Christmas in March

My desk orientation in my office allows me to have a window on the world of our street. Truly, I am no Mrs. Kravitz. [Side note for you young writers who are scratching your head and muttering “Who’s Mrs. Kravitz?” She was a nosy neighbor character on the TV show Bewitched (show was on 1964-1972). Here is the Wikipedia link to read all about her. Now let me get back to my story.] Since we are on a cul-de-sac, there is not a lot of traffic, so movement on the street usually catches my eye, but not on this day.

I heard the truck stop. I looked up from my desk when I heard the truck stop. I looked up from my desk when I heard the truck stop in front of my house. The UPS man stepped out of his truck with a box. My heart raced a little faster as I hurried to the door to greet the bearer of the box.

A quick glance at the return address confirmed my suspicions. Eagerly I reached out to relieve him of my prize. I uttered a most heartfelt “Thank you!” He had no idea of joy he’d just delivered. Nestled in the box among filler paper were my eleven titles from Peachtree Publishers that I’d won. A treasure for sure!

Immediately, I began pulling them out, one at a time. Once they were all stacked on the counter, I wanted to sit down and savor the text of each, but I needed to begin my spaghetti sauce. Books were set aside, as my hands chopped onion and garlic, but my mind lingered on the covers I’d just unearthed. Quickly the chopped ingredients were dropped into the skillet of Italian sausage.

As the sausage browned, I read several books. The first book I picked up might not have been the best choice, Random Body Parts, Gross Anatomy Riddles in Verse by Leslie Bulion. Let me give you a little flavor of the poem “Lunchtime”

Flesh of fowl ground into hash,
Blood of berries bled from mash,
Wheat paste wet with human spit,
Plant parts mangled bit by bit.

See what I mean? (This poem is describing the stomach.) However, kids will LOVE these poems. Talk about a great opportunity for close reading!

I loved If You See a Kitten by John Butler.

If you see a cuddly kitten . . . say, “Ahhh!” If you see a pudgy pig . . . say, “Peee-ew!”

Love the alliteration! I can hear the kids guessing what word you should say. The details in the illustrations are fantastic.

Each book has such potential for reading and writing workshop. Thank you Peachtree Publishers for donating such an incredible prize! It was Christmas in March.





Nonfiction 10 for 10

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I just love the days when book love is shared! Nonfiction has changed so much from when was in school (many, many, many years ago). I am so thankful for the authors who bring the world right to our classroom, living room, or any where you are reading. Here are a few titles that you might just want to pack in your bag:

pepperWhere Does Pepper Come From? And Other Fun Facts by Brigitte Raab: “Why do snails carry houses on their backs? Because they love to go camping! No! The shell of a snail protects it from predators and from the hot sun.” How fun would it be to make up a silly answer, but then follow up with the facts you’ve researched.

teethTeeth by Sneed B. Collard: Teeth are not just for eating. You will learn that some animals attract a mate by displaying their teeth. Another interesting fact is that some animals have teeth on their tongue or in their throat.

markle teethWhat If You Had Animal Teeth? by Sandra Markle: What if is always a powerful question to pose. What a great follow up to the previous book!

throw toothThrow Your Tooth on the Roof, Tooth Traditions from Around the World by Selby B. Beeler: Not everyone believes in a Tooth Fairy. There are many places where a mouse takes it and leaves money. So many interesting traditions with teeth are explored in this book.

poles apartPoles Apart, Life at the Ends of the Earth by Dr. Mark Norman: I love the layout of this book. It opens top to bottom. Facts of the North Pole are on the top with the South Pole matching information on the bottom page. What a great way to compare and contrast!

animals waitingWhat the Animals Were Waiting For by Jonathan London: This book tells the story, in verse, the cycle of life on the African savanna. Photos are intermingled with paintings.

troutTrout Are Made of Trees by April Pulley Sayre: This book is a fun way to look at the food chain.

noseWho Needs That Nose? by Karen Clemens Warrick: This entire book is one question after another, but you learn a lot of information about noses. Here is a sample: “Who needs a nose to attract a mate, an enormous nose that droops down to his chin? Do you suppose it hides a grin? Who needs that nose?” (see bottom of post to check your answer)

allen sayDrawing From Memory by Allen Say: This book is part graphic novel, part narrative history, and part memoir as Allen Say tells his story. As a child, he loved to draw, but this was not acceptable to his father. He lived on his own from the time he was twelve. What an interesting story he shares!

spidersNic Bishop: Any book by Nic Bishop is a must have. The photos are stunning, but then the information is fascinating. Check out his website for books,

*Who needs a nose like that? A monkey. Were you right?

