabelle are Thomas’ friends (his coach cars, actually).

I took the giant Thomas the Tank Engine: The Complete Collection off my shelves the other day. It instantly made me sleepy. We read Thomas stories after lunch, before nap, with a great regularity. They are not terribly sophisticated stories. They tend to be more than a bit preachy. And there’s an astonishing level of detail about train bits and their workings. I was always half asleep by the time we were finished reading.

I think of the Thomas stories with the same sort of fondness with which I think of Mr. Rogers—gentle, rhythmic, sleep-inducing, post-lunch wonderfulness. And, my goodness, do I love the very serious conversations to be had when dimpled little hands hold up the cars and tell me all about the parts and personalities of each of the trains and trucks and diggers. These conversations don’t make me sleepy at all, though they do make me nostalgic for the days when it took a whole morning’s worth of negotiation to get my boy to move Thomas and his friends so I could vacuum. Vacuuming days were hard and sad days, generally reclaimed only with an extra story from The Complete Collection. And then a nap…for all concerned.

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Kingfisher Treasuries

unknown-3There was a time—although it seems like it’s becoming a tiny dot in the rearview mirror—in which one birthday child or the other received the birthday-appropriate book in the Kingfisher Treasury series of Stories for Five/Six/Seven/Eight Year Olds. Those beloved paperbacks reside on my office shelves now, but it was not so long ago that they were opened on the appropriate birthday to big smiles—there was something sort of milestone-like about receiving them. Near as I can tell from the interwebs, we’re only missing Stories for Four Year Olds—I just might have to complete our collection, because I’ve pretty well lost myself this morning while looking at these books again.

They are humble paperbacks—I don’t believe they were ever published as hardbacks, let alone with gilded pages and embossed covers. But the stories between the colorful covers are of that caliber, certainly. Chosen by Edward and Nancy Blishen, these stories are from the likes of Rudyard Kipling, Beverly Cleary, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Arthur Ransome, and Astrid Lindgren. Others, too—in addition to several folk tales retold by the compilers.

What I loved about these stories when we were reading them aloud was that they were from all over the world—many cultures and places represented. We often were looking at the globe after reading from these books. Some are traditional stories, some contemporary—an excellent mix, really. Short stories for kids—loads better than the dreary ones in grade-specific readers.

What my kids loved, curiously, was how the illustrations were tucked into the text. Every page has a clever black and white drawing—something drawn around the story’s title or running along the bottom of the page, a character sketch set in the paragraph indent, a crowd scene spanning the spread between the top and bottom paragraphs on both pages, a border of leaves or animals—very detailed, even if small. You don’t see illustration placement like these much. The books have a unique feel because of them.

unknown-4The illustrators for each book are different, but all are wonderful, and because everything is printed simply in black and white and creatively spaced on the pages the books look like they go together. Some of the drawings are sweet, cute—some you can imagine as fine art. Which is what makes me wish these had been produced in a larger hard-back version with color plates, etc.

But the fact is, the paperback trim size made it easy to slip these in my purse, tuck in the glove compartment, pack for the plane ride, etc. A lot of reading happened on the fly during those early elementary years—these books were some of the easiest to carry around and pull out at the doctor’s office, the sibling’s game, and the bus stop.

I thought about putting them out in our little free library in the front yard, but I’ve decided to keep them on my shelf. Maybe tuck one in my purse for when I’m sitting outside the high school waiting for my girl, or reading outside the dressing room while she tries on clothes. The days are flying by—I’m glad I have books to remember the sweet earlier days, too.

Perhaps I’ll buy another set to share in the library…..

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Raymie Nightingale

rn200pixDarling Daughter and I host/participate in an occasional parent-child bookgroup for middle-grade readers and their parents. We call it Books & Bagels and we meet at the bagel shop down the street from church and nosh on bagels while talking about books. I think we can safely say the bagel aspect of things increases participation—but all the kids who come are great readers and we love talking with them and their parents about books. We’ve read many of our favorites again with this group and they’ve introduced us to some we’ve missed in the last few years of publication. (Darling Daughter is, alas, outgrowing the middle-grade genre.)

We saved the reading of Kate DiCamillo’s Raymie Nightingale for Books & Bagels. I scheduled it not having read the book, in fact, which is not usually how I do things. But DiCamillo’s books lend themselves to good discussion, I’ve found, so I was sure it would work well for us.

And it did. We talked about the heartbreak and the hope, the crazy characters and their friendships and flaws, and the unlikely events that could absolutely happen. We talked about how it was similar to some of DiCamillo’s other books and how it was different, too. Good discussion all the way around.

