Celebration: More Mock Caldecott love

The “after” of our Mock Caldecott has been just as rich as the reading, voting and analysis process. It is with much joy that I continue to celebrate here.

This will be a celebration mostly revealed through tweets and images.

After our voting, of course we had to share.

And sharing led to an amazing experience – an opportunity to Skype with Aaron Becker!

Students were beyond excited as we were serious, serious fans.

We visited Aaron’s website and watched videos and book trailers about his books. Students prepared questions and began art projects. I shared them all with Aaron!

The morning of our Skype call began like this:

Many students arrived very early (“So we won’t even be a little bit late!”) They invited others (siblings, students from other classes) into our room to explore Aaron’s books. One determined boy in Grade 6 showed up at ten after 9 announcing that he would be spending the morning with us to meet Aaron Becker. “I am going to be a librarian, I can’t miss this opportunity,” he explained. How can you say no to that? 🙂

Celebration: More Mock Caldecott love

These girls came in an hour early and got started on Aaron Becker art.

Celebration: More Mock Caldecott love

We pulled our room apart to set up chairs for the Skype.

Celebration: More Mock Caldecott love

Trying out various seats.

Celebration: More Mock Caldecott love

I don’t think I can possibly capture how incredible the Skype experience was for my students. We had various questions prepared but we didn’t need them – Aaron somehow managed to just have a conversation with us. He was curious about where the students and their families were from and we shared that many of us (or our parents) are from the Philippines, China, Vietnam and Korea. Aaron wanted to know about the languages students spoke. He shared stories of his art, his travels and his process. He told us about what he is currently working on and shared more stories from the trilogy. He held a room full of children (and adults) absolutely spellbound.

Celebration: More Mock Caldecott love

Maybe this exchange will sum it all up:

A few hours after the Skype this happened-

J: “Ms. Gelson, thank you.”

Me: “For what?”

J: “For reading us Journey and Quest and Return. If you didn’t read them to us, then we wouldn’t have loved them and then you wouldn’t have told Aaron Becker that we loved them. So he wouldn’t have wanted to Skype with us. And . . . well that was one of the best things of my life.”

Me: speechless, mushy mess

After the Skype, we took all of that excitement and pulled out our books and found a place to read.

Celebration: More Mock Caldecott love

But the buzz of all things Aaron Becker continued throughout the day.

Aaron Becker’s response was very special. He wrote: “Imagination is strong” in Tagalog. My students from the Philippines were so touched!

In the afternoon, students reflected on the Skype experience. Here are some highlights:

  • I was surprised to see Aaron Becker’s room and how big his printer is! I wish that I could be an author and have a room like that!
  • I can’t believe he told us the back story of the King. Wow, we are so lucky.
  • I like when he told us secrets from the books and showed us cool maps.
  • I love how his books make us think so much. I learned about the girl’s feelings and how Aaron Becker showed her loneliness. He told us that it’s our time to use our imagination because we are special at our age.
  • There are surprises in all of the books. Now I want to study them more. I love his stories that he told us.
  • He was pretty smart to make a model of the book Journey so the publishers would know how great that book is!
  • Aaron Becker told us that we have a lot of imagination at this age because we are not at the age for all of the boring responsibilities. This made us feel really special.
  • Seeing Aaron Becker was very amazing. It’s not everyday that you get to Skype with an author or illustrator like him. I will never forget it!

We then decided that we should continue to celebrate all of these books we love so much. We got to work on persuasive letters to the Caldecott Committee either congratulating them for their choices or suggesting that maybe they missed a special book.

The fan art was pretty stupendous!

Return art has been everywhere!

Celebration: More Mock Caldecott love Celebration: More Mock Caldecott love Celebration: More Mock Caldecott love Celebration: More Mock Caldecott love

And then there are the persuasive letters!

Advocating for A Hungry Lion or a dwindling assortment of animals by Lucy Ruth Cummins

Celebration: More Mock Caldecott love

Return championing:

Celebration: More Mock Caldecott love Celebration: More Mock Caldecott love

Have our books got a rest on the shelves now that all of the hoopla is over?


These students have reread Giant Squid countless times!

Celebration: More Mock Caldecott love

Before school this little K insists his older brother bring him into our classroom so he can look at his favourite books (Journey, Quest and Return) again. “I love these books forever,” he told me yesterday.

Celebration: More Mock Caldecott love

And Aaron Becker – as promised we have some baby name suggestions from a bunch of 9 and 10 year olds in Vancouver, Canada who wish you and your family the very, very best: Violet, Paige, Sky, Florence, Grace, Ida, Cleo, Blossom, Ira, Odessa, Penelope, Alexa, Jacklyn, Jade, Lilly, Gigi and (no surprise) this came up a lot: “Could they name her Journey?”

Next week we have student led conferences and our Mock Caldecott experience will feature big. I can’t wait to watch students share their learning and experiences with their families.

Thank you to Ruth Ayres and the #celebratelu community!

