Giant Squids in the Library

Last spring I was able to attend the School Library Journal’s Day of Dialogue.  img_5133The book nerd inside of me jumped for joy when I was approved to go to the conference with my librarian friend.  It was a day spent listening to authors, filling my bags with their latest ARCs, and having a chance to meet and chat with some of them.  Many of these books have found their way to my classroom library bookshelves, including the book Giant Squid.  Written by Candace Fleming, or better known as “The Muncha! Muncha! lady in our house, Giant Squid is a wonderful narrative non-fiction text.  My students love reading about “gross” things, and this book presents the facts in an engaging, accessible picture book with dark, realistic pictures by Eric Rohmann, which only add to the mysterious feel of the giant squid.  Books like this should be on the shelves of classroom libraries in every school.   

And lucky for me, I work in an amazing school district that values the importance of rich literature in the classroom. While finishing up the tail end of my maternity leave, I noticed a small blurb at the end of an email about book purchases, make a list, get a P.O., etc., etc., etc.  I found myself rereading the email…money for books?  Sign me up!  As it turns out, each teacher was given a generous amount of money that we can spend as we choose to purchase books for our classroom libraries.  I love shopping for books and have been scouring websites over the past few weeks and have found some amazing titles to add to my already plentiful library.

Building up and maintaining a classroom library is a labor of love, and can easily put you in some serious debt. However, over the course of my fourteen years of teaching, I’ve found that having a well-stocked, relevant library makes a world of difference.  In some areas that I taught, the books taken home from my library were the only books in that child’s household.  I had one student that would bring home picture books so his younger, non-school aged sibling could have books to read. I also spend a lot of my free time reading the books that I have in my collection so I can talk the books up to students, make appropriate recommendations, and have meaningful conversations about books. I recently turned a student onto a series that was screaming his name and by doing so, I helped a reluctant reader become a child that couldn’t put his book down.

I’m proud of my library. Just this year, another staff member walked into my room and commented on what an impressive classroom library I have. Another teacher used to send one of her students over to borrow a book. If I expect my students to become voracious readers, then I have to provide them with the means to get there. As my newest selections arrive in the mail, I plan on reading as many as I can so I can recommend them to my students with confidence.  And so I can enjoy them, too.  

Need help building your library up without spending your entire paycheck?  Here’s some frugal tips.

1.  Your local library.  Most public libraries have a section where donated books are for sale, and in most cases, you can buy them used for a quarter. We typically go to the library every week, and it’s become our routine to look for books for “mommy’s classroom”. Just today I found a Minecraft book. A quarter well spent.

2.  Annual public library book sales. My library has a huge fundraiser every year where they have a book sale for a couple of days. Same great 25 cent price, just a much bigger selection.  I’ve checked out ones in neighboring towns, as well, and found one that would probably rival any other sale. My very pregnant self waddled out of there this past fall with as much as I could carry. I’ll have a better plan of attack this coming year.

3.  Garage sales.  I scour garage sales over the summer. Most books are inexpensive and they are in great shape because, chances are, their kid read them only once. I also look on a lot of the Facebook virtual yard sale sites. Almost every town has them. I look at what people have posted, and I also specifically ask for books that I’m looking for. Last year I scored about ten “Who Was…” books for less than a dollar per book.

4.  Scholastic warehouse sales. Twice a year, typically around the winter holidays and as school is getting out in June, Scholastic will have its warehouse sale.  All books are on sale for 50% off, minus a handful of exceptions. If that’s not enough, there are coupons, and perks if you sign up to volunteer. A $10 gift certificate for each hour you volunteer can really help.

Building up a classroom library doesn’t have to happen overnight and it doesn’t have to cost you a fortune.  If you have any other tips on how your have filled your shelves with books, I’d love to hear!

Little Babymouse and the Christmas Cupcakes

Right before the holidays, I was fortunate enough to win a book giveaway from @readbrightly on Instagram. Christmas came early when the box arrived with seven holiday themed books, ranging from board books to chapter books. There was one that squeaked past the others as a favorite by the young people in my life, and I strongly recommend adding it to your holiday book list for next year.

