Monday, March 26, 2012

Author Jennifer Jacobson Visits!

It is days like today that remind me why it is I do what I do.  We kicked off a three day visit with Maine author Jennifer Jacobson at our Intermediate School! I'm not sure who was more excited...the students or me! I just love the looks on students' faces when they meet the authors of books they have read face to face. There really is nothing else quite like it!  When kids get to meet an author of a book they have read, a very special connection is made! Students are energized and inspired with a deeper appreciation of reading and writing. When a student can "touch" the hand behind the printed page of the book they've read, books become deeply more personal and important.

We started the morning off by welcoming Jennifer to our school! As she walked through the tunnel of cheering, clapping students and adults you could already sense the connections being made.  The huge smiles on student faces and the overwhelming look of gratitude (and a few tears) on Jennifer's face reconfirmed to me how powerful these next three days would be for our students.

As with all of our author visits we enjoyed a big Kick Off Assembly at our middle school's Performing Arts Center at the beginning of the day. Our entire 4th/5th school came together to hear Jennifer share how her life experiences sneak their way into the writing of her fiction stories.  Using lively storytelling and visual props, students were captivated as Jennifer spoke.  One of the coolest things she showed was how she takes the time to really get to know her characters. Jennifer shared with students that its important to have well rounded characters, where the writer includes not only the character's good qualities but some of the not so good qualities as well.  Otherwise a writer will end up with flat, one dimensional characters making it difficult for readers to care what happens in the story.  Using her Winnie series (Winnie (Dancing) on Her Own, Truly Winnie, and Winnie at Her Best) Jennifer demonstrated a cool technique she used to really get to know the three main characters in that series. She created a backpack for each of them that included items that described their personalities and interests. Students loved sharing what they knew about each character just from the items Jennifer pulled from each backpack.  

The Kick-Off Assembly was followed up with small group sessions where Jennifer talked specifically about her new middle grade novel Small as an Elephant.  She shared her journey as a writer, rejection letters and all, reminding students that "writing takes a lot of hard work and is mostly about revising!"  We loved hearing the "behind the scenes" efforts that went in to writing Small as an Elephant including how, after writing her first draft, Jennifer visited many of the places in the book with her Writer's Notebook, writing down her observations as she visited each location, and then went back to revise, adding details and expanding the setting. She offered several great pieces of advice to our writers:

1.   The job of a writer is to make a movie in the reader's mind.
2.  You can't write the story until you know what the main character wants.
3.  The beginning has to grab the reader and not let go! 
4.  Each draft is like modeling clay; as a writer you can move the clay around to make   something really terrific!

It was a wonderful day! We have more small group sessions tomorrow and Wednesday and a Book Signing event at our local public library tomorrow evening. Putting together an author visit takes thoughtful planning by our school's Literacy Team and couldn't happen without the financial support of our Parent Teacher Association.  When you bring an author to your school, you are not only helping your students, you are also supporting the art of writing! It's an investment of time and money that has long lasting effects for everyone involved!

This book trailer was created by my friend, Cathy Potter, School Librarian at Falmouth Elementary School in Falmouth, Maine.

Monday, March 5, 2012

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Be sure to visit Jen and Kellee at Teach.Mentor.Text for a full list of all the blogs participating in the It's Monday! What Are You Reading meme!

Thanks to an unwanted snow storm on Thursday,  I got an extra day of reading this week. I made good use of the time but I must say what a difference a week makes! I also spent a few hours at my local independent book store, Kennebooks, reading picture books on Saturday.

My favorite picture book this week is one I plan to share with several kindergarten classrooms on World Read Aloud Day this Wednesday. It's one I'm sure many of them will have personal connections to!

Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers (May, 2011)
Ages 3-6 
NO ONE likes bedtime, and Itsy Mitsy has had quite enough. So tonight’s the night she’s running away to the perfect place where there are no more bedtimes ever (not even one). But running away isn't as easy as it seems. There's a lot to pack: Mitsy's friendliest dinosaur Mister Roar; a snack for Mister Roar; her dog, Pupcake, to keep the bedtime beasties away from said snack; the list goes on and on. But with a helpful Dad who makes sure Mitsy doesn't leave anything behind--especially not him--Mitsy might want to run away tomorrow night, too.  (description from

I also loved these:
by Ashley Wolff
Publisher: Beach Lane Books (February 7, 2012)

