Sunday, April 17, 2016

Towers Falling by Jewell Parker Rhodes

Shot taken at the bowling alley because I couldn't put it down!

Have you found a middle grade novel that appropriately covers 9/11 for their readers?  I didn't think so and you probably won't until this July when Jewell Parker Rhodes's Towers Falling is released, just in time for the 15th anniversary.

I have been a fan of Jewell's since Ninth Ward, where Hurricane Katrina was the backdrop. In her historical fiction book, Sugar, Jewell opened our minds to the world of segregation on the plantation, as well as how Chinese workers were hired to harvest the sugar cane alongside the African Americans. I have yet to read Bayou Magic, Jewell's book that takes place right before the Gulf oil spill, although many of my students did and each one enjoyed it.

We were lucky enough to receive ARCs of Towers Falling from Little Brown, as part of the Faculty Lounge program.  Students have read it under the guidance of Mr. Reischer and the reviews have all been glowing.  Even Mrs. Warland read it and she loved it.  It was time for me to get my hands on it, especially since we have a date to Skype with Jewell this Tuesday!

I love having Saturday morning dates with a book and yesterday's did not disappoint.  This is the story of Deja, who just moved into Avalon Family Residence, the homeless shelter, with her parents and younger brother and sister.  Deja, a lifelong Brooklynite, has never really experienced much outside her world, a world where she really hasn't seen her Dad smile, ever, and he is sick all the time.  There's something wrong with Dad but what is it? She wishes she could understand and make things better.  Wishes it were more concrete.  I love this line (p.107), "If he had a cast, I'd write my name on it."  It's always easier for anyone, young and old, to understand when there is an official diagnosis.

Now in her new school, Brooklyn Collective Elementary, Deja's mind is opened. She becomes friends with Ben, a transplant to Brooklyn from Arizona after his parents' divorce and Sabeen, whose family is from Turkey. They are learning in depth about 9/11. Deja knows nothing and wonders why it's even important to learn.  "It's hard enough figuring out now," she thinks. (p. 34)

Finally, Deja, with the help of her friends and teachers, begins to piece together the puzzle.  Why is Dad sick?  What exactly happened on September 11, 2001?  What is the meaning of home and family and how do we keep them together?  In this story of love, friendship and hope, Jewell manages to answer them all.  Be sure and keep tissues and some Turkish delights handy, for you never know when a nerve might be pinched and a tear or two will drop.  Nothing a triangle of baklava can't fix, though.

What's in the Box?

     Yesterday I ran into a former student of mine, a 6th grader.  She shared with me that she read Booked in one day.  "Couldn't put it down," she said. "Unputdownable, right?" She was thrilled that Kwame included a Walking Dead reference.  "I was talking to him at the Dewey Duty lunch and he asked me what I was into.  I told him I loved The Walking Dead," she smiled.  "Think he put that in because of me?"  We'll never know but man is it nice to imagine it's true.

     "What's in the box?" I asked her. I'm always wondering.
     "Hmmm...I don't think there's anything in there.  I think it represents something, like hope, or promise."  Wow. She continued but I was in a daze at that point.  So impressed.

     I went to school today and found the Middle School newspaper in my mailbox.  I'm not usually on their "mailing list" but when I opened it up, I saw why this issue came to me.  Check it out--a whole article on our Booked party.

*The "video" was the NPR interview
*My popcorn is FAMOUS! Who else can say that?!

I wonder what Zack thinks is in the box....

ps-Yesterday I took my son and his friend bowling.  It dawned on me that not only does Mr. Mac wear Converse but also bowling shoes.  I had to take this shot:

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Everything but Kwame...

Happy Birthday BOOKED!


The incomparable volunteer, Mrs. Warland, baked 80 red velvet cupcakes,
cut out the soccer balls and put them on each cupcake!

Then she spelled out BOOKED!

Before the party even started, I took a few #BookedAllStars and #BookedSoccer photos:

She couldn't come to the party but she dressed the part anyway!

Let's Get This Party Started!

This afternoon about 60 kids showed up for the birthday party for Kwame's new book, Booked. We had a blast celebrating the past two days at school wearing our Converse. Today we even threw some soccer shirts in the mix.

I'd call that a good crowd for a book birthday!

First we listened to Kwame's interview that was on NPR on Sunday and kids followed along in their books.  
Nearly half of them purchased a book ahead of time.  I even had one young man come with three crumpled five dollar bills hoping to snag one if I had extras.  Lucky for him, I did!  This is the same boy that worked tirelessly last year to create our documentary on the road leading to Kwame's visit to CES in May.  He called it "The Kwame Project."  

I also shared this video that the 2015 Newbery Committee put together.  It was great because I had some of "my" 2015 Newbery Committee members come to the party!  We will forever be bonded.

Books You Find on Google

What's a birthday party without singing?  So we sang!

Finally a picture with feet so you can check out the #BookedAllStars !

