Monday, April 30, 2018

The Serpent's Secret: Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond

I saw Sayantani Dasgupta speak on a panel at TLA and bought her book for our library as soon as I returned home.  I haven't read it yet, but put it in the hands of one of my best book reviewers, Izzy. She came in first thing this morning with her thoughts.

First her summary:

"Kiranmala is just regular sixth grader in New Jersey but then on Halloween her parents are nowhere to be found.  Then two boys dressed up as princes point out that there is a demon (aka rakkhosh) right behind her, destroying her house.  They  fight the rakkhosh and escape it when it becomes unconscious. They go to the Transit Corridor in search of her parents and Kiranmala can't go through unless she passes the Transit Officer.  She is able to solve the riddles to get through but she finds out that you aren't supposed to live when you go to the Transit Officer.  So she has to run away and finds herself in a strange city in a different dimension. She's still searching for her parents.  Eventually the two boys find Kiranmala and are surprised to see that she is alive. Together the three of them go to the castle to find Tuni.  They have been told that Tuni can figure out basically anything but you first have to figure out what his poem means. Tuni tells them a poem which they figure out that Kiranmala's parents are in a well of darkness. Will she find her parents?  Read the book to find out!"

Why did you like it?
I liked it because it was a fantasy with some action.  And it was believable, too!  That's hard to do with a fantasy book! 
I don't know about you, but I am going to put this book at the top of my ever growing TBR pile for sure! Thank you, Izzy!

Sidenote: Izzy LOVES Adam Gidwitz and Adam was on the same panel at TLA!  Coincidence that she liked this book, too, then?

Sunday, April 29, 2018

My Love for Texas

I am often asked, "Why Texas?"  I still need to figure out a pat answer that I can use over and over again.  It's almost an obsession.  My own kids call me on it all the time.  I dare you to find someone else (not from Texas) who has a postcard of the state flag hanging in her library, more Texas t-shirts than from any other state and whose working on her twang.  I'm proud to be from NoNo Texas.

Where did it stem from?  I can't exactly pinpoint the date but somewhere between a #txlchat and a book stand.  I had already been mildly obsessed when I posted on Twitter a picture of a new book from my library.  It happened to be on a book stand that caught Fort Worth librarian, Kirsten Murphy's eye.  The conversation went something like this:
"Where did you get that book stand?"
"Borders.  When it went out of business, I snagged a bunch of them."
"Can you take a few pictures of it from different angles for me?  Maybe my husband can build me some."
And so our friendship began and so did my love for Texas and all the Texas librarians, authors and illustrators. (I did love Barbara Jordan way before that, Chris Barton). That was nearly three years ago. Since then I have attended two TLAs, made many more Texas friends, fall hard for any character or book that takes place in Texas (thank you, authors Julie Murphy and Benjamin Alire Saenz) and know how to eat queso the right way.

You can only imagine my feeling when I opened up my New York Times Book Review (yes, I am still a Queens native at heart who thinks the NYT is the only paper to read) this morning to see the cover article. It's a review by David Oshinsky of God Save Texas: A Journey Into the Soul of the Lone Star State by Lawrence Wright.  It has ME written all over it. Even if you don't read the article, check out this pool I NEED to swim in!

The article (and book that is already on my TBR pile) just validates all the reasons why I love Texas and why my liberal Yankee self belongs there.  Maybe not to live but certainly to visit often.

A side and very embarrassing anecdote

On Friday, Mrs. DeMassio's class held their "Celebrity Ball."  We worked for a month on this project, reading biographies, diving deep into one special person's life and then ultimately dressing up and sharing ourselves as that person to families and friends.  It was a great event.  And no surprise here, the biography I chose to introduce and model the project to the class was of course, a Texan, Lady Bird Johnson.

When Dolley Madison came up to the mic to be interviewed by me, I could tell she was nervous. And maybe I was too.  Or just distracted by the SHeDAISY version of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" Whatever it was Dolley ultimately became a mashup of Dolley and Lady Bird.  I asked her about the parties she hosted and her fourth president husband, James.  We talked about the War of 1812.  It was all going so well until I looked down at her paper and saw the student had written she went to the University of Texas.  Oh boy.  You know where this is going! In that moment, it didn't seem odd to me. So just like that I said, "You went to the University of Texas? You know I love Texas! Go Longhorns!"  Parents laughed and no one said anything afterwards.  Maybe they didn't catch it. It was only yesterday that I realized what happened and so today, rather than die of embarrassment, I will just chalk it up to my ongoing Texas obsession. Lone Star State rules!

