Saturday, December 15, 2012

There But For the Grace of God...

I, like so many teachers across the country, was in shock as the events in Newtown, CT unfolded and were being reported out yesterday.   As I looked around my classroom I was reminded of the sense of innocence that had now been stolen by this unthinkable act, certainly for those children in  Sandy Hook Elementary School, but also for all children across our country.  They would go home and undoubtedly hear about this horrific massacre.  The world as they knew it when they entered our building that morning was not the same world they were going to enter back into that afternoon. It had been  forever changed by the events of the day.
Once they had all left the building, my colleagues and I began to gather in the hallways to share our sorrow. Predictably the conversation led to the reality that this tragedy could have happened anywhere, including our location. To say that's an unsettling realization would be an understatement. We all agreed that we would lay down our own lives for our's who we are. But we also talked about the false sense of security so many schools work under.  Emergency plans look good on paper. Evacuation and lock down drills are good.  But have we done enough?  I won't specifically share the safety concerns I have for my own teaching situation. I don't think that's wise...but I do have them...and I plan to voice them, on behalf of my students, to the appropriate school administrators.
I thankfully happened upon this guest blog post of Kristofor Still, a Nebraska officer with the Scotts Bluff County Sheriff's Department, and husband of a teacher. With he and his wife, Beth's permission, I am re-posting his post in it's entirety. Please take the time to read it all the way through.

My name is Kristofor Still (@kris_still). As you have probably guessed by now, I am married to Beth Still, who is the author of this blog. Before I dive too deep into this guest blog that Beth has asked me to write, I feel you need to know who I am and the level of experience I possess in my fields of expertise.

I have been in Law Enforcement now for almost 19 years; the last 13 years have been with the Scotts Bluff County Sheriff’s Department in Nebraska. I have been a SWAT team member for the last 11 ½ years and a SWAT sniper for the last six years. I am also one of the department’s two firearms instructors. In May of 2012, I was given a great opportunity as I was one a select few from across the state who were able to gain a certification as an Active Shooter Response Instructor. I now teach a two day class to area Law Enforcement Officers along with my Sergeant, Troy Brown and Scotts Bluff Police Officer and fellow SWAT team member, Ian McPherson.

As most of you probably know by now, today was one of the most horrific days in the history of the United States. A killer walked into the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut and killed 20 children and 6 adults. Of those killed, a majority of them were Kindergartners.

When something like this happens and innocent children are killed, it tears at the hearts of a nation. Destroying what we as parents hold dearest to our hearts shock us to the core. It makes us realize how fragile life really is and how one crazed, sick person can take it away in the blink of an eye.
As I mentioned above, I am one of three instructors in our county that teach active shooter response to our area Law Enforcement Officers. Because of this, my wife knows that I am passionate about making sure that our officers are prepared both mentally and physically to go in and meet this evil head on and terminate it as quickly as possible in order to stop the killing.

Like most parents across our nation today, we talked at great length when Beth arrived home from school about what we can do as Law Enforcement Officers and Educators to stop this from happening. Beth came to me because she knows that I have also in the past gone to two of our area schools and provided them in-put on ways the school and teachers can protect themselves and the children. The sad thing about all of this is that my advice fell on deaf ears. I know that neither school followed through with any of the recommendations provided to them. I believe the reason that nothing was done was two fold. First of all, too many administrators fall into a comfort zone and genuinely believe that this kind of evil will never happen here. The second reason is because of the all mighty dollar. In both schools that I went to, I talked about purchasing certain items that could be used to aid teachers in protecting and or keeping intruders out of their rooms in the case that they were unable to escape. I felt that in both cases, I lost them once it came down to spending money.
I am often asked by people and teachers what they need to do in the case of active shooter in the building or school in which they are located. I start off by telling them to follow the acronym A.D.D. This stands for AVOID, DENY, DEFEND. I tell teachers, administrators, law enforcement officers, and citizens the same thing.

AVOID: Escape the scene as quickly as possible. If you are able to run, do so until you are sure you are in a safe place.

