Thursday, July 31, 2014

My 2014-2015 Literacy Event Calendar

I created this calendar because I was missing fun literacy events at school since I didn't know when they happened. I made it last year and found it to be very helpful. The calendar includes fun literacy events with with links to the event page. I created it mostly for myself, but I am sharing it here in hopes that others will find it helpful. 

I hope you will visit the calendar to help you plan literacy celebration events for this school year. If there is an event you know about and you don't see it on the calendar, please leave a comment below and I will add it.

The calendar is here, but there is also a tab at the top of the blog. 

Sunday, July 27, 2014

It's Monday, What Are You Reading-July 28, 2014

Please visit the amazing blogs: Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers who host this terrific meme each week.

I have not posted my reading here since July 7th. I have taken a bit of a break from regular blogging to pay more attention to my family and my home. I have not read a ton, but I have read some. In the interest of keeping it quick, I have not written reviews this week. Please click on the title to go the the book's page on Goodreads. 

by David J. Smith
Illustrated by Steve Adams
Nonfiction Picture Book for Grades 2-5

by Karma Wilson
Illustrated by Diane Goode

by Tracy Holczer
Excellent Middle Grade-YAish novel

by Will Hobbs
Action-Adventure YA Novel

Finished Listening
by Jonathan Stroud
Recommend for grades 5-8

Currently Reading
by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
I was thrilled to receive this ARC. I wanted to read it in one sitting, but my daughter is insisting that we read it aloud together so we are reading it slowly. It is amazing so far! 
Yep, we were excited!

by Mark Overmeyer

What Are YOU Reading Friends?

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday-Grandfather Gandhi

My Friend Alyson Beecher at Kid Lit Frenzy hosts weekly link up to share Nonfiction Picture Books. Please visit her amazing website. 

Grandfather Gandhi
by Arun Gandhi and Bethany Hegadus
Illustrated by Evan Turk
Published 2014 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers
48 Pages
Book borrowed from my nerdy friend Susan Dee

Goodreads Summary
Mahatma Gandhi's grandson tells the story of how his grandfather taught him to turn darkness into light in this uniquely personal and vibrantly illustrated tale that carries a message of peace.
How could he - a Gandhi - be so easy to anger?

One thick, hot day, Arun Gandhi travels with his family to Grandfather Gandhi's village.
Silence fills the air, but peace feels far away for young Arun. When an older boy pushes him on the soccer field, his anger fills him in a way that surely a true Gandhi could never imagine. Can Arun ever live up to the Mahatma? Will he ever make his grandfather proud?

In this remarkable personal story, Arun Gandhi, with Bethany Hegedus, weaves a stunning portrait of the extraordinary man who taught him to live his life as light. Evan Turk brings the text to breathtaking life with his unique three-dimensional collage paintings.

My Thoughts
At first glance I thought this might be a biography about Mahatma Gandhi told by his grandchild, but it was much different. Arun Gandhi, grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, tells his own story of a visit to his grandfather's village when he was a young boy. This is an important book to share with children. Many children (and adults) struggle with managing anger and frustration. It would be validating for them to see that even the grandson of peacemaker Mahatma Gandhi struggles with anger also. The story is beautifully told and the unique illustrations give a feeling of the time period and location. I would recommend using this book in grades 2-5.
Image from

I feel that this is a great mentor text to share as we build our classroom community. It will also give students a reference to revisit as needed throughout the year. 

In order to fully appreciate the story, I feel that students may need a bit of background about Gandhi. 
There are also many books written about Mahatma Gandhi's life. Here is a list from Google

Resources and Activities
Share this amazing book trailer.

Have your class take the pledge to "Live you life as light".
Share a companion text about managing anger. The Helpful Counselor has a list here
Play some anger management games. Kim's Counseling Corner has 50 games and activities. 

This book also makes a great mentor text for teaching:
character traits

Monday, July 14, 2014

Schneider Family Book Award Blog Tour and Giveaway! An Interview with Cynthia Lord, Author of RULES

I was thrilled when my friend Alyson Beecher, from Kidlit Frenzy, asked me to participate in a celebration blog tour to recognize the 10th anniversary of The Schneider Family Book Award. There was absolutely no doubt about what book I wanted to discuss. RULES by Cynthia Lord is by far my favorite Schneider winner, but it is also a huge personal favorite and a favorite with my 4th graders year after year. 

