Home » 2013 » March

Monthly Archives: March 2013


I didn’t manage to squeeze in a non-IMWAYR post this week. So here is a post I wrote on our family blog that seems fairly relevant to this blog’s audience. Enjoy!

We have always surrounded our kids with books. I read a bit. They know me at the library. And by always keeping the Corbchops and The Iza supplied with stories, we’ve surrounded them with something else, too: Words.

This is a the Corbchops post. Though The Iza is starting out on this journey herself.

Any time the Corbchops has a book in front of him, we call it reading. Some people may say that just looking at a book doesn’t actually qualify as reading. I disagree. Reading is interacting with text or story. The Corbchops has read the pictures of his books since he could hold them. His is interacting with the story through its pictures. With wordless picture books, he reads them the same as anyone else. So he has always been a reader.

But it is still exciting that in the last couple months he has really started working on sounding out words. We’ve never pushed word-reading. But when the Corbchops expresses an interest, we help him with it. We’ve got the alphabet down. At his pre-K, there is a letter of the week, and they work on both finding the letter and writing it. They work on the sound the letter makes. We piggy back on this, and the Corbchops has sounded out full words on his own. He’s not quite at the stage where he will sound out words in books he is looking at, independently. He will try, when he is ready. He is stepping through his own stages as a reader.

The Corbchops has also been copying letters for quite a while. We will write what he wants to write, and he will copy it. We call it writing. And it is.

In the last couple of weeks, the Corbchops has been a bit of a terror. It has been very challenging. But a couple of times he has initiated his own coping strategy, one that we had never really suggested. The first time he did it, he told The Wife, “I really need a pen.” Then he proceeded to draw a picture to let out his feelings. That’s right. The Corbchops is into art therapy. All on his own.

Then, this week, I did something that the Corbchops didn’t like. He left and came back a minute later with this:


It’s a little hard to read, but you can see the angry, sharp-toothed man that might be “mean-me,” or might be “angry-Corbchops.” Next to it, the Corbchops wrote “iDNDLKU.” So, that’s “I don’t like you.” Which made me a little sad, but also HOLY COW HE WROTE SOMETHING!

I think I said something like, “Oh, that makes me really sad…But look! You wrote that all by yourself!” I couldn’t really contain my excitement about it, despite what it said.

He left and then came back with more added. “iLVU.”


This was the first time the Corbchops had sounded out and written his own words. It was amazing.

“Corbchops! You’re figuring out the code of writing!”

He was excited. He left and came back with a picture of “MOME” (Mom-ee) and “DADD” (Dad-dee).  What a step to witness.

Today, the Corbchops came home from daycare with this picture:

We couldn’t decipher the word in the bottom left, even with the Corbchops’s help (he tried sounding it out), but you can clearly see “Love” and “Mommy.” He also scribbled out a “Love” in the top left. Maybe he wanted it in a different place, or maybe he wasn’t satisfied with it. It’s hard to know, too, how much his daycare person might have helped. Still. Writing.

The Corbchops will go to kindergarten next year. It makes me a little nervous, for a variety of reasons. Mostly, though, I am worried about reading and writing. At home, the Corbchops is a reader. He is a writer. He is a lot of things. I don’t want that to change. I don’t want anyone to tell him that he isn’t a reader yet. That he isn’t a writer yet. I don’t want anyone to tell him what books he can read and which ones he can’t (Of course I’ll read that Dora book with you, Corbchops [but it might go “missing” later…]).

But what can I do? Some things we can’t control. In the meantime, let’s read this book. Or write this story. Clearly, the Corbchops is on his way. He has taken a few more steps on the reading and writing continuum. We’re pretty excited to be tagging along.

It’s Monday, [March 25]! What are you reading?

Every Most Mondays, I send out a #booksaroundtheroom via Twitter, so my students can share what they’re reading with the world. “It’s Monday! What are you Reading?” is a meme co-hosted by Jen and Kellee at Teach Mentor Texts. Just like #booksaroundtheroom, it is a way to share books you’ve been reading, reviewing, and loving during the last week. I read a lot, both on my own and with my two kids, Corbchops (4.76) and The Iza (2.7). I’m excited to hear what you’ve been reading.

Mon Reading Button PB to YA

I read a lot of books last week! It felt good.

Here’s what I’ve enjoyed during the last week:

Middle Grade:

I finished just three middle grade novels and one informational book last week.

