About carriegelson

Elementary teacher passionate about all things literacy.

Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday: This is How We Do it

We all have a curiosity about how other people live – especially people from different places around the world. People just like us but yet, completely different. Children love the conversations we have in classrooms about what it is like in other countries where we once lived or places we have visited.

It’s the daily routines that are as interesting as the unique sights and physical characteristics of the land.

The tiny details. The things that make sense but seem so unusual.

What do you eat for dinner? What is school like? Do you have pets? What are the conveniences in your home? The hardships? What is your daily routine? What do you do for fun? What is served for dessert?

These details define us and unite us. They make us realize how we all have similar routines even though things in our day can be vastly different.

This is How We Do it: One Day in the Lives of Seven Kids from around the World by Matt Lamothe (Chronicle Books May 2017offers a glimpse of the daily lives of seven children from around the world. Each child is between ages seven and eleven. All of these wonderful details are here:

  • What’s for breakfast?
  • What does your home look like?
  • What do you wear?
  • What is school like?
  • What do you do for fun?
  • What is your family like?
  • What do you do with your friends?
  • What do you eat for dinner?
  • Where do you sleep?

All of these questions and more are answered in detail by Kei from Japan, Ribaldo from Peru, Kian from Iran, Oleg from Russia, Ananya from India, Romeo from Italy and Daphne from Uganda.

Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday: This is How We Do it

I shared this with my own children, who at age fourteen, were still very intrigued by all of the details. Some of the things they found especially interesting:

  • Breakfast foods like egg yolks mixed with sugar and milk in Italy and miso soup, consumed in Japan. Soup in the morning was a shock.
  • In many countries, students call their teachers by their first names. My children went to an Elementary school where this was done but it isn’t common here in Canada.
  • How late some children ate dinner. “What time do they go to bed?”
  • The differences in homes and sleeping arrangements.
  • That in Japan, children have to clean their own classrooms.
  • That kids in Peru have coffee with their dinners.

What makes this book so wonderful is revealed in the final pages. These children featured are real. We meet them in a photograph with their families and find out through the author’s note that all the details of their lives are based on their actual lives shared through photos and details given to author/illustrator Matt Lamothe.

I appreciated the balance of boys and girls and that the children who were chosen came from families who had lived for generations in the same country. Lamothe points out that these children can be seen to be representative of their country but of course only to a limited degree. All families and children are incredibly unique. I also appreciated that there was not a child from North America! While all families are depicted are two parent families, not all are two parent, two children families. There is some diversity in terms of number of children and ages of the children. One family has a tiny baby and so may still be growing. Another family mentions four older, grown siblings that no longer live with the family.

What an absolutely brilliant idea for a picture book!  An ideal book for classroom and school libraries. Children will delight in all of the details. Recommended for Grades 1 to 6.

A detailed glossary in the back explains unfamiliar terms.

Thanks to Alyson from Kid Lit Frenzy for the inspiration to read and share more nonfiction picture books in 2017. Follow the link to Alyson’s blog to read about more nonfiction books you need to read!

Thank you to Fernanda from Raincoast Books for this review copy

Spring Update #MustReadin2017

t’s time for our first #MustReadin2017 update!

How are you doing with your list? Making progress? Only read a few? Distracted by other titles? Please share!

Like, last year, I made a list of 30 titles and made a commitment to try and read most of them. Ideally, at least 20 is my plan. My #mustread lists serves as launch pad for my reading year. I am happy to revisit the list when I am in a reading slump or not sure of what to read next. Other times, new titles are on my radar and I don’t even think twice about the list. When I need it though, it’s there full of reading inspiration.

I am happy to report that four months into 2017, I have read ten titles. So, it looks like I am exactly on track – a third of the way into the year and I have read one third of my list.

Here are the titles I have completed with a little bit of raving about each one.

Garvey’s Choice by Nikki Grimes (MG)

Celebrate as Garvey is able to find himself and move beyond the self-doubt, the teasing and bullying and the pressure of his father’s expectations. A novel in verse.

