Friday, May 27, 2016

Maybe a Fox by Kathi Appelt and Alison McGhee

If I have a "burning wish" for you it's to find a few hours in your special "grotto", pick up this book, and don't stop until you reach the end. Wow. Powerful stuff here that is so perfectly done and wrapped up in this middle grade realistic fantasy novel about love, loss, family and finding a way to move on.

It's the story of sisters Sylvie and Jules, together and closer since their mother's death.  The story of their friend Sam, who made them a triplet.  Sylvie 12; Sam, 11 1/2 and Jules, 11.  Growing up, all three were together.  They even sat on the school bus like that.  This is the story of Sam's older brother, Elk, who just got back from Afghanistan and his best friend, Zeke, who didn't.  It's also the story of a young fox, Senna, who helps guide Jules to healing in her own unique way.  It's a story of the connection of all of them in the woods past the invisible line, a catamount, wishing rocks, a bear, the grotto, a flamingo mug and so much more.

I listened and I read and I couldn't stop.  Alison McGhee reads the audio and her voice is as soothing as waking up on a summer morning.  Ahhhh....I folded laundry.  I dusted.  I wept.  I cleaned my closet and paused as I exhaled.  And, like Sylvie, I ran faster but I also read slower so I could listen longer. It all makes sense and comes together in a lovely sort of way.

Newbery worthy? Yes.  Book group worthy?  Absolutely.  I want to know and hear student reactions, especially when they become tight lipped because they just couldn't help it and read ahead...

Unlike Sylvie, I ran slower so I didn't have to stop listening.

I want to go out and buy a "Flo Jo" shirt right now and make it smell like coconuts...

This is Not a Picture Book! by Sergio Ruzzier

A screenshot from the All the Wonders podcast page.
A great place to learn more about Sergio and his new book!

Ask anyone.  I have a lot of author/illustrator crushes.  I just can't get past how their brains work in the creative process.  How they can turn words and pictures into pure beauty.  It's a complete mystery and wonder in my mind and I fall hard…My newest crush, Sergio Ruzzier (

I learned about Sergio when I put his Two Mice, a beauty of a little book, on our Mock Geisel this year.  Now he has a new book out that is pure gorgeousness, This is Not a Picture Book!  When Duck finds a book that has no pictures in it he exclaims, "Stupid book!" and kicks it away.  Then the guilt sets in and he picks it up again only to get caught in its specialness with his friend Bug (and the readers, too).  There are difficult words (hmmm…I'm still trying to decipher the "words" in that illustration) and words we know (i.e., bee and flower, although only in picture form) and funny and sad and wild…Gorgeous and genius.  Can you tell I love this book?  Let's just say, "This is Not a book I will read just once!"  In fact, I've already read it 3-4 times and can't stop flipping through the pages.

Kids are going to love picking out the "words" they know and giggle how it really IS a picture book.  I cannot wait to share it with my students.

If you want to hear more about Sergio, listen to "All the Wonders" podcast with Matthew Winner (@MatthewWinner ) here and you, too, will add Sergio to your list of crushes ;-)

Tuesday, May 24, 2016


The crash!

Happy Book Birthday, Mayday by Kate Harrington!

Take a flight and enjoy this great book that is released into the sky today!  A bunch of my students read ARCs thanks to Little Brown.  I was able to pull all of them together for a photo and a few of them to stay and share their thoughts.  Here's what they had to say:

Meet Wayne.  He asks too many questions, goes to Sonic a lot and lives in the land of before, after and present.  Is he brave?  That's questionable.  Will he show you how to build courage and persevere?  You'll have to read the book to find out.

We loved this book because every chapter ends with a cliffhanger.  We love the friendship that developed between Wayne and Danny Rosenblatt, a kid who sings every word because then no one will know he stutters.

This is also a story about family.  We liked how the relationship between Wayne and his grandfather developed throughout the book.

We all agree that this is Newbery 2017 worthy because this book is as good as a burger and a side of muffins.  Yum!

-Julian, Xavier, Taylor, Tyler, Grace, Aleck and Dillon
Fifth Graders at Castleton Elementary School

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Some Kind of Courage by Dan Gemeinhart

It's October 1890 in Mission, Washington and the only loved one Joseph has left is his pony, Sarah, until she is unrightfully sold.  This is Joseph's story.  His story of a survival quest to get her back by foot, over roaring rapids, through forests and conquering so much more.

