Making Plans for Summer Reading


This post is part of “DigiLit Sunday,” hosted by Margaret Simon at Reflections on the Teche. This week’s topic is REFRESH.

By Winslow Homer (Memphis Brooks Museum of Art) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
By Winslow Homer (Memphis Brooks Museum of Art) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Teachers often have a long list of projects they want to work on, both personal and professional, that we’ve either put off or just haven’t had time for during the school year. And while I love finishing these tasks and the sense of accomplishment they bring, I don’t really find them refreshing. For me, being refreshed means having time to enjoy long, lazy afternoons reading and dozing.

Making plans for summer reading is one of my favorite activities. In January, I talked with fifth grade students about Reading Resolutions. This is the perfect time to revisit those resolutions, and, if necessary, make some new ones. I finished the Very Famous Children’s book back in February. Lately I’ve been thinking about Virginia Wolf’s To the Lighthouse. This is a book that has intimidated me as an adult, and I feel now’s the time to give it another try.

I have a long list of professional books I’m planning to read this summer. These books are currently at the top of the stack:

I’m also planning on getting caught up on journal articles I haven’t had a chance to read.

I’ll also be reading many picture books and middle grade novels, but I don’t have a specific list. I would love to get my hands on an ARC of Melissa Sweet’s upcoming book about E.B. White. (Hint, hint, ARC gods!) Louise Erdrich is one of my favorite authors, both for children and adults, and she has two new books out this year. Makoons is the fifth book in the series that began with The Birchbark House, one of my all-time favorites, so I’m excited to read this book, too.

There are many books on my shelves that I haven’t read, and sometimes I’ll just browse and see what strikes my fancy. I also like to visit the library and find new books there.

Last year’s shelfie.

Having plans for summer reading is great, but discovering new books along the way and having time to read them is another reason summer reading is such a gift. What are your summer reading plans?

Slice of Life: Read-Alouds I Love


I think it’s fair to say that I am a teacher today because of a read-aloud. I have written before about the impact of my fourth grade teacher reading Charlotte’s Web to us.

When I was a classroom teacher, reading aloud was non-negotiable. We did it every day. No. Matter. What. Now that I’m not a classroom teacher, sharing wonderful books with kids is still the best part of my day.

Because I love read-aloud so much, and because I love Dr. Mary Howard’s Thursday night #G2great Twitter chats, I was especially sad to miss last Thursday’s chat with Steven Layne about read-alouds. Scrolling through the archive of the chat, it’s easy to see that an incredible amount of wisdom was shared in one hour. Here are some tweets from the chat that I love:

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You can (and should!) read the Storify version of this chat here.

This was the last question of the chat:

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Linda Baie answered this question over at her blog, TeacherDance, this morning. I’m stealing Linda’s idea and answering Mary’s question from Thursday’s chat since I’m visiting my son this weekend and haven’t had time to write.

Chapter books my 3rd graders loved:

Charlotte’s Web
The Prince of the Pond
The Birchbark House
The Tale of Despereaux
The Search for Delicious
Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher
Stone Fox
How Whales Walked into the Sea

Recent chapter books I know kids love:

Home of the Brave
The Fourteenth Goldfish
The One and Only Ivan
Because of Mr. Terupt
Mercy Watson

Favorite picture books:

Knuffle Bunny
Boy + Bot
Brave Irene
Rugby & Rosie
The Old Woman Who Named Things
Farfallina & Marcel
Mrs. Katz & Tush
The Other Dog
The Gruffalo
Goodnight, Gorilla

I could go on all day. What are your favorite read-alouds?

Thank you to StaceyTaraDanaBetsyAnnaBeth, Kathleen, and Deb for this space for teachers and others to share their stories each Tuesday throughout the year and every day during the month of March. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

Is Test Prep the Mint of Education?