Here is a clever concept book that combines engaging and intricate linocut illustrations with a story that enthusiastically encourages children to identify a variety of vibrant colors.  Baby Bear has so much to learn about the world! From the moment he wakes until it’s time to curl up and go to sleep, he explores outside with his mama. They see green leaves, blue jays, brown trout, and—best of all—a patch of yummy red strawberries.  (description from

by Amy Krouse Rosenthal (illus. Scott Magoon)
Publisher: Hyperion Childrens Book (January, 2012)
Ages: 5 & up
Meet Chopsticks! They've been best friends forever. But one day, this inseparable pair comes to a fork in the road. And for the very first time, they have to figure out how to function apart. From New York Times best-selling author Amy Krouse Rosenthal and rising artistic talent Scott Magoon, this witty and inventive tale celebrates both independence and the unbreakable bonds of friendship. (description from

In the Sea
by David Elliott (illus. Holly Meade)
Publisher: Candlewick (February, 2012)
Ages 3 & up
The briny deep is home to an enormous variety of fascinating creatures, from the dainty sea horse to the fearsome shark, from the spiny sea urchin to the majestic blue whale. In striking woodcut illustrations, diverse creatures glide through blue and green waters, while succinct, witty poetry examines their behavior and interactions. In this companion volume to On the Farm and In the Wild, David Elliott and Holly Meade explore the depths of the ocean in a collection of poems sure to thrill budding oceanographers and landlubbers alike. (description from

And please, please, please, whatever you do, make sure you don't miss this "little" (not so much) non-fiction poetry gem by Nicola Davies (illus. Mark Hearld) from Candlewick Press.  
by Nicola Davies (illus. Mark Hearld)
Publisher: Candlewick Press (February, 2012)
Ages 5 and up
The buzz of bees in summertime. The tracks of a bird in the winter snow. This beautiful book captures all the sights and sounds of a child's interactions with nature, from planting acorns or biting into crisp apples to studying tide pools or lying back and watching the birds overhead. No matter what's outside their windows - city streets or country meadows - kids will be inspired to explore the world around them. (description from

My absolute FAVORITE middle grade read this week is one that wasn't in my original TBR plan but I just HAD to read it...and it was worth  You must add this book to your To Be Read (TBR) pile and then move it to the top!

by Kristin Levine
Publisher: Putnam Books (January, 2012)
Ages 12 & up
Two girls separated by race form an unbreakable bond during the tumultuous integration of Little Rock schools in 1958.  Twelve-year-old Marlee doesn't have many friends until she meets Liz, the new girl at school. Liz is bold and brave, and always knows the right thing to say, especially to Sally, the resident mean girl. Liz even helps Marlee overcome her greatest fear - speaking, which Marlee never does outside her family.

But then Liz is gone, replaced by the rumor that she was a Negro girl passing as white. Marlee decides that doesn't matter. Liz is her best friend. And to stay friends, Marlee and Liz are willing to take on integration and the dangers their friendship could bring to both their families. (description from

I also really loved this one:

Ages 10 & up
August (Auggie) Pullman was born with a facial deformity that prevented him from going to a mainstream school—until now. He's about to start 5th grade at Beecher Prep, and if you've ever been the new kid then you know how hard that can be. The thing is Auggie's just an ordinary kid, with an extraordinary face. But can he convince his new classmates that he's just like them, despite appearances?

If this one isn't on your To Be Read list add it now! Don't even finish reading this post until you have! Did you add it?  Okay then... continue on!

I also read My Life as a Stuntboy by Janet Tashjian, Close to Famous by Joan Bauer, Vanishing Acts: A Madison Kincaid Mystery by Phillip Margolin & Ami Margolin Rome, Outlaw by Stephen Davies, Eye on the Iditarod: Aisling's Quest by Hope Marston & Aisling Lara Shephard, The Blackhope Enigma by Teresa Flavin, and My Name is Not Easy by Debby Dahl Edwardson.

I'm currently reading:

This is the last week for reading books on the short list for the Maine Student Book Award list. Our committee meets on Saturday to make the final list. I have about 10 titles left...I know I won't get them all read...but I feel really good about the fact that I have read close to 180 possible titles over the past 10 months,in addition to teaching my 5th graders and two, yes, TWO grad classes! I'm hoping to read these four before Thursday at midnight so I can have a "vote". Wish me luck!

So there you have it...another week of reading is in the books!
Have a great week among the pages!