Slice 24 of 31: Serendipity

Yesterday, I wrote about books I would want to have with me if I were stranded on a desert isle. There were so many books I left off the list I created for my cousin. And although I truly love the books I picked, my choices were influenced by what I know of her reading tastes. For a different reader, I’d make different choices.

Something I didn’t to consider for my cousin, but that would definitely be high on my list, is Clifton Fadiman‘s Treasury of Children’s Literature (Little, Brown, 1984).


When my children were small, we didn’t have lots of money, so we made frequent trips to the library. But I did indulge my passion for books by belonging to the Book-of-the-Month Club. Every month a little newsletter came in the mail, tempting me with the latest titles. I usually returned the card indicating I didn’t want that month’s selection on time, but sometimes I forgot. That is how the gift of Clifton Fadiman’s treasury arrived at my door.

Serendipity. I love this word. Wikipedia defines it as “a happy accident” and “the accident of finding something good or useful while not specifically looking for it.” Merriam-Webster’s Word Central defines serendipity as “the gift of finding valuable or agreeable things not looked for.”

What a gift this two-volume treasury was! For the first time, my eyes were really opened to the breadth of children’s literature. Picture books from my childhood were Little Golden and Wonder Books: The Pokey Little Puppy, The Surprise Doll, and books based on Walt Disney movies. But here was Amos & Boris by William Steig, a chapter from Mr. Popper’s Penguins (had I really never read this as a child?), Millions of Cats, And to Think that I Saw it on Mulberry Street, the list goes on. My kids and I spent countless hours reading this two-volume treasure trove. As we worked our way through the stories and poems, favorites emerged, and were read over and over again. My dedication to sharing the richness of this world with children began when I first read this book.

This collection is a must-have for anyone who is serious about children’s literature. Although it’s out of print, many copies are available online. A third volume was published in 1985, which I have never seen, but I’m sure it’s worth a look.

In his introduction, Fadiman quotes Louise Fitzhugh’s Harriet the Spy: “How I love to read…The whole world gets bigger.” Thank you, Clifton Fadiman, for making my world a much bigger place.

Thank you to Stacey and Ruth at Two Writing Teachers for hosting this Slice of Life Challenge!

Slice 23 of 31: What to Bring to a Desert Isle


For her 45th birthday, my cousin asked us not to buy her any presents. Rather, she’d like book and music recommendations. What would we want with us if we were stranded on a desert isle? I could not choose just one of either, and certainly didn’t want to just give her a list. So I wrote her a poem. I don’t think she’ll mind if I share it here.


To a desert isle I’d bring,

Music that would make my soul sing.

Mozart’s Figaro,

Les Miserable,

Broadway musicals,

Nothing macabre.

So many books, its harder to choose,

Too many titles I’d be loathe to lose.

The Book Thief,

Bel Canto,

Cloud Atlas and more,

would help transcend any lonely shore.

What books and music would you want to have with you?

Thank you to Stacey and Ruth at Two Writing Teachers for hosting this Slice of Life Challenge!

Slice 22 of 31: Douglas Florian for Poetry Friday


Much of the northeast is still gripped by frigid temperatures and snow is still on the ground. Today is my son’s birthday, and I always use this day as a benchmark for hearing the peepers. I really can’t remember a year we haven’t heard them by now. This year, not a peep.

So today seems like a good day to share a poem from Douglas Florian’s Handsprings (Greenwillow, 2006), an exuberant celebration of the season.



Spring is great

For growing grass.

Spring has zing

And spring has sass.

Spring is super.

Spring is spry.

Spring is when

Things start to fly.

Spring is great

For many reasons.

Spring does handsprings

Round the Seasons.

Thank you to Greg Pincus for hosting Poetry Friday today. Don’t miss the fun at GottaBook. As always, thanks to Stacey and Ruth at Two Writing Teachers for hosting this Slice of Life Challenge!