Double Messi!

While some kids were on line for the food, others came up and wrote reasons they love poetry.  Imagine this--they like it!  I also handed out some pages from Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library and Honey to try out Blocked Poetry but we ran out of time.  I'm hoping someone worked on it tonight and brings it in to share tomorrow.

Overall, great party! Thanks to Mrs. Warland for everything. Mia from the Castleton Public Library for her help, the teachers from CES and the MS for helping out.  Mrs. Hoffman from the Teacher Center for the popular M&Ms and pretzels. The only thing missing was...KWAME.  But he was certainly there in spirit.

So from all of us in Schodack, we wish Booked a very happy, happy book birthday!

When I got home, I had my cupcake.  But I couldn't help snap a selfie of my own converse with the book.  The top one my #BookedAllStars are in focus and the bottom one has the book in focus.

Just in case you want more, here's The Crossover video the kids did last year:

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

A belated School Librarian Day Shout Out

Happy School Librarian Day, just a day late due to snow!

I just smiled from ear to ear about RePete...

LOL.  I'm the ONLY librarian at CES.  But that's ok!  I can still be the best!

I don't know if you can read that but it says, "Thank you for sending my letter to Emma."
She is referring to Emma Virjan, the author and illustrator of the Pig in a Wig books.

"I love that Sarah Weeks is coming soon." Me, too.

Mrs. Pryde's kids wrote me letters and gave me flowers today.  I'm overjoyed.  The letters were so sweet and touching.  Libraries transform even the youngest learners.  I can't believe what an impact our Geisel project had on them.  From collaborating on the Stone Soup books in the fall to Skyping with authors from New Jersey, California, Texas, Massachusetts, Kansas and probably more that I'm forgetting. They remember it all.  Chris Grabenstein and Monica Wellington.  They can't wait for Sarah Weeks and they loved meeting RePete.  "I've never met a talking bird."  Neither have I ;-)

You are MOST welcome!

I'm the BEST leaping librarian!  Is there another one?

Hey! I'm glad you appreciate Pebble Go.

Thank YOU for the Geisel.  That was such a rewarding project!
And we made so many new friends while we were at it!

I wish you could do it again, too, Brendan.  We'll have to talk to your second grade teacher.

Every day I am thankful that my library is flexibly scheduled and I have a supportive administrator.  I can meet with these kids regularly, do intense research, organize parties, author visits and more.  We can do projects that last a day, a week, a month or months.  It's a true joy and I'm so happy to celebrate School Library Day and School Library Month every day and month of the year!

I hope that all of my school librarian friends celebrated yesterday, today or just another day of the month.  You all deserve it!  You are fabulous at what you do and each and every day we are enriching, engaging, indulging, exposing and transforming the young people in our buildings.  Happy School Library Celebration!  Now let's party!

Oh yeah, we are having a big party tomorrow to celebrate Booked by Kwame that came out today. Yeah, just a day late in it all...

What other first grader knows the Pi symbol???!!!

Sunday, April 3, 2016

When your students make you proud...

Today was the Caldecott/Newbery Tea hosted by the Children's Literature Connection at Guilderland Public Library. I was asked to speak about the Newbery honor book, The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Bradley Brubaker.  No problem! We loved that book.  It won our Consensus Club.  We Skyped with the author.  I listened to the whole hour of Kim's interview with Matthew Winner on his Let's Get Busy podcast. Mrs. Warland lead the book group and brought in tea for the kids to celebrate finishing the book. She loved it so much that she shared it with her adult book group and some of those ladies even joined us for our Skype with Kim.  We knew it was a winner.

So when I was invited to speak, I knew I couldn't do it alone.  And I didn't.  I brought along two of my students and Mrs. Warland.  They were awesome!  They shared (in front of a group of about 40-50 adults) why they thought the book was a winner:  Ada was brave.  She persevered.  The settings were so clear and vivid in their minds.  Every chapter was a cliffhanger. They always wanted to read more than was assigned.  It had all the makings of a book that deserves a sticker on it.  We were thrilled that it was recognized on January 11.

It's times like this that I realize that I never want to leave my library classroom.  I love being with my students and it gives me goosebumps to be with them on a Sunday afternoon talking about a book they loved.  They impressed me so much, too, because they read this book months ago and yet when they shared it to the group, it sounded so fresh in their mind, you would have thought they finished it yesterday.  A good book along with a young mind = unforgettable details.

Thanks to Mr. Rogers for documenting the afternoon for us!

Saturday, April 2, 2016

All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook by Leslie Connor

I was at the bookstore the other day and talking books with a bookseller I didn't know very well.  But I must elude I'm-A-Newbery-Gal all over because without even saying anything she told me that this book is one of the books at the top of another bookseller's list. Always fun to think about this so many months in advance...