I noticed as we talked, however, that one of our regulars—I’ll call him Sam—seemed a bit disgruntled about the book. Sam and I have been discussing books for a long time—he reads both wisely and widely and we have introduced each other to many books over the years. He has just turned ten and he’s honest about what he thinks, though always kind. He’s been taught to speak his mind, but never in a way that would hurt someone else’s feelings—including, say, the author of the book who is not even present.

“Sam,” I said, “it looks like you have something you want to say.”

“Yeah…well,” said Sam. “It was a great book and all…. Well-written, of course. And, I mean, the friendship of Raymie and those other girls was great, I guess. And the lousy adults were interesting…. But—” He paused and looked at his Mom out of the corner of his eye.

“Go ahead, Sam,” she said. “Tell us what you really think.”

“It’s just that…I mean it’s fine…but it’s just…it’s such a girlie book.” He looked both relieved and ashamed at having confessed this. “Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course.”

I asked gentle clarifying questions. I’m sort of fascinated and appalled by the idea of “girl books” and “boy books.” I want to vehemently argue that those categories don’t exist…or shouldn’t exist…or must not be allowed to exist…or something like that. But before me was a reader insisting that he understood this was a great book, but it just had way too much “girl stuff” in it to be interesting to guys like him.

“Like what kind of girl stuff?” one of the girl readers asked.

“Batons. Barrettes. Dresses.” Sam said. He shrugged apologetically.

Other kids perked up. Right, they said. Lots of girl stuff. No boy stuff whatsoever, in fact.

I was afraid to ask what “boy stuff” they thought was missing. Instead, we talked about whether various (traditionally understood) girl and boy trappings were limited or limiting. These kids know how to have good and honest conversations around perceptions and assumptions and stereotypes. We talked about whether the character of each of the girls was “girl-only.” No, everyone agreed—they knew boys who were painfully shy/anxious, or show-offy, or stubborn, just like each of the three amigos DiCamillo conjured up. They knew both boys and girls who carried heavy loads of expectation, or family distress, or who had trouble making friends. They knew themselves what it was to feel like everything, absolutely everything, depended on them. They could identify with the book—on many levels that had nothing to do with gender. And yet…this was a girlie book—on this they all agreed, as well.

It was a wonderful discussion, really. Honest. Respectful. I thanked Sam for being brave enough to say what he thought. He wondered if Kate DiCamillo made Raymie, Beverly, and Louisiana girls because she was a girl and that’s what she knew best. I said I didn’t know, but I knew that she’d also written books that featured male characters. I told him I’d share my copy of Tiger Rising with him.

As we cleaned up the bagel and cream cheese detritus I asked if anyone could suggest a book or two for our fall Books & Bagels bookgroup. Sam eagerly bounced up and down.

“I have two to suggest!” he said. “Bridge to Terabithia and The BFG.”

Two terrific books. Two terrific books that happen to have strong girl characters. I pointed this out and Sam said, “But not only girl characters. The giant is a boy!”

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Calvin Can’t Fly

Calvin-250When I was doing storytime weekly, a book about a bookworm starling was in my regular rotation. Yes, you read that right—a Bookworm Starling. That’s exactly what Calvin (the starling) is—a bookworm. And that is his shame—his cousins call him “nerdie birdie,” “geeky beaky,” and “bookworm.” Unusual (gently derogatory) labels for a starling. Not that it deters Calvin—he mostly shrugs and turns the page.

Calvin is the only starling in his very large family who does not seem to care much about flying. (Refresh your memory on how starlings move about with this astounding video of starling murmurations.) He’s into books. In a big way. While his cousins learn to fly and chase beetles, bugs, and ants, Calvin sits and learns to read letters, words, and sentences. He dreams of adventure stories, information, and poetry. His cousins dream of insect eating and garbage picking. And although they call him by the above names, they mostly ignore him, so enraptured with flying are they.

And Calvin is just as enraptured with stories and learning. Pirates and volcanoes, dinos and planets, science and history—Calvin reads it all. He reads the entire summer, learning and absorbing everything his little starling brain can.

When the seasons begin to turn, the urgency for Calvin to learn to fly becomes apparent. And yet, he manages not to learn. This creates quite an issue, because the wind has grown cold and it is time to head south….

The entire starling family takes off, minus Calvin. They don’t get far before they turn around and come back for Calvin. He is carried in the most hilarious way, which more than excuses the unkind words previously used about his reading habits.