Slice 21 of 31: A Book Spine Poem


National Poetry Month is just around the corner, and although I teach and use poetry all year, I do make a fuss about all things poetical in April. This book spine poem really wrote itself as I revisited some of my favorite resources:


Pass the Poetry, Please!

Take Joy

For the Good of the Earth and the Sun

Wondrous Words

Awakening the Heart

Poetry Matters

I’ve written before about using poetry with students (here, here  and here) and I know I’ll be writing about it again. For now, here’s a snippit of the wisdom contained within each of these excellent resources.

9780064460620Originally published in 1972, Lee Bennett Hopkins’ book is a classic resource for sharing and teaching poetry. Here is a comment he shares from poet David McCord:

“Poetry is so many things besides the shiver down the spine.” (p. 7)


Jane Yolen is one of my all-time favorite authors. In Take Joy: A Writers Guide to Loving the Craft (Writers Digest Books, 2006), her wisdom and passion for writing permeate every page.

“…poetry, at it’s most basic, is a short, lyrical response to the world. It is emotion under extreme pressure or recollection in a small space. It is the coal of experience so compressed it becomes a diamond.” (p. 87)


For the Good of the Earth and the Sun: Teaching Poetry (Heinemann, 1989), by Georgia Heard, is filled with practical advice and inspiration. In chapter 5, “Language:  The Poet’s Paint,”  she offers this:

“Sometimes I pretend a word is like a geode: rough and ordinary on the outside, hiding a whole world of sparkling beauty inside. My job as a poet is to crack the words open to find that inner treasure.” (p. 74)


Wondrous Words: Writers and Writing in the Elementary Classroom (NCTE, 1999), by Katie Wood Ray, was a revelation to me. Here were the answers I’d been looking for about how to teach writing. Ray’s thoughts about read aloud confirm what we know in our hearts:

“Our students need to be…fortunate enough to be read to every single day by someone who values wondrous words and knows how to bring the sounds of those words to life in the listening writer’s ears and mind and heart.” (p. 69)


Georgia Heard offers more thoughts about teaching poetry in Awakening the Heart: Exploring Poetry in Elementary and Middle School (Heinemann, 1999).

“One of the most important life lessons that writing and reading poetry can teach our students is to help them reach into their well of feelings–their emotional lives–like no other form of writing can.” (p. xvii)


Ralph Fletcher wrote Poetry Matters: Writing a Poem From the Inside Out (HarperTrophy, 2002) for kids, but it’s one of my favorite books about the craft of poetry. Speaking directly to children, he advises them

“There is poetry everywhere. [Write] What you wonder about. In my book A Writer’s Notebook, I wrote a chapter on ‘fierce wonderings’ and ‘bottomless questions.’ These are the kinds of haunting questions you can live and ponder but never really answer. Not surprisingly, these ‘wonderfull’ questions provide great grist for poems.” (p. 51)

Thank you to Stacey and Ruth at Two Writing Teachers for hosting this Slice of Life Challenge!

Slice 20 of 31: Challenges


Yesterday was a challenging day. Since what constitutes a challenge in my life pales in comparison to the real challenges faced every day by many, many others, I’ll spare you the details. When I sat down to write this, I intended to write something like, “I really don’t have the energy for writing tonight.” I pulled out my most recent journal with every intention of finding a halfway interesting entry and posting that. But then I got to thinking about the word challenge. Posting something I wrote a year ago didn’t seem like an acceptable offer to a challenge or to the friends I’ve made over the past few weeks. What does the word really mean, anyway? We all have a working definition in our head, but what does the dictionary say? The entry in my trusty World Book Dictionary (which came with the set we purchased when our oldest son started first grade in 1986) takes up more than half the column. The meanings of challenge as a verb are listed first:

  • “to call to a game or contest; dare”
  • “to call to fight” “to stop (a person) and question his right to do what he is doing or to be where he is”
  • “to demand proof before one will accept; call in question; doubt; dispute”
  • “to claim or command (effort, interest, or feeling)”

There were several other verb definitions, and the noun definitions were all variations on those for the verbs. The events of my day definitely claimed my feelings, commanded my interest, and my effort. And now that I’ve devoted more than 30 seconds of interest and effort to this post, I feel better. Not completely satisfied, but better. I didn’t back down in the face of a challenge.

