Saturday, November 26, 2016


For the past three years I have collaborated with a first grade teacher on a "Stone Soup" project.  I gather up all the versions of Stone Soup we have in our library and in our public library system.  She reads them all to her students and then for one week we split the class up and each of us works with a group of students to write and illustrate their own version of the tale.  This year we had even fewer students in each group because she has a student teacher.  Then, right before Thanksgiving, the class brings in their own ingredients and cooks up a couple of batches of stone soup in the classroom.  This year, we enjoyed it while viewing the books on the SmartBoard.  Here, for your reading pleasure, are the 2016 digital books thanks to the publication site, Calameo:

Mrs. Pryde's Group:

Read more publications on Calaméo

Great job everyone!

The Matzah Ball book inspired students to put matzah balls in their books AND their soup.
They were a big hit!

What's stone soup without corn muffins?
ps-I highly recommend Calameo for digitizing books. So easy, especially if you can scan on your copier, like we can at school.  Just add the PDFs and voila!  A book!  You can do this with any topic and any grade! And look how easy it is to share!  Have fun with it and good luck!

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

We were NOT bored! Thank you, Jonathan Fenske!

Thanksgiving is tomorrow.  We have a half day.  The kids are boarding the buses.  I should be packing up my things and heading out of school to make more side dishes and "Aunt Stacey's" mac and cheese for my company tonight.  Instead, I must reflect and share on yet another amazing Skype that we had this morning.

Last year Jonathan Fenske's A Pig, A Fox and A Box was on our Geisel list.  I still remember laughing so hard when I read it aloud in my small group.  It's hilarious.  I still laugh every time I read it.  No joke (all puns intended!).  I read it to kindergarten yesterday and honestly, could not stop laughing.

So since Jonathan won the Geisel Honor last year and has a contender on our list this year (Barnacle was Bored), I emailed and asked if he would Skype with our class. He said YES!  And today was the day!  What a great way to celebrate Thanksgiving early!

When he was asked about how it felt to win the Geisel award, he said, "Dr. Seuss is my hero.  To have his face on my book means a lot to me."  Of course, I proudly showed him our copy of the book which does NOT have Dr. Seuss's face on it because we purchased it BEFORE it won!

"When did you write your first book?" "When I was in first grade.  It was about a dog who got to play on the Yankees."  The Yankees fans in the room (including Mrs. Pryde) were ecstatic.  This coming from a guy who grew up in the South and now lives in Denver.  Way to go, Jonathan!

When he read Barnacle is Bored to us and shared the title page, I loved when he said, "Barnacle is Bored. By ME!"  How cool is that?!  We love when authors read their books to us!

Someone else asked about his favorite animals.  "Foxes and coyotes because I see them a lot in Denver and otters just because they are cute and comical."  And we even got to meet his dog, Phoenix (but very briefly).  Jonathan also pulled a painting off the wall for us to see his old dog!  We love meeting authors' pets (and kids--because we got to meet his daughter, too!).

The painting.  Phoenix was too fast for me to snap a photo!

Couple of book birthdays coming up for Jonathan--

FEBRUARY 7:  A Pig, A Fox and Smelly Socks

APRIL 25:  Plankton is Pushy

Mark your calendars, friends.  For at least at CES, we WILL be celebrating!  Get out your stinky socks!

And as if this wasn't enough, Jonathan taught us how to draw Barnacle and Guppy.  We drew them in our Geisel notebooks so we'll have them forever.  Awesome!

Thanks again, Jonathan for a wonderful Skype!  We look forward to welcoming you in Castleton the next time you are in New York.  We don't live far from many homes of the painters from the Hudson River School.  Olana (Frederic Church's home) is only about 40 minutes south of here.  We hope that tempts you.  

"Nothing is more fun than reading and making books for kids."
-Jonathan Fenske

(Well, or being a librarian!)

Leaping with Jonathan!

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Back to School


So this happened today.  

