3rd Grade is Kindergarten Again

I was thinking about a suuuppppeeerrr cute shirt that was delivered today:

Our team shirt for this year! Like it—order one for yourself from @MapleAndHen on Etsy! Love it already. ❤️❤️❤️

Of course, the first thing I thought was about how I already miss my old team, but also how excited I am about the prospects of a new one and what we will accomplish together this year. I thought of all the young teachers and learners that will start with me next month—and how I get to tell them all I’m their teacher on Monday!

And then I thought about how weird it feels to say “3rd grade strong” or “I’m on the 3rd grade team.”

Don’t get me wrong, I am totally on board with the strong and the team part, but the 3rd grade part feels very strange in my mouth. Saying it doesn’t yet roll off my tongue.

I’ve taught primary for lots of years, and always felt perfectly confident claiming the “1st and 2nd teacher” title, I knew exactly what the meant: I teach kids to read, lots of kids loose their teeth, I encourage independence and problem solving rather always looking to the teacher for help, there are still sometimes tears because we’re not first in line (this is of course not an exhaustive list 😀). If I heard someone else claiming the title also, I could immediately commiserate or celebrate with whatever story they were telling.

The same thing happens with “4th and 5th grade teacher.” I spent almost a decade on that end of the elementary spectrum, building on what had happened in primary—extending learning and challenging kiddos to do great things with those basic skills they had developed early on. I knew that being an “intermediate teacher” meant dealing with new hormones and drama, but also being able to be more sarcastic, have deeper conversations about books and current events, and teach a really great unit on multiplying and dividing fractions (really—I still miss working through that one with 5th grade mathematicians!).

That same thing doesn’t happen now. I know some of this comes from not actually haven’t been a 3rd grade teacher yet, but I think some of it is also the “between” nature of third grade. It’s not a primary grade anymore; I’ve heard all about how this is the year we begin to read to learn, since we’ve already learned how to read. It’s a year of great transition and growing, both socially and academically. Thirds graders are still little enough to really love their teacher and love school, but are old enough to push a little further, so harder things. But it’s not yet a true “upper grade”, and all that comes with that.

That brings me to the title of the post. I wonder if 3rd grade is a little like being in kindergarten again. Just like when kiddos bring their preschool suitcase with them to the primary grades—ready to be big kids and do “real” school—3rd graders are doing that same thing as they begin their intermediate journey. Their bags are fuller now: stuffed with reading and writing strategies, lessons they’ve learned about how to be good friends and have a growth mindset, math skills and memories of their “firsts”—when they did great things for the first time and were really surprised.

What does that mean for me as I embark on this journey with them, as a first time traveler as well? I’m at the same transition stage as my students, only I know both what has been and what will come a few years down the line. I wonder what this “between” time will do for me as both a teacher and a learner. What tools will I add to my own toolbox? What skills and strategies will be in my suitcase at the end of this year that aren’t there now?

You know what? Not knowing is kind of the best part. I’m heading out on a new adventure, uncharted territory of sorts, jumping into the deep end of a pool in which I’ve never swum (or is it swam?? Sorry grammar police 👮). I am going to do new things that I know will be hard and might feel impossible. I’m going to attempt things that will fail, but also accomplish things I never thought possible. Just like my students will. And they will be there to celebrate with me, cheer me on along the way and pick me up when I fall. And I will do the same for them. We’ll do it together. 😀

San Fran is for (Book) Lovers ❤️❤️❤️

I know, I know. That’s really a Virginia thing. But yet, I didn’t just take a vacay to Virginia. So San Fran it is. 🙂

If you’ve spent time around here–either as a long-time blog reader or a new reader who’s been getting their feet wet–you have hopefully noticed that I am a reader. Books are kind of a big deal around here: at home and in my classroom. And so, it seems, books are a big deal for me on vacation, too.

We went to lots of fun places on our tour of San Francisco. Some places I can tell you about by the name of the neighborhood, and some I can tell you by the name of the books stores I visited while I was there. 🙂

I think in the end we found three cute little independent book stores, and bought something at all of them! Cuz what’s a better souvenir than a book. Or ten? LOL

The first place we ran into was The Book Passage, in the Ferry Building on the Embarcadero. Besides being easy to get to, it had great views of the bay. We went here more than once, just because we could.

If only I’d have thought about how I’d write about this–I’d have taken a better picture! Hopefully you get the idea. 🙂

On one of our dinner adventures, Grant and I were walking around after our visit to Burma Superstar (YUM!) and came upon this little gem:

I could have spent all night here. Seriously.

Besides being lovely and cute and small and independent, they also had a sale bin. :). Found many things I was excited for some good finds, but especially for the book about the Golden Gate Bridge I had seen in other stores at full price. Here it was over 50% off! WIN!!

The last one was so good we visited it twice: Browser Books.

On our first visit we ran into one of those “blind date with a book” sale boxes and bought almost the whole thing!

Do you have guesses for what those books might be? Are you dying right now? Should I show you what we ended up with? Oh, ok. :). Here’s what was inside of those packages. Be sure to leave me a comment to let me know if you guessed right. I actually did guess one of them correctly!

