Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Strange Birds

It's been a very hot and humid day.  Our A/C is on and so is my oven. Please don't tell National Grid (shouldn't I be conserving?).  The oven's purpose? To bake Aster's Chips+Chips cookies.

So many good books are coming out this fall and Strange Birds: A Field Guide to Ruffling Feathers by Celia C. Perez is one of them.  Four different girls with four different backgrounds in a tree house in Florida ruffling feathers literally and figuratively.

There's Ofelia Castillo, the journalist, who just wants support and permission to apply to the four week Qwerty Sholes contest that would land her a 4-week internship in New York City.

There's Cat Garcia, a bird watcher who just quit the Floras, unbeknownst to her mother.  Being a Flora has been in Cat's family history for forever and her mother has dreams of Cat becoming Miss Floras.  As Miss Floras, Cat would don a hat made "a hundred years ago when...people thought it was okay to kill birds and wear them." Cat is not okay with that.

There's Aster Douglas, a foodie, who lives with her grandfather and is on a mission to uncover the mystery of the Winter Sun orange (and the namesake of our cookies).

And finally Lane DiSanti who is staying in Sabal Palms with her grandmother while her parents figure out the future of their relationship. "All relationships require some kind of agreement." Lane comes from old Florida money and is the one behind bringing the girls together with an intriguing invitation.

This is a story about activism, friendship, standing up for what you believe in and using your voice.  Watch out, though, after learning that actions can make a difference, who knows what your middle grade readers will be inspired to do. Strange Birds teaches them that "most things that matter carry some risk" but will be worth it in the end. (and cause for celebration with Aster's cookies, of course--thankfully the recipe is included!)

Celia with her editor at a Penguin luncheon during ALA. The flamingo and sticky notes are key.


PS-The cookies are DELICIOUS! I love how they are one bowl, too! 🍪♡

Monday, July 15, 2019

All the Impossible Things



It always seems impossible until it's done-Nelson Mandela

We were driving to New Jersey this morning and I was in the back reading.
The good news is that my Mom had a box of tissues on the seat where I was sitting.
The bad news is that I used so many, the box now needs to be replaced.

All the Impossible Things by Lindsay Lackey
This book.
These characters.
That giant old tortoise.
All blow together in one nearly perfect book.

I was hooked by the first chapter.  If I was in my mom's car then, there would have been a shortage of Kleenex by the end of the book.

11 year old Ruby "Red" is no stranger to foster homes.  Her mom is incarcerated and her Gamma, who had been taking care of her, died of cancer. Ruby's latest placement  is with Celine and Jackson at their "Groovy Petting Zoo."  It is there she befriends next door neighbor, young videographer Marvin, Tuck the Tortoise, many other animals and her new foster parents.

Red counts the days patiently until the day her mom is released from jail and they will be reunited. But when the letters she writes to her all get returned, Red takes a difficult journey to find out the difference between hard and impossible and realizes that maybe,
"living without something-even something you really need-isn't the end.  Maybe it's the beginning of something better."
This book tugged at my heart. It made my stomach turn. There were times I wanted to just shake Red up. I knew what I wanted for her and just hoped she would discover it, too, in spite of the pain.  "Pain is funny...Sometimes it tricks us into thinking one thing is wrong, when really it is something else."

"Every good story starts in one place and ends somewhere else."  Find yourself a good solid block of time (with a cup of hot cocoa on the side) to be there where it starts and to see how it ends. 

I love having debut authors on my Newbery contender list.  Lindsay Lackey is one of them, for sure.

September 3 find your fans of Barbara O'Connor, Nikki Loftin and Natalie Lloyd and twirl over to them with this book. Oh, and don't say I didn't warn you about the sniffles...♡

I met Lindsay at ALA and am sad we didn't take a leap together.  It is very POSSIBLE that I will be soliciting her for a Skype visit in early winter.  When that happens, a leap will happen.


