Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Pony Scouts: Back In The Saddle by Catherine Hapka

Jill, Annie and Meg are the Pony Scouts!  Their latest adventure is at Jill's farm. Annie demonstrates perseverance when she finds out what it means to get "back in the saddle" after a fall. 
Inviting characters and new vocabulary, defined at the end of the story, make this easy reader book by Catherine Hapka, enticing and accessible for young readers.
Hapka, Catherine. Pony Scouts:  Back In The Saddle
Published: 2011
Nominated for the Cybils in the Easy Reader/Early Chapter Book Category

~I am a First Round Panelist in this category.  This review reflects my opinions alone, and not those of the panel as a whole.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011


The Cybils for 2011 are underway! 

The judges have been announced and I am so elated to be a first round judge for the Easy Reader/Early Chapter book category!  I am excited to work with an amazing team of panelist under Terry Doherty.   I can't wait to get started!  Have you seen the 2010 Winners?  I love this one: 

Easy Readers
Willems We Are in a Book!
by Mo Willems       

What are some great titles that you have read this year?  Be sure to put in YOUR nomination, beginning October 1st!  You can nominate one book per genre for any book published between October 16, 2010-October 15, 2011. 
What are some that you are thinking about? 

Sunday, September 25, 2011

WHY Do YOU read?

What?  What did she say?  Did she say, "Why do you read?"  "Now, why did she just ask that?", I wondered aloud to the table of women sitting with me.  I have been asked what am I reading, what do I want to read...but Why do I read?  Okay, she had my attention.  Becky Koesel, a powerful Literacy consultant from Texas, stood in the front of a cool room in July and, well, she made me think...

Why do I read?  I began my list.  To learn, to escape, to grow.  Hhmm, what else?  To cook, to learn how to be a better wife, mother, teacher.  Blank, that's it.  To learn.  Was there more?  Tick, tock, (little anxiety welling up.)  Surely there was more to the surface-simple reasons that were crawling through my mind.  Dig.  Dig deeper. 

I thought back to times in my life when reading had been a part of the important event, Christmas.  Every December I pull out a stack of, now, old books.  Their covers so familiar, like old friends' faces, smiling up at me.  The Polar Express, Cranberry Christmas.  I remember reading The Polar Express to my students that first year that I taught.  I remember reading The Polar Express to my daughter her first Christmas and then watching her read it to her younger brother and sister, many years later.  Why??  Why do I read?  I read to establish and preserve family traditions.  To connect with others in the only way that a shared story can provide.  Wow, now my list was growing...

I noticed that the more thought that I gave to it, the more I became aware of what I value in my life and what I want to hold onto, the special memories that connect me to ones that I care so much about.  I noticed the way that the characters allow me to step into their world without risking anything in my own.  The lessons I have learned and the compassion I have developed about new cultures, wouldn't have happened without experiencing their story being told in a book. 

So, why do I read?  Nancy Atwell, in A Poem A Day:  A Guide To Naming The World, quoted Wallace Stevens as saying "...Poets help us by discovering and uncovering the world-its history, culture, arifacts, and ecology, as well as our identities and relationships."  Wow, powerful words.

My learning with Becky ended that day, but just started within my own mind.  I wondered why I had never had my students experience the "why".  So, I began planning for my lesson.  I came across a poem written by Richard Peck, and couldn't resist this as The Poem of the Day for Why Do YOU Read?  Enjoy!

I read because one life isn't enough, and in the page of a book I can be anybody;

I read because the words that build the story become mine, to build my life;

I read not for happy endings but for new beginnings; I'm just beginning myself, and I wouldn't mind a map;

I read because I have friends who don't, and young though they are, they're beginning to run out of material;

I read because every journey begins at the library, and it's time for me to start packing;

I read because one of these days I'm going to get out of this town, and I'm going to go everywhere and meet everybody, and I want to be ready.
--Richard Peck

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Hey, What Are You Reading?

A flashback brings a smile to my face...