  • Hide and Seek, by Kate Messner. I love everything by Kate Messner, and this jungle adventure mystery sequel to Capture the Flag was no exception.
  • Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made, by Stephan Pastis. This graphic novel hybrid ranked above Wimpy Kid but below Milo, for me. Also, I do love me some Pearls Before Swine, though it’s more of a grown-up comic strip.
  • The Water Castle, by Megan Frazer Blakemore. This sort-of-science-fiction story had a classic feel, and reminded me of the Tucks, Meg, Charles, and Calvin, and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe all mashed together. It was very fun.
  • Lizards, by Nic Bishop. I particularly enjoyed this book because I loved lizards as a kid. Amazing photography and engaging writing, as we’ve come to expect from Nic Bishop.

Picture Books:

I read 25 (!) picture books last week. My favorite three were:

  • Stuck, by Oliver Jeffers. It always catches you by surprise when they throw a whale in there (see Hello Hello).
  • More, by I.C. Springman and Brian Lies. Beautiful concept book about amounts and relative amounts.
  • All the Water in the World, by George Ella Lyon and Katherine Tillotson. I read this to my kids while they were in the bathtub.


Right now When I finish this blog post, I’m reading:

One Came Home, by Amy Timberlake.


What are you reading?

WWU Children’s Literature Conference 2013

I’ve mentioned my intense jealousy of big cities like Chicago and New York, with their endless parade of children’s lit folk. Oh, sure, we’ll have an event with Rebecca Stead and RJ Palacio. Hey, come to our panel on middle grade lit. Come see _____ on their big city book tour! Argh!

I live a long way from New York City. Or Chicago. Or LA, or whatever. I live in Bellingham, WA. Which means I live about 90 miles north of Seattle, and 50 miles south of Vancouver, BC. I already feel neglected in the Pacific Northwest, our wet, green, little corner of the country. Our big little town is kind of off the path for the kidlit author circuit.

However, once a year, we get to be on the map.

Ten years ago, one year after I graduated from Western Washington University with a teaching degree, my pseudo-mentor and English-Elementary Ed advisor, Nancy Johnson, started a dream. In 2003, WWU hosted a handful of children’s authors and illustrators for its first Children’s Literature Conference. I don’t think I went to that one. But that’s when it started. A children’s literature event, in our little corner of the country.

I think I’ve been to the conference six times. I’ve seen Brian Selznick, David Weisner, Lois Lowry, Christopher Paul Curtis, Candace Fleming, Gary Schmidt, and many more. I don’t think I’ll ever miss it again, unless some sort of emergency comes up.

Last year, I was honored to be asked to introduce Patrick Carman. My Guys Read club made a video. It was amazing. Maybe that was the beginning of very good things in my life with children’s literature.

As you probably know, I’ve had quite the life-changing year. Kidlit has gone from a strong interest to a life passion. Thanks to Twitter. Thanks to #nerdybookclub. This year’s conference, therefore, had me positively giddy.

The WWUCLC has a pleasant habit of nailing award winners. Brian Selznick came a month after winning the Caldecott for Hugo Cabret. This year was no exception. Along with Michael Grant, Brian Pinkney, and Susan Campbell Bartoletti, we’d have Newbery-winner Katherine Applegate in the house.

Gah! #nerdybookclub overload!

The conference was wonderful. I got to see Nancy, who had been absent for two years as she taught in Singapore. I saw librarian and teacher friends. I sat in the front row. With Kirby Larson (former conference presenter).

I am always revived by hearing passionate authors and illustrators talk about their work. February is a gray, wet, challenging month. My students are usually starting to be more middle school-y than elementary-y. It is my least favorite time of year. But there is always WWUCLC, shining on the horizon.

All of the presentations were excellent. Brian Pinkney was engaging and fascinating. Susan Campbell Bartoletti was funny and focused while describing her research and writing about morbid, depressing aspects of our history. And Katherine Applegate and Michael Grant killed me with their very grown-up presentation, particularly a hilarious, witty, mildly and entertainingly offensive “bio-pic.” Really, Katherine Applegate could host Saturday Night Live. She would be so good.

And we ended, as always, with cookies.

I got my classroom copy of The One and Only Ivan signed, and then sort of hung about, savoring my time at the Northwest’s premiere kidlit event. And then Nancy dropped a bomb on me.

She asked me to be a part of it. As in, “Will you join us on the advisory board?” What? What!

Is was stunned and honored. I looked around and saw three advisory board librarian friends huddled together sort of whispering, “Well? Well?!”

I said yes. Then we all had a group hug.

I attended my first advisory board meeting last week. We discussed our announced presenters, Steve Sheinkin, Jennifer Holm, and Laura Vaccaro Seeger. We threw out names for another potential illustrator presenter. We could just say whoever we wanted! Ahhh! The names being bandied about!