Pretty great, right? What a super selection, all books I wouldn’t have picked on my own. How did you do on your guesses? I was right on the Trevor Noah one, in case you were wondering. 😉

I think I mentioned that this was our first trip to this store? On the second trip I found two more great books (not on sale, but sooo great it didn’t matter) that I’m excited to incorporate into my classroom this year.

WHEW! What a great trip with such great little bookstore finds. What a special part of traveling–the bookstores come home in my heart and the books come home in my suitcase!

It’s Summer–What Are You Reading? 2018 edition

If you’ve been around the block on EduTwitter, or even if you’ve been around for a while on this blog (when I used to post regularly!), you probably know about #IMWAYR–It’s Monday, What Are You Reading?  I have written about with highlights from my classroom , and also many times with my own reading.  This usually happens during the summer (which seems to be the only time I have time to both read and write!).  So here we are again, and I have a big ‘ole list of good ones to share. 🙂

It’s summer, and here’s what I’ve been reading!

Sprinkle Sundays, Mia’s Boiling Point and Smart Cookie:  I think I’ve written before on this blog about how I have a strange love of the intersection of cupcakes and books, and I started by summer reading headed down that road.  These all focus on middle-school girls and the first two also include their “tribes,” as well as at least one “mean girl.”  That whole structure is predictable, and as a 40-year-old mom/teacher it was a little silly (although I’m sure I acted exactly the same way when I was 12!), but I enjoyed them nonetheless.  I loved the way the girls were empowered to do their own thing, to become entrepreneurs, and also how they showed how cooking/baking can provide a powerful avenue for stress-relief and creativity.  Each of these stories has a strong family element, and show complicated relationships and problem-solving.  Maybe I’m just a sucker for a sweet book, but these did not disappoint. 🙂

Masterminds Trilogy by Gordon Korman: Without giving too much away (in case you haven’t read these yet but want to!), this trilogy tells the story about a special group of teenagers who discover just how special they are and then work (against most of the adults in their lives) to find answers to the questions that arise.  These books are all page-turners and I breezed through them!  They are the first that I have read by Korman, but I am interested in the countless others he’s written now. 🙂 . Thanks, Rachael, for the recommendation!

IMG_4274-min Epidemic by Reid Wilson:  So far this is the only non-fiction book I’ve read this summer.  I am a big fan of the NPR show The 1A, hosted by Joshua Johnson, and recently heard Reid Wilson, the author of this book, talking about the Ebola outbreak of 2014.  Unlike when I was a hypochondriac child (and would have been surely convinced I HAD ebola), I was interested in this topic and grabbed the book recently at the library.  It’s definitely science-heavy and also filled with way too many acronyms (which he thankfully explains), but was both interestingly written and informative.


Who Stole New Year’s Eve? by Martha Freeman: I have read many other of the mysterious adventures of Alex Parakeet and Yasmeen Popp on Chickadee Ct, and Who’s Stealing the 12 Days of Christmas? is one of my favorites.  I have read it so many times on my own, and also to my students.  This one followed the same structure and involves most of the same familiar characters.  Loved it, too!


 Rosetown by Cynthia Rylant: This one represents an old, favorite author I haven’t read in a long time, and who I really know mostly as a picture book author.  I have long been a fan of Cynthia Rylant, and so when I saw this on in the NEW section at the library, I snagged it.  Might add it to my class read aloud list for this year.


IMG_4269-minMoo by Sharon Creech:  I had to admit my hesitation of this book to Sharon Creech when I started reading it.  For some (dumb) reason, the fact that it was written in verse scared me.

I know–that makes NO SENSE, but it did. Can’t explain it.  But, as I told her, I should have trusted that EVERYTHING by Sharon Creech is amazing, and that since some of my favorite books were written by her, this would be a quick favorite, too.  And indeed it was.  Who knew I liked cows so much?

IMG_4709-minOne Hundred Spaghetti Strings by Jen Nails: See how I mentioned that I love books about food?  This one was definitely a “judge-a-book-by-its-cover” moment and I picked it just because it looked like it would be a story about a girl who cooks.  And it was.  I loved the way the character used food to figure out problems in her real life; this reminds me of how my husband uses cooking as his outlet, and also how I sometimes bake when I am in need of some “me” time to think things through.   I liked how all the recipes she made in the story were included in the back of the book.  Didn’t try any of them, but they looked tasty and like they might actually work!

The last four I’m going to mention were not the ones I read last, but I am mentioning them last because of the impact they had on me.  They are from authors I already love–Kate Messner and Katherine Applegate–but were titles that were new to me and that were about topics that were timely and hit on “big” ideas.  It’s one of the things I love about middle-grade fiction–helping kids work through important ideas and hard topics in the midst of a good story.  I am excited to try at least of these with my class this year; even first graders can handle deep conversations about big things.