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

My Own Golden Medal #slm18

I was in the Newbery 2018 Orphan Island camp. Yes, I was left feeling a bit frustrated at the close of book, but that only made the entire experience better.  I wanted to talk to everyone and anyone who had read it so we could commiserate together.  Weeks and months later, we were all still talking, discussing, wondering, debating.  So you can imagine how excited we were when Laurel Snyder agreed to Skype with us before the Newbery announcement.  Then the snow fell and we had to reschedule for "after."

One thing I love about kids is that they are honest and innocent.  They are still learning how to navigate the world of words and what's the right thing to say or ask.  So when they asked Laurel about the Newbery award, I cringed a bit.  Oooh.  Maybe it's too soon, too sensitive.  But Laurel had the right answer that has stuck with me still.  Sure, it is great to win the award, and we all know it is.  But the real win for Laurel was sitting in front of kids like mine, super excited and stoked about her book. My kids (and I) loved her book and were not afraid to express it. That was what was rewarding and fulfilling, not only for Laurel, but me, too.

This came to mind yesterday when I was showered with love in front of the whole school in honor of School Library Month.  No award or contest could ever compare. Second graders shared a "Top Ten Reasons Why We Love Mrs. Rattner". A beautiful bouquet of flowers with books was handed to me.  A couple of fourth graders read their "Choose Kind" essay that they wrote about me. Every student, teacher and staff member signed a copy of The Giving Tree for me. They sang to me.  There was cake. Unbelievable, really.  For me? I can't thank all who were involved enough 🤗

Later a teacher said she was surprised I didn't ball my eyes out at the assembly.  I told her I was just in pure shock.  I'm just doing my job and I love it.  (True confession--I'm crying now as I reflect.) I love my kids. I love their smiling faces. I love all my faculty and staff. I mean, how lucky am I to have the teachers I have?  I ask (tell?) them to have every student sign a record (yes, a 45 RPM). They do. "I'm thinking about having all the students out on the sidewalk to greet Matt Cordell when he arrives," I begin. "Oh, and by the way, instead of a red carpet, let's go out the day before and color the sidewalk gold."  They don't even flinch. (Please don't tell this to Matt!)

Anyone who knows me, knows I'm super competitive.  Why do you think I go over-the-top extra with my author visits (and everything else)? Would I like to "move and shake" some day? Of course.  Be on the cover of SLJ? Who wouldn't?  But seriously, that's all bonus.  For now,  yesterday reminded me that I get my own golden medal every morning I walk into my building, take a leap or two, (or three), put the right book in the right kid's hand, turn the research lightbulb on, foster creativity and inquiry, and so much more.  That's the best award I can ever receive.

Right after morning program, a fifth grader came up to me and said, "Every single thing they said in that assembly is true.  I think you're wonderful, Ms. Rattner." Put that on my mantle.


Wednesday, April 18, 2018

The Great Shelby Holmes Meets Her Match

Elizabeth Eulberg was part of a star studded middle grade panel I went to at TLA a couple of weeks ago.  I am embarrassed to admit that I had not heard of her or her books.  But now I do!  And bonus! I got a copy of the 2017-18 Texas Bluebonnet nominated sequel for our "North North Texas" library in upstate New York!

Before I even had a chance to process the book, I passed it on to one of my best readers and reviewers, fifth grader Izzy B.  I'm not kidding! Izzy even has one of her blurbs on Chris Grabenstein's bookmarks!

Izzy, finished The Great Shelby Homes Meets Her Match just a couple of days after bringing it home. By giving Izzy the second in the series without having read Book 1, you can see that it could be a standalone.

What did you like about the book, Izzy?
I liked that it was an adventure and that Shelby was a detective and just a normal kid at the same time. But, not that normal. She can just look at someone and know their life story. 
Tell me a little bit about the book:
There's a missing watch. It belongs to Mr. Crosby, the science teacher.  Shelby and Watson have to find out who stole it. Along the way, they have to break laws to find out who did it. Trespassing, setting off a fire alarm, smoke bombs...It's not easy! To find out who did it, read this mysterious, adventurous book!  You will feel like you were right there solving the case alongside Shelby and Watson!
I can't wait to get this book (and the rest in the series) in the hands of more students!