RULES by Cynthia Lord Published by Scholastic Press                                                                                                                            RULES is important to me on a personal level. The book is about 12 year-old Catherine and her younger brother David who has autism. Catherine struggles throughout the book with making tough choices. She befriends Jason, a boy who is non-verbal and unable to walk. While she considers him to be a good friend, she is worried about what her other friends might think of Jason. Additionally, David can behave in ways that cause her embarrassment. This is a big deal for a preteen girl. Should she keep her friendship a secret? Should she be ashamed of her brother and keep him away from her friends? 
My own daughter is 12 years old and has a younger brother who has autism. She loved this book, although she was a bit younger when she first read it. Finally she was able to see someone like her in a book. Catherine could relate to her feelings of love for her brother, but embarrassment and frustration at times with things our family might have to deal with. Her dedicated copy of RULES is among her most treasured possessions. 
I am so grateful that Cyntha Lord wrote RULES. Throughout the past several years I have read it with many of my students. They all enjoy it, but I especially love when a student who has a sibling with a disability connects with it. 

I'd like to share a photo. It is the handy work of my son TJ. If you have read RULES, you will understand it's significance. 
No toys in the fish tank. 

We are so very fortunate to have Cynthia Lord as a Maine author. She is talented and extremely generous in her support of literacy. I was lucky to talk with her recently about The Schneider Family Book Award and her experience. Her responses are in bold print. 

There are many book awards given each year. Why do you think it is important to have an award such as the Schneider Family Book Award? 

I met Katherine Schneider at ALA the year that Rules won a Schneider Award. She's an amazing person. She is also blind. She told me that when she was growing up, the only blind people that she saw in books were Helen Keller and Louis Braille. She said she wondered why all the blind people were dead!

We want children with disabilities to see themselves in literature, and we want children without disabilities to see those characters, as well. Books give a doorway into other people's lives and experiences, and people with disabilities are an important part of our world. This award encourages authors to write Schneider-eligible books and it encourages publishers to publish them. 

Katherine Schneider sounds like a wonderful person indeed. It must have been exciting to meet her. Were there any other important moments at ALA?

I'll tell you one of my favorite moments at that Schneider luncheon, even though it had nothing to do with Rules. Just a couple weeks before ALA, we had to put our beloved dog to sleep because he was suffering. Katherine Schneider was sitting beside me and her guide dog, Ivana, was under the table at our feet. We were just making conversation and joking about how Ivana was probably hoping something would fall off our plates. Katherine asked, "Do you have a dog, Cynthia?"

I opened my mouth, but for the first time in nine years, the answer was going to be "no." And the word stuck in my throat. As I started to explain, I felt something and it was Ivana. She had come to me under the table and put her head in my lap. When I think of that day, that's one of the most powerful memories for me. A simple expression of deep kindness.

I think in some ways, the Schneider books are like that dog: reaching out to us in our need, showing us we aren't alone in our challenges. I think everyone has reasons they feel different in this world, and the Schneider books go beyond their subject matter to touch the place in us where we are all simply human. 

And they remind us that all the blind people aren't dead. :)
Back L to R: Paul DeBois Jacobs, me, R. Gregory Christie 
Front: Dr. Katherine Schneider and Ivana, her seeing-eye dog 
(Paul and Greg are two of the team for The Deaf Musicians, the PB winner for 2007)

I'd love to hear about how you were notified and what was your reaction when RULES won the award in 2007?

The Schneider committee called my house the day before the award was announced--and I wasn't home! So they spoke to my husband and he called me and told me. I was at my mom's house celebrating her 80th birthday. "Drive CAREFULLY!" he said to me, because he knew I was super excited!  I was sorry not to speak to the committee in person that day, but it was lovely to be with my parents to celebrate the news. 
Tell me about the award ceremony. 

My publisher, Scholastic, held a wonderful lunch for the Newbery and Schneider committee and then we had the Schneider luncheon and the award ceremony. Because Rules had won a Newbery Honor and a Schneider, I needed two fancy dresses. For the Schneider, I decided to honor the spirit of the award and see if I could buy that dress at Goodwill, which of course, employs people with disabilities. I found a gorgeous dark purple dress that sparkled. It felt like The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (Purple Dress Edition), because another woman had worn it for a special occasion and donated it, and now I was wearing it for mine. So after ALA, I brought it back to Goodwill so another woman could wear it, too.  
Me in my Schneider dress.