Being part of a community that regularly shares gratitude and celebrations truly transforms my weeks.


Celebration: Mock Caldecott Reflections 2017

Mock Caldecott is one of my very favourite things to do in the classroom! This year, with a Grade 4 and 5 classroom, I was able to stretch the analysis process further and deeper with my students. All around it was a rich and rewarding learning experience. I have much to celebrate!

We started this three-week process by learning about the Caldecott award, working to understand the specific criteria and examining past winners (both medal and honor).

We wrote about what we noticed.

Celebration: Mock Caldecott Reflections 2017 There's a Book for That

Students shared favourite titles together.Celebration: Mock Caldecott Reflections 2017 There's a Book for That

Read together sessions happened all over the room.Celebration: Mock Caldecott Reflections 2017 There's a Book for That

Over about 7 days, I introduced our Mock Caldecott contenders. Reading these books took us in many directions. We wrote detailed responses to some stories. We watched related videos. Some books we read more than once and just giggled.

Celebration: Mock Caldecott Reflections 2017 There's a Book for That

Then in small groups of 3 to 4 students we began the task of rereading each book, talking together about Caldecott criteria, our opinions and all that we loved about each title. Thank you to Jess Lif! Her blog post about her Mock Caldecott unit led me to sheets we could use to record our notes and thinking about how each book met or didn’t meet the criteria.  Like Jess, I used this as an opportunity for my students to learn from each other. I listened in for students’ thoughts about the books, yes. But I also was listening for how we communicated. Some groups needed more support than others to contribute ideas and some groups needed guidance on how to all have voice and how to listen attentively. I was very proud of the growing independence, the progress that happened over the week and how some quiet students stepped up and took on a leadership role in their group.

Carefully rereading the story before going through the illustrations and beginning to talk about what we notice.

Celebration: Mock Caldecott Reflections 2017 There's a Book for That

Sharing details with each other.

Celebration: Mock Caldecott Reflections 2017 There's a Book for That

Taking careful notes about what the group discussed.

Celebration: Mock Caldecott Reflections 2017 There's a Book for That

Enjoying the amusing aspects of a funny book!

Celebration: Mock Caldecott Reflections 2017 There's a Book for That

Looking closely at criteria.

Celebration: Mock Caldecott Reflections 2017 There's a Book for That

Through all of this – lots of joy!


And then Friday afternoon came and we spent an hour picking our top 3 titles and filling our Caldecott reflections/self-evaluations.

Celebration: Mock Caldecott Reflections 2017 There's a Book for That

Some students were confident in their choices immediately. Others took a long time to finally submit their top 3. Everyone took a great deal of care filling out the Mock Caldecott Self-Assessment Reflections and Feedback sheet I created.

Celebration: Mock Caldecott Reflections 2017 There's a Book for That

And the winners? I had some eager volunteers ready to celebrate with a few photos!

Celebration: Mock Caldecott Reflections 2017 There's a Book for That

Some dramatic reading!

Celebration: Mock Caldecott Reflections 2017 There's a Book for That

Our medal winner? Return by Aaron Becker

Honor books? They All Saw a Cat by Brendan Wenzel, Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat by Javaka Steptoe and Giant Squid written by Candace Fleming and illustrated by Eric Rohmann

Celebration: Mock Caldecott Reflections 2017 There's a Book for That

The reflection sheet allowed students to continue to think critically and creatively about the books, self-assess their own contributions, reflect on their learning and rank all 12 titles in 1 to 12 order. Many students carefully studied their notes to help them with this process. These questions also allowed them to move beyond the illustrations and talk about story.

A few highlights of the thinking. Questions are in bold and italics.

Which book do you think K students would enjoy the most? Why?

  • A Hungry Lion because it has messy drawings and kids will think they can be an author too!
  • A Hungry Lion. Little kids like animals.
  • Maybe Something Beautiful because it’s bright and happy.
  • They All Saw a Cat because it’s cute and creative.

What about Grade 7 students? Explain.

  • Giant Squid because it has such cool drawings.
  • Giant Squid because it’s science.
  • Ada’s Violin – the like drama and true stories.
  • Ada’s Violin because it’s inspiring
  • Radiant Child because it tells you a message.
  • Radiant Child because it’s about a dream and soon they will need to accomplish their own dreams

Which book do you think adults would enjoy the most? Name a specific adult if you want.

  • Radiant Child because it’s a beautiful story and has amazing pictures.
  • Radiant Child because it actually happened. It’s a true story!
  • Radiant Child – old people can relate to “me” time.
  • The Night Gardener because it has very calm pictures.
  • My Mom would pick A Hungry Lion because it’s so funny.

Which book made you think the most? List some of your questions/thoughts.