I hope I’ve piqued your interest in one or two titles. Nonfiction has come a long way! For more titles check out this link.

Thank you Cathy Mere, Reflect and Refine: Building A Learning Community and Mandy Robek, Enjoy and Embrace Learning for letting us share books.



Spark an Idea

10 for 10

It is time once again to comb the bookshelves for your go-to picture books. Since this is my third year, I was clueless as to what books to highlight. I approached my shelves wondering what could be my focus for this year? In the past, I’ve shared the books that I just love and have to use, but this year something different happened as I began pulling books.

I discovered that each book sparked a writing idea for me. Hence my theme was born. It may be the topic or perhaps  the structure that sparks an idea. I hope you will discover something that sparks an idea for you.

The books are listed in alphabetical order by author.

First up is A Is for Apple Musk Ox by Erin Cabatingan. musk oxThe zebra is writing an alphabet book but musk ox has perfectly good reasons why each letter is for musk ox. Sample: “Gg is for goose musk ox. Because musk oxen eat grass. And live in Greenland.” This book has great vocabulary and more facts about musk oxen than you ever thought you might need to know.

favorite animalWhat’s Your Favorite Animal? by Eric Carle and Friends would be perfect for developing opinion writing. Fourteen illustrators draw their favorite animal and explain why. Did you know that Jon Klassen’s favorite animal is a duck? He likes to watch them walk around.

The End by David LaRochelle really takes cause and effect to the-endthe extreme. Sample: “The knight fell in love with the princess because   . . . she poured a big bowl of lemonade on top of his head. She poured a bowl of lemonade on top of his head because . . .” If you want to know the answer to that, you will need to find this book.

TogetherTogether by George Ella Lyon is a beautiful poem about a special friendship. The rhyming couplets and repeating refrain are worthy of multiple readings. Sample: “Let’s put our heads together and dream the same dream.” Isn’t that what we want our students to do?

My No, No, No Day! by Rebecca Patterson is a situation that my no no dayalmost everyone can relate to. Bella’s day begins badly and it continues its downward spiral all day. Sample: “Yesterday I woke up and Bob was crawling round MY ROOM licking MY JEWELRY. . .” Now that’s the start of a terrible day!

no one sawNo One Saw, Ordinary Things Through the Eyes of an Artist by Bob Raczka takes you on a journey into the art world. Sixteen pieces of art are shown. I love to show the picture and ask what do you think Bob Raczka said? The ending is a perfect beginning, “Artists express their own point of view. And nobody sees the world like you.”

What the Sun Sees by Nancy Tafuri is a double book because tafuri bookhalfway through you flip it and you have the second part What the Moon Sees. A wonderful way to compare and contrast. Sample: “The sun sees bustling streets. The moon sees empty streets.”

where i liveWhere I Live by Frances Wolfe has a hidden answer within the first letter of each two-line verse. The pictures are amazing! They are drawn from many different perspectives. The language of the text is beautiful. Sample: “Sunbeams sparkle like diamonds on water and gulls glide on morning breezes, where I live.”

Least Things, Poems About Small Natures by Jane Yolen makesleast things you stop and notice nature. Yolen has used the format of haiku to bring each creature to life, then she gives additional facts in a sidebar. Her son was the photographer for each. Can you guess what the animal is from this haiku?

“I am green as grass,

Green as moss, miracles, morn,

Green as a moment.”

It is a lizard.

I, Dokoi, doko the tale of a basket by Ed Young allows us to experience a lifetime and a lesson from the point of view of a basket. Students could take on the voice of an inanimate object as it observes their life.

I hope these titles and bits from the books sparked your interest.

Thanks to Cathy Mere (Refine and Reflect: Building a Learning Community) and Mandy Robeck (Enjoy and Embrace Learning) for creating this special day in August.




Browsing Books

I love to wander around the picture book section in book stores. I usually gather a handful of books, find a chair, and enjoy a slow read. The other night I was bone tired, but I was in the shopping center with a book store. I had to stop in to do a quick browse. I didn’t buy, but I found a couple to add to my wish list.

