"I have always imagined that Paradise will be some kind of library." ~ Jorge Luis Borges

Friday, November 25, 2011

Why Read Picture Books?

You can also view the Why Picture Books Are Important video on quietube.   Sadly, Picture Book Month is drawing to a close.  I love how my students have so wholly embraced this initiative, from learning about authors and illustrators and participating in Skype conversations to making Wordles, VoiceThreads and PowerPoint presentations.  Watching my students write about and listening to them speak about picture books is heartening, they recognize the importance of picture books.

Caught in the Act....

...of creating beautiful things...

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

(Book)marking Picture Book Month!

It's 1:30 on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and I am still sitting in my library!

I am so excited by what my students created today and I don't want to wait until after Thanksgiving to share it. Our Picture Book Month celebrations have been wonderfully full here, with the students making Wordles, VoiceThreads, slide shows about authors and, the best part: reading an incredible amount of picture books!

Today we made bookmarks for our Picture Book Month Partners (schools in other parts of the country).  My students were so excited that another student, somewhere else in the country would be using their bookmarks to hold a page in a book.  It makes me proud.  I left the parameters pretty open, save for that the theme should be about celebrating picture books.  I walked about with my digital camera in one hand and my flip in the other.  Pictures and an Animoto movie below.  The student interviews will be posted later tonight.

As one student so aptly said: Reading is Rad!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Bats at the Museum!

Want to know where Brian Lies bats really went next? To the museum!
Brian Lies' Bats at the Ballgame
For almost a decade I have been helping to decorate a tree for a local museum's children's literature themed Christmas tree exhibit.  Our group of six women, four of whom are educators, gathers every September to choose a book and begin an almost twelve week process.  Once we have our book, our first meetings are dedicated to brainstorming how we will represent the book.  Should we choose a theme?  Should we recreate a page in the book?  After we have chosen a direction, we begin to discuss the materials we will use and the mechanics for how it will all work. From that first meeting until the day we decorate our tree (which was today!), we are creating and experimenting, thinking and trying, laughing and cheering.  It is a very fun collaborative effort.  I look forward to these select nights each fall, when all that is asked of me is that I sit and build, sew, shape, saw, paint, create, etc..did I mention how much fun this is? The joy of unstructured unsupervised play!

We have created trees for: Martha Speaks by Susan Meddaugh; Shall I Knit You a Hat? by Kate and Sarah Klise; Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel by Virginia Lee Burton; Whose Garden Is it? by Mary Ann Hoberman and illustrated by Jane Dyer; Enormous Egg by Oliver Butterworth; Pearl by Debby Atwell; Wild About Books by Judy Sierra; and, A Pair of Red Clogs by Matsuko Matsuno.

This year our book was Brian Lies' Bats at the Ballgame.  We hope you enjoy our interpretation!

Where oh where should these little bats go?

My first graders are batty for Brian Lies.  For the past few years I have have done an author/illustrator study with his books, Bats at the Beach, Bats at the Library and Bats at the Ballgame.  The students love these books.  They appreciate Brian Lies word play and the magical mix of fact and fiction. My students will tell you that these bats are no normal bats, but they are bats none the less and are nocturnal, eat insects and hang upside down!  After reading the books and reflecting on them, the students write a letter to Brian Lies.  They also create posters with suggestions for future bat adventures.  I love watching the growth of the relationship the students have with these endearing and engaging bat characters.  As I am closing the cover of the third book, the students are eager and excited to make suggestions for future bat visits.  These suggestions are almost always reflections and connections with the events in their own lives, art class, soccer game, school, museum, mall; or, suggestions with their own interests, Star Wars, the International Space Station, the moon, you name it, they've probably suggested it!.  These posters are a lovely example of the relationship they have developed with the bats.  Bug mallows and moth dogs?  My students also have great food suggestions for Brian Lies!  We finish off the bat celebration by decorating book-reading bats, where the students create book covers for books they think the bats would like to read.

What a great way to celebrate reading and Picture Book Month!

This bat just missed Ivy and Bean Day!

Maybe a fair?

Or the Black Lagoon?

Dr. Seuss is always a great reading choice!
Where should those bats go next? The Death Star, the African continent, a basement or a holiday?

I love this one!  Bats at the dentist. Trying to imagine it!

Hopefully this princess rules the school fairly...
Please have your bats visit these places...
I really love this one...do bats have nails?

George Sullivan would be happy to see the bats reading his book!

I love that the dentist is a recurring idea!  Castles are a fun choice too!

Nothing beats a good haunted house!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

We are Picture Book Readers!