DENY (entry): If you unable to get out, barricade yourself in a room. Pile all of the furniture and heavy items in front of the door as possible and then quietly hide in the room in an area that would provide cover and concealment from an active shooter who wants to try to shoot into the room. Remember that an active shooters main goal is to kill as many people as possible to provide the greatest shock factor to his or her audience. They do not like to get hung up on a closed and locked door. This will slow them down too much for them to effectively accomplish their mission or goal. Most likely, they will move on.

DEFEND: If you are unable to escape or secure yourself in a safe room, you need to fight for your life. Find any items that you can use as a weapon. These are items of convenience such as a fire extinguisher, coat rack, trash can, chair, etc. If you are able to, find others in your same position that are of the sound mind and body to assist you in fighting for your life as well as the other innocent people who could fall victim to the senseless killing that is happening.

Another major problem that I am seeing in our schools is that our teachers are given a policy or a flip chart to follow in times of an emergency. This may work if you are talking about a fire drill or tornado drill, but teachers need leeway in their decision making when they are dealing with an active shooter. Most teachers are by nature known to be rule followers. This creates problems as they tend to fall back on a flip chart or policy and ignore that sixth sense about what they should do. The way I describe this to our new law enforcement recruits is by telling them that if something doesn’t seem right, it probably isn’t. Learn to follow your sixth sense and do what you feel is right.

Early on in this post, I spoke about certain in-expensive items that I recommended these schools purchase for each teacher or each room. Below is a list of these items that I recommended to them and am now recommending to you.

1) Tactical door wedges. These can be found on-line and typically cost between $15 and $20 a piece. These secure the door to the floor from inside the room, so the door can be permanently locked. If done properly, the only way you can open the door is to tear it down with an axe or chainsaw.

2) A claw hammer with a long handle. These can be used as both a weapon to fight with or a tool to break and rake windows to aid in escape if your room has exterior windows.

3) Medical kit to include a turnicate and a clotting agent. Remember that the first responders that are entering the building are not there to provide medical attention to those that are injured. They by-pass the injured and going straight to the threat so they can stop the killing as quickly as possible.

4) Rope or fire escape ladders. To aid in escape through an outer window if you are on the second or third floor of a school or structure.

5) Emergency blankets. These can be used to help comfort the wounded or to throw over the broken glass in a window pane prior to escape.

6) Cell phones or emergency radios for each classroom. Communication is key to any law enforcement officers or tactical teams arriving on scene. If you are able to provide pertinent information to police dispatch, you can aid in response time by providing the locations of the shooter(s) inside the structure.

7) A box, tote, or five gallon bucket to hold all of these items as they are stored in a safe place inside the classroom.

As you can see above, these are not high priced items. Push your administrator to purchase these for each classroom and tell him or her why you feel it is important. If they refuse to help your school, find ways to make this happen on your own. Some of the items above may be lying around your house or garage and could easily be transported to your school. The rest that needs to be purchased could easily be justified as inexpensive life insurance policy.

As an educator you are responsible for protecting your students if at all possible. Too many times in these cases of school shootings, there were red flags that many noticed, but failed to report until after the unthinkable happened. If you see or hear something that you consider to be red flag with a student, report it. Start by telling an administrator or counselor. If this fails and you believe they pose a true threat, talk to one of your trusted law enforcement officers.

In closing, I want you to ask yourself this; could you live with yourself if you failed to prepare, act, or report a possible future threat that resulted in the death of a student, wife, husband, son, daughter, grandparent or co-worker. You owe it to yourself and your students to be their first line of defense by educating yourself and making good sound decisions!

Now that you've read this information, do the right thing and advocate for the safety of the children in your community. Share it with the administrators in your school district. Share it with your local School Board members.  Share it with teachers. Share it with parents. Keep sharing it! Our students deserve all the precautions we can take to minimize the loss of life in crisis situations.

I would like to thank Officer Still for writing this post. Also, thank you to his wife, Beth Still, for posting it and allowing me to re-post it here. If you have specific questions for Officer Still you can post them on the orginial blog post found at Nebraska Change Agent.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

MSBA Kick-Off: Rah! Rah! Read!