IMG_4273-minWishtree by Katherine Applegate:  I know Katherine Applegate because of Ivan, and had heard the buzz about this book a few years ago but hadn’t yet read it.  And in full disclosure I didn’t actually “read” this book either–it was an audio book in my car on our recent family vacation.  (On a side note, this is one of our favorite things about traveling–sharing great stores together as a family.  Last summer it was Roald Dahl themed, previous years we devoured all of Christopher Paul Curtis’ books (we are HUGE Mighty Miss Malone fans), some years its just a mishmash of different ones none of us have heard.  Regardless of the author or the book, everyone loves this routine!).  So…the first big surprise was that the book is told by the tree.  Ha!!  I would NEVER have thought of that as a storyteller, but of course it makes perfect sense.  This one had some important things to say about being different, accepting others (specifically refugees/immigrants) and standing up for what’s right.  It’s a new favorite for sure!

IMG_4268-minThe Seventh Wish by Kate Messner: Here’s another title that I was SUPER late to the game on.  Sometimes teaching primary means I don’t always get to novels I want to read because I live in picture book world for much of the school year.  Sorry to have waited so long, but this one was TOTALLY WORTH THE WAIT!  I knew that this book dealt with the topic of addiction, and it did not disappoint with the reality of the story.  I have not personally been affected by drugs, but I can see how easily and quickly it can happen–even in “good” families with “good” kids raised by parents who did everything right.  No one is immune and I liked how through a sweet family story I got a peek into that world.  At first I wasn’t sure about the magic fish part, but now I’ve convinced that somehow that fantasy element balanced out the depth of the “hard” parts of the text.  I am SO glad I got to this one, and would recommend it to anyone. Ok, everyone, really! 🙂

fullsizeoutput_4b7-minHome of the Brave by Katherine Applegate: Oh my goodness.  Kek may be my new favorite character.  And remember how I was afraid of Moo written in poetry? This one was too, and was also had cows.  I LOVED the insights into immigrant life we got in this one, too, and how the story was told in such a real way.  Being able to see Kek’s bravery and spunk in the story was heartwarming and I love the way the story really dug into the definition of what home is, and where you find it when it seems so far away from where you are.


fullsizeoutput_4b6-minExact Location of Home by Kate Messner:  I found this book (which I had never heard about previously) after I read The Seventh Wish and decided I needed to check out all the rest of her books.  I loved the geocaching element of this story, as it’s an activity I learned about a couple of years ago in an after-school club I lead with a friend (plus there just aren’t many geocaching stories around I’d say!).  The “big” topic is in this book is homelessness, and the reality of how 1) quickly it can happen to those who least expect it, 2) it can happen to anyone, and that we probably know someone who is homeless (or as in this story living in a shelter) and might not even know it, and 3) homeless people are not crazy, weird, wrong, dangerous–often it happens because of things out of their control and they deserve the same respect as EVERYONE else.  People are people.  As I read this one, and connected it with the “home” theme in Home of the Brave, it got me thinking about a possible theme for my classroom this year….I’m excited to explore that topic with my students: what does it mean to them, how can we create stronger connections between home-school, and how can I make our classroom an extension of home.  I might try this as a read aloud this year, too, because like I mentioned in the last one, even little kids can tackle big topics.

And…right now I’m reading two more.  I feel a little funny putting them together in a picture here because of how completely opposite they are (one about Hurricane Katrina and the other about middle school girls who take a cooking class–ha!), but hey–variety is the spice of life, right?

I’ll share more when I finish. 🙂 . Come back to check it out, will you?

So I’m wondering a couple of things…

  1. What are you reading or have you read this summer (or whenever!) that I should check out?
  2. What topics/themes do you like to read about?

PLEASE leave a comment and let’s chat about books!!  There’s still a lot of summer left and I can’t wait to hear about what you’re reading!



#ISWAYR–Week 3

So if you’re just joining this blog thread, I’ve posted about the first two week so summer reading here and here.  This makes the third installment, and it’s been fun to watch all the books I’ve been able to log so far.  There is much more of a variety that I’ve noticed in my lists this year compared to past years (2011, 2013, 2014), including many more picture books than previously–probably because I’m now teaching a primary grade, as well as have two kiddos of my own at home with whom to share great titles! (By the way, I just came across this post again, from a few years ago that I thought was interesting…)

Ok, so this week, this is what I (or we, if it’s a picture book!) read (oh, and in some cases finished):

One of my goal this summer was to start collecting read alouds to share with my new 1st graders, and this week’s books had many that I will add to my school year TBR pile.  So many good ones, though, I’m not sure we’ll have time to do anything else but sit on the rug together and READ!  Oh, well, I guess there are worse things we could spend our time doing, huh??

Oh, and one more thing.  Last week I shared how my TBR pile had shrunk and was only half as tall as the week before, but alas then I took another trip to the library.  And this happened:

Not a surprise for a book nerd, though, I guess, right??  Luckily there’s a vacation in my very near future and I will have even more just-sit-around-and-read-time!