I know we’re stuck way up in a far corner of the world, but I hope you’ll join us someday, as we celebrate stories and the people who make them. Maybe it will be next year, March 1, 2014. Maybe the year after. Someday. You’ll have a great time, I promise.

It’s Monday, [March 18]! What are you reading?

Every Most Mondays, I send out a #booksaroundtheroom via Twitter, so my students can share what they’re reading with the world. “It’s Monday! What are you Reading?” is a meme co-hosted by Jen and Kellee at Teach Mentor Texts. Just like #booksaroundtheroom, it is a way to share books you’ve been reading, reviewing, and loving during the last week. I read a lot, both on my own and with my two kids, Corbchops (4.74) and The Iza (2.68). I’m excited to hear what you’ve been reading.

Mon Reading Button PB to YA

Two really exciting meetings last week, along with swim lessons, a Sounders game, and report cards, kept me from reading much last week. But the meetings were reading related! The first was a brainstorming meeting for the idea of a countywide middle grade read. We have some great ideas. The second meeting was my first as a member of the advisory board of the WWU Children’s Literature Conference. I was so honored to be invited to join this group. It was a lot of fun. You wouldn’t believe the author and illustrator names we were dropping!

I really feel like I am making a positive impact on readers in my community, and it feels…pretty darn good. Even if I have less time to read.

Here’s what I’ve enjoyed during the last week:

Middle Grade:

I finished just one middle grade novel last week.

Graphic Novels:

I finished one graphic novel last week.

  • Extreme Babymouse, by Jennifer and Matt Holm. I will never not like a Babymouse book.

Picture Books:

I read 9 picture books last week. My favorite three were:

  • Learning to Swim in Swaziland, by Nila Leigh. This memoir was written by a fourth grader. It is pretty great. We used it during a writing lesson on using a natural voice.
  • The Beetle Book, by Steve Jenkins. The Corbchops and I loved the intricate illustrations in this nonfiction picture book.
  • The Hueys in the New Sweater, by Oliver Jeffers. Funny. A little predictable.


On the TMCE Guys Read blog, I reviewed Courage Has No Color, by Tanya Lee Stone.


Right now When I finish this blog post, I’m reading:

Hide and Seek, by Kate Messner.


What are you reading?

Thank you, Village Books

Sometimes Often, I give my local independent bookstore a hard time. I don’t mean to. Well, actually, I do mean to. I tweet at them, or send them slightly passive aggressive emails. Always, the topic is the same: I want middle grade authors in Bellingham, and I want them more often.

It’s not that Village Books hasn’t brought some great middle grade authors here, over the years. I saw Louis Sachar at the Mount Baker Theatre! Eoin Colfer came all the way from Ireland or wherever he lives! But those were several years ago, and things seem…different now.

Middle grade authors are a once or twice a year event at Village Books. Which is so hard for me. I see all these authors head to Kidsbooks, in Vancouver, or Secret Garden Books (and other locations), in Seattle, and I want my students to have those opportunities. We’re right in between! Can’t we get those authors to spend a night in Bellingham?

Meeting an author is such a special thing. I just want every kid to have that chance. I don’t mean to be whiny.

So, I have to say thank you to Village Books for hosting two middle grade authors in less than seven days. I certainly felt spoiled.

In town for the WWU Children’s Literature Conference (I’ll write about this soon!), Katherine Applegate, along with her husband, YA author Michael Grant, made Village Books their first post-Newbery public event. Yow! I was so glad this happened. Often, the authors that come for WWUCLC visit a school or two, present at the conference, and then go home. No events open to the general public! Such a shame. I understand that events cost money and that we have to honor authors’ time. But I can’t stand it when I know authors are in our town, but my students won’t have a chance to meet them!

Two of my students made the school-night trek from the county to meet Katherine and get her autograph. Such a gift. She signed the books “To the One and Only _____.” Nice.

Plus, after I introduced myself, she recognized me from Twitter. :^)


Then, just a few days later, Kirby Larson stopped by as part of her NW book tour for her great new book, Hattie Ever After. I just missed meeting Kirby at ALA Midwinter. We just didn’t bump into each other. I’ve been wanting to meet her ever since she interviewed me on her blog (an honor!). Plus, all of her books are wonderful.

I finally met Kirby at the WWUCLC. I sat next to her! Another honor! She is a former presenter at the conference, but was just a fellow attendee this year. I felt so lucky to be able to see her again at Village Books. Twice in four days! She is super nice.

I forgot my camera for Katherine Applegate, but I remembered for Kirby!

Kirby brought delicious bookies…er, cookies.