And as it turns out, Calvin’s reading saves them—Calvin is the unexpected hero! “Make haste!” he says, leading the entire starling family to safety. Kids love this! They love that his book-knowledge of something as obscure as hurricane safety came in handy. They all but cheer—actually, once a set of twins did cheer when I read how Calvin saved them all. And kids are further delighted when Calvin flaps his wings in happiness, jumping and hopping and dancing…and flies! At last!

When I looked up the author, Jennifer Berne, I found out there’s another Calvin book! I don’t know how I missed it. Ms. Berne and the illustrator, Keith Bendis, have told an empowering story, (without being preachy!) about the wonders and necessity of reading. Can’t wait to read Calvin’s next adventures. I’m off to find a group of kids to read to….

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Books for My Grandbaby and Me

Reading to my GrandbabyIt’s no secret that I am a big fan of books and reading. I am actually an even bigger fan of babies. I am instantly smitten. I can think of nothing better than cuddling an infant, blanketed by that new baby smell, reading to an audience of one. You can imagine how thrilled I am to announce that there’s a new baby in town! My incredible daughter-in-law and son are celebrating the joy of transitioning from loving couple to loving family and I am a first-time grandma.

A sweet, little baby boy (well actually, not so little, with a birth weight of 11 lbs. 12 oz. and length of 24”) to bounce on my knee as we create reading memories together! I’ve looked forward to sharing my passion for literacy with a precious grandbaby for a very long time. And so, with my heart full of  more love than I ever thought possible, I will settle into this esteemed and honorable role as grandma by reaching for a treasured stack of books. Carefully selected books that will begin a lifelong adventure of discovery, wonder, snuggles, and joy. Books filled with lessons for my grandbaby and me!   

Book and Lesson #1: On The Day You Were Born
Books help us celebrate and learn.

On tThe perfect first book to share with my grandbaby offers this sweet greeting: “Welcome to the spinning world… We are so glad you’ve come.” Debra Frasier’s lovely picture book will, without a doubt, become a tradition for us. The miracle of nature explains the miracle of a very special baby’s entrance into the world. Each year on the anniversary of his birth, we will marvel at the universe as it is depicted in page after page of charming nature collages. An extraordinary book to commemorate an extraordinary event in our lives!   

Book and Lesson #2: More! More! More! Said the Baby
Books help us cherish memories from the past and create new ones.

More! More! More! Said the BabyLittle Guy, Little Pumpkin and Little Bird, toddlers from More! More! More! Said the Baby, by Vera B. Williams, bring out the silliness and playful fun that are essential qualities for grandmas and grandpas. After reading this delightful story to my grandson, I will share another story, one about his own dad that I will call “Little Fish.”  Centered on the memory of an energetic, not quite two- year- old, I’ll reminisce and recall the giggles and squealing “I do gan, I do gan” as my son jumped off the dock into the lake, again and again. You can bet that each time I read this book it will be grandma who pleads for “more, more, more” tummy kisses and toe tickles!

Book and Lesson #3: Snowy Day
Books help us find new friends.

The Snowy DayIntroducing my grandson to a curious little boy named Peter will be the beginning of what I hope will be many friendships sprouting from the pages of a good book. While reading Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats, we will get to know an adventurer who loves building smiling snowmen and making snow angels. It won’t be long before my grandson and I enjoy winter days doing the same. And though he will be too young to understand the historical significance of this book (considered to be the first full color picture book featuring a child of color as the main character), it will always be a reminder to me about the importance of providing a plethora of books with diverse characters, books that offer “windows and mirrors,” books filled with friends my grandbaby has yet to meet.

Book and Lesson #4: Four Puppies
Books help us understand life and the world around us.

Four PuppiesThis grandma’s “must read to grandbaby booklist” would not be complete without the book that was my very first personal favorite. As a kindergartener, I fell in love with this classic Little Golden Book. My hope is that my grandson will delight in the antics of this rambunctious pack of pups as they learn about the changing seasons. Eventually my special reading buddy and I will talk about the wise red squirrel and the positive life lessons he passes on to his young protégés.    

Book and Lesson #5:
The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big Hungry Bear
Books help us have a little fun.

The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big Hungry BearThis delicious story by Don and Audrey Wood provides another walk down memory lane. It seems like just yesterday when my three-year old preschooler begged for another reading of this highly interactive tale. This time around, I plan to wear a pair of Groucho fuzzy nose and glasses as I read it with my grandbaby. The captivating tale that mixes a bit of fear, mystery, humor, sneakiness and, best of all, sharing with others, will likely find a spot on grandbaby’s “read it again” list!