At the end of our Monthly Morning Assembly.  
A leap with ALL 405 of my students (even a few parents in the back).  
For a leaping librarian, it doesn’t get much better than that.

Backtrack 24 hours and life is a blur.  No rest for the weary when you are “Teacher of the Year.”  My day began, as it always does, with first graders checking out books before my coffee has totally permeated my system.  Soon after, cheery fourth grade “Dewey Duty” helpers came in to check in books.  That day, the books just happened to be from a cart that always carries books already checked in. “Why does it keep saying ‘Used in Library’, Ms. Rattner?’”   Hmmm. Was I upset?  Nah, because just before, I received a surprise phone call from an author in Texas.  Although it only lasted long enough for her to say, “Congratulations” before we got disconnected, it was still a daymaker.  And this was all before 9:30.

What about the rest of the time?  

Lead three fifth grade Mock Newbery book groups.  Submitted an order to Junior Library Guild. Sent four  IT emails requesting four different websites to be unblocked.  When access is granted, I scanned and created three digital books.   Finalized my Mock Geisel book list and tested a Skype with an author.  Smelled the fourth grade Thanksgiving Feast from the hallway, but never made it down there to even grab a morsel of stuffing.  After school got out, three teachers and a librarian visited from another district to talk Caldecott and author visits.  Finally, I was bowled over again when flowers were delivered from a very special author friend with a message almost cryptic enough to fool the government (but fortunately, not me).

I came home last night and should have crashed.  But instead I read, graded papers and reflected.  My students, my books, reading, authors, illustrators, they are constantly on my mind. I’m always searching for new books and debut authors to get excited about or I’m on the lookout to discover a creative project we can do that will introduce my students to a world beyond Schodack.  The ticket to the world is in our library and I have all the boarding passes to hand out.  But in the end really, all I want is for my students to be just as happy as I am to come to school.  Never does going to sleep early help that cause.  However, now that it is nearly midnight, it might and so I bid you bon soir. See me in the morning for your boarding pass.

Sunday, November 20, 2016



This is what SHOCK looks like!

Part I
I love award shows.  Tonys.  Oscars.  ALA Youth Media. The red carpet.  The stars.  The performances.  Warhorses who win.  

I love surprises.  I didn’t want to know the sex of my children in utero. My maid of honor threw me a surprise shower three hours away from my home that completely shocked me but only after my soon-to-be husband almost became soon-to-not-be due to my incessant questioning, “Beth’s throwing me a shower, right?” and  “When’s my shower?”

So last night when I was crowned “Teacher of the Year” by the Schodack Faculty Association, it was the ultimate award show that threw ME for a complete surprise. Thank you for that.

BUT, unlike the awards, I was not aware that I was on the short list. Therefore, no crinkled thoughtful speech with a poem that would go viral like “Love is love is love” lifted from my lips.  Instead I can only hope that I was coherent and folks realized how appreciative I am of this incredible recognition.  If I had the chance to do it over I’d like to thank the academy…

Part II
...When I was little I didn’t dream of being a teacher or a librarian. In fact, my mom taught MS English and told me to never go into teaching.  I could respect her advice only for so long.  

One month before I turned 40, I received my Masters in Library Science and left my job of nine years at Planned Parenthood.  It was fun telling people that I was a sex educator turned librarian.  It kind of had a nice ring to it.  Little did I know that ring was more like a gong and that gong was LOUD.

I love my job.  I love when two boys who wanted their book to win the Newbery award so badly it hurt that when it did win they would grin with pride “Our book won! Our book won!” This happens all the time. Or when other boys would rather read or make a poster promoting their book than watch the Superbowl.

I love when a little first grader falls for a book so hard that she gives it 200 stars, spending the time to draw each one on the page.

I love that when I send fan letters to authors, time and time and time again, they respond in joy and don’t need an arm twisted to meet them “virtually” and sometimes even say, “Or would you prefer an in-school visit?” Duh!