There is always time for a leap!

Thursday, April 12, 2018

The Doughnut Fix

Let's see.  I grew up in Queens.  I now live in a small town in upstate New York.  I love doughnuts. (have you read my Twitter profile?) So when I heard that Tristan and his family move to small town, Petersville, New York from the city and he makes it his mission to bring Winnie's chocolate cream doughnuts back, I couldn't help but crave this book.

How does this all get started?  It's late fall and for some reason, the principal wants Tristan and his younger sister, Jeanine to wait until January to start school. To keep them busy (and learning?) Tristan and Jeanine's parents tell them to come up with a project they can work on until school starts..  Having no clue where to begin on this "project", Tristan asks Winnie the owner of the General Store for her doughnut recipe.

This project has multifaceted layers: culinary, business ownership, math, teamwork and more.  As readers and educators, we can use this book in a number of ways, too.  Tie it in with Junior Achievement.  Discuss the fractions from the recipe and in Tristan's business model.  Work with a partner and see how challenging that can be!

With his recipe (did Winnie give hers up?), Start Your Own Business for Dummies and new friend, Josh by his side, Tristan learns the meaning of perseverance, trust, risk taking (mashed potatoes? really?!) and of course, how to make a great doughnut.  Success?  You'll just have to stumble upon Petersville to find out! There's a recipe in the back of the book, in addition to a glossary of business terms.  Double deliciousness.

At the moment (if you don't count Dunkin Donuts and I don't) the nearest shop (Cider Belly) is across the river in Albany.  I can only hope that this book will encourage one of my students to tackle their own doughnut project right here in Castleton.  Sell them in the library, perhaps? Can you say, "SWEET!"? And if that's the case, a treadmill is included, right?

Enjoying a donut at Cider Belly in Albany, NY

Shopping for donut pillows with my nieces in Ocean City, Maryland.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018


My dress matches Alma's outfit!

Today a colleague shared that her friend just had her second baby.  I cannot remember the baby's name but I can't forget big brother's.  Cortland.  Now that's a unique name for a child.  Evidently Mom and Dad met at Cortland, held their wedding there and obviously have fond memories of the college. If my husband and I had gone that route, our first born would have been name Testudo and she would have been a terrapin to fear.

The timing of this conversation couldn't have been better.  Just earlier in the day we celebrated the book birthday of Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal.  All K-2 students gathered in the "old gym" to meet Juana via Skype, listen and watch her read her book and ask a few questions.  We finished the party off with pink frosted cookies.  Juana had given me a heads up that those would be Alma's favorite.

The illustrations in this book are soft and lovely.  Did you notice the "A" in Alma?  It has five dots inside of it.  That's for every relative that Alma is named after.  Alexis was in the library later and showed me that she found five dots on her overalls.  That was a thrilling revelation for this second grader.

What about the birds?  Kindergartener Ava was curious but when she got called to actually ask Juana a question during the Skype the words, "When is your birthday?" fell out instead.  Turns out that Ava and Juana are both August birthdays so the summer girls bonded over that. When I later emailed Juana about the birds she shared, "Tell Ava the bird guides Alma through the story. The little bird sees the relatives coming to life before Alma and Daddy. Yes, I looooove birds and drawing birds. Small ones especially." Bonus! We know when Juana's birthday is AND the symbolism of the birds.


This simple book about names can open up so many conversations with even our youngest learners.  Ava's teacher told me they went back to talk about their names.  Mrs. Golden's first graders came to the Skype with pictures of their name.  Everyone has been buzzing about the origins of their names and adults have shared the story behind their children's names.

Mrs. Cook's kindergarteners right before dismissal.

So...what is the story of your name?

-Signing off, 
Stacey Beth Rattner
Bracha Gilah (in Hebrew it means "Blessing of Joy")


PS--Want to know more about Juana and Alma?  Check out this video.  I shared it with everyone right before our Skype.  I love watching Juana illustrate Alma.

I know I posted this picture before but I just had to share it again!
With library superstars Becky Calzada, Cynthia Alaniz and of course, Juana!

Tuesday, April 10, 2018


My "In It to Win It" co-presenters and just fabulous people, librarian Kirsten Murphy and illustrator/author Emma Virjan

I apologize in advance if this post is too lengthy.  You already know how I feel about Texas so it only makes sense that I write a Texas sized blog post about my 2018 TLA conference experience.  There. Said it. Done.  Moving on...