Book and Lesson #6: The I LOVE YOU Book
Books help us express our feelings.

The I Love You BookUnconditional love is a natural phenomenon for parents and grandparents all over the world. The I Love You Book by Todd Parr describes the powerful, unwavering affection that I will forever feel for this child who has captured my heart. With bright, colorful illustrations, the message is simple: I love you whether silly, sad, scared, or brave. I love you whether sleeping or not sleeping. I love you and I always will, just the way you are!

Once Upon a Time BabyBooks for my grandbaby and me will offer a wide range of lessons on all sorts of topics. However, the greatest gift they will provide is a chance to share meaningful moments, a chance to relive fond memories, a chance to create new memories. Books for my grandbaby and me are a gift that will last a lifetime, a legacy of literacy and love, for my grandbaby and me.

Two of my favorite baby literacy gift sites:

I ordered a personalized copy of On the Day You Were Born with my grandbaby’s name printed on the cover and throughout the book.

Adorable t-shirts for my grandbaby, encouraging literacy and learning

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Cook-A-Doodle-Do!

Cook+A+Doodle+Do-260-pixI’ve got dessert on my mind—berry shortcake, to be precise. I’ve already done the strawberry shortcake during strawberry season. My raspberry bushes are producing at a rate that might call for shortcake in the near future, however. And whenever I make shortcake—or even think of it—I think of Cook-a-doodle-doo by Janet Stevens and Susan Stevens Crummel (who are sisters, I believe).

This book was An Extreme Favorite at our house through two kids—one who was already on the older end of picture books when it came out. Why the popularity? Quite simply: It’s hilarious. And sweet (no pun intended). But mostly hilarious.

Big Brown Rooster is in need of a change—no more chicken feed! No more pecking about! He remembers that his very famous great-grandmother, The Little Red Hen, penned a cookbook: The Joy of Cooking Alone by L.R. Hen. Once he finds it, he realizes his great granny cooked far more than loaves of bread. And he is hungry for the strawberry shortcake featured in the middle of the book.

Like his Great-Granny before him, Big Brown Rooster is surrounded by unhelpful friends. Dog, Cat, and Goose each take their potshots at Big Brown Rooster, but he is undeterred. He ties on his apron, ready to cook all alone, only to find three new friends: Turtle, Iguana, and Pot-bellied Pig.

“Do you three know anything about cooking?” Rooster asked.

“I can read recipes!” said Turtle.

“I can get stuff!” said Iguana.

“I can taste!” said Pig. “I am expert at tasting.”

And so the team members don hats—an apron tied around Big Brown Rooster’s head, a towel around Pig’s head, an oven mitt for Iguana, and a small pot worn baseball cap-like for turtle. The illustrations are sweet and hysterical at the same time. The mix-ups and misunderstandings are on the level of the Three Stooges crossed with Amelia Bedelia. But detailed sidebars guide a home/kid cook through the correct steps. What the friends lack in experience and skill, they make up for in exuberance and excitement—so, very much like baking with children, actually.

It’s astounding when you see what they go through, but they create a beautiful (if slightly leaning) tower of strawberry shortcake. It’s only when they try to move it to the table to enjoy together that things…slip away from them. Pot-bellied Pig takes his turn—he’s the expert taster, and positively unflummoxed by shortcake being smeared across the floor. In split second—not even a page turn—the strawberry shortcake is gone.

It is then that the previously amiable friends start to lose it. Names are called and threats are intimated (plump juicy roast pig, iguana pie, turtle soup etc.)

But wise Rooster takes command. “It doesn’t matter,” he says. “The first shortcake was just for practice.”

And so they make another. The three friends—Iguana, Pig, and Turtle—volunteer to help again, and it’s quick work the second time around. The last spread features a party of friends—including the nay-saying Dog, Cat and Goose!—enjoying strawberry shortcake. The last page features Great-Granny’s recipe for Magnificent Strawberry Shortcake.

I think I’ll make some tonight!

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Bink and Gollie

Early this morning I read Bink and Gollie books to my nieces. We were killing timeBink&Golliebook-180pix while their parents picked up the rental car for their Great American Summer Roadtrip. To say that the level of excitement was palpable is an understatement—it was a wave that nearly knocked me down when they opened their door. They talked—both of them—nonstop for an hour while we sipped our breakfast smoothies.

Mom and Dad were not back when we sucked down the final drops of smoothie, which was concerning, so anxious were they to get on the road already. I said, “Well, what can we do…that we can put down if your Mom and Dad come back in two minutes…and pick back up after your trip?”

“Books!” said one.

