Books Make Magic Happen

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There I was, fever, chills, piled under blankies, reading a book, then falling asleep on said book, and waking to read a little more. Books have been companions for as long as I can remember, and for the last two days, I wrapped myself in the comfort of a well-told story, The Summer of Letting Go by Gae Polisner. If you are a fan of YA, and realistic fiction, you should check this one out.

I only just left the main character, Frankie (Francesca) Schnell this afternoon, but she has not left me. Over the course of two days, her summer unfolded for me, and Frankie pondered many tough questions, struggled through the challenges that come with being almost sixteen, and tortured herself over a devastating life event. Along the way, beautiful, magical things start happening, and Frankie finds herself wondering if they are mere coincidence, or not.  

Frankie needed to draw her own conclusions. But, I have my own conclusions about the magic of this book.

You see, while I was tucked in last night with my book, the last words I read were the two pages where one of the characters is reading from Frog and Toad Together, and in particular, he is reading the story, “Cookies.” My drifting thoughts were full of the fond memories I had reading Frog and Toad with my son, when he was small.

When I woke up, this picture, from my son, was waiting for me on our LINE app group:

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With it came the following explanation:

“A beautiful room in the local library where I read children’s books to kids at the beginning of each month.”

“Today we’re reading two of my favorites.”

“On the chair on the right is Frog and Toad and on the floor is Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. Frog and Toad is my favorite to read though.”

I know this doesn’t seem very magical, until you realize that my son, Jeremy, is a half a world away and fourteen hours out of phase, living in Japan. So while I was sick in bed, reminiscing over snuggling with my little boy, my now big boy (read that- adult!) was on the other side of the world passing on book love to other little people.

What an incredible connection and coincidence. And can you guess which story he chose from Frog and Toad? You got it. Cookies!

So, thank you, Gae Polisner, for writing your beautiful book, so that I could be reading it at just the right moment, and have a cosmic connection with my baby, across the many miles that separate us, but not our thoughts!

And, here is an interesting footnote to this tale: While I was writing this story, I scrolled through our LINE messages to type the parts I needed, and realized that I had just referenced Jeremy’s other favorite book on Friday:

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Just a little more book magic connecting me to my son. Some days are like that, even in Japan!

Thanks, Judith Viorst!

Gratitude

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Morning unfolds
a share of gratitude
as our ceramic token passes
’round our circle

Gratitude felt
for family, friends, our homes
each other
this moment

Notebooks open
we focus
on a special person
thankful thoughts emerge

Heads bent
we are separate
and together
as pencils scritch

Comfortable silence
envelopes us and
our notebooks
receive our ideas

Thankfulness fills
my page
a child approaches
notices my tears

He retreats
while another deposits
A handful of tissues
most writers unaware

Wrapping up
our writing
others see my
tear-stained face

Question posed
Can you guess
the person
I wrote about?

Voices chime
your son
Jeremy
Yes, my baby, far away in Japan

Writers smile
Knowingly
and a girl pats my shoulder
Good job, she says

Smile returned
I feel another well
of gratitude
for this community

Safety created
for writers to grow
and share
our bond cemented

Writers connected
through words and
experiences, unique and alike
grateful for this space

This Moment is a Slice

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It was the end of the first day of the KSRA (Keystone State Reading Association) Annual Conference, and Melanie, my new-found conference friend, and I decided to hit the last session of the day- a night event called Poetry Fun. The program guide listed the poets, Sara Holbrook, Michael Salinger, and Janet Wong, along with the following description: Be inspired to write, share, and enjoy poetry!

Okay! Let’s go see what we can learn.

We took seats down toward the front on the right side of the room and chatted about our day while waiting for the program to begin. Within minutes, we soon learned that this was not going to be a typical session. This was going to be highly interactive! Ummm. They’re asking us to share poems? Get up and read? I could feel myself trying to be smaller in my chair. Please don’t call on me, came the shrinking, quaky voice in my head. Michael Salinger brought his big voice into our small space and pointed out that the fear of public speaking trumps the fear of dying for a majority of people. Not new information, and not helping me to overcome my own fear of presenting to a room full of adults.

I warred with my inner self. A part of me wanted to get up there, be part of the energy of the room. But… the voices… What if I turn red? What if my voice sounds shaky and tight? What if the room is silent– in an uncomfortable, awkward way? What if my poem (and there was one that was sitting in my writer’s notebook) is too serious?