I didn’t win the hat contest, but it was fun to break out the fedora!

I truly, desperately hope that the middle graders of Whatcom County don’t have to wait a year to see more middle grade authors in our town. I am so thankful to Village Books for hosting two amazing authors. But I’m greedy! Please bring more! I will promote local author events to the very end! Bring me authors and I will bring you kids! And parents with checkbooks!

Thank you Katherine, Kirby, and Village Books! I love supporting my local independent bookstore.

I’ll see you in Fairhaven, hopefully soon!

It’s Monday, [March 11]! What are you reading?

Every Most Mondays, I send out a #booksaroundtheroom via Twitter, so my students can share what they’re reading with the world. “It’s Monday! What are you Reading?” is a meme co-hosted by Jen and Kellee at Teach Mentor Texts. Just like #booksaroundtheroom, it is a way to share books you’ve been reading, reviewing, and loving during the last week. I read a lot, both on my own and with my two kids, Corbchops (4.72) and The Iza (2.66). I’m excited to hear what you’ve been reading.

Mon Reading Button PB to YA

Sometimes reading gets away from me. Maybe because I had one less hour to squeeze reading into this weekend? My kids started swimming lessons last week. I considered reading while they swam, but it is too fun to watch them. However, since the Corbchops gets done with his lesson and has a half an hour until The Iza is done with hers, maybe we will bring along some picture books or The Mouse and the Motorcycle.

Actually, on the night of their first lesson this week, I have another meeting. But it is book related! We are trying to get a middle grade/kid version of our Whatcom READS! program going. Exciting to be a part of a project with such great potential!

Bonus fact: The author for this year’s Whatcom READS!, David Guterson, was my Little League baseball coach for one year.

Last week I had no library holds to pick up! It was strange. I fixed that problem. Today, I am picking up a huge stack, including Extreme Babymouse!

Here’s what I’ve enjoyed during the last week:

Middle Grade:

I finished two middle grade novels/chapter books last week.

  • Unlucky Charms, by Adam Rex. Every time I look at something by Adam Rex, I am blown away. Talent overload with that guy. His Cold Cereal trilogy is a complex, creative, hilarious middle grade epic.
  • Ivy and Bean, by Annie Barrows. This super-chapter book/mini-novel was fun. I think The Iza will love them when she’s older.

Picture Books:

Clarification: I read tons of picture books with my kids, and often read more at school, but I only list books new to my Goodreads ‘Read’ shelf. I’m glad I got that out there. It makes me better when I have low weeks. I read 6 picture books last week. My favorite three were:

  • Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, by Judi Barrett and Ron Barrett. So clever.
  • Hippopposites, by Janik Coat. My favorite page of this board book was when it showed the hippo from the side.
  • Angelina Ballerina, by Katharine Holabird and Helen Craig. The Iza loves the Angelina Ballerina TV show. It was fun to have the book from the library this week.


On the TMCE Guys Read blog, I reviewed Navigating Early, by Clare Vanderpool.


Right now When I finish this blog post, I’m reading:

Hiding Out at the Pancake Palace, by Nan Marino.


What are you reading?

Kim Baker spoils us rotten

I’ve been mulling this post over in my head for a couple of weeks now. I sort of had my own personal children’s literature author extravaganza week, and it started with Kim Baker.

I wrote a little while back about ALA Midwinter, and all the amazing people I was lucky enough to meet there. One of them was Kim Baker. At the time, my class was in the middle of her debut book, Pickle, as a read aloud. We had talked on Twitter often, and email occasionally. And then I got to meet her! In person! And sit and chat about books and kids and fun! It was wild.

I asked her about Skyping when we finished the book. And then she dropped a big one on me. “Oh, sure! We could Skype or, I could come up there.”

Wait. What?

This is where I hem and haw like a dope because of course that would be amazing, but wait I don’t deserve that!

But I did take her up on it. We exchanged emails and set up a day for her to come up and visit. I was a little nervous (OK, a lot nervous–but that’s just general I don’t deserve that nerves) about hosting her. We talked about trying to have a whole school visit, but settled on just visiting my classroom. Kim wanted to hone her presentation. And I was nervous about author school visits.

Last year, my school hosted Clete Barrett Smith, the first author visit I’ve ever experienced. And it was just so painfully obvious that my school was very out of practice at hosting an author. I know Clete had a nice time, and he was great with the kids. But I’m on Twitter. I read Mr. Schu’s blog. I know how you’re supposed to welcome an author. Like a rock star. Not like just-your-average guest speaker.