Why do you think children should read books about people with disabilities?

I think they should read books that have all different kinds of characters, including characters with disabilities.

One thing about disability, though. Sometimes we think there's a firm line between people with disabilities and people without. But in the course of a long life that line is easily crossed. If you live long enough, you are sure to have some form of disability.  So it's not "us" and "them," it's "now" and "later." 

I am sure you have many stories of how RULES has affected the children who have read it. Would you share a favorite?

I have been very blessed: first to have a book published and then for it to have resounded with so many children. Nothing touches my heart more than those letters from siblings who read Rules and then felt comfortable sharing their experiences with me or with people in their lives. It's not always an easy conversation to get started. But starting with book characters (whose feelings we don't need to consider and who won't judge us for saying the wrong thing, etc.) can be the opening to those conversations. I can't even tell you how many parents have told me that their child read the book and then asked them to read it, too, so they could talk about it. 

One day I got an email from a mom whose daughter had just been named a national winner in the "Letters About Literature" contest with a letter to me. She asked me if I'd be willing to write a quick congratulations to her daughter, Caroline, because they were going to surprise her at a school assembly with the news that she'd won and they'd like to read that congratulations. I read the letter Caroline had written to me ( and it touched my heart. I wrote the congratulations letter, but I also signed a hardcover copy of Rules and overnighted it to her family so it could be there in time.  

Her mom later told me that many times she came into her daughter's room to tuck her in at night and found her rereading Rules and that letter. It's one of the moments as an author where you see the power of a book to transcend you as the author, to matter in the lives of a family you've never met in a place you've never been. 

RULES is sure to continue to be an important book for children. I would like to thank Cynthia Lord for sharing her experiences and thoughts about The Schneider Family Book Award. 

Be sure to visit the other blog posts for The Schneider Family Book Award. 

Nerdy Book Club
July 6, 2014 Kid Lit Frenzy 
 July 7, 2014 Nonfiction Detectives 
 July 9, 2014   There is a Book For That 
 July 11, 2014 Kahtie Comments 
 July 12, 2014  Disability in Kidlit
 July 14, 2014 Librarian in Cute Shoes 
 July 15, 2014 The Late Bloomer’s Book Blog 
 July 16, 2014 Read, Write, and Reflect 
 July 17, 2014 Read Now Sleep Later 
 July 18, 2014 Unleasing Readers 
 July 20, 2014 Maria’s Mélange 
Please enter the giveaway!  a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

A review of The Christmas Village by Melissa Ann Goodwin

It's Christmas in July! 
by Melissa Ann Goodwin

Don't be fooled, this is not a Christmas book. Sure, it takes place at Christmas time, but Christmas is not the overall theme of the story. Jamie Reynolds and his mother are facing difficulties in their hometown. They are being snubbed and have lost friends because of something terrible Jamie's father has done. The reader must be patient with this as the author does not reveal what he actually did until late in the book. 
Jamie's mother decides that the two of them need a break from all the talk and stares so they go to visit Jamie's grandparents in another town. Jamie is understandably upset about his father and how he and his mother are being treated. His grandmother has an adorable model of Canterbury, a little Christmas village. Jamie imagines that the little people live perfect lives and he makes a quiet wish to live in Canterbury.

At midnight on Christmas Eve, Jamie hears voices coming from the village. Upon closer inspection he sees that the village has come alive. Two little children are skating on an ice pond when the ice breaks and the girl falls through. Jamie reaches out his hand to save the girl and is instantly transported into the village of Canterbury. 

Although he literally seems to have come from nowhere, the good people of Canterbury take Jamie in and care for him. He discovers while Canterbury is indeed a wonderful place, it is far from perfect. The year is 1932 and Canterbury is struggling during The Great Depression. Many are having a hard time making a living and supporting their families. 

This book is filled with interesting and exciting events that young readers will enjoy. What child has not fantasized about shrinking down and visiting a model city? Jamie makes new friends, but also makes an enemy in the dangerous and troublesome, James Gordon. In the end, a shocking event happens and Jamie is up against the clock. If he wants to return home before Christmas he must choose between going back or helping his friends. Children will like how this book turns out and will be shocked at the surprise twist at the end. 