And then, Clare, of the famed Clare and Tammy (teachersforteachers.net, and the book, Assessment in Perspective) got up and read the poem she had written. It was serious, and it worked.

I should get up there. I can’t get up. There’s glue on my chair.  The voices in my head have grown muscles, and they are holding me in place.

When the session ends, Melanie and I agree that it was engaging and fun. I have been inspired by those who were able to do what I was not. I make it a point to go talk with Clare Landrigan…

Thank you for sharing your poem. It was beautiful. And I’ve read your blog. It’s excellent. It’s a pleasure to meet you. I wish I could have done what you did. I kept telling myself I should get up there…

Okay, I’m pretty sure I’m rambling or gushing or both. I pause. Clare offers encouragement, and asks if I have written for the Slice of Life. No, but I keep telling myself I need to do it.

Each time I consider it, I experience a crisis of confidence because “writing aloud” is just as terrifying as public speaking. I’ve been working on this- building the courage to share my thoughts, my ideas, my voice.

I know. I should do it, I tell Clare. But, what would I write about? What do I have to add to a group that is my daily source of information and inspiration? Clare says, You have your unique perspective. That’s what you add. And, this moment right now, is a slice. You can write about this.

You’re right. I can. I will. I did. Thank you, Clare, for inspiring me with your poem, and for encouraging me to add my voice to the Slice of Life Challenge. This is one more first in my writing and teaching adventures!

 

The Reading Strategies Book is Irresistible!

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It was two days before school started and my husband and I were capturing a few last moments of summer. Sitting on the outside deck of a favorite restaurant, we passed the time with conversation, reading, and an assortment of small plates to while away the afternoon. My body soaked up the sun, but my mind was turning to school brain, and the book I brought was Jennifer Seravallo‘s The Reading Strategies Book. How fortunate that I spent an afternoon focused on absorbing the information she provides in these pages because, if I had to pick only one book to help me plan a year’s worth of lessons, this would be the one.

I have now been in school for a little over a month, and this book is marked up and well-traveled. And, it’s multiplying! On the second day of school, one of the special education teachers asked me what I was carrying. I showed her the book and told her what was great about it, and she went directly to Amazon to get a copy. In the days following, I chatted up the book and showed it to many other colleagues. This week, I saw it sprouting up around me. On Friday, I stopped in to chat with one of our reading specialists. Guess what was on her desk? Yup. The Reading Strategies Book. On Thursday, a colleague in second grade stopped to thank me. Her book had just arrived and she was excited to start reading it over the weekend. On Tuesday, one of my third grade teammates grabbed me in the hall on our way to lunch. “I’m bringing the book to show everyone the lesson I did and the chart I created for making inferences, which goes with this week’s reading lessons. I’m so excited about the chart. It’s one of the best I’ve made.”

You might be thinking that I have tremendous powers of persuasion, but the truth is, this book sells itself as soon as I show it to people.

Why?

The design is brilliant. The information is invaluable.

The book is organized around 13 overarching reading goals, arranged in a hierarchy from pre-emergent/emergent reading skills to developing a range of comprehension skills for fiction and nonfiction texts. Each goal covers a series of reading skills that can be taught using various reading strategies that are each presented on a SINGLE page. That’s right. Each strategy is covered on one page that highlights which students this would help and what skill it will help students acquire. It identifies the reading level and the genre or text type this applies to. The strategy is concisely described in two to three sentences, and Serravallo details teaching tips and/or lesson language– very briefly. Every strategy has a short list of prompts that can be used in conversations with students as you teach and guide them. Be sure to read Seravallo’s introduction where you will learn how best to use the book and the reasoning behind various aspects of the lessons, like why the prompts are so brief.

My favorite aspect of the strategies? The visuals! EVERY SINGLE STRATEGY has a visual that shows you an anchor chart or a teaching tool that students can use to apply the strategy independently. Here is a chart I made with my students in the first days of school. It is adapted from Strategy 2.1, A Perfect Reading Spot, on page 48.