“YEAH—WE CAN READ BOOKS!” said the other.

“On the deck!”

“In the sunshine!”

“Let’s do it!”

And so we took Bink and Gollie with us to the sunny deck. No matter how excited these sweet girls get—and let me tell you, they were excited this morning!—they calm down instantly with a book. Their breathing changes by page two. And so we snuggled up and read, breathing deeply in the early morning sunshine.

I’d forgotten how much of the story is told in the pictures in Bink and Gollie books—and how many words are in the pictures. Labels and instructions, signs and notes, jokes and fun. Because both girls are learning to read, this works really well. I read the story itself and they read the pictures. The pictures are often filled with big words. (So is the story itself—it’s something I appreciate about Kate DiCamillo’s and Alison McGhee’s writing. They do not simplify vocabulary.) Some things we have to sound out together, but the real fun is getting the inflection right. Reading it in our Gollie voice, or like a 1940’s radio advertisement, or like a carnival barker.

Bink and Gollie are opposites in many ways—Gollie is tall and skinny, pragmaticBink&Gollie-180-pix and formal in her speech. She says things like I long for speed. And Greetings. And I beg you not to do that…. My nieces find this amusing. They are also tall and skinny, pragmatic (sometimes, anyway), and hilariously formal in their speech at times.

Bink is short and has hair sticking up all over her head. She loves bright socks and pancakes and peanut butter. No one would call my nieces short. (“We don’t have that problem,” one of them said this morning as we read about Bink ordering a Stretch-o-matic to make herself taller.) But their hair is sometimes Bink-like. And they delight in the simple things of life—including, but not limited to, socks, celebratory pancakes, and peanut butter. They also have Bink’s energy—they yammer, they jump, they zip, they climb and glide.

In short, they love both Bink and Gollie. They are Bink and Gollie—they can relate, as it were. Bink and Gollie have adventures, a sweet friendship, and they rollerskate everywhere—these details light up my sweet girls. They enjoy decoding the words in the pictures and getting the joke. They are envious of the treehouse in which Bink and Gollie live. They’d like to visit Eccles’ Empire of Enchantment—and maybe hit a Bargain Bonanza. (Maybe the Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota will satisfy them.)

Bink and Gollie got us almost to Mom and Dad’s return. We did have to take a little field trip to my house (just around the corner) because their cousin was baking scones, but then Mom and Dad were home, the rented Jeep was loaded in record time, and off they went!

I wonder if they’re levitating with excitement in their car seats, chattering away like Bink or saying I long for the mountains…. like Gollie. They invited me to sneak in their car and go with them. Maybe I should’ve taken them up on it.

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The Book That Saved My Students and Me

by Maurna Rome

gr_burnoutA rough start to a new school year can be unsettling for rookie teachers. It can produce feelings of self-doubt and immense stress.  Inexperienced educators may question everything from the quality of their undergrad teacher training to whether or not education was a wise career choice. The lack of preparation for managing challenging behaviors, dealing with an abundance of curriculum standards, and building enough stamina to keep up with an exhausting daily pace is enough to make “teacher burn out” more than just a buzz word. 

A rough start to a new school year can be unsettling for veteran teachers, too.  It can produce feelings of self-doubt and immense stress. Experienced teachers may question everything from the quality of the many years of extensive training (masters program, education specialist degree, and National Board Certification for yours truly) to whether or not it’s time to say goodbye to a beloved career choice. The years of experience managing challenging behaviors, dealing with an abundance of curriculum standards, and building enough stamina to keep up with an exhausting daily pace are not always enough to make “teacher burn out” just a buzz word.

500px-PostItNotePadA few weeks into the school year, my colleagues and I were asked to share two things on Post-it® notes: something that causes great frustration and stress and something that brings a sense of calm and “low breathing.” I immediately thought of more than a dozen things that were weighing heavily on my heart. However, I could honestly think of just one thing that had the power to settle me down and make me feel worthy as a teacher. Just one thing that seemed to affirm all the reasons I became a teacher. Just one thing I could count on to bring a sense of peace to my classroom. How appropriate that the one thing that could do so much is a book—a read-aloud book that my students can’t get enough of. This book could be called “The Book that Saved My Students and Me.” How fitting that this book is actually called The War That Saved My Life.  

bk_-The-War-That-Saved-My-LifeWritten by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley and set in 1939 England, the novel is a different type of WWII saga. It is a story filled with pain and triumph. It’s about the importance of oral language, kindness, and belief in oneself. It teaches lessons of perseverance, courage, and compassion. The War That Saved My Life is comprised of so many of the same teachable moments that educators like me strive to capture and make the most of on a regular basis.

