“It’s Monday! What Are YOU Reading?”


Please be sure to check out the Teach.Mentor.Text and Unleashing Readers blogs by Jen & Kelly, the creators of this meme, for other bloggers participating in “It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?”

When I replied to a Facebook post by Cynthia Lord, about a book vine, I was so excited to get her latest Shelter Pet Squad ARC (Advance Reader Copy) into the hands of a lucky reader! A book vine is when readers share a book via the mail, kind of like a wonderful literary chain letter. The first person reads it, sends it along to the next person, that person does the same, and so on until it gets sent back to the original person who sent it out, in this case, the author.  I had participated in Cynthia’s book vine with an ARC of her latest middle grade novel, “A Handful of Stars,” which I loved and reviewed on my blog.

Unfortunately, due to circumstances beyond my control, this time around the days on the calendar ran out before those who I’d planned to share it with were able to finish it and I had to send it along to the next lucky reader.  The afternoon before I was due to pop it in the mail, I had to drive my husband to a doctor’s appointment, so I jumped at the opportunity to read it for myself in the waiting room before sending it on its way.

The second book in this fun, engaging series for those beginning their journey into the world of chapter books does not disappoint. “Shelter Pet Squad: Merlin” is the story of a mischievous ferret who arrives at the shelter where Jada, Matt, Allie, Levi, and Suzannah, the narrator, volunteer.  Merlin is a very different kind of pet than the Maplewood Animal Shelter usually encounters and it’s going to take a very special person to adopt him and provide the patience, love, and understanding that he needs.

I’ll be honest. I’m a little freaked out by ferrets.  I would definitely not be the right fit for Merlin. However, I can certainly appreciate the fact that all pets deserve a caring home.  And I did learn a LOT about ferrets from reading “Merlin.”  That’s something I absolutely love about this series; it is informational and, at the same time, inspires readers to participate in their community and worthy causes. The “Take Action!” section at the back of the book shares different ideas about helping out at your local shelter and the directions for all the Shelter Pet Squad activities are included as well.

Through her desire to help Merlin find a home, Suzannah comes to terms with being the youngest member of the Squad and also learns that it’s ok to ask for help when she needs it.  Like lots of kids, she wants to prove herself when the Squad does research on caring for ferrets, by being the one to carry the biggest, heaviest, most sophisticated nonfiction book in the bunch.  However, not admitting that she is unable to read it could ultimately put Merlin at risk.

Young chapter book readers and animal lovers everywhere will delight in Merlin’s tale. And who knows how many pets may find their forever homes as a result of Cynthia Lord’s Shelter Pet Squad series!

IMG_1004 (1)

Books That Make Us Cry (Part Two) Collected by Donalyn Miller

My first contribution to the Nerdy Book Club blog! 🙂

Nerdy Book Club

Grab a tissue. We pick up where we left off in yesterday’s post–sharing our sad book favorites.

and we stay

And We Stay by Jenny Hubbard

I bought And We Stay last summer because it earned a starred review somewhere. Knowing that the book was a tear-jerker, I never seemed in the right mood to go into the darkness with it. The book sat in silent judgment in my bookcase and stared at me as if saying, “Don’t be a baby, Donalyn. Get a tissue and get over here.” I dusted it and cared for it, but I didn’t read it. When And We Stay earned a Printz Honor last month, I knew I couldn’t put it off any longer.

And We Stay starts in the middle of Emily Beams’ story. Her boyfriend, Paul, shot himself in the school library–steps from where Emily stood. Emily’s parents (with the help of her aunt)…

View original post 3,453 more words

“Five Stars for ‘A Handful of Stars’ by Cynthia Lord”

ARCs (advance reader copies) of books are a publisher’s way of promoting and spreading the word about an author’s upcoming work and believe me when I tell you, I consider myself a truly lucky reader whenever I have access to one. It’s like being in on an incredibly awesome secret when I get to read a copy of a yet-to-be-published piece of writing. Usually I acquire ARCs at regional and national conferences, but every once in a while, I am fortunate to personally communicate with an author, which makes reading their stories even more special.