I love that when I ask my classroom teachers if they want to welcome an author on a red carpet, they drop everything and do it.  They pretty much drop everything and do anything.  I don’t ask why I just know that they trust me and I love them more for just that.  

I love my job so much that my reading level doesn’t go past fifth grade.  I haven’t read an adult book in years.  When The Goldfinch first came out, a pair of sisters gave it to me as a gift.  Is that thoughtful or what? I’m embarrassed to say the hardcover is collecting dust.  #IMGLit

I love my students so much that I hold five book groups each summer.  Great excuse to get Starbucks or 16Handles, catch up and talk books.

I love my job.

Part III
If the title of “Teacher of the Year” would bring my name to the attention of some people, here are a few that I hope are on that short list.

Dear Carla Hayden:  Any chance you would like to go out for coffee?  I would love to chat with you about how you inspire me and make me so proud to be a librarian.

Dear President Obama:  If there is any national recognition for teachers of the year, I would love it to occur before January 20.  It would be my distinct honor to shake your hand and discuss what we’ve learned in the past eight years for we’ve both been in our jobs for about the same amount of time.

Dear Vivian Howard: After traveling all the way to from upstate NY with my family this summer, we spent the day in your town and totally fell for it.  We even spent some respite time in your town’s library.  I hear Kinston could use a bookstore.  Hmmm….why don’t we meet up at Little, Brown and talk food, books and Eastern NC.  I could definitely recommend some good reads for your twins.

Dear Lin Manuel Miranda:  You are a complete genius and I admire every step you take.  My friends tried everything they could, one even sent her husband down to the box office on his day off, to get me tickets to Hamilton.  Since that didn’t work out as they planned, they took up a collection of Hamiltons for Hamilton.  I will add to it regularly and look forward to the day when I can see the fruits of your creativity in person.  In the meantime, I will continue on my personal journey of “Hamil-tread” or “Treadmil-ton” every time I work out at the gym.

Dear Judy Woodruff and Hari Sreenivasan:  I was devastated when Gwen passed.  She was going to help me through these challenging times.  Now I have hope and would love to meet with you and talk about Gwen’s impact on me as a teacher.  Oh and have a group hug, too.

To my late superintendent, Bob Horan: I hope you were looking down on us last night.  If you hadn’t supported the library program, continued to keep my schedule flexible, listened to me when I lobbied for another librarian (or two), and even promoted the removal of my computer “walls”, I am not sure I would be “2017 Teacher of the Year.” We miss you, RH, but we carry on in your spirit.  Guess what?  I’m even advocating for coding and STEAM in the library!

Part IV

A LIBRARIAN won TEACHER of the year in a small school district in upstate NY.  A LIBRARIAN!  We are teachers! We make an impact on all of the students.  We teach information literacy, STEAM, just right books, research skills, common core, digital literacy, communication skills, team building, every buzz word you can think of, we cover and we do it well. We don’t do in isolation of any curriculum but rather in collaboration with them all. We are teachers who support other teachers in making engaging, interesting, interactive, project based and challenging lessons.  My teachers know that and for that I am thankful.  I am not just a librarian.  I am a TEACHER LIBRARIAN and gosh darn it, I hope you can hear me roar.  Together we can all make a difference.  Thank you for this award and recognizing a LIBRARIAN.  I promise to proudly continue to stay up till 1:00 am working hard to uphold my end of this bargain. Thank you.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

PRESTO! It's Stephen Savage!

With fist pumps, peeks into his sketch books, a preview of his newest book due out in the spring and even a quick pause to get his wire statue built by his elementary self in the spirit of Alexander Calder, this was one amazing Skype!  Thank you, Stephen!

He made a point to say and remember every child that came up to the camera to ask a question.  Each one got a fist pump.  Jack brought in his personal copy of Where's Walrus, got it "signed" and personalized by Stephen.  Lucky!