  • Return. I was inspired by all of the imagination in this book. Is he going to write another book? Please!!
  • Ada’s Violin. I never knew people lived like this. How can people live in a pile of garbage.
  • The Sound of Silence. He can’t find silence. It’s hard to find. I can’t find silence in class.
  • Giant Squid. I wonder everything about giant squids now.
  • The Storyteller. It didn’t make sense until I kept reading it.
  • Radiant Child. It made me think about why people use drugs and about who is sad.
  • The Hungry Lion. What’s going to happen to that turtle?

What did you like about our Mock Caldecott process?

  • Participating in all of these things made me think about so much.
  • It’s fun reading it and then reading it again and actually being like a judge!
  • I love looking at so many books and voting!
  • Seeing all of the different art.
  • Getting to share my opinion about picture books.
  • Some really well done details can actually blow someone’s mind.
  • It was an enlightening experience. It made me more critical. It made me think about details and how colours impact me.
  • I liked getting to read so many different kinds of books and then getting to rate them and show my opinion.
  • We didn’t just read pretty books. I got to share my opinion.
  • I liked looking at many illustrations because they are so beautiful.
  • It was so fun because we got to rate books!

What did you learn about your own likes/dislikes/preferences with picture books?

  • I think I have been judging books too fast instead of taking my time.
  • I now know that if I really like it, I can read it all over again and see more.
  • For some reason, I love art with trees!
  • I like things that are realistic with really bold shadows.
  • It’s possible to have too much colour in a book.
  • I didn’t know I liked books with no text so much. I love illustrations that show adventures.
  • I like books even if the drawings aren’t perfect.
  • It seems I like books with a little bit of mystery.
  • Books that are black and white except for some parts will bring your attention to the spot with colour.

What did you learn about illustrations?

  • Some of the smallest illustrations have great details but you hardly notice unless you focus.
  • That they can be anything – there is no best way. Some are collage. Some are messy. Some are weird. Some are super detailed.
  • I really like pencil drawings.
  • Colours affects your mood.
  • There is lots of orange skin.
  • There are so many different ways drawings can be: colourful, bland, collage, paint.
  • A story doesn’t actually need words.
  • Illustrations can touch you.
  • I learned about the different kinds of illustrations. And finally I can spell illustrations!
  • Not every picture has to be perfect to be beautiful.

Why do you think Mock Caldecott is a worthwhile activity to do in a classroom?

  • We learned that illustrators do many unique and special things
  • Just because you are 10, 11, 9 or any age doesn’t mean you are too old to read or listen to a picture book.
  • We can learn new books and also learn from their art and really know the story.
  • Students should know about illustrations and always see new books.
  • It makes you talk to people you might not usually talk with.
  • We were so inspired by the pictures!
  • We all learned that art is so beautiful and important. We want to read even more picture books now.
  • Kids learn how to judge things by having a list [criteria], I learned a lot about what art looks like.
  • Think critically. Slow down and notice.
  • It expands your reading world
  • Picture books need pictures. Pictures can tell a story all on their own.
  • It’s great to actually be able to vote.
  • Doing this let us talk in groups with new people.
  • Picture books teach you so many things. They teach you to dream.

Students also rated themselves on their ability to share ideas, listen to others, learn from other people’s opinions, work cooperatively in a group and refer to criteria when rating books. Each child gave themselves a compliment about their group work and identified an area for improvement.

The most entertaining response was to this question: Which book would you remove from our Mock Caldecott list. Give specific reasons.

A Hungry Lion. Why? Because animals get eaten!

Thank you to Ruth Ayres and the #celebratelu community!

Being part of a community that regularly shares gratitude and celebrations truly transforms my weeks.


Celebration: Writing

If anyone asks me what my winter holiday plans involve, the first thing on my list is always reading. During this break, I treasure time to read, time to peruse book lists for the next year and time to blog about my favourites from my year of reading. So when I sat down to celebrate this morning, my fist thought was to celebrate something to do with my relationship to books.

But then I decided to be a little braver and celebrate what has been new for me this year – writing. Writing to make sense of everything. In the last few years, I have used writing to communicate, to unravel and to guide. But I held the word “writer” far away from me, afraid to connect it in anyway to my identity.

This year, I joined a writing community by participating in the Slice of Life challenge through March and wrote and published a post every day. I continued writing regular Celebration posts. The Slice of Life Community hosted by Two Writing Teachers and the #celebratelu community hosted by Ruth Ayres give me support, comfort and inspiration. And lots of permission. Permission to just write. To write for myself.

Slowly, I have realized that writing is becoming a part of who I am. Necessary. Something I turn to when I am most lost. Writing settles me. It steadies my step. It shines a light and slows the muddling about in the dark. It lets me breathe.

And so today I celebrate some of the writing I have done in this past year that has been the most meaningful for me. This year was full of challenges and change. Ironically, I have not been able to share openly all that this means. Yet, somehow, through my words, I have shared more than the actual details. The most important aspects of the truth make themselves known.

I don’t expect any readers to follow all of these links back through my year. This celebration is about my personal journey – acknowledgement of how my own writing helped me through. This is about honouring. About journey. About all of my words. About what they meant to me.