Such was the case when I responded to a post on social media by Cynthia Lord, author of Rules, Touch Blue, and the Hot Rod Hamster and Shelter Pet Squad series.  Cynthia had received a few ARCs of her newest book, A Handful of Stars, set to be released on May 26th this year. She proposed the idea of a book vine, sending the ARCs “on tour” to lucky readers willing to enjoy them for two weeks and then pass them along to the next reader on the list.

Last week, I received a copy of A Handful of Stars from my “nerdy book friend,” Kate Sullivan, who was ahead of me on the book vine.  I eagerly opened up the package and began reading right away. One thing I’ve learned from reading Cynthia’s books is that I like to have my writer’s notebook nearby. I have a whole section dedicated to capturing memorable, powerful quotes from my favorite authors. As I turned the pages of her latest book, I was glad I had notebook and pen handy.  A Handful of Stars is a story filled with inspiration, friendship, and bravery.

Lily meets Salma, the daughter of migrant workers, in Maine for the blueberry harvest, quite by luck- her dog, Lucky, that is. When Lucky, Lily’s blind black lab, takes off running across the blueberry barrens, the only thing that slows him down is the smell of Salma’s peanut butter sandwich.  From there, a friendship is born.Lily and Salma share not only a friendship, but a sense of life’s losses and the hope of being ‘just a little bit braver than [they] are scared.” It’s hard, though, when an old friend of Lily’s re-enters the picture and Lily feels torn between her new friend Salma, who’s helping her raise money for an operation to restore Lucky’s sight, and Hannah, who’s been a bit pre-occupied lately, but has been her friend since the first day of kindergarten.

Will Salma harness her strengths and be named the first migrant queen of the blueberry pageant? Does Lily raise the money for Lucky’s surgery and is she brave enough to tell Hannah how she really feels?   As Lily’s Pepere says, “Giving up and letting go are two very different things… Giving up is admitting you’re beat and walking away. Letting go means you’re setting something free. You’re releasing something that’s been keeping you stuck. That takes faith and more than a little courage.”

Yup, that’s in my notebook. 🙂

As I drop the ARC into its mailing envelope and affix the address label to send it on its way back to Cynthia, I smile, and flip from the quote section of my notebook to the section titled, “My Book Bucket List.” I add A Handful of Stars and draw five tiny stars beside it.  I can’t wait to share it with the young readers in my school this spring!


Taking Time… NCTE 2014

As I sit here this morning in my hotel room at the Gaylord, waiting to pick up this year’s biggest wish list, a.k.a. the NCTE Convention Program, I’m reflecting on the fact that professional development opportunities such as this have evolved so much for me over the years.

I used to look forward to find gem that I could take away and use the very next day in my classroom. Now I look forward to gleaning ideas that will endure… ideas that I can grow into my own for my own students in ways that will most benefit them.  It used to be more about procuring that coveted autographed copy of the latest children’s book. -Forget about actually having any kind of a conversation with an author! I was way too shy to think that I could muster up the courage or any intelligible words at all. Now it’s more about reflecting on the beauty of authors’ prose and thinking about the process to make that literary gift. And yes, if I meet an author, I now tell them how very much their work has meant to me and the children whose lives it’s touched. I ask them questions I’m curious about and am able to see them more for the human they are, rather than the rockstar image of them that, ok, is still in my head. (I mean, c’mon, aren’t we all a little star struck with our heroes at times?)

While it’s wonderful to go home with a few new ARCs in my suitcase to read and share with colleagues and students, it’s no longer about getting a haul of free stuff from the exhibitors that will surely throw my back out before I have a chance to unpack it back home. It’s about being particular in my choices and thinking intentionally about my purpose  picking up what I do.

We’ve all suffered from “conference high…” It’s hard not to. As we embark on this next leg of our professional journey this week in our nation’s capital, I encourage all my NCTE colleagues to be present, truly present, in the moments we are about to experience. Take time to say hello to strangers rather than worrying they will get a seat closer to the front than you. Take time to have conversations with new people and share your story with them. Take time to reflect upon the new thinking that you will have after these amazing sessions. Take time to think about how this experience will impact your instruction. Take time to lift your practice and not just lift ideas.