The Christmas Village reminded me of The Sixty-Eight Rooms by Marianne Malone. 
I would recommend it for an independent read for grades 4-6 and for a read aloud for grades 3-5. 

Melissa Ann Goodwin's second book, Return to Canterbury is also available. Please visit Melissa Ann Goodwin's website to learn more about her books. 

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday-A Boy and a Jaguar

My Friend Alyson Beecher at Kid Lit Frenzy hosts weekly link up to share Nonfiction Picture Books. Please visit her amazing website. 

A Boy and a Jaguar
by Alan Rabinowitz
Illustrated by Catia Chien
Published 2014 by Houghton-Mifflin Harcourt
Nonfiction Picture Book
32 Pages
Disclosure: Borrowed this book from my wonderful nerdy friend Susan Dee!

This is the true story of Alan Rabinowitz. Alan is a wildlife conservationist and a spokesperson for the Stuttering Foundation of America. He also grew up as a stutterer. As a child, the only times he did not stutter were when he was singing or speaking to animals. He has a fondness for big cats such as lions and jaguars and his father often took him to the zoo. As he got older, Alan decided that he wanted to be a voice to help protect wild animals, especially jaguars and other big cats. But who would listen to him if he could not speak fluently? This book chronicles his life's struggles and triumphs. 

My Thoughts
The message in this book is so powerful. If you are passionate, determined and ready to work hard, you can overcome many of life's difficulties and obstacles. Alan writes his story honestly and in a way that will have children (and adults) eager to find out what happens next. The way he overcomes his condition and becomes a person who makes important contributions to the world is inspiring. It would make a great read aloud for grades 1-5. 

Companion Texts
Visit this link to go to a site containing many books that deal with the topic of stuttering. 

Other Resources
A special page for kids who stutter
Stuttering for kids-Stuttering Foundation
Kids Health-Stuttering
Information about some of Rabinowitz's work.

Slice of Life-Revisiting My OLW

Each Tuesday the amazing bloggers at Two Writing Teachers host Slice of Life Stories (SOLS). This is where bloggers link up to share anything they would like to share about what is happening in their lives. 

I have not written a Slice of Life post for some time now. I have mostly been sticking with Celebrate this Week posts on Ruth Ayres blog. But I came up with an idea for a SOLS post yesterday. 

I was sitting in Starbucks all by myself when all of a sudden, Oprah spoke to me. Yes, Oprah! Here is what she said. 
Wise words from Ms. O. Now I am not usually one to read into things like this, but my One Little Word for this year is REACH. It has been 6 months so I decided to do a mental check-in to see if I was living it. 

It turns out that I was a little off track. I had lost focus of my personal and professional goals. I was slugging through the days just to get them done. I was struggling to balance daily household obligations, with 3 kids, with my own wants and needs. I wasn't reaching to connect more, to learn more, to live more. After doing some pondering and planning I think I am mentally back on track now. I need to be a bit more creative with fitting in my own goals with our crazy summer, but I am in the right frame of mind now. 

I would encourage you to check-in. Are you living your OLW? 

Sunday, July 6, 2014

It's Monday, What Are a You Reading? July 7, 2014

Please visit the amazing blogs: Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers who host this terrific meme each week.

Here are my books from last week. Again, I would like to thank my friend Susan Dee. I am so glad you were across the hall during my week of classes. Thanks for hooking me up with some great picture books!

Picture Books
by Lita Judge
I LOVED this book! It is an adorable story of a determined penguin and some very good friends that work together to help him achieve his dream. I am hoping to buy a copy to share at the beginning of the year. Great read aloud for grades K-5. 

by Hannah E. Harrison
Really sweet story of Jane, a dog in a circus who just can't seem to find her talent. 
Nice read aloud for grades K-3.

Nonfiction Picture Books
by Arun Gandhi and Bethany Hegedus
Illustrated by Evan Turk
This is picture book biography is a wonderful reminder that greatness is not something we are born with, but something that takes effort, dedication and patience. I will be sharing this one with my class for sure. Great read aloud for grades 2-5. 

by Lois Ehlert
As one would expect, this book is full of Lois Ehlert's beautiful artwork. The renowned author-illustrator shares her artistic life with her readers. This book could be appreciated by any art-lover. 