If you were at NerdCampMI, you might have remembered Laura Shovan's response when asked "What are you sick and tired of?" She is sick and tired of "boy vs. girl books" and "periods." This is a book for all readers, girls or boys, who love realistic fiction with a sprinkle of magic. Additionally, Red gets her period during a very intense part of the book. It happens, she deals with it and we move on.  Please don't shy away from it now. For Red, getting her period not only symbolizes coming of age but so much more. Family, independence, maturity, motherhood, and, the simple impossibility of birth.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Quotable NErDCampMI 2019

Here's a VERY brief collection of quotes from Day 1.

Pen and trusty yellow legal pad in hand, I tried to get some good quotes.  Although, I have to admit, there were times when I inhaled for five, exhaled for ten and just listened deeply.

"No one else wants another silent female.  We have enough of those."-Pernille Ripp (and in my notes I put my daughter's initials with a ♡.  She is far from a silent female and makes me proud every day. Later Pernille said, "Nothing wrong with being angry if you do something about it...Embrace anger as a tool."
"What happens to one of us, happens to all of us."-Alicia Williams.  I was thrilled to listen to her and meet her later that day.  At least two people have recommended her book as a strong Newbery contender.
Ahhh...Cece Bell.  I love how she thought she visited my school.  I had to remind her that I was just an annoying, pushy librarian pre-Newbery 2015 and then we finally did get to Skype post-Newbery.

"We need to keep reading books so we can laugh together, discover ourselves and discover each other."

Cece has a new book out about underwear and feet. How could that NOT be funny?


I could listen to her SPEAK forever. A couple of times, I caught glimpses of her wandering but was too timid to say hello.  Here's my takeaway--I need to talk to my secondary librarian and MS ELA teachers. Chains has been part of the 7th grade curriculum forever.  Now let's make Speak part of 8th grade and Shout a HS and all district faculty book club.  Laurie referenced her January Time magazine essay.  Read it here.  My son will be 13 next month. He doesn't know it yet, but we have some uncomfortable, yet crucial, conversations ahead of us. And discussing Speak is at the top of that list.

Donalyn Miller.

Another idol of probably every camper and beyond.
"No matter who you signed a contract with, you made a contract to society and all its children."  Donalyn charged us all to "make good trouble" as we hold up our end of the contract.

Jason Reynolds.

"Jason Reynolds sits in your classroom every day unrecognized."
"Don't feel sad; feel angry."

"When that bell rings, everyone takes a different journey home." 

(about his forthcoming book, Look Both Ways, a collection of stories of ten kids during the 10 unsupervised minutes walking home.)

Want more? I'm sure when I was breathing, others were jotting. Check out the #NErDCampMI tweets for more inspiration...

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

CHOBANI and Almonds Grabenstein Style

The bookstore asked if I could sell 100 books. Could I?
I told my students there was a "contest".
IF we sold 100 books, our friend Chris Grabenstein would visit.

We sold 108 books.
Splendiferous! As our reward, Chris Grabenstein returned to CES last week. WOOHOO!

We love having lunch with our visitors.  This time it was going to be a bit challenging.  Got this message from the bookstore coordinating his visit:

Apparently he likes:   Chobani blueberry no-fat yogurt and a bag of almonds  

That was a stumper.  Were the kids going to be into that? For lunch???

So...I knocked this around with one of my teachers who said,

Chobani... suggestion: have a selection of five or more different almonds... sliced, blanched, roasted, tamari, raw... and some fresh blueberries...
Within the parameters, you can still be you (AKA going over the top)

I took that and leapt. What about a Chobani and Almond blind taste test with some fourth graders?

A trip to the grocery store and twelve different tubs of Chobani, five cans of almonds later I was ready for "Chobani and Almonds Grabenstein Style."  I made up a review sheet, got some pencils and spoons and we put our taste buds to test.  It was a wonderful interaction between reader and author that I highly recommend.  Giggles, "ews" "yums" and guesses all lead to a different kind of bonding that we don't usually experience when we have lunch together.