Saving Red by Sonya Sones  (YA)

YA. A novel in verse. Many themes are covered. Mental health, homelessness, family.

The Inquisitor’s Tale by Adam Gidwitz (MG)

Incredibly researched, full of magical and historical details. Not surprised this title was honoured when the Newbery honor titles were announced.

Every Single Second by Tricia Springstubb  (MG)

So many things are explored: trust, loyalty, commitment, forgiveness, judgement, prejudice, love. A powerful middle grade read.


The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon  (YA)

This book is a story of being ridiculously human. About hope and faith and choices and kindness. About family and responsibility and dreams.


Finding Perfect by Elly Swartz (MG)

An emotional MG read about one young girl’s OCD that begins to spin out of control. Highly recommended.


It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel by Firoozeh Dumas (MG)

This book explores the Iranian Hostage Crisis, dealing with middle school while still figuring out America and all of the complexities of family and friendship a 12 year old girl from Iran might experience. And it’s super funny and touching and so wonderfully written!


Scar Island by Dan Gemeinhart (MG)

Dramatic and hard to put down. There were parts of this story I found absolutely creepy. Kids who love action driven books will love this story. Kids are devouring this book in my class. They pass it back to me and agree, “Some parts were creepy!”

Short by Holly Goldberg Sloan (MG)

Holly Goldberg Sloan has a way of showcasing characters in stories that we don’t always see together.  Short is a story all about friendships between generations. It’s also about a play and all of the wonderful behind the scenes preparations. I fell in love with the characters here. A must read middle grade novel!

The Scourge by Jennifer A. Nielsen (MG)

This middle grade novel will keep readers on the edge of their seat. Weevil and Ani are very likeable characters and it is easy to cheer for them. Mystery, adventure and interesting character dynamics.

I also read and loved Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer by Kelly Jones which was on my #MustReadin2016 list and I never got to it. Placing these books on a list like this really does help me keep them in mind!

If you have been participating in #MustReadin2017 and written an update post, please share using the #MustReadin2017 hashtag!

Leave your link in the comments if you have written a post. Please try to visit a few of the other #MustReadin2017 bloggers/readers and get inspired! And of course, everyone loves comments to know that you have visited!

Want to know more about #MustReadin2017? Read here This post also includes links to all of the bloggers who wrote Must Read lists. This is a community of inspiring readers!

Next update will be on September 7th 2017!



Monday April 3rd, 2017

It’s Monday! What are you reading?

Each week I share a reading photo of the week. Typically, I have more than one to share! 🙂

Here are students making lists of books they want to read after I book talked some titles.

Monday April 3rd, 2017

Two boys lost in their books. I love the recently book talked titles with a huge list of names above them. Many students want to read these novels!

Monday April 3rd, 2017

A Ben Hatke story being shared during buddy reading.

Monday April 3rd, 2017

Join Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers and share all of the reading you have done over the week from picture books to young adult novels. Follow the links to read about all of the amazing books the #IMWAYR community has read. It’s the best way to discover what to read next.


On the blog:

The Slice of Life posts wound down. 31 days of published pieces!

Gentle: Slice of Life #31 Choose to be gentle as we teach

It’s that Good: Slice of Life #30 A reading classroom

Stand Up and Sing! Pete Seeger’s biography for nonfiction Wednesday

No Surprises: Slice of Life #28 Back to school after 2 weeks away

60% Chance of Rain: Slice of Life 27 Hoping for sun

Books I enjoyed:

Hoot and Honk Just Can’t Sleep written and illustrated by Leslie Helakoski

An adorable title all about being true to your nature and happiest where you belong.

Farmer Duck written by Martin Waddell and illustrated by Helen Oxenbury

The 25th anniversary edition of this classic tale! All of the farm animals help hard working Duck when the farmer persists in his lazy ways.

Milo and Georgie written by Bree Galbraith and illustrated by Josée Bisaillon

Milo and Georgie move with their Mom for her new job. Each approaches the move and all things new in very different ways. Georgie embraces the thrill of discovering a new place and all of the details of her neighbourhood. Milo vows to never have fun again and stations himself firmly inside his house. A wonderful story about what it’s like to have to deal with a move as a child.


