Wednesday, January 31, 2018

TWO amazing Skypes in ONE DAY!

Fifth graders met two amazing authors today from our Mock Newbery project. Tomorrow we have one Skype scheduled.  Needless to say, Skype season has officially begun!

During lunch my Lucky Broken Girl book group met my fellow PS 117 alum, Ruth Behar, peeking into the coziness of what appeared to be her living room.  We talked a lot about the book and Ruth's writing process.  Editing happens so often and finally "It is as good as good as it can be in that moment."

The kids asked why she decided to tell the story of Ruthie?  When she writes, Ruth listens to what her heart is telling her at any given time.  She tries to find the right moment and for Lucky Broken Girl, she finally "found the right moment."

We are always interested in finding out where and how authors write, especially if they listen to music.  Most of the time, Ruth told us, she listens to music.  Anything from "Waltz for Debbie" by Bill Evans to Argentinian tango to Cuban music to "These Boots Were Made for Walking."  "Except," Ruth shared, "for those moments when I need it to be as silent as snow falling."

The kids were fascinated with Ruth's Spanish and asked her to speak to us in her native tongue.  "Gracias carta." I'm sure that's not correct but it was something like "Thanks for the letters!"

GRACIAS, Ruth, for the Skype!  We 💓 Lucky Broken Girl!


Then after school, Mrs. Kelliher's book group met Someday Birds author, Sally J. Pla in her studio in San Diego.  Mrs. Kelliher (and the kids!) went over the top for this party! Check out the snacks and the goody bags! Look closely! Mrs. Kelliher personalized the stickers on the bag for each student with a Someday Birds logo!  Evan made those nests last night with his Dad! And see those ceramic birds?  Mrs. Kelliher bought one for every member of her group, including Sally!  We mailed Sally a care package last week so she could show us her bird, too.

Sally was inspiring!  When asked about her writing process, Sally shared that she thinks of idea and character at the same time.  So for Someday Birds, she wanted to write a story about an autistic boy or one with sensory issues, who has to take a journey. Her next book, Stanley Will Probably Be Fine, comes out on Tuesday. The idea for that was initiated after she broke her ankle and was in a wheelchair.  She wondered what it would be like to be scared of everything. We'll have to read the book to find out! Book birthday, Tuesday!

Someone asked Sally what her favorite theme to write about is and she said something like this (Please excuse my paraphrasing):

Being your age and being an outsider and thrown into a situation....[writing about kids] whose brains work a little differently and are outside the norm and how you can push through that...Who you are now is not necessarily who you are going to be...

Thank you, Ruth and Sally, for two great meetings today!

Leaping with Sally!

Leaping with Ruth!

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Family Caldecott Night at CES

Reading The Book of Mistakes together

It is award season at Castleton Elementary and as par for the course, I have been bitten by the Youth Media Award bug pretty badly!  I've got a second grade Mock Caldecott going strong; a fun and unique Mock Geisel project with one first grade class; Sibert Smackdown in fourth and my sixth year Mock Newbery in fifth. Needless to say my days are full and rewarding but I'd be remiss if I didn't say also exhausting.

And yet, here  it is, after 11:00 pm and I am blogging...

But I can't put it off any longer--We had an amazing evening with families last night!  Mrs. Roe's second graders were invited to the library to read our Caldecott contenders, share their Caldecott scoresheets from their special folders and Skype with one of our illustrators. Oh yeah, and get sated, too, as we had plenty of snacks to go around. Along with ice cream and freeze pops, Mrs. Roe baked cupcakes and I made my famous popcorn.

Everyone shared their the books they love the most with their families.  As you can see, it is quite the variety! We have so many!  Can you spot your favorite?


Don't you just want to stare at these pictures all day long?  I do!  Happy parents! Happy Siblings! Happy second graders!  All reading together and in their PJs no less!  

About half way through, we got ready for our Skype with Corinna Luyken, author and illustrator of The Book of Mistakes.  Mrs. Roe went around with index cards to gather questions from kids and parents and then everyone got seated in front of the SmartBoard waiting for our guest to "arrive" or shall I say, "appear."
Corinna was great!  She told us about how she came up with the idea for her book, the actual mistakes that are in the book and shared early sketches of that gorgeous tree.  Her big and beautiful studio is in a separate room in her house. She twirled around and gave us a mini-tour. Corinna likes working with ink and showed us her ink bottle and one of the brushes that she uses.

It was especially fun because Corinna has an eight year old daughter, the same age as the kids in Mrs. Roe's class, so she totally knew how to relate to our second graders. I have a feeling, too, that her daughter is "Quinn." Just sayin'. We have a Quinn in the class AND the book is dedicated to "Quinn." Corinna got a little excited when our Quinn asked her a question.  It might have even been the first one!

