My Problem –> Books

Some would look at my VISA card purchases for the last week and wonder why so many bookstore purchases appear. I will admit it. I do have a problem when it comes to books.

When a favorite author of mine comes out with a new book, I have to get it. That’s why when I saw that amazing author Deborah Heiligman had a new book out, I had to get it. Conveniently, a bookstore in Seattle was hosting an author virtual event and I could order the book through them (always trying to support Indie Bookstores). Yesterday’s mail delivered her book plus 2 more in the series to my mailbox. ($25).

When an inspiring woman comes out with a book reeditted for a younger reader, I have to get it. That’s why I found myself in the neighborhood Barnes and Nobel checkout line with not 1 but 3 copies of Becoming – the young Readers edition by Michelle Obama. I invited 2 colleagues of mine to stay after school last Thursday to watch the NCTE21 Opening Keynote Address by Michelle Obama. As she spoke about how she wants students to know her story, my colleague blurted out, “We need to get that book!” I so agreed and the next morning placed the newly purchased book from the night before in their school mailboxes and carried mine to my classroom. ($45).

When I learn of a new picture book telling the whole truth about American slavery, I have to get it. That’s why I found myself in line at Politics and Prose with a handful. One copy for me. One copy for my white friend who has adopted two black children. One copy for my progressive white friend raising three boys. And a copy each for my own daughters, now adults, to share with those in their lives. On Wednesday, author Nicole Hannah-Jones and illustrator Nikkolas Smith spoke at the NCTE21 Preconference session explaining why they, along with author Renee Watson, wrote the picture book, 1619 Project: Born on the Water. After hearing their backstory and process, I had to have this book and felt a few others did too. ($60)

Like I said, I do have a problem when it comes to books. But I’m OK with this problem.

How about you? What books have you purchased lately?!

My Reading Life

Wednesday Evenings have become a favorite of mine thanks to Supper Club. Back in September, I hesitated to join this weekly event sponsored by Teachers College Reading and Writing Project because it involved another hour with a screen. Yet, the difference is I am not in change of engaging anyone on the other side of the screen. My camera is off. I’m muted. I just get to listen and be inspired. It’s a gift to me and has been the nudge I need to get over the hump and have the energy to keep going.

This week’s Supper Club guest was author, Kate Di Camilla! I so enjoyed seeing her, hearing her read, listening to her explain her writing process. She of course emphasized the power of reading which supports the ability to write well. She went on to say that every year she rereads books. Then she named Charlotte’s Web. “I did not read this book as child but now as a writer, I read it every year to try to figure out how E. B. White did it.”

This got me thinking about my reading life. I set a personal goal recently. After reading Stamped by Jason Reynolds and Ibram Kendi this summer, I realized how much I don’t know as a white woman rasied in the white suburbs in the 60s and 70s. As Maya Angelou says, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know betterdo better.” So my personal goal is to read books by authors of color and read stories of characters who are nothing like me. Instead of mirror books, I’m actively reading window books and moving myself to cross the slide door threshold toward empathy and action. (You can read more about Dr. Rudin Sims Bishop research on books as mirrors, windows and sliding glass doors HERE).

Now you’ve read about Kate’s reading life and mine. How’s yours?

Here are the slides I shared with my students as a model for reflecting on the books we are reading:

PS. Thanks Fran McVeigh – reading your slice yesterday gave me the idea to write my slice today.
Fran also wrote about Supper Club HERE however, she focused what Kate said about revision.

Window / Mirror Reading

As I read books this summer, I tried to also make Reading Notebook Pages to practice showing my thinking I tried a new structure based on the idea that a book can be a mirror and allows me to see myself in it and a book can be a window into a world unknown to me. This is based on Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop’s writing about Windows, Mirrors and Sliding Glass Doors HERE. The last book I read allowed me to record my thinking using both the window and mirroe structure. If you haven’t read Vincent and Theo by Deborah Heligman, I highly recommend it!