Have a great week, everyone! I hope to connect with old friends and make lots of new ones! 😊

Doing Better…

“Tears spilled from her eyes.” 

That was the line I wanted to capture from the book I was reading, as I reached for my writer’s notebook today.

But it wasn’t there.

I rummaged through my school bag and laptop case, but it was nowhere to be found.  Thinking back, I remembered I’d left it with my camping gear from the long weekend spent in Evans Notch.

I panicked. I clicked on the “stickies” application on my MacBook and hurriedly opened up a new note to capture my thoughts about the quote. Then I sat and reflected for a bit about how happy I was that being without my writer’s notebook actually caused me such anxiety. As strange as it sounds, I was experiencing a shift. In years past, I might have simply let the moment pass by and move on to the next item on my ‘to do’ list.  This was good anxiety, I told myself. It meant my writing routines are evolving.  My actions are becoming more intentional and habituated.

I was devastated to hear the news of Maya Angelou’s passing today.  I can say without hesitation that her writing influenced my life in ways that no other writer ever has… or probably ever will.  Half my writer’s notebooks are filled with her words- profound, unforgettable words that, like fireflies that light up the night, I wanted to capture and marvel at just a little longer.  Knowing that her sentiments were protected between the binding of my notebooks and that I could return to them in the darkest of moments brought me great comfort.

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”  Her wisdom is simple and true.  This is one of my most favorite quotes.

Today I discovered something about myself as a writer.  And tomorrow, as a result, hopefully I will do better. No words are truly original.  It’s how we say them and the order in which we align them that enable us to call them our ‘own.’  Dr. Angelou certainly knew how to weave ordinary words together so they read like golden tapestries.

Tears spilled from my eyes today.  Thank you, Maya Angelou, for inspiring me to be a better writer and a better human being.


“Composing Our Thoughts: Teachers As Authors”

Yesterday I had the opportunity and privilege to spend the day with Penny Kittle at the University of Maine. Each time I am fortunate enough to be in her presence, I know that I will leave as a more reflective, more intentional practitioner, not to mention having several new titles on my book bucket list! Personally, I’m struggling lately with my writing ‘mojo’. Since my back surgery this winter, I’ve had a difficult time getting back into the flow and routine I’d created for myself. Time with Penny was exactly the catalyst I needed to get back in the game. Just by writing 15 minutes a day, I can strengthen my writing muscles and the next day, guess what?!  15 minutes comes a little easier. For those who will say there is no time in their day to do one more thing, especially writing, I offer you the simple, wise words of Donalyn Miller, author of The Book Whisperer…

There is time. Find it.

I strongly believe that in order to be an effective reading teacher, I need to read. And read. And read. Somehow though, for a long time there was disconnect for me in that same regard with writing. In the past year, I’ve come to realize that in order to effectively teach writing, I need to write. And write. And write. I need to make the writing process as transparent for students as I can and a big part of that is talking with them about my own successes and struggles as a writer. Too many students already feel that school is something that is done to them. If they can’t see the people in their lives utilizing the skills that we require them to attempt, motivation and engagement will be minimal at best.

And so I write.

Lately, my most consistent writing has occurred on Monday nights. That’s the night I teach a graduate course on intermediate literacy. Eight teachers join me for three hours, after they have taught all day, to discuss reading and writing instructional practices. Each class begins with time to journal and reflect upon the previous week’s professional reading. They write. I write. And then we share our writing with one another and write feedback for each other. Yesterday during an opportunity to turn and talk, I pulled out my notebook and shared with colleagues how valuable I felt the experience was for me and how much I have learned from these teachers through the use of journaling. One of the people at my table happened to be a teacher in the course. It was thrilling to hear her say how much she appreciated the chance to start our weekly sessions by joining together in reflection through the written word.

Image    Image

Two pages from my notebook from class


Penny often invites her students to write in response to a poem, rather than about a poem. They read and listen to a poem and think about a particular part that speaks to them or that they feel they have something to say about. Or they might try writing in the author’s style to compose a piece of their own.