The Kid on the Piano reminds me of all that I learned working for 21 years in the deep inner city.

Celebration: Writing

A Mom theme tells the story of how sometimes it was just so very hard to do the work I did.

In Hey Little One I attempted to process what it is to stand beside a child who is deeply grieving. Some children leave a forever mark.

Celebration: Writing

Letting Go was all about making sense of the truth I wasn’t supposed to tell.

Celebration: Writing

I wrote This Writing Thing at the end of a month of daily writing to try to make sense of my relationship to/with/around writing. I wrote:

Writing is ridiculous faith.

Writing brings clarity. Highlights confusion. Writing releases. Reaches out. Closes up. Pulls the world apart. Some pieces are written to be released. Imagine them floating away. Give them your blessing. Others are gathered close and protected. There is so much fragility. It doesn’t feel safe to relinquish them and imagine them unraveling before an unknown reader’s eyes.

Celebration: Writing

In Not Enough Feet, I celebrated the unknown ahead.

Celebration: Writing

I celebrated my survival strategy of being in the moment in Going with It The secret? Have faith in the end point and enjoy the small moments in between.

Celebration: Writing

In Standing in the Middle I celebrated that I was finally ready to begin imagining goodbye.I wrote:

I celebrate that I am loved. I celebrate that I love this whole school right back and then some. I celebrate that even though I stand in the middle of my long history here and somewhere new and unknown, I can now get on with saying goodbye. I can be, in the moment, sad and sentimental or happy and full of hope. I can enjoy these next five to six weeks with my students with all of us being a little extra gentle with each other because this is it for us and it means something.

It is time for big hugs. Bright smiles. Lots of gratitude and lots of care. It is time to celebrate what we have and how much we treasure it. Teaching is about relationships. These relationships have deep roots, strong branches and glowing leaves. Our metaphorical tree is especially beautiful.

Celebration: Writing

In Giving Away the Guilt I began to truly say goodbye.

Celebration: Writing

In Knowing and Not Knowing I admitted my vulnerability in starting at a new school. This piece helped me soften the fear and let in the possibility.

Celebration: Writing

I am now beginning to feel like I have a new home – a new here – I shared it here. I know that my future words will help me place roots, look behind and imagine ahead.

I have much gratitude to everyone who reads this blog and offers me so much – encouragement, perspective and care.

Happy New Year to all of you!

Thank you to Ruth Ayres and the #celebratelu community!

Being part of a community that regularly shares gratitude and celebrations truly transforms my weeks.


Celebration: A special morning read aloud

Yesterday was our last day of school before winter break. It was pyjama day. We had a winter concert in the afternoon. My class brought in some treats to share and we watched part of a Shackleton documentary to celebrate that we finished an in depth read of Shackleton’s Journey by William Grill and spent time studying all things Antarctica and Antarctic exploration.

Students left at the end of the day with candy canes, forgotten lunch containers and their first term report cards. They bustled about in the main hallways tucking PJ pants into snow boots and off they went into the afternoon cold to begin their winter holiday.

But my celebration is not about the end of the day that signified my much needed break. It is about the beginning of my day and what happened in the thirty minutes before our day had even started.

Many students arrived early and leaped about delivering their party treats and admiring each others’ pyjamas. And then the lure of books and reading time happened as it often does.

Maybe it was the coziness of being at school in flannel pants and robes. Maybe it was the excitement of the holidays. Maybe it was just the magic of the early light in the room. Yesterday morning, a student from the classroom next door visited. He planted himself on my stool and read aloud Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins (a title I had shared with the class the day before). He read with beautiful drama and wonderfully hilarious voices.

Celebration: A special morning read aloud

As more students arrived, they joined in with the read aloud experience. Cozy. Quiet. Engrossed.

Celebration: A special morning read aloud

I stood back and just smiled. These moments well before the first bell were a gift. They represented what I have been waiting for. Community. A place for readers. That I belong.

It has been a long journey for me. Searching for “home” after leaving my community of 21 years. I have written about it endlessly in the past eight months. Here and here and here and here and here. I write to process. I write to feel. I write to know.

In those early morning moments yesterday I felt it. I have a new here. This school is now my school. I celebrate this peace. Peace and calm. A room full of books. A room full of students. A room full of reading. A community that is mine.

Happy holidays to all!

Thank you to Ruth Ayres and the #celebratelu community!

Being part of a community that regularly shares gratitude and celebrations truly transforms my weeks.


Celebration: And then this happened . . .

Some weeks we can make a list of things that happen – often all in a day happen – that add to the already stressful end of term. It’s report card season. That is enough right there to put me over the edge. And then . . .