In hindsight, I believe Chris wishes he requested ice cream, but a healthy dose of yogurt was certainly a close second.  (and I was thrilled that so many of the kids enjoyed the Chobani.) Maybe for the launch of SHINE (Chris's new middle grade he wrote with his wife.  It's due out in the fall--Stay tuned!) we'll have ice cream.  I had to ask Chris, "Why Chobani?"  He told me it was a good company with a good mission (see below).  Also, yogurt is easy to polish off while chatting with kids.  And as far as Chobani goes, he is right--Check out the [anti] CEO's recent TedTalk. If it's up to me, we'll be having more Chobani tests in the future.

As per his request, the BLUEBERRY NONFAT CHOBANI


Check out this recent TED Talk by the anti-CEO of Chobani.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019


In two weeks I will be facilitating a webinar on EXTREME author visits.  Not going to lie--I'm a little nervous.  A lot of folks out there host amazing visits for amazing people.  What can they learn from me? Only time will tell.

My visits are SO extreme that it takes me awhile to regroup and come down from the high.  Case in point--we just had Susan Verde (author of I Am Peace, I Am Human, I Am Yoga, Hey Wall and others) visit last week and the library is not completely back to normal; planning how to include more mindfulness into our lives and classrooms is fresh on our minds; and, the buzz about the evening gala is well, still buzzing.

For the first time, we featured our guest author in our monthly morning program assembly.  The kindergarteners sang a couple of lovely songs, including Emily Arrow's I Am Peace.

Mrs. Carlson's class performed Susan's My Kicks (they were so good!) and Mrs. Golden's first graders shared the timeline of Susan's life. It was a great assembly highlighting our youngest learners. Susan sat in a chair right in front of the action.

We had three smaller assemblies that day: 3-5, 6 and K-2.  Susan's message was loud and clear. We all get frustrated. We are not perfect. That's where mindfulness can help us.  Take a breath.  Take a break. Be kind. "I thought she was great. I loved her message. She was one of my favorites," a teacher told me the next day. Impressive coming from someone who is hard to impress.

In between the second and third assemblies, Susan had lunch with my Dewey Duty and Reading Ambassadors.  They engaged in conversation like they were all old friends.

I hope Susan took my advice and napped between 3 and 6.  We certainly didn't since as soon as the late bus bell rang, my teaching space was in super transformation mode from library to a peaceful, mindful themed art gallery. Thanks to a phenomenal parent volunteer, it worked!

For the third year in a row, our gala centered around PICTURE A POEM. Fifth graders expressed through artwork (illustration, sculpture) an anonymous poem from another fifth grader (not in their class). We do this because this is how illustrators and authors work in the real world.  Susan confirmed this since we met Matt Cordell about six months before she did!

The artwork at the gala was breathtaking. The poetry by the third graders was inspiring. And the mood of evening was joyous, peaceful, exciting and an all around great night.  I heard so many adults comment on how wonderful it was to see the kids so proud of their work. And they certainly had every right to be.

To be honest, I would not have worked as hard as I did to get Susan to Castleton if it wasn't for our Physical Therapist, Mrs. Colloton. She began our mindfulness initiative and shared Susan's books regularly. She was (still is) a fangirl and was beyond thrilled to have Susan visit. Not really knowing much about Mrs. Colloton, I was glad that Susan's visit enabled us to get to know each other better.  In fact, so much so that I wrote Mrs. Colloton a card the next day that said something like, "I knew you were amazing.  I just didn't know how much."

And even though I may not do mindfulness daily (or at all), I have to admit that I am more aware of my surroundings, the humans I care about and the importance of taking a break to breathe from time to time.  Thank you, Susan.

They are all wearing white because they are my "workers.


Thank you, SuSUN for shining a bright mindful light on all of us at Castleton. We 💜 you.

Monday, April 8, 2019


I really don't want to go to school today. Cough-cough. Is it too late to call in? I feel like I could be coming down with something....