Picture Book Month Posters Before
We have been having an wonderful time celebrating Picture Book Month in my school.  I decided to collect data on how many picture books students read for one week.  I delivered posters to each of my 19 classrooms on Monday morning, November 14th and picked them back up on Friday the 18th.  I asked only that the students and teachers place a sticker on the poster for each picture book they read, either at home or at school.  As I was picking up posters, I had quite a few teachers ask me to repeat this poster challenge.  They loved the way the students took responsibility for the poster and their reading.  I also had two 3rd grade teachers express surprise and delight at the impact on the classroom picture book collection.  One of them asked me to take a look at the complete disarray of the book shelves as an indicator of their use.  The other teacher said she loved hearing the students asking to read during any free time as well as hearing them talking about the picture books they were reading (an even more wonderful outcome!).  I think I will posters for other reading challenges...poetry, biography, history.....

Take a look at our readers!

Five days
a poster and some stickers
avid readers
Awesome and Impressive!
Picture Book Month Posters After....
This K class got creative with their stickers!
This 3rd grade class took the challenge seriously!

These 2nd graders showed ingenuity...run out of stickers?  No problem!
I love the way this teacher modified the poster! What a great way to see the growth and impact!

4th grade picture book readers!

With a fertile imagination...and some unstructured and unsupervised play

Picture Book Month continues!  Today's theme is farm books.  There are many wonderful books to choose from, but when Dianne de Las Casas, the founder of Picture Book Month, asked people to name their favorite I had to choose the book below.  Hands down, it is my all time favorite.

"Casey's farm isn't big by most standards.  The barn is an old wooden drawer in his backyard.  But it's just the right size for a small child with a fertile imagination and an attentive ear...." So describes Down on Casey's Farm by Sandra Jordan.  It was one of those books that I borrowed from the library frequently and often returned late.  A few years ago I bought my own copy. 

Down on Casey's Farm by Sandra Jordan
Here is a young child with a bureau drawer, some plastic farm animals and time and space to let his imagination soar.  I have such a vivid memory of my children lugging paper grocery bags around my house full of "treasures," which they would set up in some new stop along the adventure.  The same thing happened outside with the wagon and a variety of cars, trucks and animals.   

I showed the blog post The Joy of Unstructured and Unsupervised Play to my fifth graders yesterday.  They were eager to try out the magic "screen on paper trick."  I demonstrated it and tried things they suggested, but was stymied as to how to manage 27 students engaging in this activity at once and so did not have them do it.

Can I recreate these experiences by creating a student-centered library? A library where students can Imagine, Investigate and Innovate.  Is one of the centers having the screen down and the projector on and seeing what they discover?  Maybe with some digital cameras there for them to record the action? 

I have a wonderful memory of my daughter playing with a cardboard box and an eclectic assortment of objects.  I was watching her put them in the box, drag it to a specific spot and get in herself only to then evacuate the premises and move the box to some new location and hop back in, where she would then engage in some earnest conversation with her box mates.  I didn't want to interrupt her imaginative play and this very active adventure so happily took the role of observer. 

Maybe this is what the student-centered library should look like...me creating an environment where the students are free to Imagine, Investigate and Innovate. Food for thought.

An unexpected learner get a lesson in leaf pile jumping

It was a beautiful day for raking.  The sun was shining and the breeze was light.  I have a very deep back yard with quite a few large oak trees, so raking consumes much of the late fall.  When my children were little I would rake the leaves all the way down to the bottom of the back hill and we'd have a leaf pile jumping fest.  In the ensuing few years of high school and sports, we have been much more business like in our raking, "just get it finished."

But today, today, as I said, was a beautiful day for raking and there were no other activities to attend to, so we raked as a family and we raked because it was nice to be outside together.  I started to create a pile at the bottom of the hill, diligently raking and hauling leaves down the slope.  My son noticed the pile, picked up the other rake and joined the effort.

He's bigger now but no less adept at leaf pile jumping. He dove in effortlessly and I watched as all 5' 11" disappeared into the leaves. 

We raked the leaves back into a tall pile. I stood back and took a running jump into the pile.  I failed miserably.  I basically stepped into the pile.  We re-raked the leaves and I tried again.  This time landing with a splat on the top of the pile.  My son was, at this point, looking at me with a combination of pity and horror, I imagine he was thinking, "How can she not know how to jump into a leaf pile?"  I was wondering the same thing, "When had I lost the unrestrained joy of jumping into a leaf pile?"  With the patience of a good teacher, he tried to coach me.  "Try diving in below the canopy, about half way down the pile, lift your feet off the ground, relax...."  Numerous attempts, quite a few somersaults, and no broken bones later, I emerged from the pile, having at least improved my form.  What an experience.  I walked away reminding myself that at any given moment, we are all teachers and learners, all be it, sometimes slightly humiliated learners...

