K/1 Students Make Connections Between Books, Libraries & Literacy

As part of our year long Social Studies theme, Friendships & Schools, we have been reading (fiction) picture books where libraries are a central part of the story. Before reading the books we posed the question, How are books our friends? We also introduced the concept of literacy: a person who can read, write and understand. As we talked more about literacy, our K/1 students made the connection that in order to be a literate person, you need to go to school. Moreover, books were important to have not only at school, but at home in order to practice reading. I also shared that through books we gain multiple perspectives which is part of understanding someone else’s viewpoint or culture who is different than ourselves. A little one keenly added, “Like finding common ground.”

A parent shared this heartwarming story about Ronald Clark, who as a boy lived in a New York Public Library. As we learned, many years ago library custodians often lived in the same building. Our class listened to NPR’s StoryCorps, How Living In A Library Gave One Man ‘The Thirst Of Learning’. I noticed that my little ones were listening intently. When I saw that hands were going up I would pause and answer their questions. While the segment is only 2:52 minutes long, with all the wonderings – this exercise in listening was closer to 7 minutes. After, I finally charted their answers to the question, How are books our friends?  

books are our friends.jpg

I love that a little one used the expression “temples of knowledge” as was stated by Ronald Clark in describing his father as the keeper of the temple of knowledge. They also understood that Ronald Clark was the first to not only graduate from high school, but college and then beyond. A student said, “It’s because he lived in the library and he read so much that his brain got big and he kept learning every day.”

Perhaps no place in any community is so totally democratic as the town library. The only entrance requirement is interest. -Lady Bird Johnson






Writing Summer Camp For Young Children

e4c96e7f-5d6a-49ff-967a-d03b9a8645da.jpgThis week I taught a writing class at a summer camp to incoming first and second graders. We read several picture books where we discussed and wrote about them. We also had daily shared writing activities where each student gave their input and ideas as I scribed their words. We explored “juicy words” or expanded vocabulary like epic, wonderful and melancholy and encouraged each other to use “brave spelling” or invented spelling.

One of the stories we read was I Feel a Foot! written by Maranke Rinck and illustrated by Martijn Van Der Linden.

i-feel-a-foot.jpgBetween two trees, high above grass and ground, Turtle, Bat, Octopus, Bird and Buck are sleeping in a hammock. Suddenly, Turtle opens his eyes. “Hey,” he whispers. “Do you hear what I hear?”  Each animal’s imagination runs wild with what wild creature may be making the sound they all hear. Is it a giant turtle? Or a bird with a giant beak? Perhaps it is Bat-Tur-Octo-Bird- Buck. Luckily for the small animals, it isn’t any of these creatures. It is just their old friend Elephant who was out wandering around. The animals invite him to join them in the hammock and soon the wild imaginings about the night noises begin all over again.

The illustrations are magnificent with gorgeous black backgrounds and a collage type feel. The look of the illustrations was the inspiration for our final writing project. Our little writers watercolored the scenes of their stories, which were then pasted on black construction paper. Their stories included mermaids, Pokemon, a lost octopus, family, cycles, bad guys, destruction and American flags in the jungle! It was a pleasure to work with these little writers. They were an incredibly talented group with lots of enthusiasm and wild imaginations.

in the rainforest

In the Rainforest

in the desert

In the Desert

the search

The Search

eevee vs the bad guys

Eevee Vs. the Bad Guys

the great day at the beach

The Great Day at the Beach

in the field

In the Field

the lovely night at the beach

The Lovely Night at the Beach






Alma Flor Ada: Author Study

alma floor booksOur little ones have been learning about Alma Flor Ada for our author study. Alma Flor Ada is an award winning author of notable children’s books of poetry, narrative, folklore and non fiction. As an educator, I am a huge fan of her work, especially of her work in promoting immigrant students and parents to recognize how powerful their family stories truly are. Alma Flor Ada, Professor Emerita at the University of San Francisco, has devoted her life to advocacy for peace by promoting a pedagogy oriented to personal realization and social jus­tice.