Jack getting his book "signed"

In spite of our rough start (blame it on technology), it was a great Skype.  Not only did we get to ask questions and hear all about where Stephen's ideas come from and how he screened and almost didn't pick up his Geisel acceptance call from our friend, Miss Amanda, but he also drew Supertruck, Walrus, Penguin and even by request, a Boston Red Sox, all for us.  When that was happening, you could hear a pin drop in the library! We could have all watched him draw for hours.

Someone asked how he got the idea to do a wordless picture book.  After a little trial and error and working with his editor, it just came to be.  "Some things just happen because that's the way things go."

Another question we asked was whether he wrote the words first or drew the pictures.  As we know, every artist is different.  Stephen writes first.  "The words give me all the information I need to make the pictures."

I forget who asked this, but it was my favorite question.  "Do you always say 'presto' when you cook?"
We found out that Stephen does a lot of the cooking in his family so he usually says, "Hurry up and come to the table! It's getting cold."  I bet he's a great cook but he admitted that he's like the mixed up truck sometimes and wonders if he put the right ingredients in, such as the right cheese.  Hmmm...if he's wondering if it's the right cheese or not, then he's totally sold me on dinner at his house.  I love ALL kinds of cheese, the more unique the better.  Maybe that's a story for his next book?

I have been around a lot of writers and illustrators where the "What's your favorite book?" question has come up and Stephen's is not an unusual answer, the classic, Harold and the Purple Crayon.  Harold seems to be an inspiration for many illustrators. I distinctly remember Bryan Collier answering that because he thought he looked a little like Harold.

Steve showed gave us a peek into his new book and we even got to meet his dog!

The new book!

We could have sat with Steve for hours but alas we had work to do and I am sure he had work to do, too.  At least we hoped he did so he could keep making great books for kids.

The 2017 Geisel Committee with 2016 Geisel Honor Award winner, Stephen Savage!

And our obligatory leap!  Look at the air on some of those kids!

Thank you so much for a great Skype, Stephen!  We look forward to reading Little Plane Learns to Write in the spring and more books by you in the future!  And know that Castleton Elementary School always has an open door for you, just a 15 minute drive from the Albany Amtrak station! ;-)

"Every kid is a great artist.  Some kids just stop doing it."
-Stephen Savage, 2016

Former Students Who Made Me Proud

Do you ever wonder if you have made a difference?  Do you ever ask yourself if all those late nights (it's almost midnight now) and weekends working are worthwhile?  Well, they are and I found out tonight in a wild and roundabout way.

For the second year in a row I am teaching a class through our Capital Region Teacher Center called, "Newbery and Beyond."  It's mostly for classroom teachers and librarians who are interested in learning how I run my Mock Newbery project with tips on how to begin one in their buildings.  Last year I pretty much kept it at Newbery but this year I am sprinkling in other awards like Caldecott and Geisel.  The teachers range from elementary librarians and as young as first grade teachers to middle and high school librarians and classroom teachers so I'm working hard to keep them all engaged.  I also have some repeat students so that keeps me on my toes to make it interesting for them, too.

Our first session was last month and we had the great pleasure of welcoming 2016 Caldecott winner, Sophie Blackall and her partner on the Benevento series, John Bemelmans Marciano.  I invited my Reading Ambassadors to welcome them on our red carpet, which proved to be quite a thrill for Sophie and John. And then the class was honored with their extreme presence.  If you ever have the opportunity to see them speak, drop everything and do it.  They are such lovely and talented people.

Sophie is a great leaper!


The Schodack crew with Sophie and John

So how was I ever going to live up to that first class?  I invited a local librarian who is a former member of a Caldecott Committee to speak about the process, picture books and more.  Unfortunately, she became ill and will reschedule.  What to do now?  I let my fingers do the tapping and quickly sent emails to parents of former students asking if they were able and willing to speak to a group of adults about their experience on the Newbery project.  I could not be more proud.