What have you been reading?  What do you suggest I add to my pile? Have you read anything on my list? 🙂


#ISWAYR–Take 2

Last week I finally decided to update my reading progress after I had had actual time to sit and digest some really good books.  I changed the typical meme It’s MONDAY What are You Reading to SUMMER and jumped in.  My favorite picture was the one where my TBR pile was up to my knees! Remember?  As of last night (when I finished a book in a half hour!), my pile is half as tall.  LOVE seeing the progress.


So, to update you, this week this is what we read…

This year I have more picture books in my piles than I usually do.  Partly because since I’m in primary again I need to try out some new titles for my class this fall, partly because picture books are awesome, partly because I have had many great ones recommended to me lately, and also partly because they are quick. 🙂

When I was at the Scholastic Reading Summit a couple of weeks ago, I was reminded (by Colby Sharp) of a book I had meant to read, but hadn’t yet.  And since I had first been introduced to it, it had become a Caldecott winner and so there was another reason why I needed to enjoy it.  It was kind of a long story, but Colby told a great story of how his class does its own Mock Caldecott unit, where they vote for their favorite, and they were SURE that this book should win.  And then it did!  He even shared a heartfelt video from the winning illustrator herself, Sophie Blackall.  I was already sold on the book, but this just added to my interest.

And in case you don’t know, that book was Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear.


What a joy to be able to read a book with that shiny gold sticker!!

This one was instantly a hit with my kiddos, and somehow it was a story I had never heard!  I guess I had never been a huge Winnie the Pooh fan, so perhaps that’s why, but whatever the reason, this was a great story to learn.  And of course, the pictures were BEAUTIFUL.  I think that’s possibly what I liked the best: the story and the illustrations were equally magical, making for a beloved book that we will surely return to again and again.  This book was made to be reread over and over and over.

And so on today’s list of to-dos: another trip to the library to see what new treasures we can find!

What have you been reading? How tall is your TBR pile?? 🙂


It’s Summer, What are You Reading?

Yep.  It’s that time again.  Summertime!  And of course, as a teacher, it means I have time to READ!!  Ok, I am reading all the time, but this is prime sit-and-read-a-whole-book-in-one-sitting time!  So, I thought I’d share what I’ve been reading with you, and then I’d love to hear from you about what you’d suggest!

What I’ve read…

What I’m reading…

In my TBR pile…

Is there anyone who ever has time to read everything in their TBR pile?  I have the problem that mine keeps getting taller (from great suggestions) before it gets shorter (by me finishing something)!  It is totally silly, but at this point it’s up to my knees! See?

FullSizeRender 2

Oh, wait–you probably want to see the spines…here’s another version (sans me!):


Bets on how long it’ll take?  I’m sure there’s a great math opportunity in there somewhere, but I’ll save that for another day!

Ok, now it’s your turn! What are you reading?  What do you suggest I read? 🙂


Things I Learned on My Summer Vacation

Summer is one of my favorite times of year.  I love being able to sleep in and stay up late.  I LOVE traveling and exploring new places (or revisiting old, favorite places for the 20th time hee hee).  Most of all, I love the time to be able to read, write, learn and really digest new things that I don’t have time to attend to during the busyness of the school year.  I thought I’d share some of that learning I’ve been doing.  First up–math! You probably don’t know about this fabulous place in NYC called Mathematics in the City.  And if that is true, then you also don’t know about the amazing teacher leader/trainer/consultant/math guru named Kara Imm.  Man, I’m sorry for you, and want you to book a flight right now.  Seriously it’s worth every penny.  It’s ok.  I’ll wait. 🙂 So, anyway, my experiences with Kara go back to a couple of years ago when she first came to Kirkwood to help us learn more about fractions.  Yes, I survived.  I learned alot and I even had some fun along the way.  I definitely began to understand fractions in a way that I know I didn’t when I was in school.  That new understanding really helped me as I then taught my 5th graders (at the time) to truly understand fractions and what they mean, not just how to do an algorithm or figure out a formula.  She then came back a year or so later and helped us through a lesson study–again with fractions–and we learned a little more. Well, fast-forward to today (a couple of years later), and we were lucky to have Kara back AGAIN.  This time she worked with our whole staff, around many math topics, and helped us all bond as we figured out how to best help kids understand mathematics.  One thing I love about the way Kara presents is that there is ALWAYS some teacher-doing-math time.  I never did that kind of thing until I went to a writer’s workshop presentation many years ago and they had me write (which I thought was totally weird).  From that first moment, I totally got how important it is, though, for teachers to feel the same struggles and frustrations as their students go through.  We got to work through many hard investigations and work through them the way our kids would.  It was really interesting that for many of us, these problems were made harder than they needed to be, though, because of the way WE learned fractions.  Like I mentioned before, I wasn’t taught the WHY but just the HOW, which in many ways is not the easiest or most efficient/effective way to solve the problem.  So, giving this same investigation to 5th graders who don’t have a UNLEARN many inefficient strategies isn’t really that bad.  Our kids are not so confused and frustrated as we are. We did two big problems: one called Muffles’ Truffles (which involved early multiplication) and another with a scenario about Frank, a farmer, and how far he drives.  It’s a problem that involves a gas tank and figuring out (with fractions) if Frank has enough to get him where he’s supposed to go.  While there’s not really any way to truly understand the scale of our conversations and they work we did without being there, here are some notes that my partner and I used to draft our thinking.  There’s also a picture of the chart we made for our Math Congress (which is a topic I haven’t written much about but TOTALLY should!), which was a way to consolidate and present our final draft to the other mathematicians. IMG_489911694842_10204737906631950_6188272882800941260_n