Yesterday she introduced us to several examples of spoken word poetry, one of which was, “Shake the Dust,” by Anis Mojgani, found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0qDtHdloK44

She then asked us to write, in the style of Anis Mojgani, a poem for those who need someone to stand up for them. Here is mine.

“This Is For The Child”

This is for the child who doesn’t know where he’s sleeping tonight

because he’s forgotten whose day it is to be his parent.

This is for the child who won’t be playing an instrument in the spring concert

because that money had to go to heat the house last month.

This is for you.

This is for the child whose growling, empty tummy can’t be heard 

over the sound of someone’s reprimands about incomplete homework.

This is for the child who sits at the end of the lunch table

because her classmates say her clothes smell bad, holding their noses as they pass.

This is for the child who no longer raises his hand

because it’s easier than being wrong.

This is is for you. 

You are the reason we rise every morning and lose sleep every night.

You are the reason we write notes of encouragement, pack extra snacks,

call home with the good news, and accept hugs that policies say we shouldn’t.

You are the reason we celebrate the handmade card on our desk 

more than the bubble you filled in without going outside the lines.

This is for you.

You are unique. You are valuable. You matter. You are loved.

Write. Write often and much. Write about the good stuff, but write about the sad stuff, too; it’s just as important.

Write with your kids and write for yourself.

Compose your thoughts.

Write On.




“Mentor Texts: The ‘Work Horses’ of the Literacy Workshop”

First of all, please forgive my blog absence of the last few months! I went from presenting at the annual Literacy For All Conference in Providence, RI to presenting at the NCTE Convention two weeks after that.  A week and a half later, I was on the operating table having back surgery. And now, here I am, back at school for a little over a month.  Suffice it to say, it’s been a whirlwind!  For my next several posts, I will be sharing some of my learning from both LFA and NCTE.

In today’s post, I want to draw from Lynne Dorfman and Rose Cappelli’s LFA presentation entitled, “Creating Successful Writers with Mentor Texts.”  We talk a lot about “mentor texts,” but what are they really? Dorfman & Cappelli (2013) give the following definition: “Mentor texts are pieces of literature you can return to and reread for many different purposes.”  But it goes beyond that. Lynne and Rose cite the following criteria to consider when making the decision of if a text truly becomes a mentor or not:

Mentor texts:

  • are to be studied and imitated.
  • help students make powerful connections to their own lives.
  • help students take risks and try out new strategies.
  • should be books that students can relate to and can read either independently or with some support.
  • become friends that nudge writers forward.
  • are 15-25 books to return to over the course of the year.
  • should be kept on hand to be used during conferring.

I remember 3rd grade student in my class several years ago who, after we had spent several lessons using Lester Laminack’s, Saturdays and Teacakes, would go over to our mentor text bin during writing workshop and pore over that book day after day, rereading the pages that sparked our lesson’s focus and returning to her own writing to see where she could try it, too. The more she shared her pieces with her peers, the more students could hear that her strategy of studying and imitating the text was shifting her writing.

All too often, students have the belief that rereading books is not beneficial for them. And, really, to what extent do we as teachers reinforce that belief? SOmetimes I find myself so anxious to share a new, hot title with a student that I forget that it is also important to model and talk about rereading texts, perhaps for a different purpose.  I know I do that in mini-lessons, but how often do I talk about it when sharing my personal reading life?

I love the idea of keeping mentor texts on hand to be used during conferences with students!  Thinking about taking it a step further, I may make some notes on stickies to tuck inside the cover about specific teaching points that may or may not be brought up during mini-lessons, but to which I could refer during a one-on-one conference.  In my coaching life, I use the back inside covers of professional texts to record pages where possible teaching lifts can be found so that I can locate them quickly and efficiently.  It seems this would be very helpful, especially in novels, in order to locate teaching points with ease when conferring with students.

A question that came up during our session was if the terms teachers and mentors could be used interchangeably.  Rose thought about that for a while and replied, “Mentors are teachers, but not all teachers are mentors.  When we are standing there beside them, doing it along with them, then we are a mentor…” An apt statement, I think.