So I was pretty happy to host Kim just in my classroom, where I knew we could really knock her socks off. Where everyone had experienced her book. Where we could decorate and brainstorm ideas and throw a real party. I will work on building up my school to such a standard.

So, my class and I talked about what to do. We wanted to prank her. The brainstorming got a little crazy, but we settled on recreating the birthday prank from Pickle. We decorated the room with streamers, handmade “Class of 2011” confetti, and balloons. We wrote a big “Happy Birthday, Kim Baker!” on the whiteboard. Of course, our prank wasn’t a surprise celebrating for an unknown birthday, like Sienna’s, but a party when it wasn’t Kim’s actual birthday.





On the day, I sent word to the office to hold Kim Baker there until after the pledge. Not the greatest welcome, I know! Cold and unfeeling! Buwahahahaha!

When Kim walked in the door, we started right up singing “Happy Birthday” to her. She was delightfully stunned (the mark of a prank well pulled, I think).

Kim gave a great presentation about herself, her book, and secret codes. The kids were in Heaven. Kim answered a ton of questions. Students shared their writing with her and got random scraps of paper autographed.




And then we had cupcakes! And pickles, of course. The birthday party in the book features German chocolate cupcakes, so I whipped up a Betty Crocker mix. Another student brought in cupcakes his mom made, and for which he had crafted 30 paper pickles-on-a-stick. I got some pseudo-escabeche. We had a grand old time.



And then it was time to go! So sad! I felt at the time that we kind of shuffled her out the door as my students prepared to go down to the computer lab for Technology. But Kim said later that she was kind of floating on a cloud at that point, so that made me feel better about our quick end.

[tweet https://twitter.com/kim_bak/status/304332108594282498]

I was so happy to be able to provide such an incredible experience for my students. Connecting them with authors goes such a long, long way toward building a passionate, excited enthusiasm for reading. I am so grateful to Kim for being so generous with her time, and her gas money, to come all the way up to Bellingham. She didn’t have to do that, and we are so, so lucky that she did. My students and I will never forget it.

It’s Monday, [March 4]! What are you reading?

Every Most Mondays, I send out a #booksaroundtheroom via Twitter, so my students can share what they’re reading with the world. “It’s Monday! What are you Reading?” is a meme co-hosted by Jen and Kellee at Teach Mentor Texts. Just like #booksaroundtheroom, it is a way to share books you’ve been reading, reviewing, and loving during the last week. I read a lot, both on my own and with my two kids, Corbchops (4.7) and The Iza (2.64). I’m excited to hear what you’ve been reading.

Mon Reading Button PB to YA

Last week was another busy one. Wait, are there any non-busy ones? Oh, right. There are. It’s called summer. (Actually, summer often feels just as busy). This week seems like a bit of a respite, despite a dentist appointment. No, wait. Kids’ swim lessons start this week. When will it ever end? I guess I can read while they swim. But I want to watch them splash, you know?

Here’s what I’ve enjoyed during the last week:

Middle Grade:

I finished four middle grade novels and one informational book last week.

  • The One and Only Ivan, by Katherine Applegate. We finished reading Ivan as a class read aloud. I read the last 70 pages in one day.
  • The Fourth Stall, Part III, by Chris Rylander. Another funny and a little bit intense edition of the middle school mafia series.
  • Charlotte’s Web, by E.B. White. I finished reading this classic to the Corbchops. Now The Wife is reading him Little House in the Big Woods.
  • The Center of Everything, by Linda Urban. Another great one from Ms. Urban. Lots of ways you could use this in a writing class, too.
  • Marsupials, by Nic Bishop. More stunning photography and engaging text from Nic Bishop. Though he did throw in some opinions this time, to go with his facts.

Picture Books:

I only read 4 picture books last week. My favorite three were:

  • Wumbers, by Amy Krause Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld. 2 much fun 2 not be a favorite.
  • black is brown is tan, by Arnold Adoff and Emily Arnold McCully. Arnold Adoff is my favorite children’s poet.
  • Machines Go To Work, by William Low. The Iza and I liked looking for all the machines on the last two-pages spread.

Professional Reading:

  • A Repair Kit for Grading: 15 Fixes for Broken Grades, by Ken O’Connor. This is our voluntary staff read for this year. I wish they weren’t voluntary I wish my whole staff would volunteer. My grades are only a little broken. Mostly, I got a lot of confirmation that all the gradebook tweaking I’ve done over the last few years might be a good thing.


On the TMCE Guys Read blog, I reviewed The Runaway King, by Jennifer Nielsen.


Right now When I finish this blog post, I’m reading:

Unlucky Charms, by Adam Rex


What are you reading?