 We talked multiplication and we talked fractions, we talked Math Congress (nope, haven’t written about it yet…), and we also discussed the topic of basic facts.  This is a hot topic in math these days (and for a while, really), and for many years we’ve responded with daily kill-and-drill activities, timed “mad minutes,” and crazy stressing out on memorizing lots and lots of facts.  Kara brought some info related to how important it is to respond in a different way.

For many people (including teachers, parents and students), being QUICK is best.  But we were reminded that being quick doesn’t equal being mathematically PROFICIENT, which should really be our goal.  She gave us information on how facts DEVELOP, they don’t come first.  She also helped us see that the facts (in this case we focused on multiplication tables) are not random (which is how many kiddos see them, saying “there must be 100s and 100s to learn!”), but are connected.   Seeing those connections and building on the RELATIONSHIPS between facts is how to both LEARN them and UNDERSTAND them rather than just MEMORIZE them.  For many this was mind-blowing, and for others it was validation of what we already knew to be true.  For sure, though, it was nice to be “allowed” to deal with learning facts in a different way going forward.


My notes from Day 1 of our Math Institute.


More notes from Day 1. It seems I was so busy DOING math on Day 2 that I didn’t write anything down!

One more important topic of discussion (and of course we experienced them, too!) was number strings.  In short, these are a related set of problems that kiddos use mental math to solve.  Practice is done regularly (maybe even every day), and these help mathematicians become more flexible as well as see the relationships and connections mentioned earlier.  I’ll write more about this next part later (yeah, like I said I would with Math Congresses), but one way we learned to assess newly gained knowledge is to use a two-pen test.  Yep, it’s just what it sounds like: a test you take with two different pens.  The first one is a timed portion to see what kiddos know how to do quickly, and then the second pen is used to finish the rest of the page, with whatever time frame is needed.  Teachers can get all kinds of useful information about what facts kids know and which ones they still need to work on.  Genius.  We will definitely be trying these out in 2nd grade this year!


Whew.  That was a lot.  I know I tend to be long-winded, so if you hung in this long I TOTALLY appreciate you.  🙂

Now I ask you–what did you learn on your summer vacation?

Screen Shot 2015-08-02 at 5.16.12 PM

See? Minds blowing!

#IMWAYR….on a Thursday :)

I haven’t done it often, but at least a couple of times, I’ve written about what I read, both during the summer and the school year (and in case I missed anything, check out the reading tag on the right side of the page).   And since it’s summer, and I have TIME to read again, I thought I’d add the titles from by TBR pile that I’ve gotten through so far.  At this point it’s almost a book a day!  (Oh, and the #IMWAYR is a Twitter thing–It’s Monday, What Are You Reading–if you didn’t recognize it. 🙂 )

So…at the beginning of the summer (I think it was probably after our first official library visit of the season), this was my pile:


Now, it looks like this (and yes, you’ll see that I did cross a lot of those original ones off my list, but then found TONS more that were interesting):


I’m not kidding, I could read the whole library!!  I make up for all the time I don’t read during the school year by WAY OVER DOING it once I am out for summer.   But hey, when you have time, go for it, right??

Ok…here’s what I’ve read so far.  Not quite sure if this will end up being reviews, summaries or just pictures, but it will be a list for sure:

IMG_2783    Almost Home by Joan Bauer

Remember last summer when I read Close to Famous and Hope was Here by Joan Bauer?  Well, for some reason, I found out that she wrote TONS more books than I had seen, and I had to check them out!  This one I bought at Barnes and Noble, and finished it that same evening!  This one had a similar vibe to the others of hers I had read: the main character was a young girl with family troubles, mainly on her own, and who is forced to learn a life lesson she didn’t really expect.  There was not, however, food involved in Almost Home, as I remember—Close to Famous was all about cupcakes, and Hope was Here was set in a diner.  That must have been a theme for Mark Twain nominees last year, because they were all about the same thing!

Peeled by Joan Bauer           IMG_2780

After I finished Almost Home, I went to the library to find some other Joan Bauer books.  I think I read Peeled first, but honestly I finished the next three titles in about a day and a half so I don’t really remember the order!  The main character of this one was again a strong female, and the setting included a high school newspaper.  I mentioned it to my husband, and he actually mentioned that he’d read it as a read-aloud, but that his class was a little bored by the details related to how to write a paper; maybe I’m biased already to Bauer as a writer, but I didn’t really notice.  Enjoyed the whole thing from beginning to end!