“Little Baby Mouse and the Christmas Cupcakes” by Jennifer and Matt Holm, was an instant hit. After I read it to my daughter for the first time, she put it back in the pile of books we were reading so that we could read it again. The pictures are bright and colorful, and the graphic novel style helps to tell the story. I often find graphic novels difficult to follow, but my daughter and her two elementary-aged cousins loved it. Clearly the Holms know their target audience. Baby Mouse is an independent character that marches to the beat of her own drum, which is demonstrated by her actions throughout the story. The book celebrates her uniqueness and the story is easily relatable by children. It was a well-loved story that had the kids laughing and smiling.

I plan on adding this book to our collection of holiday books. And speaking of such, as the holidays came to a close, so did our book advent calendar. While my daughter is only three (almost four), I know I have done a good job so far when she got just as excited to open her wrapped book each night as she was her chocolate. This is the second year I’ve done the book advent, and will continue to do it for years to come. I’d love to think of another time or theme to do this at a different point in the year, and would welcome any suggestions!

A Child of Books

With a new baby comes a lot of quiet time at all hours of the night. It’s a time for me to think, a time to snuggle, a time to troll the internet, and a time for me to binge watch Netflix on my iPad. Sorry books, but I’ve fallen asleep on more than one occasion. When I’m not glued to watching the entire series of Gilmore girls, I’ll often peruse Facebook and Twitter, catching up on the latest scoop. The other night I saw a tweet by Candlewick Press, asking, “What made you a child of books?”. Where do I begin?

 The question itself elicits so many thoughts in my head. I love the idea that my own children will be surround by and raised on books. I love it so much, I have a poster promoting Oliver Jeffers latest book, (signed by him and Sam Winston, which makes it even cooler) in my son’s room. My son doesn’t know it yet, but he too will be a child of books. My three year old is surrounded by stories, whether from books or simply ones from our imaginations. “Tell me a story”, she often says. And we abide. When she isn’t behaving, we threaten to take away a book before bed. We’ve only had to follow through once, and I’ve never seen her little heart so broken. When we go to a restaurant or a doctors appointment, there is always a book in the toy bag. My favorite is when she brings the Frozen chapter book that she took from my classroom over the summer, solely because Anna and Elsa were on the cover. She “reads” the book cover to cover, using intonation and voices for the characters, retelling the plot of the movie. It makes her teacher mama proud. We have books scattered around our house; they are in every room. My children are literally children of books. 

Then I started thinking about myself as a reader. I don’t remember actually learning to read, it was just a natural hobby in our house. Growing up, my dad and my sister were wonderful role models of what voracious readers look like. Still to this day, there hasn’t been a single Christmas where books weren’t wrapped beneath the tree. 

When I think back to what made me a child of books, it wasn’t just having good role models, or a mother that would take me to the library whenever she could, but it was the actual books themselves. I don’t remember how old I was, but one year for my birthday my aunt and uncle had bought me my first chapter book series, the original “The Kids of the Polk Street School.” I had crossed over from picture books and I was in the big league with my new chapter book series. They started my love affair with books, and to this day, they are proudly displayed on my bookshelf at home. There was something about these books that fulfilled my infatuation. They were a series, they were just right, they had actual plots and continuation, and they were sparkly and new. I was hooked. Other books have come and gone, other series became the “it” books of the time, and other favorites have emerged. But I’ll never forget those kids of The Polk Street School. They’re forever in my heart. 

Paying it Forward

For as many years as I’ve been teaching I’ve been doing a very special Thanksgiving lesson with my students. It has been so long since I started it that I don’t remember how the idea came to me. I just know that it has been a favorite in my lesson box. I talk to the kids about how during Thanksgiving time we are asked to think of what we are thankful for, and the kids come up with the same answers, family, friends, dogs, etc. Then I tell them that there is a whole group of people that we don’t often stop and thank, our past and present teachers. I then read them to wonderful book by the talented author/illustrator Patricia Polacco, Thank You Mr. Falker .