  • The heat in my classroom stopped working twice. 15 degrees celsius (that’s 59 fahrenheit for you in the U.S.) is too cold in a classroom!
  • A mouse was spotted in our cloakroom.
  • The upstairs printer stopped working and it was days and days before it was fixed (in “report cards are due and need to be printed week,” let’s remember)
  • I got phone calls like this, “T will be late. He just threw up in the downstairs hall.”
  • Our upstairs hallway had too much noise much too often. Upset kids. Kids not managing. Racing about. A few high pitched screams. Our door has to be constantly shut to keep our attempts at calm and learning inside the room.
  • Painters showed up and my door was painted and had to remain open all morning to dry (sigh, see above)
  • Pest control (bless him) showed up in the middle of a read aloud to close up holes. This involved a drill. But, still, bless him.
  • It rained basically all week. Sopping kids. Sopping socks. Sopping shoes. Freezing room.
  • There is more. I won’t reveal the details but there were instances that involved pencils in the ceiling, smushed oranges in the hallway and a day of no substitutes for two teachers.

Yup, it was a week.

And then, this happened:

I read a week’s worth of books on grief, loss and the cycle of life and students loved them deeply. Voting for favourites involved discussions like this:

“I don’t know what the word is . . . that feeling when you didn’t cry and you feel so much and oh, it was just so good.”

“It’s sad. But it’s happy. Oh, wow, I loved that book.”

Celebration: And then this happened . . .

Our intermediate resource teacher taught kindergarten all day when no substitute was available. He found me at recess with an insistent plea: “I need some books!” I passed him a pile including Brian Won‘s Hooray for Hat and suggested he make hats with the kids.

He did one better. A hat parade arrived at our door in the afternoon and the K class performed the book and charmed my Grade 4 & 5s. 🙂

Hooray for Hat!

Celebration: And then this happened . . .

Hooray for Hat

Math looked like this. Everywhere I turned.

Celebration: And then this happened . . .

I bought the third book in a series and passed it to the reader who had been waiting.

“You really are that Book Woman,” he told me.

Celebration: And then this happened . . .

I had to rush downstairs Friday p.m. to deal with a discipline issue. I returned later to find the pile of papers that had been scattered all over the carpet piled up and the white board erased. Oh, my lovely Emily!

Celebration: And then this happened . . .


Report cards are handed in. The heat is working again. I woke up to sunshine and to gratitude for the fact that teaching children means that the little moments they give us will outweigh everything else that might be going wrong. Always. Guaranteed.

What better thing to celebrate?

Thank you to Ruth Ayres and the #celebratelu community!

Being part of a community that regularly shares gratitude and celebrations truly transforms my weeks.


Celebration: The formula

Th other morning, I had some students arrive at the door early.

“Can we come in?”

I had done all of my running around set up and was going to be in the room until the bell so I welcomed them in. They were fairly quiet but I still could listen in as I caught up on a little bit of marking. These girls were on a mission. A few of them recorded books they finished the night before in their Reading Workshop folders. Then they started talking books.

Celebration: The formula

“What genres do you need to read more?”

“Have you read any historical fiction titles?”

“I have read a lot of fantasy lately.”

Celebration: The formula

“I think I am going to add some more titles to my book box because I am almost finished my library book.”

“I love book shopping!”

“I haven’t read many humour titles.”

“I have read SO many graphics.”

Celebration: The formula

“Have you read this one?”

“Did you see S’s book box. It’s stuffed!”
“Oh, remember Ms. Gelson book talked this?!”

I have had some wonderful reading conferences this week. Our mini-lessons about navigating first chapters have gone well. The books I have book talked have been sought after and quickly disappeared. Things have often felt right.  All of this makes a difference. But sometimes, things don’t feel as right. Some of the lessons that seemed so relevant all of a sudden don’t when we are right in the middle of them. Conferences get interrupted. In those moments, during those weeks, I worry.

But watching these girls at the book shelves one morning this week, helped me remember that what is always working is the formula.

A room full of books + time to read them + daily efforts made to grow book love = a reading community with contagious reading joy.

This is how readers are made. This results in the conversations I witness and don’t start. This means that I can stand back and watch readers on their road to rich reading lives.

Money spent on books. Time shelving and organizing. Pages and pages read so I know what to recommend. Searching for diverse titles so that all kinds of lives and experiences can be found on our shelves.

All of this?

So worth it.


Important to celebrate.

Thank you to Ruth Ayres and the #celebratelu community!

Being part of a community that regularly shares gratitude and celebrations truly transforms my weeks.


Celebration: There Are Books for All of Us

I could say all kinds of things about the US election results. I feel all kinds of things. Fear. Shock. Worry. Pressure. Responsibility. While Trump truly is #notmypresident, a border does not separate us from humanity. I am devastated and afraid about what is happening in America for all of us. For those experiencing all of the horrible discrimination, hatred and fear in the U.S. right now and for the influence America has on the world. I worry for the American children who are worried. For the children and their families who have experienced discrimination and see it getting worse. I worry for our Canadian children who feel their own fear. What about here? Can that hate come here? Is it here already? How safe are we?

Safety feels turned on its head. Hatred feels like it got a green light. It’s early days. He’s not even the President. People are talking about feeling afraid to walk outside.