Rafael Lopez withdrawal?  Is that listed in the DSM? Could I get a doctor's note?

Seriously, after months of preparing "It's like a wedding," everyone kept saying all week, the day with Rafael came and went in an instant. He is now tucked in his bed in sunny San Diego while we are looking out at Rafael's "favorite" color gray skies in Castleton.*

I can honestly say that his visit changed lives, opened minds, inspired, energized and brought our whole entire Schodack Central School District community and beyond together. His murals come with life changing bonds and we witnessed it on Friday.  Kindergarteners and 12th graders. Teaching assistants and principals.  Secretaries and third graders.  Grandmother volunteers and 7th graders.  Dads and fifth grade poets. First graders and moms.  Flute players and girl percussionists.  A superintendent and art teachers. Future artists and future engineers.  This day was a memory maker.

Can you spy Rafael? Look for his hat!

Major kudos to our community for letting me place a piece of Rafael permanently in the homes of every single student at Castleton Elementary School.


Thank you, Rafael for bringing your magic to Castleton.  Your fairy dust will last forever along with your marks on the wall outside our library. Muchos gracias, mon amigo.

*Gray is the color that Rafael highlighted in Eric Carle's collaborative book, What's Your Favorite Color? The truth is that Rafael's favorite colors are purple, orange and black. Gray goes with everything, he says and so does he. 6th grade boys who exclaim they will never wash the hand that Rafael touched again, is just one little proof that his own gray octopus arms impact all.

Want to dive into our visit more? Check out these district tweets:

Make sure to check out the whole thread on this one:
And here's the link a story about Rafael's visit from our district webpage:


A leap at the end of the day with Mrs. Gregoire, our amazing art teacher.

 Bonus: Who would have thought Rafael could leap in the snow on April 5?!

I shed many tears throughout the day, especially when I had to say goodbye. Saludos.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019


Yesterday I wore green pants with white polka dots, a grey and yellow striped shirt, a patterned scarf and orange chucks.  On top of that, my hair was extra wild. Thinking about it while dressed more conservatively, yesterday's mixed patterns would have been more appropriate today when we celebrated the book birthday of wild red haired Lizzy McTizzy who is in search of her lost blue shoe so she can have her pair and be off to a birthday party herself.

Four parties down and one more tomorrow.  Am I a little partied out?  Absolutely not.

I'm glad the first party was with Ms. Malone and her kindergarteners.  After reading Sarah Weeks's fun text, we danced the Hokey Pokey. They class suggested we sing "If You're Happy and You Know It" because there is a reference to feet in there as well. So we did. And that song followed me to all the other affairs.

As the hours moved ahead, the treats got sweeter.  Ms. Malone at 8:30 am had pastries.  At 9:40, Mrs. Golden's first graders enjoyed rice Krispy treats. Later on, frosted cookies were a hit with Mrs. Kosinski's and Mrs. Cook's classes.  Needless to say, I did not eat my yogurt until I got home.

I love Lizzy and all she stands for.  Her perseverance in searching for her shoe. She really did look everywhere including someplace by "the underwear"!  Hahahaha. Giggle giggle.  Five and six year olds love that line! Her idea that the party is more important than matching.  I totally get that.

Lee Wildish's illustrations are perfect.  I love Lizzy's big red CURLY hair (I can relate, short the red part).  I love the kid on the playground eating the chocolate bar. And kids love how Lee used his artistic liberty to show that Lizzy's shoe was not by the toilet.

Kids get this story. They enjoy the rhymes.  They love the illustrations and they get the message.  "Be yourself. Be unique. It's ok to be different." If kids like Lizzy McTizzy will be our role models, I know this world will get a lot more kinder, friendlier and colorful!

"Be yourself; everyone else is already taken."
-Oscar Wilde

Have portable giant "photo card" will travel. Some class photos of our day:

Mrs. Kosinski even made her own backdrop for the party!