The story of Ada was mentioned in a previous Bookology article about my “summer school kids.” I knew then that this book was one that would stay with me… and it has!  I was convinced it would be the perfect book to share with my students at the start of the school year… and it is! I hoped my teaching partners would agree… and they did! Each day 150 4th and 5th graders at my school plead to hear more of this story. When students from different classrooms discovered their teachers were all reading aloud the same book, they started discussing the story during recess. In the middle of a spelling test, when the word “trotted” was announced, a student immediately connected it to Ada and exclaimed “Hey, Ada trotted with Butter.” For the next two weeks we challenged one another to use spelling words in sentences that connected to the story. It was surprisingly easy for students and it certainly jazzed up our typical routine for studying words.

A final testament to the power of this book came when I told my students I would be at meetings for several days in a row and I needed their help with an important question: “Should I ask the guest teacher to continue reading aloud Ada’s story or should we put it on hold for a short while?” My 4th graders responded with “We can’t wait that long to hear more! Let the sub read it!” Clearly, they love this book! The same question was also posed to my 5th graders. Their response was different but tickled me just as much as the first one did: “No one can read the story like you, Mrs. Rome. We want to wait for you to come back and read it to us.”

In the world of education where teacher burnout is a very real thing for the young and old alike, there is one thing that has withstood the test of time and is proven to cultivate community, create calm, and contribute to the curriculum: one good book. The War That Saved My Life is the book that saved my students and me!

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Laughter and Grief

by Vicki Palmquist

Dragons in the WatersThere are books we remember all of our lives, even if we can’t remember the details. Sometimes we can’t even remember the story, but we remember the characters and how they made us feel. We recall being transported into the pages of the book, seeing what the characters see, hearing what they hear, and understanding the time and spaces and breathing in and out of the characters. Do we become those characters, at least for a little while, at least until we move on to the next book? Is this why we can remember them long after we’ve finished the book?

This column is called Reading Ahead because I’m one of those people others revile: I read the end of the book before I’ve progressed to that point in the story. I read straight through for as long as I can stand it and then I have to know how the story ends. I tell myself that I do this because then I can observe the writing and how the author weaves the ending into the book long before the last pages. That’s partially true. But I also admit that the tension becomes unbearable for me.

When I find a book that is so delicious that I don’t want to know the end until its proper time, then I know that I am reading a book whose characters will live on in me. Their cells move from the pages of the book into my arms and shoulders, heading straight to my mind and my heart.

The Wednesday WarsFor me, those books are The Riddlemaster of Hed by Patricia McKillip, The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien (but not The Hobbit), The Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. LeGuin, The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper, Dragons in the Waters and Arm of the Starfish by Madeleine L’Engle, and every one of the Deep Valley books written by Maud Hart Lovelace. 

There are some newer books that haven’t yet been tested by time. I could feel that I was absorbing The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt and Catch You Later, Traitor by Avi and Absolutely, Truly by Heather Vogel Frederick.  There are many, many other books that I admire and enjoy reading but I don’t feel them becoming a part of me in quite the same way.

I suspect that you have a short list of books that make you feel like this. They are an unforgettable part of you.

Isabelle Day Refuses to Die of a Broken HeartI’ve just finished reading Isabelle Day Refuses to Die of a Broken Heart by Jane St. Anthony (University of Minnesota Press). It is a funny and absorbing book about learning to deal with grief. That’s a place I’ve lived for the last four years in a way I hadn’t experienced before. When my mother died, my all-my-life friend, an essential part of me was transformed into something else. I don’t yet know what that is.

Isabelle Day is learning about this, too. Her father, her pal, her funny man, her let-me-show-you-the-delights-of-life-kid parent has died shortly before the book begins. Her mother is in the throes of grief, pulled inward, not communicating well. Isabelle and her mother have moved from Milwaukee, where close friends and a familiar house stand strong, to Minneapolis, where Isabelle’s mom grew up. They are living upstairs in a duplex owned by two elderly sisters who immediately share friendship and food and wisdom with Isabelle, something she’s feeling too prickly to accept. There are new friends whom Isabelle doesn’t trust to be true.

But for anyone who has experienced grief, this book will reach out and touch you gently, softly, letting you know that others understand what you are feeling. Isabelle comes to understand that she doesn’t have to feel alone … the world is waiting to be experienced in other, new ways.