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Have Flip, Will Travel

"School Librarian in the Hallway" a la "Man on the Street"

I am planning on adding a feature to my blog where I ask students to define a word or share what they think it means.  I am envisioning something informal.  I am hoping it will be a way to get students interested in, think about and have fun with language.  I literally walked up to students as they were entering the school building and asked them if I could film them talking about a word.  I explained that I would ask them what they thought a word meant and reassured the students that they did not need to know the definition or meaning, but that they should try and see if they could tease it out.  My first attempts are very rough, again the sound quality is not great and I will think more about framing my subjects, but take a look and listen and tell me what you think!

(After a bit of a battle with Blogger today, I am inserting this video as a link!)

Collaboration is...

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Tried and True or Surprising and New?

I have heard the phrase "tried and true" multiple times in the span of a few days.  It is one of those idioms that needs context to understand the meaning, is it "good" to be "tried and true" and therefore an expected positive experience or "bad" and therefore a staid unpleasant experience?  Is the opposite of "tried and true" "surprising and new?"  These are the things I ponder at night.

With the words "tried and true" cycling through my brain, I collected my materials for my 3rd grade lesson.  It is still Picture Book Month, so as a follow up to last week's VoiceThread, I decided to create a whole class Wordle reflecting on why they (the students) like picture books.  (Hang in there, the Wordles are at the end...or feel free to skip right to them.)

What to read to get their creative juices flowing?  Tried and true or surprising and new?

I opted for tried and true and pulled The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka and illustrated by Lane Smith off the shelf.  I knew most of my students would have read this book at some point or that I likely had read it with some of them in the past. (As an aside, I don't teach every grade and there are years when I switch grades, hence the "likely had read it...")

I thoroughly enjoy reading this book.  I love the humor and the play on words, and I can bring in some fun vocal characterizations.  So, I am reading along with my tried and true book having a great time and get to one particular line (about three quarters of the way through the book) where the wolf, who is looking for a cup of sugar, says (of the porcine occupant of the house) "what a pig."  As I spoke these words, I heard a few chuckles.  I asked one of them to explain why she had laughed and she explained, "Well, its funny because it has two meanings.  The wolf is saying that the pig is hoarding the sugar and not sharing and also the pig is a pig, so he's saying what he is."  Exactly.  Being a language lover, we then had a fun discussion about double entendres. 

In the flash of an eye (or sound of a chuckle!) we had gone from tried and true to surprising and new.  I've answered my own question, "Can something be tried and true and surprising and new?"  Yes, indeed.  

This same experience played itself out over all three classes. And something else occurred, we experienced a wonderful example of why picture books are important and why we should never stop reading them.  I have read this book with younger students and they always find it funny, but here were 3rd graders really starting to hear the puns and word play.  What a great reminder that we should revisit great literature and that books often get better with age. hmmmm...books get better with age....I already have an idea for my next post!

And for the Wordles?  Here's why my 3rd graders like to read picture books:

Class 1

Class 2

Class 3

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Readers are Thinkers

"I think Vashti was brave when she opened her 'never-before-used set of watercolors' because she didn't think of her self of an artist.  She was taking a risk. You have to try things and not just say 'No, I can't do that.'"
     ~4rd Grade Student

Students make connections to, with and through literature at levels far above their age.  Over the past eight years, I have heard incredibly insightful and interesting comments.  There are often a number of students ready to share their connection, but even on the days when I feel I have reached too far, there is inevitably that one student, in every class, who raises her or his hand and shares something beautiful and insightful; something that makes me smile and in some crazy way gives me hope.  Readers are thinkers.  Here's my thinking, "As long as we have readers in our society we will be okay!"

I do try, in my teaching, to allow everyone the time to reflect on a reading passage or book prior to the group share, either by having the students "turn and talk" or have a "knee to knee" discussion.  This time enables those (like me!) who need that time to gather their thoughts.  The days I feel too squeezed for time or am remiss and forget to give the students time to reflect, they still continue to amaze me with their thoughtfulness.

I have been reading The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds with students this fall.  It is one of those books that elicits thoughtful and inspiring comments.  (see earlier posts: International Dot Day, Dot Day and Dot Thoughts).

Here are a few of my students reflecting on The Dot. Will you be hearing beautiful, insightful, inspiring comments?  You bet.
(I have been wielding my flip camera and digital camera pretty freely, so excuse the video and audio quality.)

These readers are thinkers!

Celebrate Picture Book Month with a great book and see where it takes you (just like your "mark").  Thank you Peter H. Reynolds! 