Close reading has been my mind a lot lately. I recently read What Readers Really Do, by Dorothy Barnhouse and Vicki Vinton. I revisited Notice and Note: Strategies for Close Reading, by Kylene Beers and Robert Probst as well as Falling in Love With Close Reading, by Christopher Lehman and Kate Roberts. Yesterday, Tara Smith’s excellent post on reading journals gave me more to think about. This is important work. Work that will help our students “grow and develop new ideas and insights.” (Barnhouse & Vinton, pg. 152) I need time to process all this wisdom and work with my colleagues to determine how we’ll integrate these ideas into our teaching. I’ll be sharing more about this in the weeks to come. In the meantime, I want to share a post from 2013 that still holds true today.

Thank you, as always, to StaceyTaraDanaBetsyAnna, and Beth for hosting Slice of Life each Tuesday. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

Reading to the Core

Image via Wikimedia Commons

This morning as I was weeding my garden, it occurred to me that the mint that had overrun my herb garden was like standardized test prep. As schools across the country do their best to prepare students for the new CCSS-aligned assessments, test prep is running rampant. Just as the mint in my garden has choked out the basil and parsley, test prep, and the tests themselves, threaten to take over the school day, leaving no time to savor novels, delve into a character’s motivation, or write a deeply personal narrative.

I grow a variety of herbs in my garden because each herb has its own distinct flavor and use. The amount of the herb I use depends on what I’m cooking. The same is true for teaching. We have a wide variety of instructional resources and strategies available. As professionals, we take great care to make…

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Poetry Friday: “I Am Poetry”


I have spent the past week at the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project’s Summer Reading Institute. My brain is bursting with all I have learned from my amazing section leaders and the keynote speakers. My senses are overwhelmed by the sights and sounds of New York City in August. My life is richer because of people I have met and friends I have made. It has been a glorious week.

How could I possibly choose a poem to share today that reflects my week? By focusing on one small piece of my experience.

Each teacher was given a book at the beginning of the week to use as a mentor text for the work of the Institue. I received Becoming Naomi León (Scholastic Press, 2004) by Pam Muñoz Ryan. I have loved every book I’ve read by Ryan, but somehow, I had missed this beautiful story about a young girl finding her true self. Pam Muñoz Ryan’s writing is so lyrical, I wondered if she’d written any poetry. A quick search reminded me about The Dreamer, Ryan’s lovely book about the young Pablo Neruda and led me to this poem:

“I Am Poetry”

by Pam Muñoz Ryan

I am poetry,

waiting to seize the poet.

I ask the questions

for which all answers


I choose no one.

I choose every one.

Come closer…

…if you dare.

I am poetry,

lurking in dappled shadow.

I am the confusion

of root

and gnarled branch.

I am the symmetry

of insect,


and a bird’s outstretched wings.

Read the rest of the poem here.

If you haven’t read Becoming Naomi León, The Dreamer, or any of Ryan’s other novels for children, read one today. You’ll be glad you did. 

Please be sure to visit Heidi at My Juicy Little Universe for the Poetry Friday Round Up.

SOLC 2014: Just Three Books?


Last night, NPR aired an interview with Gabrielle Zevin, author of The Storied Life of A.J. Fikery (Algonquin Books, 2014). During the interview, Zevin explained that she wanted to write “a love letter to the joy of reading” and that she believes asking someone what they read “is a much more informative question” than any other question we might ask.

So NPR asked the question. On Thursday, they tweeted:

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This question has been asked of readers on social media many times in recent years, but it’s one that I always have difficulty answering. I believe, as Zevin does, that “We are not quite novels. We are not quite short stories. In the end, we are collected works.”

I have written before about the fact that Charlotte’s Web is the book that made me a reader because I recognized myself in Fern and her world.

If Charlotte’s Web was my mirror, then To Kill A Mockingbird was my first true window: a book that showed me a way of life very different from the one I knew. And yet I understood Scout and her fears. 

               mockingbird           51RRKMW0QNL

I read To Kill A Mockingbird when I was in eighth grade, and after that, my reading was wildly eclectic. I was “trying on” different personalities, trying to figure out who I wanted to be. A book I wish I’d read during those years to help me find an answer is A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I think I would have loved Francie more then than I do now. I would have loved that she imagined herself “living in a tree” as she read her precious library books each Saturday afternoon. I would have loved the little stories she made up to make arithmetic tolerable. I even would have loved her for lying about her name to get the beautiful doll for which the other girls refused to beg.