We talked about favorite books from 2017 and books Corinna loved when she was little.  She mentioned that it was only 4:15 pm at the time, where she lives in Olympia, Washington.  And that turned into a mini-geography lesson.  I was glad my globe was nearby!

I can't say enough how much I appreciate when book creators take their personal time to meet with us.  Thank you, Corinna!  Who knew that when I read her book to all 410 students at our first Monthly Morning Assembly back in September that we would be Skyping four months later? Just goes to show you how unpredictable and delightful life can be.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

ATTENTION: Book Liz Zunon today!

I told my Reading Ambassadors before Liz Zunon visited our school that she was a lovely, gentle, calm person. Basically, the exact opposite of me.  And yet she can get the attention of a room full of elementary students as well as, if not better, than a big, loud person like myself.

Warning: This might end up sounding like a promotion for Liz, than anything else but it's all true and I really want everyone to meet her!

Happy Birthday, Macy!
Thanks to the PTO, local illustrator Elizabeth Zunon, visited our school today and it will be one for the books.  We began at 7:25 am in the library with breakfast with the Reading Ambassadors.  It was a Lena Horne themed meal with microphones as center pieces and one student even performed.  Lena sang in the background as we drank hot cocoa (who knew you could get a box of cocoa from Dunkin?) with challah toast (Liz's favorite breakfast food), eggs, sweets, fruit and more! Liz signed their passports and was very comfortable chatting with the kids.

"S" for Sammy
No rest for the weary as Liz and I quickly ran downstairs so she could get on the announcements.  For the past month or so, we've been doing the countdown to Liz's visit on the morning PA system.  So today she got to give her own fact.  She loves music and dancing around her house. She and Ayla would get along really well!

The Grades 2-3 assembly followed the announcements.  For each presentation Liz shared a short slide show on the making of One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recyling Women of The Gambia by Miranda Paul. Even though the presentation was the same, the workshop was different.  The second and third graders each brought a plastic bag and scissors to the gym.  Liz showed us how to make 'plarn" (yarn out of plastic bags) and then students began weaving using their own plarn. We learned how the possibilities of things you can create with a plastic bag are endless.  Our district PR guy attended this workshop and here are his photos.

Liz uses a lot of collage in her artwork.  The K/1 students created collages with tea bag bags.  Who knew the bags were so beautiful? What a great way to recycle!  The imagination of the students just shined in this workshop.  They made everything from headbands to houses to dinosaurs and everything in between.

I did manage to block out some time for Liz to take a break to sign books, visit a classroom and catch her breath.  Time flies and before you knew it, the fourth grade Dewey Duty helpers came in the library for their lunch with Liz.  Just when you think things couldn't get any better, they did.  There was Liz answering their inquisitive questions about her illustration process.  Finally, we sat down to eat and they still huddled around her with books in hand.  They wanted to know exact details about how she made each illustration.  After many photo ops and chocolate cake (Liz's favorite), one of them convinced her to read Don't Call Me Grandma by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson. That was a moment!  They listened so attentively that I just didn't want the book to end.

To end the day, we whooshed down to the Grades 4-5 assembly where their task was to make basketball hoops or dream catchers from the plarn.  This was not an easy task but they had fun using their hands, brains and creativity.  I wouldn't be surprised if some finished hoops come in tomorrow.  Fingers crossed they don't become a distraction in class!

All in all, a wonderful day!  Get in touch with Liz today!  You will not be disappointed.  I warned her that I have lots of friends in Texas and will be telling them all about her.  I realize that Liz just bought a new home but if I had my druthers she should be living out of her suitcase from now through June.  Contact her today.  You will not be disappointed.

Here is an animoto that I put together using all the photos I took from the day:

One of the volunteers who helped out throughout the day summed it up this way, "Liz was so interesting, enlightening and personable and I learned so much about all it takes to produce good illustrations and books."

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

American Panda

I should be getting ready for bed right now. My down comforter is whispering my name.  It will just have to wait a little longer so I can finish my hot chocolate (with extra whipped cream).

Grab your calendars folks because you are going to want to circle, highlight and star February 6.  That's the day to go out for stinky tofu with a side of American Panda by Gloria Chao.  Maybe put in for the personal day now.  If not, don't say I didn't warn you--I did not accomplish anything on this snow day until I finished this book.  I hated that I had to go out and shovel.  I considered bribing one of my kids to come out with me, not to shovel, but to read the book aloud while I labored.