Today was one of those days that renews my teaching energy!  Our school's Literacy Team hosted our annual Maine Student Book Award Kick-Off Assembly for staff and students. It is seriously one of my MOST favorite days of the school year! What could be more fun than a 45 minute pep rally type assembly whose sole purpose to celebrate READING?  This is the official kick off of our participation in Maine's highly respected student choice reading program. Students and staff enjoyed entertaining book talks by fellow students, teachers, and even some surprise book characters. They saw student created book trailers! With the help of some eager students, our school's librarian, Patty Remillard, McArthur Public Library's Children's Librarian, Deanna Gouzie and I led the entire school in the MSBA Cheer! Everyone received an MSBA bookmark and best of all...students were excited about BOOKS and READING! Love!  It was a fun time for sure...take a look!
McArthur Public Library's Children's Librarian Deanna Gouzie explains how the Maine Student Book Award program works!

Jack from Jennifer Jacobson's Small as an Elephant woke up to find a captive audience ready to hear his story!

Liesl (from Liesl & Po by Lauren Oliver) was the only one who could actually see Po during her book talk...but trust me...students were searching high and low to find where the mysterious voice was coming from!

Marie Antoinette shares true, really gross facts from How They Croaked: The Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous by Georgia Bragg.

Jeremy and Slade from Jeremy Bender vs. the Cupcake Cadets by Eric Luper  brought down the house with their guest appearance!
I think you'll agree that I am very fortunate to work with some highly dedicated educators who willing go beyond the call of duty to promote reading as a fun and enjoyable experience! A huge thank you to Shawn Anton, Marianne Collins, Matt Desenberg, Deanna Gouzie, Cheryl Legendre, Sharon McGovern, Patty Remillard, and Meghan Schrader for always jumping onto my idea bandwagons and giving 110%.  I also have to thank our school's principal, Debra Kenney for allowing the Literacy Team the time to put on these types of literacy events for our school!
The excitement was palpable!
The Maine Student Book Award program allows students to read, evaluate, and then vote on their favorite book on the MSBA list. This list is created by Maine librarians and teachers and contains published children’s and YA books from the previous year. Students must read at least 3 books from the list in order to be eligible to vote in March 2013.The Maine Student Book Award is a joint project of Maine Library Association, Maine Association of School Librarians and the Maine Reading Association. 

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Classroom Environment...It Matters!

Welcome Readers!
I love classroom design! I love that every year presents itself with another opportunity to refine and reconstruct the learning space.  I firmly believe that the way a teacher lays out and decorates their classroom space is an important part of motivating and engaging students.  A classroom that is comfortable, friendly and colorful naturally creates a positive learning and social environment.  During the month of August I start going in a few hours a week to begin the process of creating a space that will welcome my new learners with open arms. 

Last year I moved into a classroom that used to be a science lab. With that move came a bonanza of new floor space and storage. After reading Aidan Chambers book, The Reading Environment several years ago, I began to arrange my classroom library around the outside edges of the room. My students and I loved the cozy  feeling of being "surrounded" by books. The  increased space last year presented a small problem to that cozy feeling. I know what you're could more space be a problem right?  Well, the space was feeling too "wide" open. After "living" in the space for a year, I spent time reflecting over the summer and decided that I needed to make some adjustments to the classroom arrangement and give the room a "make-over" for this school year.  And so the fun (read as hard work) began! I was feeling pretty happy with the way the room was shaping up but I knew I'd hit the target when my new group of students arrived on the first day of school. I thought the the collective "ooh" as they entered the room was pretty darn cool...but then one of my boys...yes you read that right...boys remarked with awe "Wow! This is some classroom!"  Yay!
So come on in...take a peek our learning space!