Stand Tall by Joan Bauer

IMG_2774This title was refreshing, as it included a male lead character (aptly named Tree), rather than a female lead, as her others had. There were themes of finding yourself, learning an important life lesson and overcoming adversity–like in the others–but I’m beginning to think that that’s probably what I like about her writing, so it’s ok with me!

                                                                  Squashed by Joan Bauer


The premise of this book made me laugh out loud at first–it’s a girl who raises a prize pumpkin for the festival and is dealing with some villains who don’t want to see her win!  Sounds a little silly, but in a weird way, the pumpkin becomes as much a character as the girl, and you are quickly rooting them both on to win against the “bad guys.”  As with other Bauer books, I liked the way she develops characters, realistically sharing what they would go through and including believable dialogue.  Liked it even more than I thought I would!

Rules of the Road and Best Foot Forward by Joan Bauer

IMG_2784 IMG_2789Told you I was on a roll with Joan Bauer books, huh?  It’s what I talk to my kids about with “trusting an author.”  I figured (just like with Jerry Spinelli, Sharon Creech, Ralph Fletcher and the like) that if I liked one of her books, I’d like the rest of them.  So far, that rings true!  Rules of the Road and Best Foot Forward are actually related to each other–I found out as I began the second one–and have the same main character.   As with other Bauer books, the main character is a strong, independent female, and similarly there is a theme of a teenaged person trying to find themselves and figure out their place in the world.  In this case it’s Jenna, who is hired as a driver for an older woman for the summer, and who learns alot about herself and others along the journey she takes (literally and figuratively).  The setting of both books is split between Chicago and Texas, and the focus is on a major shoe company that Jenna works for (the lady she’s driving is the owner).  It seems a little silly at first (just like the pumpkin idea in Squashed), but it doesn’t take long to start to care so much for the characters and their plots, that the shoe part just makes sense.

                                                                                                             Backwater by Joan Bauer

IMG_2790I had to get one more Bauer title in, since I had found it in the library, and the timing of it was a little funny–I read it while I was on a cruise (Get it?  BackWATER?  I was on the water?  Ok, I’ll laugh by myself. 🙂 ).   The title seemed a little confusing considering there was a cabin in the woods on the cover, but you quickly find out the connection and it makes sense.  This one had similar traits to others I’ve read, but the main character had a stronger involvement with family than in most of the others; she wasn’t as alone and on her own this time.  Instead, she helped someone else find their place in the world (and in the family) and in turn learned some valuable life lessons along the way.  Another great book!

Recipe for Adventure Series by Giada De Laurentiis 






I have to admit that I was a wee bit skeptical to see Giada’s name on a book.  I mean, sure, she might be a fine writer, but she’s not known for that.  She’s known as an expert on food, not on words.  I must also add that I’m not entirely sure that she even wrote these (man, sorry, I guess I’m extra cynical today!).  BUT then I read them, and for the audience for which these books are written, I am sure they are lovely.  I did enjoy the melded aspect of food, family and time travel (sorry for that spoiler), and for the most part I was entertained.  I mean, I did read all three, after all.  Were they the best books I’ve ever read? No. But they were quick fun reads, and spoke to my love of food and culture, even including words from other languages as well as recipe cards that you (or your kiddo) could make at home once you’re finished.  For someone, they may be just the thing to get them into books and into reading, and for that I say–go for it!

Marty McGuire Has Too Many Pets by Kate Messner

IMG_2772I read this one pretty soon after school was out, mainly because I have read the other two Marty McGuire books and loved them, but also because I was researching possibilities for read alouds for my littles for next year.  Since I’m moving back to primary, the list of favorites I’ve been sticking to for the last decade will no longer work!  This was as good as I thought it would be–the characters are funny, believable and often surprise me.  I did honestly laugh out loud with this one, too, when I found out what one of the pets were; I had to Tweet @KateMessner and tell her how pleased I was with that part of the story!  I knew it would be one I could read at home, too, to my own kiddos.  Well done, Ms. Messner!  Another great one.  I have Waking Up Missing in my TBR pile, now, which is a Messner book I didn’t discover until just last week.  Excited to read it!

The Lemonade War Series by Jacqueline Davies

IMG_2787IMG_2786I remember reading somewhere on Twitter last year about a whole school that reads The Lemonade War as a read aloud.  Yes, every classroom!  Kinda liked the idea, and so tried that first book in the series last summer.  Haven’t gotten around to suggesting that idea to my boss (but hey, @grrprincipal, if you’re reading this and want to try it, I’m totally game!), but still might read it to my own class.  When I asked my “tweep” about why they read it, they mentioned the family themes in the book, as well as the lessons kids can learn about being an entrepreneur–they have competing lemonade stands, after all.  In these subsequent titles, the main characters are the same, but are solving different problems: in one there are mysterious candies that show up around Valentine’s Day, as well as a missing bell on their grandmother’s property on New Year’s Eve.  I enjoyed these as much as the first, which is nice since sometimes sequels don’t fare as well as the original.