To quote Aaron Sorkin:  “Hate was given hope.”

Everything is wrong with that.

I am a mother. I am a teacher. I am a person who has spent her life advocating for children.

I am horrified.

Fear can freeze us. We need to release ourselves. Begin doing something to make a change.

Sometimes, this means something completely new. Yes, do those things. Speak up when before you didn’t. Don’t ignore what you might have in the past. Engage in the hard conversations. Be uncomfortable.

Sometimes, it is to repeat what we know. Don’t stop what you already do to make a difference. Continue. It is now even more important.

This is what I celebrate today. That despite my fear, I am not turning in circles helplessly. I know where to start.

It is in my classroom full of books.

I can walk back into my classroom Monday morning and talk about books. I can book talk. Read aloud. Provide hours every week for independent reading time.

Words reassure. They challenge our thinking. They shake things up. They soothe us and make us question the world that we know.

I celebrate that I am a reader. I know my books. I think in lists. I can reach out literally and find that book for that child. “Here is a book for you,” “There are books here for all of us.” “Read this. It’s a story you should know.”

I can offer this gift endlessly.

Stories do their magic thing. They touch us where we are most human. They remind us to think deeply. To feel in mighty ways.

Our children need this. Time and space to grapple with their questions and their worries. Stories to let them see the most in themselves and in others.

Our guidance.

A room full of books.

This I can do.

Thank you to Ruth Ayres and the #celebratelu community!

Being part of a community that regularly shares gratitude and celebrations truly transforms my weeks.


So often I focus on picture books as the place to begin. My students are always immersed in picture books. Please immerse yours!

Today my recommendations focus on chapter books for our intermediate students. Middle Grade novels. These are the titles I want to see in the hands of my Grade 4 and 5 readers and are actually on my shelves (or soon will be). I have read every one and recommend each of them. All of these books remind us, we have no time for judgement. We must make room for kind. We are all so very different and that’s what makes our world.

Read. Share. Talk. Over and over and over again.

Listed in no organized order. I just started typing.

George by Alex Gino


Ghost by Jason Reynolds


As Brave as You by Jason Reynolds

As Brave as You

Save Me a Seat by Sarah Weeks  and Gita Varadarajan


Making Friends with Billy Wong by Augusta Scattergood


The Land of Forgotten Girls by Erin Entrada Kelly


Blackbird Fly by Erin Entrada Kelly

Blackbird Fly

Nine, Ten: A September 11th Story by Nora Raleigh Baskin

Nine, Ten- A September 11th Story

Lily and Dunkin by Donna Gephart

Lily and Dunkin

Full Cicada Moon by Marilyn Hilton

Full Cicada Moon

The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher by Dana Alison Levy

The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher

Listen, Slowly by Thanhhà Lai

Listen, Slowly

Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhhà Lai


 Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

Fish In A Tree

 Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate


 Stella by Starlight by Sharon Draper

Stella by Starlight

 Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky

Gracefully Grayson

 The War that Saved my Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

The War That Saved my Life 2

Better Nate Than Ever by Tim Federle

Better Nate than Ever

Revolution by Deborah Wiles


El Deafo by CeCe Bell

El Deafo

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

brown girl dreaming

Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin

Rain Reign

The Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkney

the red pencil

Glory Be by Augusta Scattergood

Glory Be

Crow by Barbara Wright


Anything but Typical by Nora Raleigh Baskin


Beholding Bee by Kimberly Newton Fusco 

Beholding Bee

The Misfits by James Howe

The Misfits

The Thing about Luck by Cynthia Kadohata 


Wonder by R.J.Palacio

wonder 12 for 2012

Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine

lions-of-little-rock 12 for 2012

Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan


The Real Boy written by Anne Ursu

cover.The Real Boy - Front Jacket - 2-13

Shooting Kabul written by N.H. Senzai


For many more titles, visit the We Need Diverse Books site. They are many resources and book lists featured there.


Top Ten Books that Celebrate Diversity There's a Book for That We Need Diverse Books logo

The definition of diverse books on the We Need Diverse Books site is one that I always refer to:

We recognize all diverse experiences, including (but not limited to) LGBTQIA, people of color, gender diversity, people with disabilities*, and ethnic, cultural, and religious minorities.

From the Mission Statement on the We Need Diverse Books site.

Issue yourself or your students The Reading Without Walls Challenge from Gene Luen Yang who is America’s National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature

Number 1 seems particularly meaningful now: Read about a character who doesn’t look like you or live like you.


Celebration: Vague Musings

Celebration: Vague Musings There's a Book for That

I feel particularly blessed that my new school has an Art and Discovery Studio. It also has an Artist in Residence who comes in twice a week to support the students in discovering the art in themselves and the beauty in their world. This studio is the vision of Maggie (the artist) and Colleen (a teacher at our school) and it is an absolute gift to all of us.