The view from our doorway...welcome to our Reading Zone!
View from the back right corner of the classroom.
View from the back left corner of the classroom.
 View from the front left corner of the classroom.
My Work Space
I stopped using a desk years ago but this year I got rid of my
worktable also. I think this makes better use of the built in counter space.
A close up view of my work space.
Our Reading Nook
Don't you just want to curl up in one of those butterfly chairs and read? do the students! Also in the top right corner of the picture you will see the beginning of our "Reading Time Line". I add a picture of the cover of every book we share together as a class. This becomes a wonderful resource throughout the year and a gentle reminder that we are a community of readers.
Our Class Message Center
This space includes our Planner where all of the homework and weekly events are posted. On the left side is our daily schedule. On the right side is the "Where Will I Sit Today" chart. I use this organization chart to help expedite where students sit during "Read To Self" time.
A closer view of the "Where Will I Sit Today" chart. A huge shout out to my husband who
spray painted the clothespins for me! He's a keeper!
Our Meeting Area
The Meeting Area includes our Calendar Math board, Cafe Menu, and Vocabulary Building board. The books displayed underneath the bulletin boards are 2012 of fthe presses! You can also see our "Schema File" on the left side. We use this file to record our thinking before, during, and after reading non-fiction text.
Making use of every display space I can, we use this space which located to the right our Meeting Area to keep track of common themes we identify in the books we share together.

My version of Donalyn Miller's "Reading Door" idea. I want my students to know that reading is important to me...I am a reader! These are just some of the books I read this summer. Not surprisingly, students have spent a lot time perusing this display and asking for some of these titles.
Adding a little "sparkle" to the window shade (we aren't allowed to hang curtains or valances) has been a big hit! I know...I'm so subtle with my "You will read" message!
We'll use the class Twitter door this year to compose "tweets" about our reading and writing. We have a class Twitter account so this will help the "Tweeter of the Day" have "tweets" ready to go! I still need to add the students' "Avatar" pictures.
Our Classroom Library
I was fortunate to inherit these four wall shelves from a retiring teacher in our building at the end of last year. These shelves house baskets of books that are a part of a series 
and books by particular authors.
I feel like I've finally come up with a system that's going to help students keep the baskets organized this year! The series baskets are organized in alphabetical order by title. I created marker cards that are placed behind each series so students will know what series are in each basket. By just labelling the baskets as "Series" I can move books around as I add to the collection without having to make new basket labels for the fronts.  The author baskets are also organized in alphabetical order by the author's last name. Some of our author baskets include Tom Angleberger, Sharon Creech, Jennifer Jacobson, Gordon Korman, and Kate Messner.

Books in these baskets are organized by genre. Each book has a corresponding sticker on the back so students know where to return them when they are done.
Picture books are housed on these shelves. There are two more shelves on the backside. Picture books are organized by genre and/or theme. Each book has a corresponding sticker on the back so students know where to return them when they are done. Graphic novels that aren't part of a series or that I only have a few in the series are located in the spinner rack on top of the shelf.  Graphic novels series such as Amulet, Babymouse, and Lunch Lady are located on the Series shelves.
The non-fiction section is organized by topic. The basket labels include the general Dewey Decimal number and topic title. As I did with the fiction section, each book in the non-fiction has a corresponding sticker on the back so students know where to return them when they are done.
The Poetry Collection has it's own shelf. The baskets on the top shelf are by specific authors and/or editors. The rest of the books are housed on the bottom shelf from tallest to shortest covers. I scientific! The white basket on the right for returning library books.

Thanks so much for taking a tour of our newly updated learning environment. There's still a lot of work to be done...but that will be done by the students. I feel good about the learning environment I've created for my students. I know it's going to be a fantastic year of learning and growing together as a community of learners!

Friday, August 10, 2012

August 10 for 10: Celebrating MAINE Authors

Welcome and thanks for stopping by to see my 2012 10 for 10 list! I can't believe another whole year has passed and we are once again celebrating this wonderful (and expensive) day for a third year!  It's so fantastic to have a day where picture books are celebrated across grade levels and contents. I love seeing all of the different themes and spins teachers take with their lists.

My spin this year to celebrate the amazing authors who call Maine home. I love my state...and I love that we have so many amazing authors writing (and sometimes illustrating) picture books that students love. I've chosen 10...or so...and highlighted one of my favorite stories written by each of them. I've also included links to their websites so you can get to know them better...if you don't know them already.

So in alphabetical order here are my favorite 10 (don't actually count them please) Maine authors who have represented our great state very well! 