Bad Guys: Episode 2 Mission Unpluckable by Aaron Blabey

We can’t get enough Bad Guys! Loved meeting Legs in this episode.

Bad Guys: Episode 3 The Furball Strikes Again by Aaron Blabey

This may be the biggest adventure yet. Lots of hilarious drama!

Like Carrot Juice on a Cupcake by Julie Sternberg and illustrated by Matthew Cordell

All kinds of difficult friendship dynamics are explored here. Love this series. Wish this third title wasn’t the last.

The Scourge by Jennifer A. Nielsen

A true adventure story. This middle grade novel will keep readers on the edge of their seat. Weevil and Ani are very likeable characters and it is easy to cheer for them. Mystery, adventure and interesting character dynamics. Can see my students becoming addicted to this title after just a few chapters.

Reading Progress updates:

2017 Chapter Book Challenge: 18/75 complete

Goodreads Challenge: 100/365 books read

Progress on challenge: 9 books ahead of schedule!

#MustReadin2017: 10/30 complete

Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge: 17/50 titles

Diverse Books in 2016: 13/50 books read

Up next? I am reading Terror at Bottle Creek by Watt Key

Gentle: Slice of Life #31

Sometimes with all of the busy and all of the rushing and all of the stuff we have to do in schools, we can forget to be gentle. Sometimes gentle is the most important choice we make.

It’s the most necessary thing we can do.

It matters.

A morning can begin with loud and disruptive and off task and when all of our attention goes to those things, we might miss the one child who needed the room to be especially quiet. Who needed a little bit of time. Who needed a moment of special attention.

Yesterday, I found this child still in the cloakroom when everyone else was lining up for the library. He was sitting at the desk meant for quiet work hiding his head in his arms.

I could have shooed him off. Insisted he get in the line up. It was my prep time. I had lots to do.

But the room is his as much as mine. He needed it more than me right then. I told him I would be back and brought the class down to the library.


When I returned, he hadn’t moved. I gave him choices not questions. Did he want me to walk him to the library? Would he like to come and make coffee with me? Both choices involved him getting up and moving. He nodded at the coffee so we grabbed supplies —mini Bodum, a jar of coffee and yesterday’s cup — and headed out of the room.

In the staffroom kitchen, I talked as I completed simple tasks. Boiling the water. Filling the Bodum. Mindlessly reorganizing the spoons.

“Do you think the dishwasher is clean or dirty? I wonder if my favourite cup is hanging on the wall? I think I have some granola bars in the room. Are you hungry?”

He found me a cup I had used before. Peeked in the dishwasher and realizing it was empty, put my dirty cup inside. The wrong way up. I opened the dishwasher and showed him how it worked – where the water came from, how it swirled around. He ended his silence.

“How do you turn it on? What does this button do?”

We talked. Made a single cup of dark coffee. Side by side puttering by the sink.


“I have some things to do. Do you want to go to the library or stay with me?”

Little eyes peeked at me as we walked down the hall.


I set up some prep work and handed him some math materials,

“Why don’t you do some more math?”

We worked side by side.

I sipped coffee. His energy returned.

He began recording equations on the white board. I offered him an entire day’s worth of attention within twenty minutes. Praise. Smiles. Little corrections.

It poured rain outside. Our temperamental heater kicked itself on. The class across the hall was quiet.

Coffee. Math. Quiet.


Somedays, they need more. Somedays, they need us to acknowledge all of the little things they might do. Somedays, they need especially to matter. Somedays, they centre themselves on our smile. Calm. Safe. Welcoming.


I got everything done. This little guy reset his morning. He went downstairs at recess and played games in the basement avoiding the rain. Content. Secure.

Today, I opened the novel I am reading to the class and found a homemade paper bookmark with my name on it. “Books are loved,” it says.

I held it up to look more closely and noticed him at my elbow.

“I made that for you,” he grinned at me.

Be gentle.

Bad Irony: Slice of Life

I am participating in the Slice of Life challenge to write and publish a post every day in March.