It’s a beautifully written book in that the words fit together in lovely, sometimes surprising, sometimes startling ways. There is great care taken with the story and the characters. And yet the unexpected is always around the corner. Isabelle is a complex person. She does not act predictably. There is no sense of “woe is me” in this book. There’s a whole class of what I call “whiny books” (mostly adult) and this isn’t one of them. This book is filled with life, wonder, humor, and mostly understanding.

Isabelle and Grace and Margaret, Miss Flora and Miss Dora, they are all a part of me now. When I am feeling sad and missing the people I have lost, I will re-read this book because I know it will provide healing. And I can laugh … it’s been hard to do that. Thank you, Jane.

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Ready for the World with Powerful Literacy Practices

by Maurna Rome

I believe whole-heartedly in the importance of reading aloud daily to my students. On days I fail to meet this goal, I go home feeling like I’ve let the kids down. I recall the frenzy of Valentine’s Day with the excitement of school-wide bingo, special class projects and more than enough candy—but no time spent reading aloud. I doubt that the kids left my class thinking that something was missing that day and I am sure no one reported to their parents that their teacher really blew it by not reading to them. Yet it bothered me greatly. It wasn’t the first and won’t be the last day I fall short. However, I am dedicated to making reading aloud a priority in my classroom. I encourage every teacher to join me in making it a goal that students will not miss out on this essential ingredient from our arsenal of literacy best practices.

cover imageMore than 30 years ago, Jim Trelease wrote a little book that would become a national best seller, with more than a million copies sold. The 7th edition of The Read Aloud Handbook was released in 2013. It highlights present-day literacy challenges as well as those that have remained the same since 1982. I highly recommend this gem, along with several other “professional books” on this topic by experts I greatly admire: Unwrapping the Read Aloud by Lester Laminack; Igniting a Passion for Reading by Steven Layne, and Reading Magic: Why Reading Aloud to Our Children Will Change Their Lives Forever by Mem Fox.
I can guarantee that none of the 9 year olds in my classroom have read any of the texts mentioned above. Chances are that they are also not aware of the recent report issued by Scholastic asserting that we can predict which kids will become our best readers based on how often they have benefitted from being read to.

However, when I recently challenged my students to write a letter to teachers everywhere about the importance of reading out loud to kids, they seem to have hit the nail on the head. Here is a sampling of their wisdom and insight:

  • I think it’s a good idea because every student will be wondering every time you read.
  • Your students might learn new words that they don’t know.
  • It’s a good idea to read chapter books to your students because they can see pictures in their minds.
  • Chapter books are full of adventures.
  • They can relate with something they did or something one of their family members did.
  • They can be better writers.
  • If it’s a funny chapter book, you will get a laugh out of it.
  • It gives kids ideas and more imagination. It might make kids want to read even more.

Laminack has identified six types of read alouds that offer teachers a sure fire way to accomplish the following: support standards, model the process of writing, build vocabulary, encourage children to read independently, demonstrate fluent reading and promote community. As I reflect on the responses from my students, I see that all six purposes are mentioned. I am convinced that the very best books for reading aloud are able to incorporate all of the above. What a powerful approach to making an impact on literacy achievement!

cover imageLast week we finished the unforgettable 2013 Newbery Award winner, The One and Only Ivan, by Katherine Applegate. Here is a peek at how this touching story played out in Room 132.

Supporting the standards: See the following examples and notations.

Modeling the process of writing: Using the six “sign posts” from Notice and Note by Kylene Beers and Bob Probst, we are always on the lookout for techniques the writer uses to tell the story. While reading Ivan, we have discovered that “tough questions”, “again and again”, and “words of the wiser” are woven throughout the story. Kids are now beginning to work these same elements into their own stories!
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.3.3.B Use dialogue and descriptions of actions, thoughts, and feelings to develop experiences and events or show the response of characters to situations.

Building vocabulary: During each read aloud session, a student serves as the “word recorder”. Students are encouraged to listen carefully and hold up their thumb anytime they notice a special or fancy word in the text. We talk about those words and the word recorder makes a list of all the words we discuss. Once we had over 30 words, each student selected one word, painted it on poster sized paper (as Ivan would have done) and then drew a picture to show the definition.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.3.4 Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, distinguishing literal from nonliteral language.

ph_IvanFigures

Ivan characters in the classroom

Encouraging students to read independently: As with all of the books I read out loud in the classroom, students are eager to check out that very same title from the library. Those that are lucky enough to get their hands on the book bask in the light of knowing what is yet to come in the story. They keep the promise of not spoiling things for their peers, as they are clearly motivated to read ahead on their own.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.3.10 By the end of the year, read and comprehend literature, including stories, dramas, and poetry, at the high end of the grades 2-3 text complexity band independently and proficiently.