It is late and I am snuggled under the covers on my twin bed.  My eyes, heavy and falling, are being held open by force.  My mom's mellow voice is filling the room with The Adventures of Raggedy Ann and Andy. I felt, more than saw, her unique way of holding the book in her left hand, as the fingers on her right hand slowing paused, then slid down the page of words.
Today I can't tell you exactly what the duo was doing.  I can tell you how I felt.  I can tell you the way the light hit my mom's face and the way her voice filled the room, lighting the dark spaces and completely calming any uncertainty left over from a complicated, confusing day. 
Another memory swims in, decades later, of a young couple driving along the freeway in the middle of the night, making their way home to see mom and dad.  One arm on the wheel and one on the back of the seat, ears fixed on the words being read from Clan of the Cave Bear.  The long drive being made swift, the connections, made from a shared story, growing. 

Hey, what are you reading? I asked my son last year.  Mom, it's the best book, my teacher is reading it out loud to us. Hhmm, I thought.  I must get this.  After downloading it to my reader, I began my next cornerstone book.  I was moved and changed after reading, Out of My Mind.  I then passed it to my daughter, who then passed it to her teacher, who then read it aloud to her class, who then passed it to our administrators, and so on it went. 

Stories, and story time, create memories and moments, frozen in time, that change us, fill our needs, teach us about ourselves and connect us to each other. Last summer I read The Help.  Just mentioning the title to a perfect stranger and we are fast friends, having shared a common experience.  The conversation, following the mention of the title, is fast paced and filled with personal connections.  I learn personal details about childhood and hidden opinions about society, all within moments.  This fast connection made possible by the shared reading of a book.

I asked my students the other day, "Hey, what are you reading?"  Knowing that I would find out so much about them after hearing their answer.  Were they needing to learn about themselves?  Did they need and/or enjoy escape into fantasy?  Were they trying to fit in socially by holding on to a text that was way too hard for them, but read by all their friends?  Did they know how to get lost in a book and savor every moment, sad when it ended?  I listened as they responded.   I was so enthralled with their comments, learning so much and loving watching their eyes light up as they talked about the characters they had invited into their world. When everyone had finished, I noticed a few who looked like they were about to burst, say, "Oh, I read that one.  Can you believe that boy did that?"         Connections.

So, "Hey, what are you reading?" Is someone asking you?  Are you asking someone else? 
Put it on your email signature.  Share your reads on Goodreads.  Write it on an ongoing list in your classroom.  Make those fast connections, watch them grow!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

News You Need

It's August, and a group of hands are waving in a kindergarten class.  The teacher is leading her students in a daily activity, News of the Day.  A student is chosen to come to the front of the class.  "What would you like to share today?"  the teacher asks.  The student is excited to be in the front of the class, however, just shrugs and smiles.  The teacher patiently asks a series of questions.  "What did you do yesterday?"  "What would you like the class to know about you?"  After a quick nod of the head, the teacher continues her assistance in forming the students "News of the Day."  Together the teacher and student orchestrate the sentence, "I went to the beach with my mom and brother." There is power in this seemingly simple interaction.  In the earliest of learing situations, the groundwork for later learning destinations is established. 

In order for teaching to be effective, it must be relevant and meaningful to the learner.   What did I do?  What news can I tell about myself?  For our youngest learners, news, is what is going on in their world.  As they grow, their world becomes larger and moves from awareness of themselves to include an awareness of community, state, country and then world. 

Fast forward five years.  Our kindergarten students are now sitting in a fifth grade class.  How does the "News of the Day" look now?  At this age, what is the news that is relevant and meaningful to them?  More importantly, how do we, as teachers, make the news of today accessible for our students, especially those students that struggle?  Kelly Gallagher , author of Deep Reading and Article of the Week, assigns an "Article of the Week" to his students.  Gallagher says, "Part of the reason my students have such a hard time reading is because they bring little prior knowledge and background to the written page.  They can decode the words, but the words remain meaningless without a foundation of knowledge." (www.kellygallagher.org/resources/articles)

When thinking about our instruction and student learning on a continuum, news plays an important role.  It begins with the student in an egocentric state; however, the continuation of  News of the Day is vital to growing literate, socially conscious citizens.  At each level of learning, news connects, builds social awareness, and inspires our students as it establishes a foundation of knowledge.