By his side from almost the get go, is Joseph's new friend, a Chinese boy who speaks no English, Ah-Kee.  When they first meet, Joseph and Ah-Kee, in their native tongues, share their stories and how they've got to where they are on that day.  Joseph says, "I sure enough didn't know a word of what he was telling me, but I reckon it had to do with the same kind of stuff stuck inside me:  family, and things that were lost, and having no place to call home." (p. 34).  This is the story of Joseph finding those things that were lost and his search for a new place to call home.

A grizzly mama, a drunk, a new baby, a roaring river, an outlaw and more.  This is a story where your heart will beat faster and faster and you will never be able to predict what comes next. In the fall when my students are critiquing Newbery 2017 contenders and finding prominent themes, they will have many to choose from in this book:  courage, perseverance, friendship, adventure, love, and, of course, family...Joseph is fighting for his family through and through.  "I do have a family, sir," he tells the outlaw, Caleb Fawney. "They're just all dead.  But they're my family just the same..."(p.195)

Mr. Davidson, one of the many Joseph meets along the way, got it straight when he told Joseph, "It's your heart.  It don't beat right.  Hearts always go like this: ba-pum, ba-pum.  But with yours I can only hear the pums, not the bas's.  You are missing half your heart..." (p. 158)  I'm telling you, when you read this book make sure you have set aside enough time to read it in one sitting and don't be alarmed if you only hear the pums until the end.  I'm almost positive I was missing half my heart while I was following Joseph on his journey.

I cried. I smiled. I even giggled.  But most of all, I rooted.  I rooted for Joseph (and Ah-Kee) to find his Sarah, his home and his family and guaranteed, you will, too.

This was 10:00 am--Notice I had just begun.
The rest of my day was shot because I COULD NOT PUT IT DOWN.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Happy Book Birthday, Pig in a Wig!

I owe all my love for Pig to Rondi from Albany's indie bookstore, The Little Bookhouse. I asked her for some recommendations back when I was starting our Geisel project last fall and she pointed me in the direction of Emma Virjan's What This Story Needs is a Pig in a Wig.  We have been hooked ever since.

The latest (third) Pig book came out last Tuesday, but we were a tad busy that day so we celebrated yesterday. All K/1 students came up to the Common Area to Skype with Emma.  Emma read the book aloud to us (with props).  Then she did a great job answering questions from our 5 and 6 year olds and to wrap it up, we all sang "Happy Book Birthday" to Pig.  After we hung up we all enjoyed salsa (munch) and chips (crunch). It was a super fun birthday celebration!

I'm getting ready to hand out the books that kids preordered.

Lots of Munching and Crunching happening with this crowd!

Emma and I have matching wigs!

It was so cool to have Emma read her book to us!

First grade teacher, Mrs. Kosinski on the left and kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Carlson on the right.

One, two, three LEAP!

ps-Emma shared that a fourth book is coming out in the fall and she is working on a fifth one!  We can't wait!  Maybe we can celebrate the book birthday of one of those in person in Castleton! Fingers crossed! You know you want a star, Emma!

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Walk of STARS

Because our whole school, well at least 4th and 5th grade, is all abuzz about the hopeful release of the movie, So B. It (it is being premiered at the LA Film Festival in June!) we began our own Hollywood Walk of STARS at our gala last week.  Some of my Dewey Duty kids posed by the stars with books by our visiting authors and illustrators.  And we don't even have a star for every author/illustrator that has visited!  WHAT?! And what if we added our Skypes? Seriously, we would have a walk of stars all the way down the hallway! We NEED more STARS!

So now I am thinking everyone needs to come back to CES and sign them!  I don't have a problem with that--do you?


Our first SIGNED star!

Friday, May 13, 2016


It's like the day after a wedding you have been planning for years. Or that race you have been training months for. Or even that trip across the Atlantic you saved up for years to go on. That's how I felt all day Wednesday and Thursday.  Not so much let down but withdrawal.  What am I going to do now No more daily Sarah facts of the day?  And then there's the pure exhaustion and exhilaration from such a wonderful day featuring a wonderful person.  It almost feels like an out of body experience.