I am proud of all the reading I was able to accomplish this summer. I made this reading log and graph to show all I have read since the pandemic began on March 13th:

This format allows me to reflect on volume, genre and author identity. I read 28 books in 5 months. This equals about 1.5 books per week. It could be more. However, I have found my pandemic reading focus to bit strained so I will give myself some grace. Going forward, maybe I’ll aim for 2 books a week. When I made the target graph, I assumed I would read a variety of genres. But I should just admit it. I love HF and RF and I am starting to like NF more. I tend to read YA but keep nudging myself to include adult books, too. Going forward, I think I will leave off Mystery and Fantasy on my next bullseye. They aren’t the genres that I’m into right now. I do want to read more poetry, so I will keep it on the target. As for reading with a diversity lens, 15/28 books were by non-white authors. I will continue to be aware of the author’s identity and choose books by authors different from me.

FInal note: This edutopia article offers ways to incorporate the Sliding Door – maybe that is my next step! How did my perpective change because I read this book? What might a sliding door notebook page look like?

NF is fascinating!

“Today, read your new nonfiction chapter book, taking time to jot down what you find fascinating. I’ll set the timer. When it goes off in 35 minutes, we will take time to talk about what we find fascinating. Off you go…”

And they did go off and read, after they took the book they indicated was their choice after yesterday’s Book Tasting lesson.

In three of my classes, I took a book and did the work, too. Full disclosure: I love fiction, especially realistic and historical fiction. I currently find I spend most of my time reading the genre of fiction. However, after yesterday, I am turning the corner to embrace nonfiction.

Google It – I found it fascinating that the two grad school students at Stanford were looking for something to explore in 1996 when the world wide web was only 4 years old. Perfect timing for them to figure out a way to create a organizing system.

Lost Boy, Lost Girl – I found it fascinating how the South Sudanese Dinka culture accepts a man having many wives. It is also fascinating how hard the Dinka work to protect their cattle because raising cows and being farmers is their way of life. When given a choice between drought, flood or war, it explained how they would pick war because drought and flood hurts their farming way of life more.

A Few Red Drops – I found it fascinating that even though Chicago in 1919 did not have segregated bathrooms and buses like was occurring in the South, neighborhoods and beaches did seem to have a racial invisible line.

I’m looking forward to Monday when I can read more of all three of these books. I hope my 6th graders feel the same. Together, I hope we can both become the kind of readers who start and finish nonfiction chapter books.


“Where is this? Is this just a made up place? I mean it sounds like people are getting shot all the time. Are there really places like that?

“Sure…like Aleppo.”

“I think it’s Chicago.”

“Guys, we live in a bubble in Arlington. There are places like this.”

I tell the author that this was the conversation in my room as I read aloud his book.
“What do I tell them? I’m just a white teacher living and working in North Arlington, a mostly upper mid-class white school.”

“Tell them this book is based on a shooting that happened in Suitland, MD, just miles away from your school. And keep reading and talking!”

Then he signed my Reading Notebook page that I made after reading his book.


Thank you, TCRWP for bringing Jason Reynolds to speak and sign books on Saturday.
So glad I got to have a conversation with him. So glad I get to read aloud his books with my students. Reading and discussing to understand all the places where…


25 Book Advent Calendar!

Last month, I had my students research their family heritage to create a classroom display for the school’s Multicultural Night. As the teacher, I needed to create my own display as a model so I searched for items. While I rummaged through some boxes in the basement, I found an old Advent Calendar. This would work, I thought. I was raised Catholic and my family celebrates Christmas. This artifact represents a part of my heritage. Holding it, I remembered how growing up, I’d open a window each day, read the verse inside from the Nativity Bible story and see a small object – a star, a bell, a sheep – something matching the story of Christmas. I enjoyed this daily task as a countdown to Christmas Day!

Now it is December, 2018 and I saw this idea on twitter:

Screen Shot 2018-12-06 at 7.14.13 PM

I loved this idea because I love children’s books. I immediately thought how it would be a perfect present to send to my grandkids on December 1st, except I don’t have any yet. I envision a box of wrapped books with a number on each from 1-24. Each December evening, a book would be opened and read and enjoyed.  It sounds like an expensive endeavor but I actually have loads of picture books still – ones I just can’t give away. Ones I read aloud to my girls. Ones I read aloud as a teacher. All have a story that matches why I haven’t part with it yet. But I could part with it and would proudly part with it as part of a special non-traditional Advent Calendar gift to to my girls and their family.

So here is my first December Book Advent Calendar lineup and why each book. I realize I have to eventually  make two as I have two daughter! But for now, I’ll start by building one and then, year after year, I can enjoy rereading the stories myself,  until I have someone to pass it on to.

