Friday Confessions: Not alot of Princess-ing here

I guess confession #1 should be

It’s actually Saturday

Oops.  Didn’t get this one up in time.  Sorry ’bout that.

Much of my facebook, twitter feed, and bloglist yesterday was consumed with thoughts and comments about the much-anticipated Royal Wedding.  Me?  My toddler chose to sleep in until 7:45 (!?!) yesterday morning, and so…I did, too.  Which means that I didn’t watch the events live.  The Toddler got up, and I convinced her to watch the balcony kiss, only by telling her to look for the princess, and then wave at the “princess” when she emerged.  As soon as that was over, The Toddler asked if she could watch Thomas.  And that was the extent of our girly moment.

Which brings us to  confession # 2–

I’m not raising a girly-girl

Despite her looks (blond, blue-eyed, and on the petite side), The Toddler is rough and tumble.  She can’t wait until her Daddy gets home so that he will run, and jump, and chase and wrestle with her in the way only daddies can.

That rough-and-tumble personality is reflected on her bookshelf, too.  There are some typically girly titles, but there are also books about Thomas the Tank Engine (a favorite!), dump trucks, dinosaurs, and airplanes.  And while sometimes I’ll admit I wish she showed more interest in Fancy Nancy than Baby’s 1st Trucks, it’s all part of who she is, and learning about her world.  So we read the dump truck book.  Repeatedly.  And every once in awhile?  We read the dump truck book while wearing a princess dress-up gown.

Guess there’s a little bit of girly-girl in there after all.

What do you think?  Does your bookshelf reflect a wide variety of preferences?  Does your child have a strong passion for a particular subject?  Sound off!


Tried and True Selections for National Poetry Month

When I was going through school, I read just about everything I could get my hands on.  Books, magazines, comics, you name it.

But poetry?  Not on my radar.  I mean, I knew of the genre, but had zero interest in absorbing it.  I’m sure it came up periodically throughout my public school education, but to be honest, I don’t really remember it being part of the curriculum until I was in high school, disecting epic poems and preparing for the AP exam.

Fast-forward to my first year of teaching.  I was assigned a fifth grade classroom.  Lo and behold, not only was “elements of poetry” part of the curriculum, it was a main component on the almighty standardized test for that year.

Alright.  If I have to teach it, I have to teach it.  But there had to be a way to make the unit fun, and not the dry, analytical approach to poetry I’d been exposed to in the past.  So I set out to gather materials that would appeal to my fifth graders.

And discovered a whole new world.

In the following years, I further developed my poetry unit, and then began including poetry in our reading selections throughout the year.  My students loved it.

Below are some of the the selections I used in my classroom.  They are just a tiny drop in the ocean of poetry books out there.  If you’re interest is piqued, there’s no better time to dive in than National Poetry Month.

Every Day’s a Holiday: Amusing Rhymes for Happy Times by Dean Koontz, Illustrated by Phil Parks (HarperCollins, 2003)

Yup, that Dean Koontz.  But if you’re anticipating thrill and suspense, you’re in for a surprise.  Here, Koontz displays his funny side with a collection of 64 holiday poems.  The subjects range from the familiar (Halloween, Kwanzaa, Rosh Hashanah), to the more obscure (Diwali, Sakura Matsuki).  If you’re looking for a way to incorporate poetry year-round, this one deserves a place on your shelf. Ages 8-12.

Here’s What You Do When You Can’t Find Your Shoe (Ingenious Inventions for Pesky Problems) by Andrea Perry, Illustrated by Alan Snow (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2003)

This collection of 12 poems offers solutions to the world’s most pressing problems.  From finding a lost shoe, to stopping animal odors, to building homes for bugs, poet Andrea Perry has covered it all.  Whether I read these poems aloud, or gave students copies of the book so that they could enjoy Snow’s amusing illustrations, this book was always a hit.  I used these poems in both my fourth and fifth grade classrooms as examples before students wrote their own “problem-solving” poems.  Ages 8-10.

Awful Ogre’s Awful Day by Jack Prelutsky, Illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky (Greenwillow Books, 2001)

It’s just a given that if you’re teaching poetry to young students, Jack Prelutsky is on the list.  Combine this with illustrations by Caldecott award-winning Zelinsky, and you can’t go wrong.  This series of poems follow the poor Awful Ogre from the moment he rises to be attacked by a rattlesnake, buzzard, and tarantula, to the moment he falls back asleep in his bed, only to be haunted by a dream of a beautiful day complete with kittens and butterflies. Ages 6-10.

