Man, I should really be writing this stuff down!

Head on over to my friend, Paula’s “Just a Moment” blog, celebrating teachers who write.

Just A Moment

As writers, we write what we know best.  As teachers, what we know best is our students.  After serving eight years as a literacy coach in my district, I decided to dip my toes back into the rejuvenating waters of the classroom this past year.  I changed schools and accepted a position as a first grade teacher.  We’ve all had those moments when we say, “Man, I should really be writing this stuff down!”  Well, this year I did.  Here is a tiny window into some of the many priceless experiences I shared with eighteen 6-year-olds over the course of our ten months together.

First graders are really eager to share jokes with anyone who will listen, although admittedly for me, a big part of the hilarity is seeing them figure out the process of trying to be funny.  One particular morning at breakfast, I was chatting with a…

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Thank You, Grampa…

Charles William Eliot said, “Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counsellors, and the most patient of teachers.”   Throughout my life, books have been a constant.  I grew up on my grandparents’  farm, surrounded by reading.  Whether it was Grammie reading cookbooks or her Bible, or Grampa reading a Zane Grey or Louis L’Amour western,  I grew to understand that books were powerful.

And sometimes they help you express the things you want to say when you have no words of your own.

My 93-year-old grandfather passed away this week.  Yesterday we had his funeral service.  I wanted to share what he has meant to me, but the thought of that was admittedly overwhelming.  So I turned to what I knew- books.

A few years ago I was at a book signing event with Lynn Plourde and I picked up her book, Thank You, Grandpa (2003).

Thank You Grandpa cover

Having a close relationship with my grandfather, the title and the artwork (by Jason Cockcroft) immediately drew me in and I read the entire story while standing in the signing line.  Thank goodness the line was long, because it gave me a chance to dry my eyes by the time I got to the front of it to have Lynn sign my copy.


Thank You, GrandpaI brought it home and it sat on my bookshelf for four years.  As strange as it sounds, it was a book that brought me comfort just by knowing it was there.  You see, I had plans for that book.  Plans that I didn’t want to confront until the time came when I had to.

Yesterday it was time.  I shared it with those gathered to celebrate my Grampa’s life.  When I failed to find words to convey what was in my heart, that book gave me strength.  I took a deep breath and began to read aloud.  The more I read, the stronger I felt.  Lynn’s book enabled me to find my voice for the man I loved so dearly.

I am so thankful I was raised by those who valued reading and saw it as important and life-changing.  It continues to sustain me through difficult times.  Books remain a constant for me, even when life tosses me around.  For that, I am grateful.

Grampa, “I love you and I’ll miss you.  But I will never forget you. Thank you and good-bye.”


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)…

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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! 😊

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:

*cross-posted at:

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?”

This week I had the privilege to take part in New England Reading Association’s Author & Illustrator Night at the Holiday Inn by the Bay in Portland. Folks, it was a bibliophile’s dream! I walked into the banquet room to find the perimeter lined with tables at which were seated over two dozen of Maine’s most influential children’s book authors and illustrators, all waiting to talk with me!

Well, not just ME, but all of us who showed up because we love connecting great kids with great books! 🙂


A trifecta of talent! Matt Tavares, Chris Van Dusen, & Paul Jeneczko at NERA!

Since then, I’ve enjoyed reading (and re-reading) old favorites and new ones by the talented artists I met that evening. So… here’s what I’ve been turning for pages this week:


The Circus Ship,  written and illustrated by Chris Van Dusen is a book that’s been on my radar for awhile.  Van Dusen tells a masterful story in rhyme about a ship, full of circus animals and their greedy owner, that has an unexpected wreck and sinks. The animals make their way to an isle off the coast of Maine and the islanders and animals learn to coexist peacefully until the owner shows up and wants them back.  I never knew the true story upon which this tale is based, but in the author’s note, Chris describes the research he did on The Royal Tar, a steamer ship that was carrying a circus, its band, and a total of 103 passengers that crashed off of Vinalhaven in 1836. While this book is based on that account, it is not a retelling of it… which just goes to show how tightly reading and writing are intertwined; the reading of one story can lead to the creation of another!