  1. Teddy by Sara Ball 
    I bought this wordless book in Munich, Germany in 1991. It was my very first time traveling outside the USA and I was traveling alone. I left my 2-year old with Nana for the month of May and was traveling to Venice to be with husband, as he finished his grad school semester abroad. I remember that my plane landed in Munich, Germany and I had a few hours to find the train station and take it for a five hour ride to Verona, Italy where my husband was meeting me. It was 1991 so no cell phone, no GPS. I must have had some German money because I recall buying a hot dog and this book for my daughter. It was the perfect German book because I could “read” the wordless concept book and I knew she’d love it. Plus, books always help in nervous situations!
  2.  Fox in Socks by Dr. Seuss
    So many nights I read-aloud this book. I’d skip some of the tongue twisters as the book is rather long. But I could never skip The Tweedle Beetle Battle! A favorite of my girls during their pre-school years. This copy also is evidence that it was before they learned that books were for reading and not writing in!
  3. Go, Dog, Go by P.D. Eastman
    A favorite book for the WHOLE family! As December begins, it seems a good time to enjoy an old favorite. I especially enjoy studying the ASLEEP page and then quickly turning to observe the AWAKE page. Asleep – awake! Of course, the very best is the DOG PARTY at the end. I can stare at that tree to notice all the many, many antics going on. A festive book for a festive month!
  4. Andrew’s Bath by David McPhail
    A small moment story about bathtime, with an imaginary twist. My sister gave me this book in 1984 when I was “Miss Stallings”  teaching Kindergarten and the book plate inside is evidence of that time.  She worked at a publishing office which received many books to be reviewed. She passed them along to me to use in my classroom and eventually to read to my girls. 
  5. Leo the Late Bloomer by Jose Aruego
    I loved reading this book to my kindergarten class because it is what I believe. We bloom when we are ready. We all eventually will say, “I made it!”
  6. Flying by Donald Crews
    I love ALL of Donald Crew’s books. But Flying is a favorite because of the surprises on each page. As the plane flies, the reader notices all the other modes of transportation Donald Crews created in his other books. It’s fun to read and notice the bike, the carousel, the freight train, the truck, the school bus. I first taught Kindergarten and would spotlight an author a month and I filled my reading corner with books checked out from the library by the spotlighted author. My students LOVED listening to me read Donals Crews’ books. Then, as emergent readers, they felt confident to “read” these simple concept books during free reading time. A personal connection – Amy Crews, his daughter, was in my husband’s architecture grad school class in Venice. While I visited my husband, I enjoyed a few meals with her and her sister, Nina. Now, as I reread his books, I look for his dedications to his girls and places where he adds A&N for Amy and Nina.  
  7. Round Trip by Ann Jonas
    I love how creative this book is. You read it forward. Then you turn it upside down and read it back to the beginning. Using only black and white spaces, this gifted author and illustrator creates a round trip that takes the reader all around town and back and forth through the book. As a Kindergaten teacher, I enjoyed reading ALL the transportation books by Donald Crews (see #5). Then I’d introduce them to his wife, Ann Jonas. I was inspired by this married couple that writes childrens books! A personal connection – their daughter, Amy was in my husband’s grad school class in Venice. He got to dine with this literary couple but thinks of them as just Amy’s mom and dad. I can also recall watching from the sidelines at grad school graduation as Amy showed her family around the UVA Architecture school. I so wanted to meet them, have them sign a book and tell them how much I enjoy their books as a teacher. But I just watched from afar, as they were there as parents, not as authors. I guess this is why I love all books by Donald Crews, Ann Jonas and now Nina Crews, a family of authors and illustrators!
  8. The Keeping Quilt by Patricia Polacco
    I love all of this author’s books. Her picture books are meaty and I ended up using them more once I taught 4th and 6th graders. But back when I did teach Kindergarten, my school had an auction to raise money each year. And I suggested the students help make a quilt to auction off. So I’d read-aloud this book to share a story of the importance of fabric used again and again as the years go by in a family. This book also inspired me to save the fabric of my daughters’ lives. Their first onsies, their Catholic school uniform, the dinosaur curtains from their bedroom. Then as a high school graduation present, I made the saved fabric into a small quilt for them to take to college. Thanks for the inpsiration, Patricia Polacco!
  9. Exactly Opposites by Tana Hoban
    Tana Hoban was another author of the month when I taught kindergarten because emergent readers can read her book. She uses photography and creates her books around a concept. This one is opposites! In the 1990s, when cameras were not carried in your pocket as part of your phone, it was special to take my students on a walk around the school, looking. Once they found a shape, I had them use my Olympus camera. Then I’d take the film to be developed at the drug store and get it back in two days. I’d tape each photo to the top of the card stock page and the student added words. We slowly made our own class Tana Hoban inspired concept book. Now taking photos is not a novelty and making sa similar project can be created quickly using the school issued iPad. However, I’ll always enjoy rereading Tanan Hoban’s books and remember that years ago, making a photographic concept book was a new concept.
  10. A Letter for Amy by Ezra Jack Keats
    I love ALL books by this author who I discovered while teaching.  I taught kindergarten in an all white school but Keats allowed my students and I to see what other neighborhoods looked like. I especially like this book because I would read it during our Letter Writing Unit. In the 1990s, the post office was the only way to send a letter. Walking to the mailbox, as Peter does in this book, is what we also did after writing our letter. I guess this book would be considered historical fiction today, allowing 21st century readers to glimpse another time, when emailing and texting did not exist! 