Barbara Cooney

This beautiful book is also a biography of the author's great Aunt Alice Rumphius, who when she was a little girl, told her grandfather that she wanted to live by the sea, and visit foreign lands. Her grandfather also encouraged her to do something to make the world more beautiful. That she did, by planting wildflowers year after year.

Cathryn Falwell

At breakfast one morning, Anna discovers magic in her bowl of alphabet cereal. The letters in her spoon can be arranged to form several different words. She's a word wizard! This lively adventure is an wonderful introduction to a creative form of wordplay. A concluding note encourages children to become word wizards by collecting letters and words from newspapers and magazines to form their own anagrams.
Kevin Hawkes

Absolutely nothing exciting happens in Maine . . . nothing, that is, except for the birth of one giant baby. Toddie's a baby just like any other . . . sort of. The thing is, he's big—really big. That means really big diapers, really big teeth, really big everything. From new booties that wear out the knitter to a bath in the ocean (it's fun to play with boats!), Toddie goes through all the stages of baby's first year . . . it's just a little different for Toddie. Be forewarned that truly appreciate this book you really HAVE to read it with our wonderful Maine accent!

Dahlov Ipcar

In rollicking verse and wonderful illustrations, Dahlov Ipcar tells of all the hard work that goes into making a bountiful fall harvest.  Hardscrabble Harvest uses rollicking verse and Ipcar's distinctive illustrations to tell a charming story about the running battle between a farm family and the mischievous animals that plunder their fields. Crows peck at freshly sown seeds, ducks eat new strawberry plants, rabbits nibble on tender lettuces, and raccoons dine on ears of ripening corn. All summer long the young farmer and his wife are hard-pressed to protect their growing crops. But autumn comes at last, and the family is ready to celebrate its harvest bushels of red tomatoes, a cellar full of apples for cider and pumpkins for pie. Look for a surprise ending!

Jennifer Richard Jacobson

Rafferty wants to play with his mom, but Mrs. Fox is too busy painting. So Rafferty packs up his things and heads off in search of a new mother. Along the way he encounters some of his friends and their fun moms. At first, Rafferty enjoys hanging out with these different moms. But soon he comes to realize that his mom is the most fun of all. This story is one my kindergarten students always loved hearing again and again.

Cynthia Lord

  This interactive read aloud from one of Maine's Newbery Honor authors is guaranteed to be a hit with preschool readers. Hamster is out to find the perfect car for racing at the Four Paws Speedway. With the help of his rodent friends, and chiming in from your captive audience, Hamster  designs a pretty cool hot rod...but can it win the race?

Amy MacDonald

When Little Beaver, who is lonely and needs a friend, hears a voice from across the lake "echo" those same feelings he sets off to find a new friend. Along the way he encounters several pond animals who join Little Beaver on his search for the "lonely" animal. When they reach the other side the group meets the wise Old Beaver who explains the mystery voice to them.

Robert McCloskey

One of my favorite stories when I was young (and I wasn't even from Maine then) continues to be one of my favorite read alouds with students today. The story of Sal and her surprising encounter with a "child" of another kind while out picking blueberries with her mom never loses it's appeal with readers of all ages.

Lynn Plourde

This is a love letter to the state of Maine, lyrically and graphically celebrating its beauty from the wilds of Baxter State Park to the crashing waves of the Atlantic. All of the scenes featured in At One were inspired by award-winning author Lynn Plourde's experiences, including a visit by twin fawns to her backyard, a hike up Mount Katahdin, cross-country skiing by moonlight, and an encounter with a bear while camping. I use this one as a read aloud at the beginning of the Children's Literature course I teach. It causes readers to either be thankful that they actually live here...or if from away... will make you wish you did! 

Melissa Sweet

 Everyone’s a New Yorker on Thanksgiving Day, when young and old rise early to see what giant new balloons will fill the skies for Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Who first invented these “upside-down puppets”? Meet Tony Sarg, puppeteer extraordinaire! In brilliant collage illustrations,  Melissa  tells the story of the puppeteer Tony Sarg, capturing his genius, his dedication, his zest for play, and his long-lasting gift to America—the inspired helium balloons that would become the trademark of Macy’s Parade.