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My students loved suggesting the pictures after I drew the first one, the light bulb. They were excited to see our carpet squares depicted under “Soft?” and most importantly, they used these suggestions for making good choices. We’ve been able to refer back to it on days when we regress a bit, and the visual is a constant reminder of a strategy we use as readers, and writers, to improve our skills.

When you find yourself thinking, “How am I going to teach that?” or, you think the teacher manual from your reading program is unhelpful or uninspiring, you will flip through the pages of The Reading Strategies Book, and you will find yourself unstuck and completely inspired.

Serravallo likens this book to a cookbook, and it is an excellent analogy. You will pick the meal that fits your students and the day, and you will choose the ingredients that match your goals and those of your students. My first cookbook, the quintessential Betty Crocker, looks like I know The Reading Strategies Book will someday look– old and loved and marked up with constant use.

If my powers of persuasion have failed to sway you, it’s because this post is not irresistible, but I promise the book is. Go check it out on Amazon and look inside the first pages. You will instantly see that the design is incredibly teacher friendly, and the information is immediately applicable.

If you can’t resist buying the book, please post a comment to share your thoughts and experiences. Let’s start a reading strategies revolution together!

Summer, Fish in a Tree, and the GRA

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For the last two weeks, I unplugged. I went to a music festival. I went to the Outer Banks. I spent time with family and friends. I ate good food. Listened to great musicians. Took long walks. Sat on the beach. And, I read. At night, I wrote. And, read some more. It was decadent, and then the most wonderful thing happened to my super-chill self: I read the book that made me want to end my glorious summer vacation and get back to the classroom with my third graders. I read Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt.

I started it on the beach, continued it at the beach house, and then took it to lunch, and then back to the beach. I finished it in the car the next day, and as I closed the book and caressed its cover, I thought, This book is a gift. This book is a gift, and I can’t wait to share it with my third graders. Lynda Mullaly Hunt has created a treasure trove of positive, inspiring messages, packaged in a story that will cause each person who enters it to come away acknowledged, and changed.

Last November, at the NCTE annual conference, I had the good fortune to hear Lester Laminack passionately advocate for reading aloud. “Read to your babies often and well,” he implored. “Love the language. Don’t just give it out. Love it!” Rather than worksheets and needless reading activities, Laminack advised that we ask our students, “How will you be different now that you have lived this book?” And this, is what I’ve been thinking about since I finished Fish in a Tree.

My mind is still in Mr. Daniels’ classroom watching his teacher moves and observing the effect they have on Ally, the sixth grader who has learned a few moves of her own. An expert at avoiding all that she is sure to fail, Ally has learned by experience (“seven schools in seven years”) that there’s no point to doing her best. The result is always the same, and the labels are enough to cure anyone from trying. “Freak. Dumb. Loser.” Oh, Ally. How I love you! You were in my class last year. You will be in my class again this year. And the next. And, Ally, as the song, For Good, from the musical, Wicked, says: “Because I knew you, I have been changed for good.” You have given voice to the students who can’t say what they need their teachers to hear. Because of you, I expect that I will hear even better and observe even more keenly than I did before. And, I will do the same for Keisha and Albert, Max and Oliver, Jessica and Shay. Even for Shay! (I saw how even you tried, Ally!)

If you’ve read Fish in a Tree, you already know what I mean. If you haven’t read Lynda Mullaly Hunt’s masterpiece of a book, don’t wait, as I did until I had time in the summer. Make time. Because, if I could, I would rewind time. I would spend a week of nights falling asleep on its pages so that I could share its captivating story and empowering messages with the students I sent off in June. How would they respond to Lester Laminack’s question? How would they tell me they’d live differently for having been in the pages of this book? I can never know the answer, but I know what my students and I will be doing this fall. We will gather together, and I will read each beautiful page aloud. Then, we will talk about it, just as Donalyn Miller advocates: “Reading and writing float on a sea of talk.”

We will have the perfect opportunity to read and write and talk because Fish in a Tree is one of the Global Read Aloud books this year. (Check out http://theglobalreadaloud.com/ and #GRA15 on Twitter for more info.) Classrooms around the world will read this book, and then they will connect with one another in myriad ways using technology, and not. I can’t wait for the conversations this book will generate!

As you enter the new school year, regardless of the age you teach. read Fish in a Tree. Share it. Talk about it. And, maybe we’ll cross paths through the Global Read Aloud. We will all be “changed for good.”