Have you seen this book? Aviary Wonders Inc. Spring Catalog and Instruction Manual Hardcover by Kate Samworth is a unique picture book. photo 1 (2)I was entranced as I thumbed through the pages. The premise is you select body parts to build your own bird. 

I can see this being a fun project for students to take on to create a unique bird to match a specific environment. The explanations for each body part allows you to select just the right features. This would be perfect in a unit of study on animal adaptations.

Then I saw Weeds Find a Way by by Cindy Jenson-Elliott. I remembered seeing this reviewed on a blog and thinking darn, why didn’t I think of this? photo 2 (2)When I ride my bike, I see so many weeds. Some are beautiful, some are not. Now this is on my wish list too.

I wish nonfiction books were like these two books when I was younger. I think I would have read and reread them until the pages were worn.

2013 Ten for Ten

It’s that time of year again! Mandy Robek at Enjoy and Embrace Learning and Cathy Mere at Reflect and Refine: Building a Learning Community are hosting the fourth 10 for 10 event. Picture book enthusiasts scour their shelves with one thought on their mind. If I could only have ten picture books for the entire year, what would I choose? Personally I think this borders on cruel and unusual punishment. I know I don’t have to whine too much because I know that if you are reading this, you have probably gone through the same pain selecting your favorites.

This is a wonderful opportunity to share favorites you have in your class but also learn titles new to you. So let the book party begin! I still love the books I listed last year, so here are ten more titles. Maybe if I do this long enough all the books I love will have a moment in the spotlight. My ten picks for 2013 are (in alphabetical order by author):

1Dear Peter Rabbit by Alma Flor Ada: The story unfolds through letters between fairy tale characters. Students will make inferences naturally as the characters come to life through the letters. Did you know Goldilocks last name is McGregor? Perhaps you were unaware that the wolf in Red Riding Hood and the wolf from the three pigs are cousins. These are a few of the connections you learn throughout the book. This continues in Yours Truly, Goldilocks, With Love, Little Red Hen, and Extra! Extra! Fairy-Tale News. Also, the letters are great models for letter writing.

My Mom by Anthony Browne: It starts out saying, “She’s nice, my mom.” But then the word choice is amped up as the narrator gives specific reasons why mom is nice. “My mom’s as beautiful as a butterfly, and as comfy as an armchair.” I can see returning to this text multiple times. my mom

ralph storyRalph Tells a Story by  Abby Hanlon: Thank you Abby for writing this story! There are lots of Ralph’s lurking in classrooms who think they have nothing to write about. This book can show them they have many stories in their lives.

couple boys A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever by Marla Frazee: This book is just too funny! The words don’t always match up with what the picture shows.

silver seedsSilver Seeds by Paul Paolilli and Dan Brewer: It is a book of nature poems, but they are all acrostics. I like to show students several poems and see if they can discover the poetry style. Here’s an example:

Huge elephants

In a row,


                                            Low and


Postcards from Camp by Simms Taback: Another book told through written communication.postcards Mike does not want to go away to camp, but he is at camp writing his father to come and rescue him from this horrible experience. This is a great text for persuasion and demonstrating how a character changes over time.

meowIt’s All About Me-ow by Hudson Talbott: I spotted this book at the book fair last year. As soon as I opened the book and thumbed through a few pages, I knew this book would go home with me. It is jam packed with all sorts of text features, such as a timeline, diagrams, labels, close-ups, and more. It is a how-to manual for kittens to train their humans told through the voice of a wise cat. If you’ve ever had cats, you will recognize the training you went through.

City Dog, Country Frog by Mo Willems: This book is such a departure from his usual I have shared this with teachers from kindergarten to eighth grade and the response is always the same. “Where can I get this book?” It seems like a simple book, but there is complexity within the words and illustrations. One of my most favorite books of all times.

nothing to doNothing to Do by Douglas Wood: What would you do if there was absolutely nothing on your calendar? This book explores many options but also incorporates shapes from nature in the illustrations. There are artist’s and author’s notes which enhance the understanding of what you see in this book. I particularly loved the P.S. of Douglas Wood: “There is a reason, after all, that we’re called human beings and not human doings.” You might want to check out two other books by Douglas Wood: A Quiet Place and No One But You. (Who knows they may appear on next year’s list.)