Okay...remember you're not actually counting....

Matt Tavares

In this Junior Library Guild selection Matt makes Ted Williams’s life story accessible to a whole new generation of fans who are sure to admire the hard work, sacrifice, and triumph of the greatest hitter who ever lived.  As always, Matt illustrations are absolutely stunning! In the author's note at the back, Matt talks about how Ted Williams was his own father's hero ballplayer and how he grew up listening to the stories his father would tell about Ted's games.  Matt has definitely hit another "home run" with this one! Sorry...I couldn't resist!

Chris VanDusen

 This rollicking story written in perfect rhyme is very loosely based on an actual shipwrecked of the Royal Tar that happened off the coast of Maine in 1836.  When a circus ship runs aground off the coast of Maine, the poor animals are left on their own to swim the chilly waters. Staggering onto a nearby island, they soon win over the nervous townspeople with their kind, courageous ways. So well do the animals blend in (the two page spread of "hidden animals" is an additional bonus) that when the greedy circus owner returns to claim them, the townspeople conspire to outsmart the selfish man!

So there you have 2012 10 for 10 list. Okay fine!  I broke the's my 2012 12 for 10 list! But I ask you...which one of these Maine rock stars would you have left off?  See...not so easy is it? Be sure to visit each author's link to  find out more about them and their books. You might also want to check out  my 2010 Kindergarten List, 2010 Intermediate List, and my 2011 Community Building List.

Thanks so much to Cathy Mere (@CathyMere) at Reflect & Refine: Building a Learning Community and Mandy Robek (@mandyrobek) at Enjoy and Embrace Learning for hosting this fantastic event! You can see all of the lists shared today at this really cool jog that Cathy put together. You can also follow and post on Twitter by using the #pb10for10 hashtag.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Book Review & Giveway: Small as an Elephant

This post is cross posted on the Nerdy Book Club Blog today!

Publisher: Candlewick Press, March 2011

Awards and Recognitions:

From the publisher: Ever since Jack can remember, his mom has been unpredictable, sometimes loving and fun, other times caught in a whirlwind of energy and "spinning" wildly until it’s over. But Jack never thought his mom would take off during the night and leave him at a campground in Acadia National Park, with no way to reach her and barely enough money for food. Any other kid would report his mom gone, but Jack knows by now that he needs to figure things out for himself - starting with how to get from the backwoods of Maine to his home in Boston before DSS catches on. With nothing but a small toy elephant to keep him company, Jack begins the long journey south, a journey that will test his wits and his loyalties - and his trust that he may be part of a larger herd after all.

A fear of abandonment is one we have all experienced at some point in our lives. I’m sure we all have a story of the time we got separated from mom in the store, or dad forgot to pick us up after baseball practice. Being left or forgotten is a common childhood fear that middle grade readers can identify with rather quickly. But what if that “fear” became your reality? In Small as an Elephant Maine author Jennifer Jacobson tackles this real fear in a story that is filled with adventure and survival, not in the wilderness, but rather right in middle of the busy tourist area of down east Maine.  As Jack makes difficult decisions and deals with the emotions of having a mom who’s unreliable, Jacobson intentionally puts the reader inside Jack’s head, which helps the reader understand why Jack makes certain decisions even if they aren’t what most kids would do.  Written in a way that hooks readers from page one, Jack’s story is both riveting and touching, the characters are interesting and realistic, and the pace fast moving. 
I had the opportunity to talk with Jennifer about Small as an Elephant in more depth when she visited our school as our Author in Residence this year.   Which, as a side note, if you ever have the opportunity to bring an author to your school, do it!  It’s a powerful experience that really strengthens a reading community! 

Jack’s story is one that hit close to home for several of my students. One in particular shared at the end of our reading it aloud “You know, this is first time I’ve ever seen myself in a book.” How did you come up with the idea of Jack’s story?
Ten years ago I was at a writer’s conference and the instructor (Virginia Euwer Wolff of Make Lemonade fame) suggested, as an exercise, that we try writing an irresistible beginning. I had a rush of an idea: What if a boy on a camping trip crawled out of his pup tent and discovered that his family (I did not yet know who he was camping with) and the camping equipment were gone?  I shared this beginning with the other writers, received an enthusiastic response, and then let it go.  Or tried to let it go.  But it wouldn’t let go of me.  Who was the boy?  Why was he abandoned?  I had to write the book.