Last year my colleague, friend and mentor, Dr. Jen Cannell and I, had an amazing time in San Antonio at #txla17.  We were looking to repeat the experience once again. Those Texas librarians, now friends, did not disappoint.

Snow was falling during my commute to the airport. That's how I knew it was time to get out of North North Texas and head to just plain ole "North Texas."  Thankfully our trip was uneventful and flights all on time.  Can't say the same for our trip home, but that's another story.  In fact, our trip there was made even better since we met poet/author Laura Shovan at BWI which was the start (continuation?) of a great friendship.  It's confusing because Laura and I never met IRL but after two Skypes and many emails later it almost feels like we had.

We shared our first meal in Dallas with Victoria Coe, Emma Virjan and Laura Shovan.  Ok.  Time to go home.  Seriously.  Between the laughs, coincidences and storytelling, a good time was had by all.

Tech Camp Tuesday

Liv of TheLivBits was our keynote speaker and Kristina Holzweiss was the closer. The workshops I attended were inspiring and engaging.  I am ready to do the Global Read Aloud 2019, BreakoutEdu on a budget and more! You did an awesome job, Becky Calzada and team! I was proud to be a part of the pre-conference.

And how did I do? Well, it's not like I haven't presented before but whose crazy idea was it to rely solely on technology in order to have a successful workshop? Yeah, me.  I was counting on Skype to work FOUR times within a 55 minute session.  I felt like my heart was going to actually explode from all that nervous beating.  BUT...THE TECHNOLOGY WORKED! If you happened to be at TLA, my slides are up or just email me for more information.  A BIG Texas thank you to my virtual panel: Towboat pilot Stephanie, Poet/Author Emma Otheguy, CEO and Co-founder of Codespark Grant Hosford and Washington Post journalist, Jacob Bogage.

Thanks Kristina for inviting us to the Scholastic dinner where not only did we enjoy a delicious meal and conversation but we got to make glow bugs and talk about all the different ways we could incorporate them at school, not just in a Makerspace but in our science curriculum, too.

Conference Day 1

Then the nerves started up again Wednesday morning.  However, this time I had two partners in crime so my thumping heart was more manageable.  And we rocked it.  Presenter extraordinaire, Kirsten Murphy and illustrator/author (did you check out our t-shirts which we wore confidently with WHITE pants!?), Emma Virjan were amazing to work with.  IN IT TO WIN IT people!  That's what it's all about!  And, if used the right way, social media really can help you move mountains.

Today is the book birthday of Juana Martinez-Neal's book Alma and How She Got Her Name.  I was sprinkled with luck-dust again when I received the invite to a lovely luncheon with Juana, her publishing people and a few librarians.  We will be celebrating ALMA on Wednesday with a party, Skype and pink frosted cookies.  Although we didn't have pink cookies at lunch, I have to say that I was not disappointed when I copied Andie's meal of choice.

( I haven't even been in Dallas for 24 hours and I've written more than you ever want to read.  If you want to leave now, I'll never know.  Austin or Bust 2019.)

Strolling down the Exhibit Hall I chatted with Macmillian editor, Grace Kendall, who I've been a fan of since Gertie's Leap to Greatness, finally leaped with my buddy at Penguin, Trevor Ingerson (everyone LOVES Trevor!) and snagged some books.  I promised myself I wasn't going to go crazy with the books.  Yeah, I broke that promise pretty early into conference.

The Penguin Random House cocktail hour was a blast.  I was on a mission to attack Hilo's Judd Winick, catch up with my idol and sharer of the best birthday ever, Jenni Holm, update Candace Fleming on her number one fan, the boy with the pink hair and others.  My friend, Jayce and I met many new friends, including the debut YA author, Arvin Ahmadi.  I haven't even read his book yet but can already tell that he is going to go far.

In between we had a great dinner with some of my most favorite Texans with our lovely server, Robert, while facing the big EYE. It was chilly but we still ate outside.  I hear it was grey and snowy back home at that exact time.

After a dark (not stormy), quiet (scary?) walk over to Reunion Tower, we got to see Jewell Parker Rhodes at the Little Brown dessert event.  I just wanted to hug her (and I did). Like the rest of us, Jewell still remembers our special day together last June and her visit to Castleton. We will forever love Jewell.