Chester by Melanie Watt Chester: The struggle between Chester and Melanie will keep you laughing throughout the book. I have used this to talk about voice and develop characters through their actions.chester 2

Now I am off to read and make my own list of books from everyone else’s 10 for 10. Thanks Mandy and Cathy for hosting this (costly) event every August.

10 for 10

An Offer I Won’t Refuse #15

An email popped up in my inbox from our insurance company. I thought it would be a reminder that we had a payment due. But no that is not what it was. It was an offer to complete a survey. Hmmm . . . I think boring, but wait what is that extra sentence. Do I spot a favorite word in that sentence? Yes, Amazon is mentioned and they are not talking about the river. If you complete this survey we will send you an Amazon gift card for $10. Heck, I’d have done it for $5 (but don’t tell them).

A few quick questions and about eight minutes later I have completed the survey. Woo hoo! I’m getting an Amazon gift card! (Picture me doing a happy dance.)  Oh, what do you mean it might take 7-10 days to get it to me? Okay, I can wait, but mentally I start thinking of all the new books I’ve been reading about. What will I pick? I’m giddy with excitement anticipating the new book (s).

A few days later Amazon sends me an email with a list of book ideas they think are best picks for the month of March. (Wasn’t that kind of them? :-))  As I wait for my gift card code, I peruse the choices. Three catch my eye.

matchbox red sloth

You know if you spend $25 there will be free shipping, so . . .

Or do you have suggestions? I have the certificate now and it is burning a hole in my pocket.

Nonfiction Titles

Lately nonfiction reading has become a hot topic. Researchers are telling us that we are not spending enough time with nonfiction books. I must admit (picture head hanging low) I did not regularly read nonfiction to my students. My read aloud books were always fiction. However, if I were to be back in a classroom today, that would not be the case. I have discovered nonfiction authors that I absolutely adore. I cannot get enough of their books.

Today, Cathy Mere at Reflect & Refine: Building a Learning Community is hosting a 10 for 10 nonfiction. The challenge is to create a stack of ten nonfiction books you could not live without. So here are my current favorite nonfiction texts in no particular order:

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Are You a ______ (insert one of the following words: Bee, Ant, Butterfly, Dragonfly, Grasshopper, Ladybug, Snail. Spider)? by Judy Allen and Tudor Humphries. This series of books brings the life the the previously mentioned creature to life in relation to the reader. This is a format I could see students using to create a book on a creature they research.

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The voice in  Atlantic by G. Brian Karas is the Atlantic Ocean. This book is a favorite to demonstrate the power of word choice, plus the added bonus of being in told in the first person. I am a sucker for books in the first person (as you will see).

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The Busy Tree by Jennifer Ward is another first person text, but this one has the added element of rhyme too. The tree explains each part and who lives within.


Recently I discovered at the library Roxie Munro’s book Hatch! “Can you guess whose eggs these are?” is the opening sentence for each egg. Clues are given about the bird, then you turn to the page to find the bird drawn in its habitat with the egg hatched. Additional information is given at the bottom of the page of other animals you can find in the habitat (they are in the picture too).  This is a large book  as it is 11 x 11 inches, so the eggs are not drawn to scale.

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I love Diana Aston and Sylvia Long’s books! I want to own them all, but for now I must be satisfied with A Butterfly Is Patient. The vocabulary opportunities abound in this (and all their books).  “A butterfly is magical,” don’t you want to read to find out why? The end pages will entertain for hours as you match up the caterpillars with the butterfly.

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Literary nonfiction has grabbed my attention and it won’t be letting go for a long time. Gentle Giant Octopus by Karen Wallace is a must have. This text will allow students to infer and visualize. “An octopus sinks like a huge rubber flower.” Additional facts in another font allow students to discover more about an octopus.

Now we are getting down to my two favorite nonfiction authors. I will only share two of their books, but they have many more so check them out and see what else they have written.

White Owl, Barn Owl by Nicola Davies is another literary nonfiction title. You learn about barn owls through the story of a grandpa and his granddaughter who build a nest box for the barn owl. Then in Surprising Sharks you don’t have a story, but Nicola Davies talks directly to you as you learn facts about specific sharks. This book has great text features.

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Finally, my number one author for nonfiction, Steve Jenkins. It is so hard to only name two books, I love them all! I See a Kookaburra! focuses on six different habitats all over the world. He has included eight animals in each habitat, plus an ant. Of course the end always gives you more information about the habitat and the animal. Never Smile at a Monkey* *And 17 other important thing to remember is collection of cautions, should you meet some of these animals. The warnings are all alliterative. Once again, the trademark of Jenkins (besides the incredible paper art) are the additional facts you find because he has whetted your appetite to know more.