We began our author study by watching parts of this video. After getting a visual of what Alma Flor Ada looks like and sounds like, my little ones had a host of questions. One of them was, “Is she a grandma?” To which another student answered,”Yah, because she has white hair.”

Since Alma Flor has written over 200 books, we narrowed them down to the following:

After the Storm, How the Rainbow Came to Be, The Kite,  In the Cow’s Backyard,

Friend Frog, Jordi’s Star, The Rooser Who Went to His Uncle’s Wedding,

The Unicorn of the West, The Three Golden Oranges

I had never read Jordi’s Star, and my heart just fell in love with this story. During our book discussions I asked what had transpired in the story. A student said,”Jordi didn’t notice things (his environment) but when he started to do things just because he started to notice how beautiful things were around him.” What a wonderful book to use to emphasize how important it is to do things with love and to be present and mindful of NOW.

We also did a Reader’s Theater based on the book, After the Storm.

With the help of the Sun and the cooperation of Wind, Clouds, and Rain, a little seed grows up to be a beautiful plant. This story about the cycle of growth also lends itself to discussions of cooperation and interconnectedness.


We performed for our third grade buddies and we will perform for our families our last week of school. The students also made animal masks using left over material from the visual arts room (keep your should pads!). Every student had a line and with much support, they were able to retell this beautiful story. The students noted that Alma Flor Ada’s books had many “juicy words” and her books were often about nature and magical stuff.



The students also got inspired by Alma Flor Ada’s books. This little kinder blew our minds when she wrote this story. This student even wrote on the top – INSPIRED BY ALMA FLOR ADA – How special is this!



We have enjoyed the magic of Alma Flor Ada’s stories.  Again, the hope is for students to see the magic of words, pictures and the sense of belonging to something bigger.

Alma Flor Ada, thank you for your stories. 








Visualization Activity: Drawing to Enhance Reading Comprehension


One of the perks of being a teacher is that I get to share my story ideas with my students. I’ve been working on this particular story since the fall. I’ve gone to several critique groups through SCBWI and used their feedback to revise and edit.  This week I shared the newly revised story and asked my students to visualize it in their minds. I explained that active readers/listeners are able to create a movie with pictures or scenes in their brains as they read, to fully grasp the depth of a story.

I read the story and asked a few questions to make sure they were following the storyline. I then asked them to draw an image or scene from the story. I have to say, I got really emotional when I looked at their drawings. Some of them were so sophisticated and moving…and to think that my little ones are between the ages of 5-7.

These beautiful drawings also confirmed how important visual cues are for readers, particularly struggling readers. It saddens me that in some educational structures, taking the time to draw and color are no longer viable methods for checking understanding. Little people come with so much to express. It’s important that we educators take the time to really get to know our students and their strengths, not just their stretches.  If I were to solely base their academic abilities on standardized tests, I would never be able to see and appreciate their soul. I hope you enjoy their drawings. Granted, I am not providing the story text -their beautiful and creative images tell a story of their own.


“This story reminds me of the olden days.”


“I felt the grass with my hands when you were reading.”


“The girl was really mad at her grandpa.”


“It’s a far away place.”



“Did you see the designs I used in my drawing?”


“My grandfather died.”


I wanted to make the water really blue.


“This world is but a canvas to our imagination.” – Henry David Thoreau



Learning About Multiple Perspectives in the Primary Grades


I see chess.

One of the most important elements of being an active reader is understanding that people’s experiences, cultures and family dynamics very much impact our perspective and understanding of life.  In an effort to convey this reading element to my students, I introduced the concept of PERSPECTIVE by reading several picture books. We read, It Looks Like Spilt Milk  by Charles G. Shaw and watched a video version of Zoom by Istvan Banyai. Then students painted half of their blue paper with white paint and folded it together – making for interesting figures. Using their perspective, they wrote what they saw.


I see a butterfly.

The Zoom video really helped bring to life that things aren’t always what they seem. We discussed that having a global perspective means looking at situations from various viewpoints, requires flexibility and an open mind. In my estimation, these skills help create compassionate individuals so as not to always look at situations as black or white, good or bad, or beautiful or ugly.