Demonstrating fluent reading: To show my students what smooth oral reading sounds like, I emphasize the voice of each character. While reading The One and Only Ivan, Ruby is represented with a 5 year-old little girl voice, Ivan has a deep voice and Bob takes on a more sarcastic tone.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RF.3.4 Read with sufficient accuracy and fluency to support comprehension.

ph_IvanLunch

Lit lunch celebration of Ivan

Promoting Community: The well developed characters from our read aloud stories become new friends to us. We talk and think about them as if they are actual members of our classroom, with lines such as “What would Ivan do?” or “Remember when Ivan …” One rainy day during inside recess, the kids playing with our plastic animal collection proudly set up a display of “Ivan” characters; Stella and Ruby the elephants, Bob the dog, Ivan and his sister, Not-Tag, the gorillas, were all arranged to reenact a scene from the book. It struck me that my students really are mindful of the characters we grow to love and admire. I stopped everything to draw attention to this sweet gesture and once again, my heart fluttered all because of a great book. This little pretend group of friends remained intact until we finished the book and celebrated with a “Lit Lunch” featuring yogurt covered raisins and bananas!

Yes, an effective read aloud can pack a lot of literacy into a short amount of time, yet I know it is often one of the first things that goes when the schedule gets too full. If you need more convincing to keep the read aloud front and center, consider what this young lady has to say…

Dear Teachers of Every Grade,
You should read to your students because they will be better readers and writers and learn faster and they will be ready for the world!
Love,
Ashley

Looking for resources to help you plan for successful read alouds in your classroom?
Finding the best of the best books to read aloud:

Bookstorms on Bookology
Teacher’s Choice from ILA
Children’s Choice from ILA
Nerdy Book Club Awards 

 

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We Didn’t Always Know the Way

by Vicki Palmquist

How to Read a StoryA step-by-step, slightly tongue-in-cheek but mostly sincere, guide to reading a book, How to Read a Story by Kate Messner, illustrated by Mark Siegel (Chronicle Books), will have you and your young readers feeling all warm and cozy and smart.

With advice in Step 2 to Find a Reading Buddy, we are cautioned “And make sure you both like the book.” That makes perfect sense. Reading buddies, as drawn in a colorful palette by illustrator and cartoonist Mark Siegel, can be older, younger, “or maybe not a person at all.” Perhaps a blue dog will wish to read with you.

In Step 6, the suggestion is to read the dialogue by saying it “in a voice to match who’s talking.” The ink-and-watercolor illustrations take up the narrative, giving us irresistible words with which to practice, a lion, a mouse who says “I am the most POWERFUL in all the land!” and a robot who merely says “Beep.” It’s excellent practice for interpreting pictures and putting meaning into the words.

We’re invited to try our minds at prediction in Step 8, as our reader and his reading buddy, the blue dog, contemplate what will happen next.

It’s a book that will make you smile, a good match between well-chosen words and playful illustrations, yet it’s a useful book for home and school and story hour. How can children learn the way to read out loud? How to Read a Story will have them trying before you know it.

 

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The Magic Valentine's Potato

Big Bob and The Magic Valentine’s Day Potato

Several years ago, a mysterious package arrived at our house on Valentine’s Day: a plain brown box addressed to our entire family with a return address “TMVDP.” The package weighed almost nothing. It weighed almost nothing because the box contained four lunchbox serving-size bags of potato chips. Nothing else. Or at least I thought there […]

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Quiltmaker's Gift

The Quest for the Perfect Thanksgiving Book

Each November I begin the search anew. I know what I’m looking for, and I really don’t think it’s too much to ask of a picture book: It must delve into the themes of generosity, abundance, gratitude. It should be beautiful. Compelling in its beauty, in fact. Ideally, I’d like it to celebrate our better […]

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Too Many Pumpkins

Too Many Pumpkins

I have a thing for pumpkins—their orangeness, their roundness…. I’m not sure what it is, exactly. They’re sort of a harbinger of autumn, my favorite season, so maybe that’s it. Really, I just find them satisfying somehow. Given my love of the orange autumnal globes, it’s a little odd, perhaps, that my favorite pumpkin book is […]

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Read to Them

Three Things This Past Week

The beginning of the school year caught up with everyone last week, I think. My kids are exhausted, a little overwhelmed, a little crispy around the edges. The other kids in and around my life seem about the same. Fall transitions can be hard even when they go relatively smoothly. My youngest (age twelve) came […]

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