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So there you have my favorite nonfiction titles, today. I am so excited that authors have created such engaging books for our students to read. I can’t wait to read about everyone’s favorite nonfiction!

Forgive Me, I Meant to Do It

The poet, William Carlos Williams, has intrigued me for years. I was first introduced to him through the Caldecott honor book A River of Words by Jen Bryant. I find his poetry copied and imitated in many places. When I see a piece that uses one of his poems, I have to buy it.

Little Boy by Alison McGhee and Peter Reynolds uses the format of “The Red Wheelbarrow” just like Love That Dog by Sharon Creech. So much depends upon . . . Those words have the power to haunt me.

So you can imagine my joy when I discovered Gail Carson Levine’s book Forgive Me, I Meant to Do It. These poems make me laugh out loud. I knew that I wanted to compose my own poem of false apology. Gail Carson Levine states “. . . don’t even consider writing this kind of poem unless you can get yourself into a grouchy mood. You will be wasting your time.” So, I have been on the lookout for the perfect situation, because generally I am not in a grouchy frame of mind (although some may disagree with that statement, you will have to take my word for it). If you look, you will find it.

One warm day, after biking, I planned to wait for my husband on a wooden bench in the shade. As I approached the bench I could see a mass of ants swarming on a morsel of brownie that someone had left behind. My plans for resting in the shade were cancelled by this sight.

This Is Just to Say

I have flicked

the brownie piece

off the bench

I planned to rest upon

Therefore, your relatives

may not make it

home for dinner

as they were attached

Forgive me

but I need the

bench to be


My 10 For 10

August 10 for 10 #pb10for10

Picture books are a passion of mine. My husband thinks I need a 12 step program, I think I need more money for more books. When I go to a bookstore, I head to the children’s section to see what they have. I gather up a collection, sink into the too small chairs to read, enjoy, analyze, and determine if my life wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t own this book. You can guess what usually happens.

I have read the 10 for 10 lists for the last two years. It is always interesting to learn what is top on everyone’s list. I think your position influences your choices. I am no longer a classroom teacher. I retired five years ago, but now I work with K-5 teachers through professional development. I try to inspire teachers to learn about texts they may not have ever encountered. So here are my top ten choices today in alphabetical order by author:

Are You an Ant? by Judy Allen and Tudor Humphries: This is just one of a series of Are You a ____? The structure of this would be a great springboard for doing a report. The information is presented in such an engaging way, all readers will learn new and interesting facts about the subject.

Roller Coaster by Marla Frazee: It describes a small moment perfectly but with so much craft.

Never Smile at a Monkey* And 17 other important things to remember by Steve Jenkins: Any book by Steve Jenkins is on my “got to have” list. He is a master at engaging the reader with fascinating facts. This book uses alliteration as it warns you of the perils of some animals.

Saturdays and Teacakes by Lester Laminack: Once teachers fall in love with this story they discover Laminack’s other books. He incorporates so much craft in his writing. If I could only pick one book, this would be it.

Dory Story by Jerry Pallotta: Pallotta is known for his nonfiction alphabet books, so this one was such a surprise when I found it. It is a gem for the story (with food chain content) and the illustrations are from all different perspectives. Plus it has a surprise ending.

Psssst! It’s Me . . . the Bogeyman by Barbara Park: The voice in this book keeps you reading and laughing all the way through. There is so much craft to discover on each page.

Ish by Peter Reynolds: This book makes it all right not to be perfect.

The Little Red Pen by Janet Stevens and Susan Stevens Crummel: Another book filled with voice.

Probuditi! by Chris Van Allsburg: Van Allsburg is the master at making one think beyond the story and this book does exactly that. Of course you need to read all of his books. Choosing one is like trying to pick your favorite child. It can’t be done, but this one might not be as well-known as some of this other titles.

You Have to Write by Janet S. Wong: A perfect book to introduce writing about the common, everyday events in your life. I can’t do writing workshop without this book.

I hope I’ve piqued your curiosity and you will begin the search for some of these titles. Unfortunately, some are no longer in print, but you may be able to find them through the internet booksellers.

Head over to or to read about more book choices.