Picture Books

It’s funny that for my summer reading challenge (which is self-imposed really, and is just to read as much as I can), picture books seem like a cop out.  I know, picture books are books as much as 500 page novels, but maybe it’s that they’re so short.  Or maybe I’m just vain.  It’s probably just a personal problem, but I guess when I say, “I’ve read 25 books so far this summer,” it means more if those 25 books are novels, chapter books, rather than picture books.  Phooey.  Who cares.  They’re good, too, and they’re going to become much more important in my life again, now that I’m teaching 1st grade again.  So, that being said, I’ve read these 3 so far, and have some others laying around to try soon:

IMG_2788I have to laugh as I look at this picture again, because of the continued influence that both The Quiet Place and Rapunzel have had on my kiddos.  Allison is 3, and is in a princess phase (I think this may be genetically imprinted in little girls!), so got Rapunzel from the library, but was really disappointed that it was different than the Disney version she knows.  And ironically, my children have built their own Quiet Place just today with the boxes that our two big living chairs came in.  Inspiration is everywhere!  The other one, I Want My Hat Back, is an favorite we had to reread.  I believe it’s nominated for the ShowMe Reader in Missouri this year.  Yay!

Clementine, Friend of the Week by Sara Pennypacker

IMG_2793I have been a fan of Clementine for many years, and even in my 5th grade class, a year didn’t go by without sharing at least one of her books.  Even big kids can appreciate silliness, and laughing together is a great way to connect and also learn to love books!  I have already read Clementine’s Letter and Clementine and the Spring Trip, and was sure I had read all of her adventures.  Somehow I’d missed this one until now!  And just like all the other silly tales, I laughed out loud and enjoyed every minute of Clementine’s antics.  🙂

My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett

IMG_2791Just when I think I am a knowledgable teacher in terms of good books, I find something I’ve never heard of, in this case My Father’s Dragon (and the series that follows).  As I was polling my friends for suggestions for 1st grade read alouds, more than one person mentioned this one.  Again, I’d never heard of it–and I’ve even taught primary grades before!  Glad that Leah and Christy suggested it, though, because it was great, and I can totally see how a class of younger readers would love it!  My kids at home did. 🙂

Boys Adrift by Dr. Leonard Sax

IMG_2794It was bound to happen.  I had read almost 20 books  that were works of fiction before I got to a professional book.  For me, this was a big deal.  This one is actually a choice from school, and we’re going to have book clubs on it (and some other titles also related to educating boys) this fall.  I was interested in this book both because I have a son, and because of what’s happening lately in regards to gaps between girls and boys, how boys are getting left behind.  I also chose this title from among the choices because of the “why” nature of it; many choices were related to what to do to help boy learners, but I needed to understand the nature of the problem first.  I am so interested to discuss this with the really smart people I work with, as we brainstorm how to address what these needs look like in our school population.  Using what we’ve learned, we will make changes and we will help the boys (and girls, too!) in our school succeed!

One for the Murphys by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

IMG_2819This was the debut novel from Lynda Hunt.  It was also the debut of my reading anything off of the Truman Award nominees list.  I’ve always read Mark Twain nominees, because these were what my 4th-5th graders read, but the Truman ones were for middle school.  Who cares, right?  I know.  Dumb reason.  Well, I found this one at the library and MAN am I glad I picked it up.  At first it reminded me of Almost Home (remember my Joan Bauer binge?), because of the girl with mom problems who has to live in foster care.  This one took a little different turn, which I really loved, and was especially touched at the end.  I cried!!  I am pretty certain this was the first time I’ve had that much emotion in a story that actual tears have come.  Sounds like a great book!  The only thing that is frustrating about it is that she doesn’t have anything else for me to read yet! 😦

Waiter Rant by Steve Dublanica


This book was totally a case of read-what’s-lying-around.  Grant had checked it out–not sure why or how he found it–but it sounded interesting, so I threw it in the car for our LOOONNNGGG drive to Disney.   Now, while I found it really interesting, I was a little bit bothered by the language and some of the topics discussed (so reader beware: this is not for youngsters!).  I have never worked in the restaurant industry, and while I’m not sure how true-to-life it is, Dublanica makes it sounds CRAZY!  Some of the things that happen in the kitchens are a little surprising.  Anyhow, the book is actually based on a blog that he used to write (of the same name), and that was cool.  Plus he’s a great writer, so it was definitely a page-turner.  Thanks for leaving this lying around, Grant.  Found a good read really easily. 🙂

French Women Don’t Get Fat by Mireille Guiliano

IMG_2821Last year I was given a BIG pile of books (mainly about fashion) from my sweet friend Lisa. One of them was Lessons From Madame Chic: 20 Stylish Secrets I Learned While Living in Paris by Jennifer Scott.  I devoured it in pretty much a day (and this was DURING the school year, which was weird.  Must have been the weekend…).  I have never visited Europe, but I would have to say that France is a place I’d love to go someday.  I don’t know what it was about the book, but it made me so enamored by French culture.   I loved the “secrets” she shared, which really just seemed like sensible ways to live your life and be a lady.  So…when I saw the cookbook version of this book, I was reminded of the original and had to find it to read it.  This one–French Women Don’t Get Fat–was just as great!  This one was written by an actual French woman (Jennifer Scott had just spent time with a French family), and who better to explain how I can be French and fabulous?  LOVED this one.  Again I am inspired to change some things based on the Parisian way.  And to find more books like this to read. 🙂