  11. The Big Orange Splot by Daniel Manus Pinkwater
    “My house is me and I am it. My house is where I like to be and it looks like all my dream,” Mr. Plumbean said in this book. In December, 2015 we were able to occupy the house that my husband designed. It truly is a unique home (just like Mr. Plumbean’s and it matches all our dreams! It’s especially comfortable at Christmastime, with the fireplace ablaze, the tree lights twinkling and the table in the double height dining room filled with holiday treats!
  12. Dancing in the Wings by Debbie Allen
    This book was introduced to me during a Summer Institute at Teachers College Reading and Writing Project. It helped me understand how to pay attention to what a character says and does in order to identify character traits. I also learned to pay attention to all the secondary characters, placed into the story for a reason. This story also reminds me of all those ballet dancers performing The Nutcracker during this month. 
  13. Sheila Rae and the Peppermint Stick by Kevin Henkes
    This is another book introduced to me during one of my many visits to Teachers College. We discussed character traits. We discussed who has the power. We debated fairness and discussed our own sibling connections. So much to do with such a little book written by another favorite author!
  14. Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney
    This story reminds introduces the reader to the Lupine Lady whose motto was ” to visit faraway places, come home to live by the sea, and so something to make the world more beautiful”. Her “something” was to plant lupine flowers. My dear art teaching friend, Donna Beth, would read aloud this book and then have her students paint a lupine. She visited my classroom in the fall of 2001 and painted with my students. Her sudden death months later in January, 2002 make we cherish this book and the lupines I painted with her even more. Every year, I hang painted lupines in my classroom to be inspired by a teacher who truly made the world more beautiful during her short time on this Earth.
  15. Fig Pudding by Ralph Fletcher
    I recall co-teacing 5th grade as a reading teacher. The other teacher wanted to use this book for the class read-aloud. I didn’t know it so I read it. However, it was also at the time when I was learning to read, stop and jot my thinking. Because of my close study of this book, I loved it! There is a scene where Ralph’s family is making fig pudding and streudel. I recall enjoying stredle with the class as we sat in December, finishing the book as a read-loud.
  16. Dream Snow by Eric Carle
    I love ALL books by Eric Carle. This one seems most appropriate for reading in December. 
  17. An Orange for Frankie by Patricia Polacco
    Here one of my favorite authors telling a depression-era Christmas story based on a true story, experienced by her grandmother. Rereading it reminds me to appreciate all I have and to always share with others when I can.
  18. The Tiny Star by Arthur Ginolfi
    I recall my mom giving this book, signed by the author for Bridgit in 1990. The author was at Barnes and Noble in 1990 and Nana happened to be in the store the day the author was there. I read the simple story of the nativity told from the star’s point of view and saw it as a play that the kindergarteners could perform! I casted the following roles: Starlet, the moon and stars. Each made a star or moon to hold and I was the narrator. It became the Kinder play for years! 
  19. The Christmas Train by Ivan Gantschev
    This was another book given to me by my sister when she worked for a publisher. I love the watercolor illustrations. I love the story of a brave girl who is the hero who saves the train.
  20. The Clown of God by Tomie dePaola
    I love the message in this book – use your gifts to make others smile. That used to be the theme of my Catholic School classroom – Use your gifts. And I stapled gift bags up across the bulletin board above the blackboard as a board. Each having a different student’s name on a bag. I love how Giavanni in the story uses his gifts until the very end.  I love that it is set in Italy, reminding me of my trip to Italy with Brian in 1991 and our family Christmas trip to Venice in 20__.  Plus, this copy got signed by the author!
  21. Jesus of Nazareth: A LIfe of Christ Through Pictures illustrated with paintings from the National Gallery of Art
    In the 90s, I taught Kindergarten for many years and always planned a fieldtrip to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. Once I bought this book and took my girls on a scavenger hunt, looking for each painting in the book. If near DC, I recommend a trip to the museum to see the paintings in person!
  22. Pop-up of The First Christmas by Tomie de Paola
    I recall taking the girls to the City of Alexandra’s Children’s Book Store to met this author. It was a crowded bookstore. They were pre-school age and not really in to waiting in line. I loved Stega Nona! I just had to meet the creator and the girls picked this book out to get, too. It must have been in the mid-90s when we lived on Luray Avenue. It was propably the first time meeting an author in person.
  23. Pop-Up The Night Before Christmas 
    This is the classic tale by Clement C. Moore in a pop-up verison! The perfect story to enjoy tonight. “Happy Christmas to all and to all a Good Night!”
  24. Grandma’s ABCs of Christmas: My husband’s mother saved everything. Because she had a big basement, she had room to save stuff and she did. Everthing!  For example, she kept ever Christmas card she ever received. Stacks and stacks. Every single one. Then she got an idea. She typed up a poem called The ABCs of Christmas and placed each verse on a different page of a photo album. On the first page, it says, A is for Angels. Then, as a collage on the page, she arranged angel images cut out from her old Christmas cards. She continued this idea for B-Z. And she made one book for each of her five children’s family. Now that she is no longer with us, this books means even more. She enjoyed making a book for us to read each Christmas, made from the greeting cards of all her friends. Definitely saving this book for last – the best for last!