Most recently, we read the book Something Beautiful by Sharon Dennis Wyeth. A little girl walks through her run down community and finds beauty, where most would not. In the beginning of the book she says:

When I look through my window, I see a brick wall.

There is trash in the courtyard and a broken bottle that looks like fallen stars. 

something beautiful picture book

Something Beautiful truly surprised me because it made my heart move with so many emotions, the strongest being hope. At the end of the story, the little girl takes her hope and puts it into action.

I go upstairs and a get a broom and a sponge and some water. I pick up the trash.

I sweep up the glass. I scrub the door very hard.

When DIE disappears, I feel powerful.

Someday I’ll plant flowers in my courtyard. I’ll invite all of my friends to see.

If we are open to changing our perspective and hopeful about creating a better tomorrow – then as this little girl discovers, all is possible.

I’m not really sure if my little ones wholly understood the concept of multiple perspectives. But I’m hopeful that if we keep discussing it, pointing it out via picture books or classroom situations that maybe, just maybe, they too will put hope into action.


Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2016: Hands Around The Library


In celebration of Multicultural Children’s Book Day (January 27th, 2016), we read Hands Around The Library: Protecting Egypt’s Treasured Books, written by Susan L. Roth and Karen Leggett Abouraya. This powerful story tells of the movement that took place in Egypt in 2011 when people of all ages stood up to protect the great Library of Alexandria. The story is told in first person, making it easier for young children to follow and understand the importance of this protest, in a country where people’s freedoms were not being honored. The story begins…

          Once upon a time, not long ago, many people in Egypt were

          sad and sometimes angry, because they were not free to speak, 

          or vote as they wished, or gather in groups. They knew about 

          freedom, but only from books, or the internet, or whispering inside

          these safe walls of our Alexandria Library. 

The collages by Susan L. Roth are also really creative. They are rich with colors and emotions.


          After reading the story, we made a systems map on why libraries are important. The students had great understanding of the functionality of libraries and made many connections. Some of the comments were that libraries are important because it’s a place for learning and knowledge as well as reading about important people like Martin Luther King Jr. and Harriet Tubman.

library systems map

Library Systems Map by k/1 Students

We then listed the overarching concepts that were mentioned in the story and discussed how people can change the world for the better. We asked the students,  “What do you stand up for? ” and “How do you make the world better?”  We took pictures of them holding a whiteboard where they wrote what they stand up for. In response to how they make the world better, answers ranged from helping my mom, picking up trash at the beach, feeding the homeless and being nice to my sister. I was really pleased with the depth of understanding my little ones demonstrated and hopeful that our young will continue to carve out a path of peace, freedom and justice for all.

I stand up for…

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The MCCBD team’s mission is to spread the word and raise awareness about the importance of diversity in children’s literature. Our young readers need to see themselves within the pages of a book and experience other cultures, languages, traditions and religions within the pages of a book.

Multicultural Children’s Book day 2016 Medallion Level Sponsors! #ReadYourWorld

Platinum: Wisdom Tales Press * StoryQuest Books*Lil Libros

Gold: Author Tori Nighthawk*Candlewick Press

Silver: Lee and Low Books*Chronicle Books*Capstone Young Readers

Bronze: Pomelo Books* Author Jacqueline Woodson*Papa Lemon Books*Goosebottom Books*Author Gleeson Rebello*ShoutMouse Press*Author Mahvash Shahegh* China Institute.org*

Multicultural Children’s Book Day has 12 amazing Co-Host and you can view them here.

A free copy was sent to me for an honest review and I was not compensated.


FLIGHT SCHOOL…Everybody needs a little help sometimes

flight school

This week, we read the delightful picture book, Flight School by Lita Judge. The story begins when a determined penguin shows up to flight school and proclaims, “...I have the soul of an eagle.”  My first graders giggled and commented that penguins are not flying birds.  While this indeed is a fact, this book shows us that sometimes, everybody needs a little help to make their dreams come true.