Attending the sessions with Maggie, I learn as my students learn. I learn by watching students work, listening to Maggie’s guiding words and observing the introspective quiet in really looking and appreciating.

Celebration: Vague Musings There's a Book for That

“What is beautiful to you?” “What do you notice?” “What story do you want to tell in your art?” These are the questions Maggie asks.

“Play.” “Let it be messy.” “Delight in what you might find.” “There is no right. There is no perfect.” These are the permissions she offers.

Celebration: Vague Musings There's a Book for That

I know I see beauty in the natural world. Colour, contrast, change intrigue me.

Celebration: Vague Musings There's a Book for That

I am influenced by the bold and bright of fall’s changing colours and the minute detail of the lines in a fading bloom.

Celebration: Vague Musings There's a Book for That

What story is inside? What truth? What consistency?

Here it is harder to see. Lines are blurry. We can’t rely on our senses. We must trust out gut. Learn to be still and focus on the parts that speak loudest. Dig deep through the superfluous distractions. Prepare to be both surprised and comforted by what is found.

Celebration: Vague Musings There's a Book for That

This week, I celebrate that I did go looking. That I think I found some things. Remembered them more than discovered. Felt reminded. Trusted in knowing.

In a new place, it is easy to forget who we are. It is tempting to doubt that it matters. Feeling misunderstood and a little lost and turned around happen quickly.

What is beautiful to you?

What do you notice?

What story do you want to tell?

These questions I hold close right now as I give myself time to know. Permission to be. License to struggle.

Thank you to Ruth Ayres and the #celebratelu community!

Being part of a community that regularly shares gratitude and celebrations truly transforms my weeks.


Celebration: Building a Community of Learners

It has been such a long time since I have blogged with my usual frequency and fervor. Quite incredible how much time and energy a learning curve needs. My reading pace has slipped. Time runs away from me. I seem to wok constantly and not complete much. I am in full fledged learner mode while tasked with the important role of helping a learning community grow.

New everything – school, grade levels, community and students – after twenty-one years in another position, it’s a lot. I am trying to find my rhythm. Figuring it out step by step. Observing closely. Messing up. Deeply learning even if I don’t have the time to sit and reflect on what exactly feels new and right. This need to reflect – to figure it out word by word- has lured me back to this blog. On the page is where my thinking often happens best.

I have collected what I need on this Saturday morning: a second cup of coffee, a set of photos, some samples of student work and some quiet time. And of course this important question: What needs to be celebrated?

Some simple things that mean a lot as we build a community together of learning, thinking and doing.

Students bring their siblings into our room in the morning and read to them. Literacy matters here.

Celebration: Building a Community of Learners

In Writer’s Workshop, some of our best writing happens gathered together – we talk, we write, we think and then we share. The enthusiasm for writing becomes contagious.

Celebration: Building a Community of Learners

Learning does not have to be solitary. When we discover things together, the learning is deeper. We are all teachers for each other.

Celebration: Building a Community of Learners

 Learning to listen and share in a group takes time. All of our voices matter.

Celebration: Building a Community of Learners

When we have to persevere through challenging tasks, the struggle feels exciting as we work through it together. 

Celebration: Building a Community of Learners

Math teams are a bonus. We learn a lot from listening to someone else reason. Noticing patterns and solving problems is effective as a social process.

Celebration: Building a Community of Learners

When we learn how to do something amazing and get practice time to create and explore . . . 

Celebration: Building a Community of Learners

We make beautiful things. And . . . 

Celebration: Building a Community of Learners

We learn skills to teach others. Even adults!

Celebration: Building a Community of Learners

Note: The art pictures above are taken in the Art and Discovery studio at my school. Every 3 weeks we get to work with Maggie, our amazing Artist in Residence. My students shine during the activities Maggie sets up for us and they love to share what they learn with others. In the photo above they are teaching another teacher about print making with gelatin.

Getting outside when we learn and reason things through is always amazing! Our classroom should extend into our community.

*Here we are figuring out how far 360 meters is and how long it would take to walk on the ice and in the cold of Antarctic waters. We are learning about the Shackleton Expedition and that when the Endurance got stuck in the pack ice, open water was only 400 yards (360 m. away). The crew had to set up winter camp and wait for improved conditions.

Celebration: Building a Community of Learners

Later we came inside and wrote in the role of a crew member stranded on the ice.

Samples of student writing:

Dear Home:

I am sorry to say but I may not make it back home. Shackleton has said that we are stuck and going to set up for winter camp. From here, I can see the open ocean – just 365 meters (a ten minute walk) away.

I hope our family is doing well. I hope that you get this letter. Oh how I wish I could be sitting with you by the warm fire at home.

Every day when I go to the edge of the ice, I think of you. I think of how much I miss you. I even think of you when I am working.

We’ve seen humpback whales, crab eater seals and many types of seabirds. Even ringed penguins! In my spare time, I sometimes go fishing.