If your heritage is like mine, what would be on your LIST
if you decided to make an Advent Book Calendar
Suggestion: Get it ready NOW and be ready for Dec. 1, 2019!!

If your heritage is different than mine, 
how might YOU include books as a way to countdown?


Google Maps indicated the Ashburn Barnes and Noble was 23 miles away from my house in Arlington and it would take me 41 minutes to drive there. Despite being exhausted all day on Monday, April 30th because over the weekend I helped with our Middle School play (helped meaning being at school on Friday until 5pm, Saturday from 10am -9:30pm and Sunday from 11am – 7:30pm while my students performed three shows of The Lion, the With and the Wardrobe. ), I still wanted to go. So once school ended, I headed west.

After following the voice on my app, I found the Barnes and Noble. I sat in the second row of the chairs and saved a seat for my friend who was on her way. A little after 5pm, the BUS arrived!


Then Kwame worked his magic!! As he talked to the crowd, I learned this was his last bus tour stop. For the last 30 days, he has been on this amazing bus that looked like the Rebound Book cover to promote his newest book. He lives just down the road in Reston so it made sense that he’d end here. So glad I made the trek!

Kwame read his poetry. Randy played background guitar music. Kids were called up to play a game – as Kwame read a poem, he’d leave out a word and the kids would fill in the blank. ALL won t-shirts! We learned he is working on a book about a character who plays tennis titled, Love.  He ended having us ALL repeat after him in song…

Be a star.
In your mind.
Day and night.
And let it shine!

Dribble, Fake, Shot, Miss
Dribble, Fake, Shot, Miss
Dribble, Fake, Shot, Miss
Dribble, Fake, Shot….SWISH!!

As I was outside the store about to head home, I noticed the boys who were sitting in front of me. They were being guided onto the bus. I was so jealous! I watched as his brother and mom stepped onto the bus and took a look. As they returned to the sidewalk, I went up to them and asked, “How did you get to go on the bus?”