17 year old Mei is a freshman at MIT. She is the daughter of Taiwanese immigrants who can't shake their traditions.  She's going to be a doctor, married to Harvard educated Eugene. No where in her parents' grand plan is there something that says, "Mei, choose what you want to be. Be who you are." And yet, somehow she manages to do just that.

Only through her love of dance, the realization that a germaphobe who doesn't care for biology shouldn't be a doctor, older brother Xing and Darren, her adorable Californian Japanese suitor, does Mei break out of the mold her parents sculpted for her at birth. But it's certainly not easy.

I laughed.
There's a dinner scene at Chow Chow with Mei's aunt and grandmother that had me laughing out loud until I gasped and held my heart.
That time Mama was in Mei's dorm room and screamed so loud when she found a "candy bar wrapper."
The jabs at Dartmouth. Oh my.  I immediately had to share that with my 40 something Dartmouth alum friend who's response was, "Ouch."

I cried.
Darren is so kind. Period.  Love always makes me weepy. Weddings make me cry until...
Mama tries.  Please be happy, Mama, I pleaded.

I held my breath.
The family. The traditions. Breaking free. How was it all going to play out?

Like a panda this book IS black-and-white. There is no question that it is a one-sitting read with a side of hot chocolate and a whipped cream mustache.

As with most of my YA books, I have my friend Alicia Abdul, to thank for recommending this one. She texted me when she finished and said she wasn't going to begin a new book that night because she wanted American Panda to be the last thing she read in 2017.  If that isn't testament to a good book, I'm not sure what is.

Have you put in your paperwork for that personal day yet?

ps-Thank you Netgalley for the opportunity to meet Mei before anyone else.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018


Everyone was talking about LOVE. I didn't think I could go wrong by throwing a book birthday party without even turning one page before pub date.

My friend, Alicia, wrote that it will "unequivocally be a classic."
Mr. Schu was posting about it.
The New York Times published an article about Loren Long that will make you even more in awe of him than you already are.
Matt de la Pena wrote an inspiring thoughtful article in Time magazine that has already been shared thousands of times.

Yes, the book world was talking and I wanted in on the action. With at least three starred reviews and an author and illustrator that I trusted would create one beautiful book how could LOVE be anything but wonderful. Today was the day I found out I was right.

The bookstore ordered me 30 copies of LOVE.  Unbeknownst to them (and me!), I managed to sell all 30 copies!  I bet we could have sold more, especially after the fact.  It always amazes me when I sell books and the illustrator or author isn't even visiting in person. Imagine if they had been there--I guarantee they would have gone through a couple of pens each.

Six classes came to the party: One first grade, four second and one third, totaling about 150 kids. Sounds like a recipe for rowdy behavior.  Nope. You could hear a pin drop when I read the book out loud.  Note: I had not read it before and got choked up at the end.  Alicia had warned me about that but I really didn't think it could happen and yet there I was with a big ole' frog in my throat.  When I finished, I asked the kids to describe how the book made them feel.  The very first answer was "calm."  Step aside yoga, pick up a copy of LOVE.  And I believe her.  It was like all 150 of us had just let out a deep breath and begin mindfulness.

But that's not all.  And I'm not talking about the heart shaped brownies and chocolate covered marshmallows made on the spot from a chocolate fountain that Mrs. Seres brought in.  I'm talking about a virtual visit from Matt and Loren right there in Castleton Elementary's old gym.

Could you please pass me some calming pills? My heart was racing.  Next came the sweat. If the technology failed, I just wasted Matt and Loren's time.  OR my mighty iPhone 6, could save the day and be my hero.

Ring. Ring. FLASH. There they were.  Matt and Loren.  Loren and Matt.  In our "old gym." With 150 kids. Talking about their new book that EVERYONE is talking about. Pinch me NOW. We sang "Happy Birthday" and a student from each grade asked a question. My principal was amused at my Hollywood reaction when they appeared on the screen.  "You would have thought that was Matt Damon and Brad Pitt up there."  Funny how he chose those actors.  Not my type. And anyway, there they were, Loren and Matt sitting side by side talking with us about their book, deserving every LA scream I had in me.

I'm trying to pinpoint what makes this book so special.  The language speaks to all of us, just as love is universal.  No matter who you are, you will find at least one page that you can relate to.  There were a few for me but the one that hit my heart the hardest was picturing my husband and I under the yellow umbrella.  "Your loved ones will stand there like/puddles beneath their umbrellas,/holding you tight and kissing you/and wishing you luck." Say it isn't so that some day soon I will be letting go. Until then, I will wrap my daughter's love all around me like a king sized down comforter. LOVE.

Thank you Matt and Loren for bringing LOVE into Castleton, New York today. Of course, I'm leaping.

LOVE is...