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If you have never read it, it is a story about a young girl who loves to draw and has trouble learning to read. When she finally gets to 5th grade her teacher recognizes her struggles and spends time before, during and after school helping her finally learn to read. There is so much more, but I don’t want to spoil it.

After we read the story we talk about how important teachers are in our lives. Then I ask the kids to think of a teacher to write a letter to to give them thanks. We define teacher as anyone who has played a role in teaching us something, school teachers, coaches, parents, etc. I require the students to include at least two specific memories or things the teacher did that you remember. After they draft, revise and edit the letters we gather them up to be delivered. I include this note so the receiver understands why they got the letter.

Thank You! After reading the book Thank You Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco, the third graders chose a teacher they wanted to recognize and write a letter and thank them for specific memories they had. You are the lucky teacher chosen!

I want to thank you for all you do and I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Love,

Mrs. McDermid

Most students usually choose someone in the building so delivering is usually easy. I am currently teaching in Denver and this year the students sent me on quite a bit of an address hunt. I tracked down some retired teachers, and I also sent letters to past teachers in Washington State, Michigan, and Israel.  

The response to this project has been tremendous.  Both teachers from the building and parents have told me how much the letters meant to them. And on a few occasions the students receive a letter back, via snail mail, from their chosen teacher.

Last week, Matthew, a student from my class, got a response from his first grade teacher, Mrs. Lieberman, in Michigan. Matthew and I opened the letter together. In it was a beautiful hand written note from her with her memories of Matthew, she included pictures of him in her class, and also added a word puzzle, because she remembered he liked them.  I was blown away and touched by this note.

I emailed Matthew’s parents to tell them how sweet this woman was. Matthew’s mom said that she was going to send her a thank you for the thank you. Here’s where it gets paid forward; when Mrs. Lieberman wrote Matthew’s mom back she told her that this lesson meant so much to her she was going to do it with her students.

To Mrs. Lieberman, I am happy to give you this lesson as I hope by having you continue the tradition with your kids, more teachers can be touched by students who are thankful for the things we have done.

Thank You, Mrs. Lieberman… Thank You…

It’s Finally Here…

It’s our first year of #holidaybookaday! The theme: open a new December holiday book every night until the end of the year. This could include books about Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and New Year’s Eve. Over this past year my fellow blogger, Kim and I have been adding to a “Countdown to the new year” booklist we created together. I have been so excited about starting this tradition with my boys that I actually prepared and wrapped all the books prior to even Thanksgiving! J opened up his first book last night because I couldn’t wait to get started. I’m not sure if he will share in my excitement but I’ve been talking it up and I’m hoping he will enjoy this book journey as much as I know I will. What I’m most excited about is having a variety of holidays represented in our book list. I think experiencing these various holidays through stories will bring about many teachable moments. Feel free to join us on this #holidaybookaday journey over the next month by following the hashtag on Instagram!

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Our books all wrapped and ready!
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Opening the first book!
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Christmas Is… by Gail Gibbons
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The second book!
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The Christmas ABCs by Jill Howarth

Sudden Impact….

The voice inside my head was right, if you build it they will come.

I’ve spent the last 60 school days trying to instill a love of reading and books with my 3rd graders. And a few stand out moments are shining through that I am thankful for.

I got a tweet from a student the other day that she got a library card and took out her first book. I don’t care what age, finding the public library is a wonderful resource for any soon to be book lover. I was so happy she shared that experience with us, having her mom take the picture and tweet it to us.

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Student’s trip to the public library

Also, our typical snack time consists of half the students sitting around my kidney bean table and talking, while the other half sits on the couch and chats. I usually find myself at the table, but last week when I looked over to the couch, I found one student gathering the children for a read aloud. She had the book Tek: The Modern Cave Boy by Patrick McDonnell in her hand and she was saying something like “I’m going to read it to you”. The students all stopped what they were doing and found a spot surrounding her to hear the words and see the pictures.