Slice of Life is hosted by Two Writing Teachers. I thank them for the community they provide. Read more slices here.

It’s that good: Slice of Life #30

It's that good: Slice of Life #30

Scene one: Reading Workshop. Conferences. Question this week is “How are you feeling about your progress with your Reading Challenge? What’s happening?”

Ms Gelson: Asks the question

Student: “It’s going really well. I have read so many books! Last year I just mostly read graphics. But since I’ve been in your class, I’ve read so many novels. I really like realistic fiction. And I LOVE historical!”

Ms. Gelson (outwardly) Smiles and takes furious notes. Checks student’s Reading Challenge chart. Smiles bigger.

(inwardly) Cartwheels. Like twelve of them!

Scene two: Thirty minutes later. Word Work. Students working independently. Resource Teacher arrives.

Ms. Gelson: Shares this quote from student. (Beaming)

Resource Teacher: (Expected big smile) “Amazing. That sounds like something you told her to say.”

Ms. Gelson: “I know! It’s that good.”

Various later scenes: Teacher engaged in various reflective moments recognizing the strength of the current reading community. The over stuffed book boxes. The long lists of names of students wanting to read titles just book talked. The student who is suddenly taking a book home every night. The hopeful requests, “Can you get the next one in the series?” The engagement during independent reading time. A reading community.

I know.

It’s that good.

Bad Irony: Slice of Life

I am participating in the Slice of Life challenge to write and publish a post every day in March.

Slice of Life is hosted by Two Writing Teachers. I thank them for the community they provide. Read more slices here.

Stand Up and Sing!

The older I get, the more I think picture book biographies are some of the most inspirational seeds that allow meaningful conversations in classrooms to happen. Maybe it’s because I clearly see that a life is a story and that anytime we hear a story told, we have the opportunity to learn. As we connect deeply to a person through their story, we reflect on ourselves and our communities. We have the chance to think about things in new ways. Kids get it too. A few years ago I asked some of my students why biographies needed to be shared. Their responses revealed a lot. Some highlights:

  • “I like those books that tell the story of someone who can’t but then they did.”
  • “It’s so we can know that one person can change things.”
  • “These books teach us about community and dreams. We should think about that.”
  • “They show me not to be scared.”

I have a new must read biography that I think is particularly timely for its messages about standing together for truth and justice:

Stand Up and Sing! Pete Seeger, Folk Music, and the Path to Justice written by Susanna Reich and illustrated by Adam Gustavson Forward by Peter Yarrow (Bloomsbury 2017)

This detailed biography would make an incredible read aloud. It is a story to share over multiple read aloud sessions. There is much on every page for discussion and elaboration. The full page illustrations tell a beautiful story as well. Looking closely at these allows the reader to move through one life and decades of history.

I first read this book about three weeks ago. It was a humbling experience. I closed the book and felt a strange mix of fired up and sad and quiet. I began to do some of my own further reading about Pete Seeger, often realizing songs I have known all my life were songs he had written. This took me down further thinking paths.

The sadness came from a reaction to current day news and media coverage. There is so much in stories about people that is about self rather than other. Pete Seeger clearly lived a life where self and others were completely intertwined. His motivations were clear and strong. He respected the truth. He valued its importance. He valued social justice as our most important goal to attain. I think my sadness came from just acknowledging the loss of Pete Seeger who passed away in 2014. In many senses, my sadness has no place because Pete did his work through music and music has some of the most incredible lasting power of any medium. Power to wash over people. Become part of their motivation. Become part of their own story.

I picked up and reread this story a few times over the past few weeks. Over multiple readings, I have been inspired by Seeger’s commitment to use music as a vehicle to unite people over important issues. Pete Seeger was motivated early on in his life by folk music and the connection between audience and musician. He recognized that the content of songs could be transformative.

I was reminded of precious Thursday afternoons of recent years experiencing a room full of music. My class had the weekly opportunity to sing with the talented Jill Samycia from St. James Music Academy. Singing together brought a joy and a connection to our community. There is such power in singing together especially when the lyrics hold messages of hope.