I must say All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook will make it to my list for sure.  In fact, I already told the public library that it will be one of my summer reading book groups.  I haven't seen too many robins flying yet but summer will be here before we know it, ready or not.

Perry has been living at the Blue River Co-Ed Correctional Facility in Surprise (what's the surprise? hmmmm...) Nebraska since his Mom, Jessica, got there before he was born.  Big Ed, Mr. Rojas, Mr. Halsey, Miss Shashonna, Miss Gina, Warden Daugherty....they are all his family.  Until one day, the new district attorney, Tom VanLeer, decides this is not a good thing and takes Perry to the outside live in his home.  Tom is a tough character to figure out and sympathize with.  He is trying to navigate how to be a step-dad to his step-daughter, Zoey, who also happens to be Perry's friend from school. Sometimes he seems just too sweet to Zoey's mom (who, interestingly, did not change her name to VanLeer) but she is strong and admirable when she stands up to him and what she believes. Although he believes that taking Perry out of Blue River is the right thing, we just wish he could hear Perry's side way sooner than he does.  But change is possible and eventually Tom sees that being at Blue River for many is not as awful as he makes it out to be and can be "...a patch of good inside a blurry patch of bad." (p.203)

For the last third of the book my heart was racing like it never raced before.  Perry in Tom's office. Perry with his camera.  Perry collecting clues.  At the diner.  At the gas station. At one point, Tom VanLeer's receptionist tells Perry that "he's late more often than he's early." (p.254) I'm telling you that once you begin this book, you will be late to anywhere you are expected or dinner will be late (my case) because you won't be able to put it down till you finish.

One interesting twist, too, is point of view.  For most of the book, the story is written in first person from Perry's point of view.  But every once in a while a chapter will be titled, "Jessica" and be written in third person giving the reader some insight into Perry's mom's thoughts and feelings.  It doesn't happen very often, but when it does you know a little "surprise" might be happening.

This is such a heartwarming book with a protagonist you will love and other characters you will root for.  It has a powerful message about family, home, friendship and persevering to find the truth.  Get yourself a copy today but make sure you have time carved out to read and warn your own loved ones to not expect you anywhere (on time, much less early) until you get to the last page.  Oh, and keep a box of kleenex nearby, too.

A Visit with Monica Wellington!

Another great author visit has come and gone.  The preparation is always crazy for these visits, but well worth it!  What amazes me is that the authors are always smiling and thanking me.  I know I exhaust them but it's nice to be humored :-)

Monica Arrives

All the first graders, at a moment's notice, came out to the lobby to welcome and cheer Monica on as she entered school.  We pride ourselves on these arrivals!  Mrs. Kosinski's class even held up her books for all to see!

Signing Books

No rest for the weary.  We put Monica right to work!  She had over 100 books to sign. I don't know if you can tell, but she isn't just signing her name, she is personalizing every book with a name, a salutation and an illustration!  Beautiful!

Lunch Break

I invited some fifth grade Dewey Duty kids to join us for a BYOL (I did provide popcorn) with Monica.  It was nice and intimate and the kids really enjoyed it.  You can learn a lot from anyone and they did!

It was great that Mrs. Pusateri showed up at that moment so we could get a photo op with her, too!
She did a wonderful job organizing the Read Over Sleep Over.
ps-My clock in the back is broken again. Agh!


First graders and kindergarteners came in for separate short assemblies in our Common Area in the afternoon.  It was great!  Monica shared with us pictures of her cats in her apartment, her writing and illustrating process along with the first book she ever published (when she was in first grade in Switzerland) and first versions of Mr. Cookie Baker.  It was fun to see how she takes a photograph and uses that as a guide for some of her illustrations.

The first thing Monica does before starting a book is sketch it out.

We are looking at the differences between an older version of Mr. Cookie Baker and the published book.

Monica with some of the first graders (and Seymour)

One of the kindergartners brought in his own copy of Crepes by Suzette for Monica to sign.

The view from Monica's apartment in NYC

One of Monica's first drawings she ever did in elementary school

More Mr. Cookie Baker - I was getting hungry looking at all those cookies!


After a short opening with all the kids, Monica lead four small groups with an activity related to her books.  She shared how she uses artwork as a guide for some of her illustrations.  With that, she spread out postcards of famous pieces of art and students had to find them in her books.  Some were easy but some, like The Three Musicians by Pablo Picasso in Crepes by Suzette was a bit more challenging, but they all found it. And they found many more! AND they were so well versed in the artists, it was so impressive.  Kudos to our art teacher, Mrs. Pazienza!

 Part 2

The second part of the station was to take a postcard and create your own version of that painting. Once again, the kids were awesome.  Here's one group with their masterpieces!

Check out the clock (and this one works!)--Finally, we said our goodbyes.  It was a wonderful day and fun visit!  Stay tuned for a drawing Monica did of me leaping, of course!  I'm hoping to make it my new profile pic soon! Thanks again for coming to Castleton, Monica!