Thank you to Stacey and Ruth at Two Writing Teachers for hosting this Slice of Life Challenge!

Slice 19 of 31: Play, Bill Harley and the CCSS


Yesterday I spent an hour with Kindergarteners. I love going into Kindergarten classrooms. The energy and enthusiasm of 5 and 6 year olds is contagious. Our celebration of kindness continued with a lesson built around storyteller/singer/songwriter/ Bill Harley’s “Sitting Down to Eat.” A variation of the folktale, “The Mitten,” the narrator is continually interrupted as he’s trying to eat, yet he always manages to find room for one more.

ImageI love using non-print resources to help kids learn important comprehension strategies. Taking away the print removes a layer of difficulty for struggling readers, but also allows developing readers to engage with material they aren’t ready to read but are certainly ready to comprehend. We do this all the time with read-alouds.

Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised that some kids don’t automatically visualize, given the amount of time they spend in front of screens. Poetry and songs are a perfect choice for developing this critical comprehension skill. I always begin this kind of lesson by demonstrating how to visualize. I have a few tried-and-true favorites, but any brief, descriptive poem will work. Then I tell them I’m going to play a song. Their job is to close their eyes and listen for words in the song they can use to make a picture in their head. Most of the kids are very serious and tightly scrunch their eyes; others are skeptical and leave their eyes half open. When the song is over, I have the students share what they were visualizing with a partner.  Usually, we listen to the song at least two more times as students create an illustration to match their visualization.

Harley’s song is made for movement. So after listening once, the kids were on their feet, dancing and gesturing knocking on the door. They all joined in on the chorus and had great fun acting out the ending. By the time they were sitting down on the rug again, they were able to work together to put pictures of the animals in the order they knocked on the door, match the names of the animals to the correct picture, and talk about the importance of sharing. Each child also created a page for a class book about who they like to share with.

This lesson strives to incorporate the CCSS (Kindergarten RL standards 1, 2 & 3) in a way that preserves “play, imagination and discovery” which, as Deborah Kenny in a recent Washington Post op-ed states, “are how kindergarteners learn.”

For more of Bill Harley’s brilliance, watch his TEDx talk:

Thank you to Stacey and Ruth at Two Writing Teachers for hosting this Slice of Life Challenge!

Slice 18 of 31: It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?


Over the past week I’ve had some family events that have kept me busy, as well as trying to keep up with all the incredible writing being done for the Slice of Life Challenge going on over at Two Writing Teachers. Needless to say, I really haven’t had time to read many books.

I did start Patricia Reilly Giff’s latest, Gingersnap (Wendy Lamb Books, 2013). I’m a big fan of Giff’s historical fiction, and when I found out this book was set in Brooklyn during World War II, I had to get it. I’ve been working on a project that takes place in Brooklyn during the same period, and I wanted to see how she handled the dialogue. So far I haven’t been disappointed.


Patricia Reilly Giff has written many other books for kids. Here are a few of her historical fiction titles that I’ve enjoyed.


Newbery Honor book Lily’s Crossing (Delacorte Books for Young Readers, 1997)


Nory Ryan’s Song (Delacorte Press, 2000)


Water Street (Wendy Lamb Books, 2006)


A House of Tailors (2006)

You can watch an interview with Giff here:

Random House has an extensive list of Giff’s books and other resources for using her books in the classroom. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been updated recently.

Check out what others are reading today by visiting Jen and Kellee at Teach Mentor Texts. Thank you to Stacey and Ruth at Two Writing Teachers for hosting this Slice of Life Challenge!