What are some mentor texts that are the ‘work horses’ in your classroom?

Lang. Workshop Picture

Reading Plans: The Power of a TBR List

In every spare minute of time I’ve had with students for the past month that hasn’t included standardized testing, I’ve tried to talk books with them.  I’d recently given them a reading interest survey and when I was conferencing with them individually about their responses, one thing struck me as being the same among all of them.

It was the way they answered the question, “What do you plan to read next?”

They all replied in one of three ways:

1) “I don’t know,” or

2) they listed a familiar (and very independent level!) book, or

3) they simply left it blank.

The beginning of our year was very exciting, particularly with the “Grand Opening” of our classroom library.  I cordoned off the shelves with yellow CAUTION tape and we utilized the first couple weeks of school to become researchers in our own library. We had mini-lessons about how it was categorized and  the maintenance and care of the library, while pulling out a few labeled bins at a time to scour the contents, and share with each other titles, authors, and series of interest that the kids wanted to read or recommend to others.  The library officially opened, students enthusiastically engaged with texts, and reading stamina was rising. Things were on a roll.  But that’s not good enough.

As a reader, I am constantly getting recommendations from friends, family, colleagues, and students about books or authors they think I should check out.  If I don’t happen to have my iPhone with me, I frantically grab for a pen and piece of paper so that I can record those recommendations to prevent them from becoming lost in the daily minutia that’s filed in my brain.

Enter… my To Be Read List.

My TBR List is a critical tool for my reading life.  It keeps me going… it fuels my literary fire.  It prevents me from falling into reading slumps. It gives me options and a plan, when I may not be able to decide where I want to focus my attention next as a reader. My TBR List keeps me current with new and popular books and authors. It keeps me in touch with what my friends and colleagues are reading, as they share theirs with me and vice versa.

So to hear that my students weren’t formulating a plan for where they were headed next as readers meant that I had to re-examine my instruction.  I needed to help them understand what an important lifelong strategy… what an important habit it is.  I shared my TBR List with them.  I shared the stories that led to the stories on my list- how each title had “made the cut,” how I categorize my reads: personal, professional, & children’s texts.  We talked about the benefit of having those written down, in order to be an efficient, well-prepared reader.  I also shared with them the times that I chose to edit my list… moving titles up or down on it, adding to it, deleting from it.

And then we set to work.

Each student got their own blank TBR List to be kept in their reader’s/writer’s notebook.  We dedicated an afternoon to crafting our TBRs and when we were finished, we talked about our choices.  I even added a couple more books to my own list that day.  One student, who has not truly viewed herself as a reader prior to this year, happily shared with me 7 titles she had added, through browsing and talking with others.  Students are now diligently maintaining their TBRs and as we come together for book talks, we make sure to bring them with us, pencil in hand, poised for the next great addition to our reading life plan.


This was one of my favorite places to record my TBR Lists,

prior to switching over to my iPhone. 

Old school, but I still love it!

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?



Please be sure to check out the Teach.Mentor.Text and Unleashing Readers blogs by Jen & Kelly, the creators of this meme, for other bloggers participating in “It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?”


When word gets around that Sharon Creech has written a new book, it’s a sure bet among the education community that it’s going to be worth a read!  This was definitely the case with “The Boy on the Porch.” 


As soon as I picked up this 150-page text yesterday, I couldn’t put it down.  I burned through it in less than a couple hours!  This is a fantastic middle grade read! Here’s the premise:

One day John and Marta, a married couple, find a mysterious young boy sleeping on their front porch. They have no idea where he came from or who he belongs to. The only clue they have comes in the form of a note, which says,

“Plees taik kair of Jacob.

He is a god  good boy.

Wil be bak wen we can.”

Despite wondering, as I turned each page, what was going to become of Jacob and when his “people” were going to return, I also became intrigued by his many special talents and idiosncrasies.  Unable to speak, Jacob has an uncanny way of communicating with animals and unique artistic abilities.  During Jacob’s visit, Marta and John are individually transformed and their life as a couple undergoes a dramatic change as well.  They become a family. But the question always looms… How long will Jacob stay and how long can their family last?