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Since I’ve started to take the time to go to the library and bookstores, follow people on twitter, blogs and other social media, it has changed how my students engage with books. The excitement I get when I find a true “hidden gem”, as co-blogger Courtney puts it, is such a thrill. I love sharing it with them and the children hear that passion as I read or book talk my latest discovery!

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Authors as Celebrities…

In my last post I wrote about the love my 3-year old son has for the book Truck Stuck by Sallie Wolf. I decided as I was writing my last blog post to email Sallie and tell her just how much we love her book and I sent her the link to this blog so she could read our accolades. Here is the email I sent:

Hi Sallie,

I have now read your book, Truck Stuck at least 40 times since we rented it from the library. My three year old son even took it to preschool because he listed it as one of two of his favorite books of all time thus far. I told him we had to return it to the library so others could enjoy it and he started crying! Of course as a book lover I immediately said, “Don’t worry, we can order our own copy so we can have one to keep.” He was so excited and tears stopped. Before returning your book to the library though I read him the author’s information. When I read the part about you living in Chicago (where we live as well) he was so surprised and excited. He put his hands to his mouth and gasped. He said, “that’s so cool!” Anyway I just wanted to say thank you so much for bringing such joy to my sons reading life. I have started a blog with two friends of mine who are also teachers and moms and wanted to share this post I recently wrote because it’s about your book. 🙂

All the best,

Ashley

I wasn’t expecting much. However, the next day I opened my email and instantly smiled. I was so excited to not only see a comment on the blog from Sallie but to find an email from her as well! I read it halfway through and then I had to share the excitement with someone so I started reading it over again to my husband. I was ecstatic! I couldn’t wait to share with my little guy that a real live author wrote back but I wanted to wait until we got her books in the mail to share with him. Here is the email she wrote to us:

Hi, Ashley,

There’s nothing an author likes to hear more than that someone enjoys her book. Please tell your son that this book is really a Chicago book—and I had trouble finding a publisher until I submitted to an editor outside of New York City. In Chicago we hear about trucks being stuck under viaducts pretty frequently. In NYC they call them “underpasses” and  editors there questioned if a young child would understand the word Viaduct. Of course they do! It’s such a fun word!

I live in Oak Park where the el tracks run right through town and there are quite a few viaducts which trucks must negotiate. I’ve seen stuck trucks numerous times and that’s how I first got the idea for this story. Truck Stuck will be coming out as a board book in Jan. and I hope to have a book release party at The Magic Tree Bookstore, in Oak Park, on Lake St. Perhaps you and your son can come to the Magic Tree and we might meet and I can sign his book.

Happy Reading!

Sallie–

Sallie Wolf

http://www.salliewolf.com

The day we got Sallie’s books in the mail of course J requested that night to read Truck Stuck and Peter’s Trucks. As we were reading Truck Stuck I told J the author wrote us back. You should’ve seen his smile, he was grinning from ear to ear and said, “WHAT?! She wrote us a letter!” I read him the letter and when we got the part about writing about the underpass he said, “wait underpants?! WHAT?!” (and yes he actually does use that much expression when he speaks). Through our laughter I explained to him what an underpass was and we looked at the picture together. For what it’s worth he did like the word ‘Viaduct’ much better than ‘underpass’. 🙂 When I read to him the part about the book release party he said, “We can go right now?” I said, “no not until January.” Then J started singing the month song (since it starts with January). Oh the mind of a three-year-old is just so amazing!

The next book we read that night was Sallie’s other book Peter’s Trucks. J said that he didn’t think it could be as good as Truck Stuck but as we read it he enjoyed it just as much and even made a connection to the concrete mixer that was in both books.

I think it’s safe to say that both J and I have a new celebrity author crush! Neither of us can wait until the book release party to meet Sallie in person! Thanks for the invite!

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