Beyond these three books, it is impossible to choose: The Bean Trees, Bel Canto, The Book Thief, Middlemarch, and more. All of these books helped me, as Karen Armstrong writes in A Short History of Myth, “…make a painful rite of passage from one phase of life, one state of mind, to another.” They have taught me “to see the world differently; … how to look into our own hearts and to see our world from a perspective that goes beyond our own self-interest.” (Armstrong, p. 149)

Thank you, as always, to StaceyTaraDanaBetsyAnna, and Beth for hosting the Slice of Life Challenge. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

SOLC 2014: It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

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Another double-duty Slice for It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

Coral Reefs, by Seymour Simon (Harper, 2013)


This is a gorgeous book, filled with stunning photographs of one of the earth’s most fragile ecosystems. Coral Reefs gives young readers a thorough overview of the “gigantic communities of living things.” (pg. 6) Simon describes the different types of coral, what they eat, and where they’re found in the world. The “many different kinds of citizens” of a coral reef are also described.

The close-up photographs are captivating and kids will want to pore over them for hours. An index is included, as are a glossary and links to websites with additional information. This book would make a nice companion to the more fanciful but just as informative Coral Reefs by Jason Chin.

I’ve also been enjoying the poems collected by Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong in The Poetry Friday Anthology for Science (Pomelo Books, 2014). Dozens of the best poets writing for children today have contributed to this volume. The poems cover a broad range of scientific topics, from scientific practices and lab safety to famous scientists and future challenges, and everything in between. (Although there wasn’t one specifically about a coral reef.)


Wong and Vardell begin their informative introduction with the question “Why poetry with science?” To make their case, they quote legendary author and educator Bernice Cullinan:

 “Scientists observe with a clear eye, record their observations in precise, descriptive language, and craft their expressions. Poets do the same thing.”

Also included are tips for sharing the poems and connections to the Next Generation Science Standards. In addition, the following resources are included:

  • a bibliography of poetry books for science
  • links to websites and blogs, for both poetry and science
  • a list of professional resources
  • a “mini-glossary of science terms”
  • title, poet, and subject indexes

This book is a must-have resource elementary teachers working to integrate literacy into their science instruction. Student editions are available by grade level and include bonus poems.

Several poems from the anthology have been shared on blogs over the past week. Jone at Check It Out has “Sound Waves” by Amy Ludwig VanDerwater:

If you have ever seen the ocean

throwing cold waves from her hand

pulling shells from mighty depths

tossing each upon wet sand,

you can understand how sound waves

move like water through dry air.      

(Read the rest of the poem here)

You can also read poems from each grade level at Irene Latham’s blog, Live Your Poem…

Finally, because it’s St. Patrick’s Day, I have to give a shout-out to my favorite book to share on this day, Daniel O’Rourke (Viking Kestrel, 1986), by Gerald McDermott. Sadly, it seems that this tale of Daniel O’Rourke’s misadventures at the hands of three mischievous leprechauns is out of print. My own children loved this story when they were small, and dozens of my classes over the years have laughed along as Daniel is taken on a wild ride by the legendary pooka.

Our copy, signed by the author to my youngest son.
Our copy, signed by the author to my youngest son.

Thank you, as always, to StaceyTaraDanaBetsyAnna, and Beth for hosting the Slice of Life Challenge. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

Don’t forget to visit Jen at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee at Unleashing Readers to find out what other people have been reading lately. Thanks, Jen and Kellee, for hosting!

SOLC 2014: Finding Gold in the Classroom


“The text awakens associations in the reader’s mind, and out of the mix, meaning is created.”