Wonderful Words: Poems About Reading, Writing, Speaking, and Listening selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins, Illustrated by Karen Barbour (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2004)

While contemporary poets often provide a hook when introducing students to poetry, it’s important that students also receive some exposure to the classics.  This collection of poems inspires students to write and create, using the words of poetry greats such as Emily Dickinson, Carl Sandburg, and Nikki Grimes.  The bright, bold illustrations are worth perusal, too.  Great selection for incorporation into Writer’s Workshop.  Ages 6-10.

Cinder-Elly by Frances Minters, Illustrated by G. Brian Karas (Viking, 1994)

The sheer amount of information my fifth graders were expected to cover in order to prepare for the standardized test in May was overwhelming.  Poetry was a large part of the Reading exam, but students also needed to be familiar with specific elements of a wide variety of genres, including fairytales, folktales, science fiction, fantasy, realistic fiction, historical fiction… you get the picture.  Books like Cinder-Elly are a teacher’s best friend–a way to combine 2 genres into one lesson. Many times, students hear the traditional versions of stories since kindergarten.  This modern-day, urban retelling of Cinderella is refreshing, while still maintaining the elements important to the genre. Ages 6-10.

Happy Birthday to Me (and a gift for you!)

Today marks another birthday for me.  It also, quite appropriately, happens to be International Children’s Book Day. From the International Board on Books for Young People website:

Since 1967, on or around Hans Christian Andersen’s birthday, 2 April, International Children’s Book Day (ICBD) is celebrated to inspire a love of reading and to call attention to children’s books.

So really, I was destined to be born on April 2nd, right?

I’ll be celebrating with family and friends this weekend, but you all are invited in on the fun, too.

In honor of my birthday and International Children’s Book Day, I have gift for you. I’m offering the chance to win your choice of one of the following two books.  Both these books are favorites of mine, and also happen to have been honored in a very important year:

Jumanji by Chris Van Allsburg (1982 Caldecott Honor Book)


Ramona Quimby, Age 8 by Beverly Cleary (1982 Newbery Honor Book)

I’m going to keep this super simple.  Leave a comment sharing your own favorite children’s book (can be classic or modern!).  That’s it!  Because I’ll be away from the computer for much of the weekend, I’ll leave comments open till 10:00pm EST on Sunday, April 3rd.  The winner will be announced on Monday.

Enjoy the party!

Friday Confession: Raiding the $1 Bin

Hello, friends.  I have to admit, I’m a little taken aback that it’s Friday already.  This week has been a busy one, and I’m surprised to see that Friday is here already.

Nevertheless, Friday it is.  My confession this week is part confession, part secret shopping tip:

I get some of the Toddler’s books from the $1 bin.

Specifically, I get them from the $1 bin at Target (oh, how I love Target!)  Don’t get me wrong– we have numerous books on our shelves that are beautiful hardbound books.  But I supplement that collection with “in the moment” texts from the $1 bin.  These are books that are not necessarily ones that she’ll keep forever and ever, but capture her interest at this stage of her life.

In other words, Sesame Street books.

$1 each, folks.  Which means that I can snag several and put them in her backpack as a nice surprise during our upcoming travel.  Kids not Sesame Street fans?  There are often others on colors, modes of transportation, or even rhyming.  And for toddlers who can still be a little rough on their books, the board books are perfect.

My confession, and secret for inexpensive, colorful, purposeful toddler books.

Because really, who doesn’t need another excuse to visit Target?

Friday Confession: Not Every One Is A Winner

Welcome back to Friday!  It’s a little cool to be considered spring-like today, but the sun is out, and I don’t have to wear a heavy winter coat and gloves, so I’m hopeful!  How has YOUR week been?

As usual, Friday’s are my day to ‘fess up, so here it is:

I don’t enjoy every book I read

If you take a little journey around the blog, it would seem that every book I read gets glowing reviews.  The truth is, not every book I pick up, whether it be an adult read or children’s literature, is my cup of tea.  Several times I’ve scanned the library catalog or shelves, picked up something that looked interesting, taken it home, and discovered that it was boring, had glaring errors, or contained a message that didn’t sit well with me.  Chances are, you won’t ever read about those books here.  If I don’t think it’s a winner, I don’t want to advertise it to the general public.  There are so many wonderful stories out there to share…why spend time discussing those that don’t quite make the cut?

Having said that, I have to ‘fess up to something else (it’s a two-for-one!):

I just may discard one of YOUR favorites

Every once in awhile, there’s a book that achieves incredible accolades among the powers-that-be in the literacy world.  So I read it.  And I just can’t get into it. An example?  Well sure, since you asked.

Over and over again, I’ve read interviews with adults who claim Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are to be their most favorite children’s book ever. Me?  I recognize the talent in the story, but it’s just not up there on my top 10 list.  I much prefer Sendak’s talent as an illustrator, especially when viewing the Little Bear series by Else Holmelund Minarik, or A Very Special House by Ruth Krauss.