I also got to meet IRL library folks who I follow on Twitter and Facebook.  The theme of the week was definitely IN IT TO WIN IT and I felt like a winner all conference long.


Do you use the Rosen databases?  If you don't, I highly recommend the PK Science Suite.  It seems unrelated but Miriam of Rosen, and I met for breakfast on Thursday.  Seriously, this is not a sales pitch, just a "trust me" this is a good databases and a perfect next step for all your PebbleGo fans. We love it!

I swooned over Jenni and Judd one more time during their session.  In the exhibit hall it was all MORE. MORE book creators, MORE friends, MORE items for my carryon and of course, MORE leaps. It was an afternoon well spent.

The conference hashtag helps when you just can't get to every workshop.  There were a lot of posts about Typorama so I had to try it out! What a great app to make cool posters!

But wait there's more:  Bluebonnet luncheon, Junot Diaz, chatting with all the wonderful Texas librarians in the author signing lines (Keith Barrow, Barbara Moon...), dinner with John Hendrix, reuniting with editors and, and, and...

...and then there was Friday...

I attended three workshops on Friday, beginning at 8:30! What was I thinking?!  A panel on using picture books to teach empathy, a middle grade author panel and "Fairytales with a Modern Twist."  That was all before the closing luncheon with Kwame.  No wonder I slept well (?) on a bench at BWI when we missed our connection Friday night.

Oh, TLA, thank you AGAIN for a wonderful week!

1-2-3 LEAP!

I snuck in a tiny bit of time with my cousin!

The incomparable Trevor Ingerson and Arvin Ahmadi and Jenni Holm

Chris Barton and Adam Gidwitz

My new friend, Keith with Adam
BTW, the first book in Adam's new series comes out today! It's great!

Isn't Becky so cute?!

Nancy Jo!

Mr. Pat, TLA President Dr. Jeng and Pat
They are quietly leaping!

My favorite TLA travel companion, Jen and Becky.
THIS is going on my car!

I can't say it enough--Thank you again TLA and the Texas librarians for continuing to welcome us into your organization, your conference and making us feel like we really are from NoNo Texas! xo Austin or Bust! #txla19

Sunday, April 1, 2018

'Twas the Night Before...

...I left for TXLA18 and all through my house
Not a creature was stirring not even a mouse (although they would probably be thrilled if they were around with all those matzah crumbs)...

My bag is practically packed with multiple outfits, chocolate, books and t-shirts to raffle off at my Tech Camp workshop (Going Beyond Skyping Grandma), leaping shoes, headbands (you know I'm going to have at least one bad hair day), headphones, cords, oatmeal and of course, the obligatory running shoes that I probably won't touch...

How is it here finally?! It is going to be such a different experience this year! We have friends! I'm presenting twice! I've been invited to publisher events.  I'm ready for the exhibit hall. I'm prepared for no sleep (hence the late hour right now). I know what to expect.

Or do I?  I know that the conference is going to be awesome.  I understand that my head is going to be spinning 360 degrees from now until whenever as I attempt to incorporate all my new ideas and friends into my curriculum.

I've got people to tackle, too.  Are you ready, Judd Winick?  Because I think Chase, only your Texas sized BIGGEST fan wants us to FaceTime him wherever he is this spring break. Adam Gidwitz, we need to talk.  And Jenni Holm, I hope I don't cry when I see you like I did the first time I met you at ALA in 2015. And...and....and...

What about the friends? Emma and Kirsten, oh, words cannot say how excited I am to see you!  Jayce, you did the Newbery and I just want to hear EVERYTHING. And Karen...And, Becky, I'm going to hug you so hard, don't say I didn't warn you.  Jen and Nancy Jo, who knew that "North North Texas" would stick.  Well, it did and here we come again!

So, after having 33 people over for a seder last night and recovering from it today first by finishing another awesome book (When Dimple Met Rishi) and an afternoon hike with my family at Schodack (it's pronounced SKO-DACK) Island Park on the Hudson River, I am ready to fly half way across the country and "perfect my game." As Emma, Kirsten and I will tell you on Wednesday at 11:15 I am "in it to WIN it!"  See you tomorrow, Texas peeps! DALLAS OR BUST!
Today selfies with the fam. Tomorrow selfies with YOU.