You can visit Chris at his website:


You’re Wearing THAT to School?! written by Lynn Plourde and illustrated by Sue Cornelison is a charming book about Penelope the hippo, who is so excited for her first day of school! Her enthusiasm about her special outfit she’s picked out, her special lunch, and her special stuffie for show-and-tell is quickly dashed as her best friend, Tiny the mouse, explains to her about how it’s better to blend in at school rather than stand out.  Penelope must decide if she will remain true to herself or try her hardest to fit in.  This is a great primary level read for a fun way to discuss peer pressure and truly expressing yourself!

Lynn’s website is and you can find Sue at


One Word Pearl, written by Nicole Groeneweg and illustrated by Hazel Mitchell, earned the Principal’s Award for Children’s Book of the Year from the National Association of Elementary School Principals.  Pearl is a gal who loves words! She collects them in her word chest, but one day a strong wind begins to blow and Pearl’s words begin to spin and swirl all around her; so many words that she grabs her word chest and escapes from her bedroom just in time. There aren’t that many words left in her word chest, however, so Pearl decides she must use her precious words sparingly. Hence, One Word Pearl.  A cool feature of this text is the number of ecclectic vocabulary words that are interspersed throughout the book. Kids could spend hours poring over the pages on a hunt for interesting and unique language!  I had the privilege to meet the illustrator, Hazel, last Thursday and she was absolutely delightful!  You can visit her website at:


A Place for Butterflies, written by Melissa Stewart and illustrated by Higgins Bond is a book with which I was unfamiliar before last week.  It was the recipient of the Green Earth Book Award, which is awarded annually by the Newton Marasco Foundation.  This book is absolutely amazing!  The inside covers of the paperback edition contain maps for where certain types of butterflies can be found.  The main text is easily accessible for kids to read on their own or it can be used as a read aloud as well. There are sidebars on each two-page spread which describe different types of butterflies.  Higgins Bond has done a STUNNING job with the illustrations in this book!  I would highly recommend it if you are doing a Science unit on butterflies or simply want an excellent example of nonfiction text to add to your classroom’s library. is the author’s website.  It is a whimsical place to visit, with activities for teachers and kids!


Becoming Babe Ruth, written and illustrated by Matt Tavares, was a book that I admit, I initially had some hesitation to read.  As a matter of fact, I shared with Matt on Thursday that it was the ONLY book of his that I had not yet read.  Why? Well, you see, I’m a lifelong, fourth generation Red Sox fan, and when someone mentions The Bambino to a fan from Boston, we tend to get a bit on edge.  After all, some say it was the Curse of the Bambino that kept the Sox from winning the World Series for 86 years… but I digress.  I’m glad I did finally read it, however, because Tavares has done a magnificent job of telling the story of a orphan boy’s troubled childhood and the mentor who helped him become (arguably) one of the greatest baseball players of all time.  Matt includes a comprehensive author’s note at the end that is not to be missed, as it describes his research process and more of the back story behind the story that he told.  As always, Tavares’ illustrations are exceptional and add so much to the tale he tells.

His website is


Matt’s inscription on my copy of Becoming Babe Ruth

The best part about my experience at last week’s authors and illustrators night was the fact that these were all people from Maine who make great contributions to the world of children’s literature!  We are fortunate to have such wonderful literary treasures in our midst!

*cross-posted at:

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?


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


This past week I have been completely preoccupied with two things:

1) Heading back to school, and

2) Reading Chris Grabenstein’s “Escape From Mr. Lemoncello’s Library.”


This book is a teacher’s and/or librarian’s dream!  Granted, due to school being back in session, it took me a little longer to finish than I would have liked, but it was well worth it! This well-crafted cross between “Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory” and “The Phantom Tollbooth” (both of which are mentioned in this text!) tells the story of  12-year-old Kyle Keeley, who wins a chance to participate in his new local library’s overnight lock-in.  Little does he realize that getting in proves to be much easier than getting out!  In order to “escape,” he and his teammates must piece together clues to solve puzzles, all while facing challenges and trying to beat the clock to get out and reap some great rewards. The biggest reward, however, may simply lie within the pages of a good book.

Adults and older students alike will delight in all the literary references sprinkled throughout the story, which breathes new life into the Dewey Decimal System like never before!  This book definitely deserves a reread in order to find and solve all the clues that weren’t found on the first time through.

I’d urge you to check out the author’s website,

There you’ll find resources for using this book with kids and you might even be inspired to create your own great library “escape!”

As Mr. Lemoncello says, “Knowledge not shared remains unknown.”  Share this wonderfully fun story today!