And this one:


Dear home:

I miss you so so much!! Shackleton said we must stay and put up a winter camp. The Endurance is stuck in the pack ice. I wish I were home with you right now. Open water is 365 meters away. Everyday I go to the edge of the water and look in. It’s really, really cold here. I wish you were all here with me. I am really scared we might not make it. I want the Endurace to become unstuck. The animals are really cool. Today I did a cartwheel. Everybody laughed really hard. Love to you all.

Aren’t these powerful? The students wrote these in 15 minutes after our discussion and excursion outside.

Thank you to Ruth Ayres and the #celebratelu community!

Being part of a community that regularly shares gratitude and celebrations truly transforms my weeks.


Celebration: Week One in The Land of New

I just finished the first full week of school with my new students. For me, there is lots of new. New students. New school. New grade combination (Grade 4 & 5). New community. New room. I teach and learn in The Land of New.

Nothing was perfect. But everything was about learning. Sometimes, I was absolutely the biggest learner in the room. Sometimes, I felt the beginning faith in my students that they are both learners and teachers here. I want them to always know this.

Today I celebrate that some wonderful happened. This classroom that I worked on for endless days in the summer feels like so much more with students in it. Together we are building community. It’s exhausting. But it’s fantastic.

And, there is no way I could be doing this alone. My family (parents, children, sister) helped me with set up all summer. My husband has helped me multiple days this week to hang art, affix labels and shift furniture around the room. My new school community has been supportive and willing to answer my endless questions. Things I have needed have been sourced. An iPad charger. A classroom carpet (thank goodness!). Blue markers for the white board.

I am constantly inspired by the PLN I continue to grow. You will see in this celebration that I have borrowed, emulated, utilized, shifted and considered the ideas and work of many incredible educators, authors, illustrators and artists in the work we did this week. I am always bursting with gratitude to be connected with so many creative and thoughtful individuals.

Now to celebrate!

We completed two pieces of art to celebrate International Dot Day. I wanted students to approach their work playfully and to embrace the feeling of no one way to make an art piece. I discovered the wonderful blog of artist Michele Guieu and was blown away by all that she does. After resurfacing from her blog (prepare to spend hours!), I had the inspiration for our Dot Day pieces.

Celebration: Week One in The Land of New Celebration: Week One in The Land of New

Celebration: Week One in The Land of New Celebration: Week One in The Land of New

Celebration: Week One in The Land of New

On one wall – our collective work! Can’t wait for students to walk into this on Monday morning.

Celebration: Week One in The Land of New

We are learning to think like scientists by waking up our brains to be observant, organized and full of questions. Thank you to Jess Keating and her Animals for Smart People videos. These videos are all under 3 minutes so we watch them twice and then talk about what we learned and the questions the information inspired.

Our first response web was completed together. Students will begin completing their own next week. We talked about jotting down new learning and connecting this to further questions.

Celebration: Week One in The Land of NewAll last year my students and I participated in #classroombookaday (Follow the link to the presentation that Jillian Heise and Angie Huesgen gave at nErdDcampMI 2016 for more information). Near the end of the year, I started choosing a collection of books around a theme. This year with an intermediate class, I decided to continue this and then have the students respond at the end of the week. What was their favourite book? What did they feel was the theme of the week? Which book best exemplified that theme?

We will be learning more about theme in the weeks to come, including how to think about supporting ideas from the text that confirm/illustrate the theme. What I love about this is the potential for students to be thinking and talking all week about how stories connect and what messages they include.

Celebration: Week One in The Land of New

Celebration: Week One in The Land of New

In math, we began our week with representing numbers in interesting ways. While students built and created, I learned about their understanding of place value and ability to “count up” to prove to me that their structure/creature represented the number given.

Celebration: Week One in The Land of New

Celebration: Week One in The Land of New

We have started Reading Workshop in full force. This group happily reads independently for 20-25 minutes and daily asks for more time to read. We have started to learn about genre through our picture book collection. This week we talked about fantasy stories, humour and books with rhyme and repetition. I have been trying to connect with each child to talk about books that are loved and what to read next. One important moment? When the child who told me he did not like to read and had no favourite books (on his reading survey) came to me on Friday and asked for my help in choosing a novel. The power of a reading community in a classroom full of books!

Celebration: Week One in The Land of New

I finally finished covering exposed black board (non magnetic and marked up with tape marks) with book jacket covers. I call this book wall paper 🙂 The covers I selected are favourite titles of mine but I hope that they also convey a few things: we are readers here, we read fiction and nonfiction, stories are important, diversity is celebrated, we will be creative here, we will share laughter, we will learn together . . .

Celebration: Week One in The Land of New

I celebrate turning out the lights on Friday afternoon (okay, early evening) to chairs up, art on the wall, student words in my head. Goodnight to my new classroom community.

Celebration: Week One in The Land of New

Thank you to Ruth Ayres and the #celebratelu community!

Being part of a community that regularly shares gratitude and celebrations truly transforms my weeks.