The boy replied, “My mom made me bring my report on Kwame and when he saw it, he said we could get a look. I didn’t want to bring it but my mom made me,” he answered.


I love meeting children’s authors!
They are rock stars in my book!!


My Top Writing Links

Here are links that help me as a writer:

TwoWritingTeachers – I started writing in their March Writing Challenge in 2014 and now it is my March routine! I also daily read their blog to be inspired about the teaching of writing. To help me with writer’s block, I made this padlet of writing ideas.

Jen Serravallo’s Writing Strategies Book  – Jen is such a clear writer! This handbook is my go to for ideas on how to craft my own writing and teach writing.

TCRWP Units of Study for Teaching Writing, available by grade K-8 – I rely on these resources as a writing teacher. I learned to write by attending their Summer Institutes and I use their units to teach students how to write well.

Some Writers I follow that have helped mw specifically as a writer:

Sharon Creech taught me how to enjoy reading and writing poetry through her book Love That Dog

Ralph Fletcher’s book Walking Trees acts as a mentor text for me when I write about my teaching.

Kwame Alexander teaches me writing tips through his online social media presence and acts as a mentor as to ways to share online. Look for him on facebook and twitter!

Jacqueline Woodson inspires me. Her books are a gift! She is currently the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature




Just finished/Currently/Up next

Inspired by a fellow slicer who described her email signature today, I decided to steal her idea and do the same. You can read Cindy’s post here.

When I started teaching Middle School this year, I saw other ELA teachers posting in their signature three line that listed book titles related to their own personal reading. Their modeling pushed me to follow suit. At the moment, this is what is included below my signature when I send out emails:

Just finished: As Brave As You  by Jason Reynolds
Currently reading: The graphic novel of A Wrinkle in Time
Up Next: The Wild Robot Escapes by Peter Brown
As Brave As You  by Jason Reynolds
I ordered this book as part of my Social Issue Book Club Unit. Then when a student book club were discussing the trouble in the story and couldn’t agree on parts of the book, I decided I needed to read it. The book is a page turner and I finished it in a day. Once back at school on Monday, I shared my notes with the group and had them reread a few parts with me to help clarify what was happening. Soon we were all finding evidence in the book related to the social issues of blindness, guns, and dealing with a death in the family. My 6th grader book clubers and I all recommend this book!
The graphic novel of A Wrinkle in Time
A few weeks ago, I was at the independent book store, Politics and Prose and saw this graphic novel. I had just heard about the movie coming out soon and thought I’d refresh the story in my mind by rereading this story from my young in graphic form. In the back of this book, the author’s acceptance speech given in 1963 when she won the Newbery Award for writing this novel was included. 1963 – that’s the year I was born!  Now this story felt more special to me. Then on the way to work last week, I heard this story on NPR all about the making of the movie (I recommend taking 7 minutes to hear the story). I loved learning that a 5th grader in the 1960s spent her life determined to make this book into a movie. This week I am going to finish reading the graphic novel version and then go see the movie, too. Fantasy and graphic novels aren’t usually my go-to but for this story, I am engaged!
The Wild Robot Escapes by Peter Brown
TODAY this book is released!!!!!!!!!!
I read The Wild Robot to my 6th graders as part of the Global Read-aloud  in the fall. We LOVED meeting Roz. Now Roz is back!!! I ordered the sequel on my kindle so I’ll have it without taking time to visit a bookstore tomorrow. Thank you, Peter Brown for writing more about Roz! (If you haven’t met Roz yet, I recommend that you do soon!)

What are you reading?

Little Library


My school’s auction is tomorrow night. Thanks to lots of behind-the-scenes work, my room mother purchased a little library and my students decorate it. Since  I love books so much, I suggested we decoupage colored print-outs of our favorite book covers onto the back and sides. Calvin & Hobbs, Stone Fox, Giant Squid, Harry Potter and Cam Jansen to name a few! She painted it the color of our 3rd grade Atmosphere hallway – sky blue. The students helped add the clouds, sun and a rainbow to the front. We all signed our names to the inside door frame. Soon this Little Library will stand proud and tall in someone’s front yard, holding 2 shelves-worth of books for those walking by. They can stop, take a look and borrow a book to read. Due to the solar-panel on the roof, it even lights up at night!!