While reading the story the first time around, my first graders kept saying, “But you said if we PERSEVERE and keep trying, then our dreams will come true.”  I was dumbfounded when my little ones called me out on this. Persevere is an integral word being used at our schools throughout all subject areas to highlight the importance of figuring out problems and here was this penguin, who no matter how much he practiced, could not fly.

soul of an eagle.flight school

"I'm sorry, birdie," said Teacher. "Penguins just aren't built to fly."

“I’m sorry, birdie,” said Teacher. “Penguins just aren’t built to fly.”

This illustration really got to me.  Our jobs as educators, parents and family members is to support and help our children thrive. I have too often felt defeated by our educational system and the amount of work that children keep having to do just to keep afloat.  When I first started teaching 18 years ago, I had no qualms about giving struggling students “more work” or more intervention time to get them on grade level. These days my tune has changed. Now I say, “Less is more! Is this cognitively appropriate for their age? Do they know how to cut and trace? Have we checked their fine and gross motor skills? How is their language development in English and/or their home language? Can they attend to listening to a story for 10 minutes? What’s going on at home? Have they experienced any trauma that could perhaps affect or impede their learning?  Are their safety needs met?  Can we please sing, recite poetry, dance and do art based projects to further develop language and literacy skills. Why don’t our schools have art and music teachers and an onsite therapist?”

A major success at our school this year is having P.E. teachers, Yahoo! I love watching our kids move, jump and do activities that cross their midline – an important skill that can affect learning. We also just got a garden where our kids will be able to explore and learn about nutrition and life sciences. And while our school does provide a quality intervention program, a learning center for students who need extra support, and an after school enrichment program, there are so many schools that are still lacking basic needs. All kids, no matter where they are from, have the right to an opportunity to develop not only academic skills, but other skills that make their souls’ sing.

When we read this part of the story, I was moved by my students who were so open about their frustration of having difficulty with reading.  One little girl quickly said, “I don’t know how to read, how Penguin can’t fly and I try and try.” Then a few more said the same. This led to another conversation about limitations – that we all have certain limitations. Nevertheless, we must persevere and go about figuring it out another way.  Again I expressed we are all great at something. I asked the little girl what she was good at. She said coloring and dancing. She even got up to show us a few moves.  Another student shared he had learned to write his last name without having to look at the name card. This student then joined the other student in showing the class more dance moves.  Not only are these two rhythmically gifted, the second student is also an incredible athlete. I often say I wish I had the opportunity to take formal dance lessons as a child.  My parents didn’t have enough money to take me to dance lessons and I wish it were offered for free at my school. This is why I feel so passionate about schools providing a myriad of learning paths. Why the arts and music are so crucial and necessary in all schools, not just for the schools who have the resources and the luxury of asking parents to fund such programs.

I have an awfully difficult time listening and processing auditory information. It literally goes in one ear and out the other. I also have a difficult time expressing myself. I am usually at a loss for words and when I do say something, my thoughts get jumbled and often don’t relay what I was intending on sharing.  Everything gets lost in translation.  When I was in school, and even now, I couldn’t listen to a lecture and understand the content. I always had to go home, read it, reread and then write about in order to make sense of it. It takes me a few extra steps to get it, when another person just gets it the first time. I also tell them about the many rejection letters I have received and will continue to receive as a children’s author. But I continue to write because, “I have the soul of a writer.”

Penguin was right. He did have the soul of an eagle. He'd just needed a little help with the technical parts.

Penguin was right. He did have the soul of an eagle. He’d just needed a little help with the technical parts.

I make it a point to show my first graders my blunders so they understand it is normal to not know and OK to ask for help.  I often tell parents to not share report cards with their students because we are all so much more than a grade. To be clear, I am not saying intervention is a waste of time. No doubt, early and ongoing intervention is necessary. But there has to be a balance between academics and nurturing a child’s curiosity and spirit.  Perhaps your child is struggling academically and they require tutoring, intervention and lots of support. But they might also have a knack for theatre and can memorize a script and perform onstage like a pro. Maybe their athletic skills are off the charts or their artistic abilities are breathtaking. Learning is not black and white, not even for a little penguin because at the end of the story, the teachers find a creative way to help Penguin fly.

For those determined to fly, having no wings is just a little detail. ~ Jane Lee Logan