Middle Grade
I finished reading...
by Melissa Ann Goodwin
Here is my review from Goodreads:
Don't let the title fool you, this book is an anytime read. It is part historical fiction (travel to 1930"s during the Great Depression) and part realistic fiction. I loved the time travel into the small Christmas Village. So many exciting and unexpected things happen to Jamie who needs to get back to his own time by Christmas. Great for grades 3-5!

Professional Book
by Barry Lane

Still Listening
Lockwood and Co. The Screaming Staircase
by Jonathan Stroud

Currently Reading
by Tracy Holczer

What Are YOU Reading Friends?

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Celebrate This Week-July 5, 2014

Every week, Ruth Ayres over at Discover. Play. Build. invites people to share celebrations from their week.  Please visit and consider linking up your own celebration. 

Thanks to Ruth for providing a platform for me to share my big and small celebrations. 

On Tuesday my husband and I celebrated the anniversary of the day we met 15 years ago. It is easy to remember because we had our first date on July 4th. We went back to the pub where we met, The Great Lost Bear which has become a Portland landmark. It was a great night out alone.

On Thursday I finished the summer session of the Summer-Fall Institute for the Southern Maine Writing Project. This session consisted of seven days in class, learning, collaborating, sharing and, of course, doing lots of writing. I really enjoyed it and I am happy I decided to do it. I enjoyed writing my learning autobiography, reading professional books and even writing my first poem-EVER! 
Here it is.

Cliffs of White Head
by Gigi McAllister

Early morning mist creates a hazy lense through which I view the island.


Treetops reach high above..
Like old friends shielding me from the rising sun.
My footsteps tramp the familiar muddy path.
With the approach of the clearing, my heartbeat quickens.
Trees thin, letting more of the greedy sunlight touch the ground.
Cool, salty wind swirls around me like a welcome embrace.
Greeting me as I step out of the trees and onto the high, gray cliffs.

You’re back, the gulls call.
We’ve been waiting for you.
Come, sit here in your favorite spot on the ledge.
Looking over the churning ocean.

Resting on the warm rock I exhale again and again until my breathing becomes one with the wind and waves.

What Are YOU Celebrating Friends?

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

An Audio Book Review of On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

By Stephen King
Published 2002 by Pocket Books
Simon and Shuster Audio
Copy obtained from public library

I have to first admit that I listened to this audio book as part of a requirement for the Southern Maine Writing Project Summer Institute. We were required to read a book about a writer's life from a list of five possibilities. I chose this book for several reasons. First, I am a Mainer and really wanted to learn more about Stephen King who also calls Maine home. I had also heard wonderful things about the book from other nerdy friends. Lastly, if I'm being honest, having an audio version was a factor because of the little reading time that I have this summer. I am so glad I chose this book and, especially the audio version. I am sure King's voice comes through in the print version, but I am not sure it could compare to hearing his actual voice tell his story. On Writing is entertaining and informative to read even if you don't plan to do any sort of writing. King is a master storyteller. 

The book is a combination memoir of parts of his life and advice for aspiring writers. He includes events from his childhood, both horrific and hilarious from his recurring ear infections and the excruciating process of "draining" his ear to wiping "himself" with poison ivy. Later he tell about his alcoholism, marriage, publishing and getting sober. It is a thrilling ride told so the reader (or listener) feels like they are sitting right next to King and he is telling the story just to them. 

Here are some favorite quotes:

“The road to hell is paved with adverbs.”

“Description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the reader’s.”

“Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open.”

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There's no way around these two things that I'm aware of, no shortcut.”

“Reading at meals is considered rude in polite society, but if you expect to succeed as a writer, rudeness should be the second-to-least of your concerns. The least of all should be polite society and what it expects.”

“Can I be blunt on this subject? If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”

“Grammar is...the pole you grab to get your thoughts up on their feet and walking.”

There are so many more quotes I loved, but many are too colorful to include here. 

From this book here are some things I take away. 
*Writers need to be readers (yes, I knew that but I don't think it can be said enough).
*Don't try to make your writing something it is not. Don't dress up your words. 
*You need people in your life whom you trust to read your writing and give you feedback. 
*Let your dialogue show who your character's traits. 
*Let your writing rest a bit after revisions. Then you will look at it with fresh eyes. 

I would highly recommend On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft for anyone, but especially for anyone who wants to improve their own writing. It is highly entertaining and instructive. You will not be disappointed.