Sharon Creech creates a tale with with a sense of urgency and mystery on every page. For that reason, “The Boy on the Porch” would make a wonderful read aloud for third and fourth graders and a delightful independent read for fifth and sixth graders, or for that matter, readers of all ages!


The other new (to me) series that I’ve been reading is the Lunch Lady series by Jarrett Krosoczka.  This graphic novel series is hilarious and totally accessible for readers in grades 2 and up! Boys and girls alike will find these books enjoyable and funny. Hector, Dee, and Terrance team up in Book #1 to discover the mystery behind the school superhero with a spatula. As the book says, “she’s not only serving up lunch, she’s serving up justice!” I just purchased the first five books in the series and I can’t wait to share them with my students!

That’s it for this week… I’m hoping to get more reading in this week, as I have some new titles on their way! 

Happy reading, everyone!




It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?


As always, be sure to check out the Teach.Mentor.Text and Unleashing Readers blogs by Jen & Kelly, the creators of this meme, for other bloggers participating in “It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?”

I am so excited to share with you what I’ve been reading this week! One of my favorite (and my students’ favorite!) authors had a “book birthday” on Thursday! Ame Dyckman, author of “Boy + Bot,” released her second picture book, “Tea Party Rules” and I have been so anxious to read it.

Tea Party Rules

A wayward bear cub’s nose leads him to some yummy cookies and a young girl’s backyard tea party.  Cub quickly realizes that there are certain rules- tea party rules- that he must follow. Will Cub comply with the girl’s code of conduct in order to snag the delicious treats or is it all too much for him to bear? (ok, pun intended!) The illustrator, K.G. Campbell, uses wonderful pastel hues done in colored pencil which contribute greatly to the mood of this lighthearted tale.

Tea Party Rules is a delightfully giggly book about friendship, imagination, and childhood fun!

 What Readers Really Do

Professionally, I’ve been reading “What Readers Really Do: Teaching the Process of Meaning Making” by Dorothy Barnhouse and Vicki Vinton.  I bought this book on the recommendation of my friend and Maine Reading Association colleague, Susan Dee.  She is one of my “go to” sources for what is new and great in the world of education and from what I’ve read so far, her latest recommendation is spot on!  You know you’ve got a great text on your hands your hands when you start highlighting it on the first page of the Introduction!  Here are some gems that I have read so far from the authors…

“…researchers have now discovered that, more than smaller class size, more than better funding, more than higher standards or benchmarks, what affects student performance the most is the classroom teacher” (p. 2).

“…we don’t want students to take on or consume our own interpretations of texts; we want them to construct their own. This means that we need to teach each student the way readers think as they read, not what to think, helping them to experience texts as readers, rather than putting specific thoughts about a text in their heads” (p. 7).

Another aspect of reading that Barnhouse and Vinton address is the issue of a declining focus on narrative texts.  With the implementation of the Common Core State Standards and the call for students to be college and career ready, there has been increased concentration on expository texts. However, the authors point out that instruction on narrative texts is imperative for several reasons. They are the texts that contain several layers of meaning and, as a result, lead to deeper thinking and higher levels of comprehension.  The authors state that narratives are also a vehicle for teaching empathy… readers get a chance to become someone else, live their lives through another character, and learn from that experience. “This is no small matter in educating students who will be citizens, leaders, and caretakers of our world” (p. 11).

I can’t wait to delve deeper into this book!

Jenn Felt is a certified K-8 teacher, K-6 Literacy Coach, and K-12 Literacy Specialist with 17 years of experience in the field of education. In addition to her work in elementary classrooms, she is an adjunct faculty member for the College of Education at the University of Maine. Jenn facilitates workshops on a variety of literacy topics at the local, regional, and national level. Currently, she is on the executive board of the Maine Reading Association and is pursuing her National Board certification in the area of literacy. Jenn is passionate about putting high-quality texts in the hands of young readers, creating learning environments for optimal student achievement, and developing strong family-school-community relationships. She can be contacted at: LiteracyTeacherJenn@gmail.com

*cross-posted at: MaineReadingAssociation.blogspot.com