Monday, November 14, 2011

On wooden snowmen and memorable listening experiences

I was in Toronto this past weekend visiting family and celebrating my uncle's 90th birthday.. My uncle who, I might add, traveled to the top of the CN Tower!  (I hope to be as savvy and cool at 90 years!).  My college age daughter joined me on the trip and while touring about the city, we came across this snowman. It shone in the mid day sun.    We stopped to look at it and noticed the sign that invited people to stop and take a picture.  You were then asked to upload the picture to a certain Web page and, for each picture that was uploaded, money would then be donated to the Starbright Foundation (I can't remember the exact amount).

When we saw the words "Starbright Foundation," my daughter and I were reminded of one of our family's first audio book experiences, The Emperor's New Clothes.  The book is a retelling of the classic tale, written and performed by an all-star cast of actors and celebrities and illustrated by an impressive group of artists.  It was produced as a benefit for the Starbright Foundation.  

It is a wonderful picture book and a great read aloud.  I actually read the book for quite a while before we tried out the CD (I chose my profession wisely - once a reader always a reader), but once we popped the CD in the CD player, there was no going back.  It is brilliant.  Performances by Robin Williams, Madonna, Calvin Klein, Penny Marshall and Angela Lansbury (to name a few)  are paired beautifully with illustrations by Sendack, Teague, Van Allsburg and Base along with others.  It is evident that each celebrity and artist had a great deal of fun creating this project. The puns are rampant! This book is really geared to older readers/listeners (ages eight and up); many of the jokes might be lost on or would be hard to explain to younger children.

I have audio books of all types of book in my library and they circulate well.  Audio books serve an important purpose for students who: may need encouragement to try a new genre; may need a more scaffolded reading experience; or, may be reluctant readers. Just as important though, I encourage students to borrow audio books for the sheer enjoyment of hearing books read aloud. A book is a book, but a good book is... memorable!

We departed from the snowman sculpture, my daughter and I, happily quoting the book and remembering favourite scenes. (This book became a staple on car rides and got us through many a back up on holiday weekend travels and was memorized at one point.  Given our immediate reaction on Saturday, it made an impression on us.) Here's what I walked away with (my own teachable moment), a reminder of the value of a great listening experience.

So, in honor of Picture Book Month and hearing books read aloud, check out an audio picture book today and start creating your own memorable listening experiences.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

You are never too old!

Today is a “twoday.”  Two books for one post!  Happy Picture Book Month!

One of the things I observed at our school “Sleep Under” was the lack of older students; very few 4th and 5th grade students were present.  This could have been due to other commitments, but I also wonder whether some of the older students considered themselves too old for a read aloud event.  I hope this is not the case, but in the event it is my two book highlights are geared to some of our older readers.

Remember, you are never too old to read picture books.  Equally as important to remember, you are never too old to be read aloud to, magic happens when we share literature.

Chris Van Allsburg
The Widow’s Broom

Many of the underlying messages in this incredibly well executed book – superb writing and illustrations – might be lost on the younger set.  The black and white illustrations lend a chilling air and add to the hauntingly surrealistic element of this allegory of human nature. 


Allen Say
Tea with Milk

Richly detailed illustrations combine with spare writing to create a reading experience that captures the emotional tug of being torn between two places and two ideals.

Friday, November 11, 2011

The joy of unstructured and unsupervised play

One of the many pieces of wisdom my mother has imparted to me is "children should experience the joy of unsupervised and unstructured play."

I have attempted to raise my own children with this in mind.  For instance, my son and daughter spent almost an entire day in our backyard, when they eventually emerged, I was shown what they had created: a World War I trench, replete with tree branches for camouflage.  One day at the lake, they turned the row boat into the Kon-Tiki, a raft like structure.  They used noodles, kick boards, towels, oars and any other implements they could find nearby.  I didn't witness the process of either of these projects, but I imagine there was plenty of experimentation and the practice of "21st Century Skills" all under the guise of play. They were given the time and space to allow their imaginations to take root.

What does this have to do with my school library?  Yesterday, while we were creating the Picture Book Month and Allen Say reflection Wordles, I noticed a few students begin to play with the projected image on the screen.  My first reaction was to remind them to return to the task at hand, but as I watched them experiment with their papers and the image, my mother's wisdom came floating through the recesses.  I went over to talk with them about what they were noticing and what they were learning.  Then, realizing I should capture this moment, I grabbed my camera.

My question is, "How do I build these experiences into my teaching and if I build them in, are they no longer unstructured and unsupervised?" I feel like there is such a rush to introduce and use concepts, programs and applications that there is no time for play or experimentation, yet it is these experiences where authentic learning and growth can occur.  Can there be "unstructured and unsupervised learning?"  Stay tuned...