As my class was sharing this story, we kept coming back to the question of why you made the choice to have Jack be so enamored with elephants?

For years I had a brief story about a story tacked on my bulletin board.  You might remember the story (mentioned in Small) that Pliny the elder told. He had observed that an elephant, beaten for her inability to perform a trick, went missing.  She was found later that night, back in the arena, practicing.   As a writer, I related to the elephant’s need to try until she got things right.  I also think that my character, Jack ,is a lot like the elephant in the story.  But perhaps most importantly, I chose elephants (as opposed to other animals or obsessions) because they are so maternal.  Even when at risk, a female elephant will not leave her young.

What kind of research did you do for this book?

While writing the first draft, I used Google maps to determine how far Jack could get in a day and, with satellite, exactly what he would see along each road.  I also read a good deal about bipolar disorder and elephants.  I visited York Wild Kingdom, met Lydia the elephant, and talked to her trainers.

The Maine setting is so important to the plot and you’ve describe it so well. Have you visited all of the places Jack visits?

Yes!  After completing a first draft, I went back with my camera and notebook and recorded details in each stopping point on Jack’s journey. I wanted to stay true to the actual locations, so this required revision (I had to remove a swimming scene for example, because the rocky beach was too rough for swimming), and it also gave me ideas for new scenes (there really is a vault in the center of Left Bank Books!). 
But perhaps most importantly, this journey transformed my writing.  I used to believe that it was the strength of a writer’s imagination that made a story come alive.  I now understand that observation is an equally powerful and perhaps even necessary tool.  Currently I carry a notebook with me, recording interesting details as I go about my daily life...

What is the strongest message you hope readers take away from reading Small as an Elephant?

I never write with a message in mind,  but now that the book is written, I hope readers come away with a reminder that the world (and especially relationships) are not black and white. A person can be wonderful in a myriad of ways and yet, under certain circumstances, do something deeply regrettable.  I also hope that children who are dealing with difficult issues realize that, like Jack, they are not alone.

How did you first become interested in writing children’s books?

I was training to be a teacher, taking a children’s literature course, when I fell back in love with books for children.  It was then that I decided I wanted to write them.  When I was teaching, I wrote with my students during Writer’s Workshop.  I’d share my writing, and revise according to my students’ feedback.

I’ve heard many authors say that to be a great writer you have to be a reader. Do you agree or disagree? Why or why not?
Absolutely!  The more you read, the more your understanding of story structure (or expository writing) grows. Your vocabulary and sentence fluency grows. Eventually you begin to read like a writer asking yourself: How did the author do that?  How did the author create suspense, or use symbolism, or make me cry?

How or when did you become a member of the Nerdy Book Club?

I have always been a reader, but when I was around eight years old, I found a book of short stories for children in our attic.  After each story was a list of comprehension questions.  I spent an entire Saturday reading the stories and then answering the questions in this little hardcover book.  I suppose one doesn’t get much nerdier than that!

Small as an Elephant makes a fantastic read aloud as it has so many wonderful discussion points. If you working with students, you can also visit Jennifer’s website where students are encouraged to imagine what Jack would have done if he had passed through their town, and to write their own Jack adventures.  All stories are published on the site.  There's also a map, and if kids click on the icons, they can see the actual Maine locations in from the book and learn more facts about each location.

As a fellow Mainer, I couldn’t be more proud of the story Jennifer has written. She truly captured not only the beautiful Maine setting of the Bar Harbor area, but more importantly the sense of “community” that is Maine where the idea of “paying it forward” is just the way life is.  In that spirit, I’m thrilled to be giving away a signed, hardcover copy of Jennifer’s book to one of my fellow Nerdy Book Club members.
For a chance to win visit the Nerdy Book Club Blog and fill out the giveaway form!
Good luck....and Happy Reading!