Susanna Reich’s account of Seeger’s life brings particular questions to the surface numerous times:

What do we notice?

What speaks to us?

How do these things shape our work? Our actions? How do they form our truth?

Pete Seeger‘s life work was his music. Through music he conveyed his love of people, equity and justice. Reich explains that Pete “saw that music could fill a room with peace and harmony. . . ” A wish to make this happen is what motivated him to become a more accomplished musician.

Seeger‘s path was not an easy one. His end goal wasn’t fame and fortune. It was to lead people in song. He wanted to “sing for – and with – average working folks.”

His courage, his commitment to peace, the rights of everyone in a society and hope for our world live on in his music.

Such an incredible story of one man. Back matter includes an important author’s note, a list of quotes, detailed sources and a list of popular recordings.

Recommended for Grades 3 to 8.

Thanks to Alyson from Kid Lit Frenzy for the inspiration to read and share more nonfiction picture books in 2017. Follow the link to Alyson’s blog to read about more nonfiction books you need to read!

Bad Irony: Slice of Life

I am participating in the Slice of Life challenge to write and publish a post every day in March.

Slice of Life is hosted by Two Writing Teachers. I thank them for the community they provide. Read more slices here.

No surprises: Slice of Life #28

No surprises: Slice of Life #28

And we’re back.

Our two week break is over and things rolled out in first day after a break fashion.

There were new haircuts. New shoes. New glasses. New sweatshirts.

And all of us back together.

The smiles were big and sincere. The reality? Most of us were happy to be back into the routine. Despite early wake ups and late nights and tired all around, there was happy.

There was also testing. Pushing to the edge and then a little further. A specific word. A particular tone. Being where we shouldn’t when we shouldn’t. Doing things we aren’t supposed to do. The eyes always giving it away. “Yes, I know better but I’m going to try it and okay, yes, you noticed.” And then it stopped. Or it didn’t. Some of us need a few days to remember the way a classroom community needs to work.

There was magnetic pull. Visiting and reconnecting couldn’t be helped. We made room for it. Recess and lunch just weren’t enough. It’s hard to write when you have stories to tell in person. It’s hard to settle when you have too many wonders. “Did you see . . . ?” “Where did . . .?” “Did you know I . . . ?”

There were highs and lows in terms of emotions. Cranky. Distracted. Silly.

Some of us couldn’t stop smiling all day. School is about returning to a place of safety and belonging. Others were angry. The break wasn’t the best and now away from it, it was safe to express that. Some of us expressed it outwardly at others all day. Purging the angry. It was sad to watch. But our classroom is about all of us and this is what’s going on for some of us. We all experience pieces of what we each are going through.

We had to have one serious conversation about who we are to each other. Over and done in less than ten minutes. I recognized maturity, best intentions and contributions. Reminded that all of our actions are choices. Requested that we choose to give and not take away because we all learn best when we allow for space for all of us to be our best to each other.

There was more silence than usual from some. Contemplative thinking. Readjusting. Observing. Taking some time. Remembering how to be in our space.

There was ease with the familiar. We know reading. This is when the room is at its best. Most of us can get immediately lost in a book. Some went looking for new titles. I heard some children literally greeting books they hadn’t seen for two weeks.

We know listening to stories. If our learning community has tangible edges, this is when it began to take shape, to firm up, to smooth out. Our collective breath slowed. The calm was comforting and became deeper. Muscle memory. The connections were shared. The noticing happened. The building on each other’s ideas. Respect.

We know outside. Racing about. Skipping in time. Charging up rocks. Jumping over mud puddles.

We know each other. There was kindness and irritation as we all settled back in. Amusement. Contented socializing. Happy reunions. Laughter. Impatience.

To be expected adjusting.

No surprises.

We’re on route to recapturing our momentum, our rhythms, our way.

We need a few days.

Some patience.




Bad Irony: Slice of Life

I am participating in the Slice of Life challenge to write and publish a post every day in March.

Slice of Life is hosted by Two Writing Teachers. I thank them for the community they provide. Read more slices here.