We had been planning this for 11 months, just after I met Sarah for the first time at a conference last May. I have been a fan for years. Yeppers, I do love Oggie Cooder. So a month later we had a date--the book birthday for Save Me a Seat. We ❤️ to celebrate book birthdays at Castleton Elementary School. 

The day was pretty perfect. Sarah showed up at 8 and was able to give her own Sarah fact of the day. She did three assemblies and they were all wonderful. The exciting part of each was that we were able to collaborate with the public library and classroom teachers so that everyone got a signed copy of Cheese (K-3) or Save Me a Seat (4-5). The books came in a fun red backpack that the library purchased. We are calling it our kickoff to summer reading. We hope kids will take pictures and post them or send them to us and we can see what they have read all summer. 

The 2/3 Assembly.  They didn't know yet that they were going to get a copy of this book!

All the K/1 loved this game Sarah played with them!

First graders with their bags and books

And every 4/5 student got a backpack and the book birthday BOOK!

For lunch Sarah ate with the Dewey Duty kids. We ate mac and cheese, rice, pizza apple crisp, ice cream and peanut M&Ms at "Albert Einstein Elementary School." It was super fun! 

Everyone was searching for a double blue!

He put two together hoping it could then be a double!

Then it was time to do all the last minute putting togethers of MOST (Museum of Sarah's Treasures) at school, run back home for quick shower, change into my gown and head back over to our Gala. Words cannot describe how amazing the evening was. We welcomed and squeezed over 150 guests in our common area. Students from The War That Saved My Life book group performed their reader's theatre. We showed our video of "Honey Was Good." Sarah signed her "star" and cut the ribbon to the gallery (library) using a pair of ginormous scissors.

Sarah at our entrance to the museum.

The line to get in and how fancy everyone was! We did say "black tie (sort of)"
Also, the kids behind the sign in (in white and black) are 4th graders
who "worked" the event checking people in,
taking pictures and serving food.

4th grade workers handing out the programs and ballots

Sarah's passion is Reader's Theatre and she just finished The War that Saved My Life so we performed it for her!

Mrs. Kelliher is the creative mind behind this video!

Signing the star.  The stars on the ground are other authors that have visited our school.

Getting ready for the ribbon cutting!

Look at all those people!

The exhibits were amazing.  A replica of Sarah's alma mater, Hampshire College along with her commencement program and Frogbook (yearbook) photo from 1973 and Ben and Jerry's (one of them went there, too). There were so many great exhibits. Jellybeans. A giant nose. Chai latte. "You are my Sunshine." Dum-Dums. Nail polish. Liberty, NY with pictures of me from my childhood visiting my grandparents. Bees. Honey. Crocodiles. Mrs. Pryde's class timeline.  A beach with real sand. A thrift store.  A bandshell. Mrs. Yager's class "Charving Tree." And so much more! 

The song, "You are my Sunshine" is featured in Honey

This exhibit was all about sneezing, honoring the book, Baa-Choo!

Sarah's favorite drink is a chai latte.  These girls had samples for everyone!

The beach exhibit!  It was my crazy idea to bring in sand but look at how much fun they are having!
The custodian didn't love me...
My collaboration with Mrs. Pryde's class--Our timeline!

A three table exhibit on bees!

We had a red carpet photo area, food and everyone was dressed to the nines! It was such a great night.

I had some amazing moms be "co-chairs" for the decorating and refreshments.  This is one of them!

It was just great to see our youngest learners celebrate with us, too!

With Mrs. Pryde! She made the awesome frame!

The Leap! 

Mr. Reischer on the stick with our hashtag in the background #MOST51016
#missedyou Mr. Reischer

The end of the evening with Mrs. Warland. Couldn't have done it all without her!

I owe so much of the success of the event to my collaborating fifth grade teacher, Mr. Reischer, who sadly could not be there. He and I work so well together and this was truly amazing because of everything we did together. He was on my mind constantly. I kept saying all day it was like my best man couldn't come to my wedding.  Then I would wonder, "Am I marrying Sarah?"  So many people chipped in to help out--too many to even name!  I am so lucky to have such a wonderful school and parent community.  Look up this phrase in the dictionary, "Teamwork makes the dream work" and it will say, "See Castleton Elementary School."

So, please, I haven't done the Gala nearly enough justice, come and meet me for some chai latte and let me tell you ALL about it, every single detail...