~ Kylene Beers & Robert E. Probst ~

Like many of you, I have been working with my colleagues to teach students to read more closely and gather evidence to support their thinking. I am thankful for the work of Christopher Lehman and Kate Roberts in their book Falling in Love with Close Reading, Vicki Vinton on her blog, To Make A Prairie (I’m embarrassed to confess that her book, What Readers Really Do, written with Dorothy Barnhouse, is still in my TBR pile.), and Notice & Note: Strategies for Close Reading, by Kylene Beers and Robert E. Probst, for helping us in this endeavor. 

Last week, I mentioned sharing King Midas and the Golden Touch with the fourth grade students at my school. They all enjoyed the story, and because of our rich discussion, had a good understanding of the theme. They were also able to write about this understanding, but incorporating evidence from the story into their writing was more of a challenge.

Their teachers and I knew from the start that this wasn’t going to be a “one-shot deal.” We knew there would be many more lessons, including guided and independent practice, as well as feedback, to get our students to be able to do this kind of work well. So on Friday, I was back in their classrooms with a very short excerpt from Jon J. Muth’s Zen Shorts, “Uncle Ry and the Moon.” I love sharing this deceptively simple story with students, and have done so many times. Muth’s book is quiet and unassuming, but it contains a powerful message.


Following the same routine we had used with King Midas, I read the story through once. The kids followed along on a typed version of the text. When I finished reading, I was met with a roomful of puzzled faces. I asked the kids to write what they had noticed and what they were wondering (We used a modified version on Vicki Vinton’s “Know/Wonder” chart for this.) Once they had their thoughts written down, they shared. All of the students were confused by Uncle Ry’s attitude toward the intruder. This clearly conflicted with the action they would take, or expect anyone to take, under similar circumstances. I complimented them for noticing this important contradiction, and explained to them the importance of this kind of observation. When an author includes those contradictions, he’s doing it for a reason. (Notice & Note, pg. 71)

Our next step was to reread the story, more carefully this time, and we stopped along the way to discuss what we were noticing now, and trying to sort out our confusion and begin to answer some of our questions. As we read, some students made thoughtful observations or raised interesting questions. Others asked questions to clarify a simpler element of the story, but these were important, too. I let them discuss these with their partners before sharing with the whole class.

It was during this conversation that one boy tentatively raised his hand. I have known and worked with this student since he was in first grade. His thinking is often perceptive, but can sometimes be muddled. I paused before calling on him to give him time to organize his thinking. Then I nodded to him and he said, “It’s like he’s the opposite of King Midas. Uncle Ry gives things away because he doesn’t mind being poor, and Midas wanted to have as much gold as he could get.”

I was speechless. I hadn’t thought of that myself. His teacher and I exchanged a look of joy. Of course, we let him know how impressed we were with his thinking and the he had made such a meaningful connection to King Midas. Then, another student started to raise her hand, and again, I could see the wheels still turning. She proceeded to tell us that another reason Uncle Ry was different from Midas is that Midas was blinded by greed, but Uncle Ry was blinded by his kind nature, and that was why he saw the intruder as a visitor.

I have shared this story with students many times before, but they have never come to these deep and thoughtful conclusions or level of understanding. So what was different? I hadn’t read the story right after King Midas before, but I wasn’t consciously thinking of a thematic connection between the two. Just as before, I had a plan when I began the lesson, but it was more open-ended. In the past, we were usually focusing specifically on character traits or summarizing. I firmly believe that the kids were able to achieve this level of understanding because I followed their lead. I let them develop the questions they had about the story. I let them go back and locate significant passages in the text. We do our students a huge disservice when we teach from a script and ask only preplanned, canned questions.

Are we finished with this work? Absolutely not. But we are laying a solid foundation for the kind of close reading and thinking skills our students will need to be thoughtful, caring human beings. And that, my friends, is worth all the gold in the world.

Image courtesy of
Image courtesy of

Thank you to StaceyTaraDanaBetsyAnna, and Beth for hosting the Slice of Life Challenge. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.