Another example?  Kate DiCamillo’s Because of Winn-Dixie.  I have likely read this book four or five times now, for various reasons. While a nice read, I prefer The Tale of Despereaux or The Magician’s Elephant. Yet these are not the DiCamillo novels that appear in literature classes or are immediately associated with her name.

All this to say, reading is a personal venture.  While book recommendations, reviews, and bestseller lists my guide our choices, our personal preferences come into play, too.  So I’ll keep following those reviews, picking up new reads, and giving them a try.

But if they don’t work for me?   I’m pretty sure something else out there will.

Friday Confessions: It’s All About Me

Welcome back to Friday Confessions!  This Friday, it’s all about me.  My confession, that is.


I buy books under the pretense of buying them for my daughter.

But that’s not so bad, right?  I mean, she may enjoy them someday, who knows?

An example:  I can hit up a library sale and easily walk stagger out loaded down.  The lure of $1 of $.50 books is just too much.  Upon arriving home, my husband gives me that look.  The one that says, “I love you, so I’m not going to complain, but did we need that stuff?”

And the answer is, yes.  Yes, we did.

The thing is, I love stocking our bookshelves with books from my own childhood.  I want her to read Dr. Seuss, and Eric Carle, Cynthia Rylant, and Marcus Pfister.  As she grows, I have Beverly Cleary, Judy Blume, and Lois Lowry at the ready.

But there’s more.

I buy them from clearance racks to feed her current interests.  We have books on animals of all kinds, on dump trucks, and on things you find in a purse.  We have books about Christmas, and Easter, and Thanksgiving, and Halloween.

There’s more.

Besides including books as her gift for every major holiday, I also give them to my husband for Christmas, his birthday, Father’s Day, and sign them from her.  These are the books with the special daddy-daughter theme.

Is there some selfishness in all of this?  Probably.  I could spend an entire afternoon happily browsing the children’s section of the bookstore.  I take joy in rereading my old favorites, and in finding new ones.

But just maybe, as she grows, she’ll take pleasure in these books, too.  And when she’s 30 (you know, EONS from now) she’ll be tracking some of these books down to put on her child’s bookshelves.

So you see, it’s really not all about me.

That’s what I tell myself, anyway.

Valentine’s Day Picks for Tiny Readers

Valentine’s Day is less than a week away.  In our household, we typically exchange a gift between the adults (well, most years…), but since the toddler arrived on the scene, we’ve put together a small gift for her, too.  After all, Valentine’s Day celebrates love and affection of all kinds, right?

On Thursday, I’ll be sharing some favorite picture book recommendations for Valentine’s Day.  Today, I want to share a few Valentine’s Day picks for the littlest readers.  The board books below grace my own bookshelf, so they’re kid-tested for your convenience.

How Do I Love You? by Marion Dane Bauer, illustrated by Caroline Jayne Church (Scholastic, 2009)

Inspired by Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s famous ‘How Do I Love Thee?poem, this book compares love to a singing bird, dancing snowflakes, and “each shining star.”  The curly-haired toddler and her snuggly friend suggest not only a parent-child love, but also the love between a child and his or her favorite toy.


Guess How Much I Love You? by Sam McBratney, illustrated by Anita Jeram (Candlewick, 1994)

This one is a classic, but for good reason.  Little Nutbrown Hare and his daddy outdo each other with comparisons of each other’s love.  A sleepy Little Hare thinks he has the final say when he declares, “I love you right up to the moon.”  But nothing surpasses a daddy’s love, as your child will learn with the end of this story.


In Grandma’s Arms by Jayne C. Shelton, illustrated by Karen Katz (Scholastic, 2001)

“In Grandama’s arms/ In our Storybook Chair/We can do anything– /We can go anywhere.”  So begins this story of a little girl whose storytime in her grandmother’s rocker takes her through her wild imaginings.  Karen Katz is one of my all-time favorite author/illustrators, and this book is the perfect gift from grandparent to grandchild.


You’re My Little Bunny by Claire Freedman, illustrated by Gavin Scott (Scholastic, 2010)

This story has lots of wonderful action verbs – leap, flop, munch, skip- that provide fun, energy-burning daytime reading.  But the rhythm and sleepy-soft ending also make it the perfect pick for bedtime, naptime, or just some quiet cuddling.



Counting Kisses by Karen Katz (Simon and Schuster, 2003)

Each member of the takes a turn trying to lull this fussy baby into sleep by kissing each part of her squirming body, from her ten teeny toes to the top of her (finally!) dreaming head.   Perfect for little ones who are learning body parts and numbers.  This last pick is actually my own personal selection for my daughter’s Valentine’s Day gift this year.

There you have it!  My personal favorites from my own shelf.  Kid tested…Mommy approved.

Chime in!  Do you give books as Valentine’s Day gifts?  Are there any favorite board books that I’ve missed?