Nine kids showed up (some had as much as three hours notice and others as little as less than an hour!) and they were amazing (in my eyes, at least).  They ranged from being in my very first Newbery group (a freshman in HS) to sixth grade.  Eight boys and one girl.  All love reading.  All have something positive to share about the project.  All loved the debating part of it.  All still very attached to the book that they hoped would win.  The freshman even said, "I don't remember much but I do remember wanting The One and Only Ivan to win a lot." And it did!  And when it did, I remember he and his friend chest bumping one another screaming, "Our book won! Our book won!"

Thanks to some quick filming by Mrs. Kelliher, I can share a few snippets with you.

This one the audience is asking the students questions about their participation in the project, how their reading habits might have changed and what they remember about being in the project.

The beginning of this one you see Landon talking about when Kwame came to visit and how he got to "host" him on stage by interviewing him.  A fond memory indeed.

7th grader Ben won the debate in his class for The Crossover!

8th grader Peter was in my Doll Bones book group.  I couldn't find it on the shelf for him to pose with.

9th grader Luc (far left) was in the very first group while Eli and Landon were huge Crossover fans!

8th grader Julia still remembers loving Zebra Forest

7th grader Ethan brought in ice cream for our Skype with Natalie Lloyd

6th grader Xavier won the grade wide debate with Lost in the Sun!

Yes! He did wear a tie and that's a very special tie from our MOST Gala in honor of Sarah Weeks.

When 8th grader, George, was in the project, Sage Blackwood wrote a personal letter to him in response to his letter requesting a Skype.

If you ever have doubt that this project isn't worthwhile, it is!  It may not be the Common Core modules, but it covers every Common Core standard you can think of and just look at the result! These kids came in at 6 pm on a very rainy evening to talk about a project one, two, three and four years ago that promotes reading, problem solving, public speaking and more! And guess what?! They are still reading!  Dear, dear administrators--please support libraries, flexible if possible, so young people can have experiences like this all over our country.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Get reading for GEISEL!

 Not only did we just kick off Newbery with the fifth graders, but first grade teacher extraordinaire, Mrs. Pryde and I just GAMBOLED (my new favorite word) into our second annual 10 week GEISEL project!  Similar to Newbery, students received credentials on their first day after being congratulated with an official handshake by Mrs. Warland, lots of "woops" from their peers and a formal photo in the Geisel "photo booth."

We will read, critique, discuss, DEBATE (yes, first graders can debate!), write letters to authors and illustrators requesting Skypes, pick our favorites and then watch in anticipation who will win on January 23.  It was so fun last year to watch in the old gym/auditorium with all the fifth graders and even some of the fourth graders who were looking for their Sibert favorites to be recognized.  If you haven't figured it out by now, I am a HUGE fan of the ALA Youth Media Awards.

Woo-Hoo!  You're on the Geisel Committee!

Every student's name was called with the appropriate formal salutation before receiving their credentials.  "Congratulations, Mr. Smith!"  "Congratulations, Miss Miller!"  And we all cheered!

Does she look proud or what?!  

 Our Geisel Formal Photos

If that is not a perfect first grade smile, I don't know what is!

You Made it to the Committee!

After we all became credentialed, we read the welcome letter explaining the Committee and what they will need to do for the next couple of months as they pick their favorite books.  Lots of reading (yay!).  Lots of discussions on story elements and how the illustrations help tell the story (awesome stuff!).  I think the kids were excited!  I know we were as the Chairwomen of the Committee ;-)

Advice from a former Geisel Committee Chair

As if it couldn't get any better, it did!  We Skyped with Amanda Foulk, who was last year's Geisel Chair!  She welcomed us all to our Committee, gave us advice on what to look for in a Geisel winning book and then read us last year's winner, Don't Throw it to Mo by David Adler and illustrated by Sam Ricks. What a great day and what a fabulous kick off to weeks and weeks of some worthwhile reading written especially for the-new-independent-first-grade reader!

Thank you so much for the Skype, Miss Amanda!