Knucklehead by Jon Scieszka

IMG_2822If you know me, it’s no secret that Ralph Fletcher is one of my favorite authors (and hey, I even mentioned him somewhere in this post, I think), and I am always on the look out for a good book written by him.  I ordered Guy-Write earlier this year, but hadn’t had a chance to pick it up til the other day (I think I’m about a 1/4 of the way through so far).  I mention it because I actually found this text in that Fletcher book.  I was inspired to read both of them, actually, because of the Boys Adrift book by Dr. Sax.  For years I have been interested in helping boy writers find their voices, but now more than ever I am hoping to sharpen my skills and add to my knowledge.   In Guy-Write, Fletcher does an interview with Jon Scieszka (of The True Story of the Three Little Pigs and The Stinky Cheese Man fame), and it was hilarious!!  This book was there, and it sounded so interesting and it did not disappoint.  So funny and real and written in a way that made it a really quick read.  Grant even said he might try it as a read aloud with his class this year, which I thought was a great idea, too.  Plus, I thought it was doubly cool that Scieszka was named the First National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, which is an amazing honor (I think I’d kinda want to be one)!  He has a goal to help boy readers and writers, too, and with such a great platform on which to do his work, I know he’ll help make changes for boys everywhere!

So there it is.  My list so far.  I’m pretty proud of it and am reminded of how great it is to get lost in a good book.  The places you go, the people you meet and the things you learn are amazing.  I can’t wait to continue to add to my list!  After all, summer’s only about halfway over, right?   🙂


Things Teachers Do in the Summer: TRAVEL

In addition to finding tons of great, new books to share with my new class, I also had some fabulous opportunities to travel with my family!

Ok, I’ll give you one guess as to where we went.  Alright, you can have two or three guesses if you need them, but if you know me at all, or if you’ve spent any length of time here on this blog you already know the answer.:

This IS indeed, the Happiest Place on Earth!

This IS indeed, the Happiest Place on Earth!

We spent the first 10 days after school was out in our favorite place, which is the week we typically go because it’s not too hot yet, and the crowds aren’t as crazy as later on in the summer.  This year’s weather was a little weird, though, because Tropical Storm Andrea decided to come for a visit at the same time as we did.  It was rainier than normal (not the usual 3 o’clock shower that is over in 5 minutes) and cloudy most of the time we were there.  But hey–we didn’t let that get us down!  We’ve been to WDW many times, but we always find a way to make new memories.  Two highlights from this trip were the Princess dinner we had at Akershus Royal Banquet hall–in Epcot’s Norway pavilion–for Allie (which we actually went to on Daddy’s birthday–HA!) as well as a Pirate cruise that Riley took with a small group around Crescent Lake near Epcot.

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I was so surprised as how shy she was around the princesses.  Those are pretty much the only two that she would talk to–when the others came around she was buried in my shoulder hiding her face!  She did the same thing for Mickey and the others, too, which just surprised me because of how naturally outgoing she normally is!  Our prince was not at all bothered by all the pretty ladies who came to our table, though, and he took pictures with them instead!

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I don’t really have many good pics of Riley’s cruise, but that’s mostly because I wasn’t there!  He took off in his pirate skipper with the tour guides and 5 or 6 other kiddos in search of Captain Stinkyfeet who had stolen the pirate treasure!  I was so proud at his willingness to do that without us (he’s learning to let go 🙂 ) and he had a SUPER time. It was all he could talk about for days afterward!

The one other highlight of the trip was meeting up with some an old 5th grade friend and his family who happened to be there at the same time as we were:

What fun to run into Keelan, his sisters Macie and Amelia and his parents!  Fun in the Florida sun!

What fun to run into Keelan, his sisters Macie and Amelia and his parents! Fun in the Florida sun! (Doesn’t Riley look like he could be related to all of them?)

Disney is usually our big excursion for the summer, but this summer we finally got around to going somewhere else in the world (which is honestly a BIG DEAL for our family!).  So in July we packed up and headed east to Charlotte, NC to visit some friends who had moved there a few years ago.  We spent a lovely weekend with their family (of which I have NO pictures–I realized this after we were home…) and then headed to Asheville for the next few days.  We were excited to see the mountains, as well as enjoy Asheville’s food scene, which is focused on sustainable, local, fresh ingredients and is right up our alley!

Several days we went driving on the Blue Ridge parkway, which is the scenic route through the Blue Ridge mountains and afforded us some AMAZING views, along with tunnels and roadside overlook points to stop and check out.  We went shopping, ate some fabulous food, and also visited the Western North Carolina Nature Center.  While we’re definitely still lovers of all things Disney, this was a great time for our family and it’s the trip that Riley keeps going back to when he reminisces on his summer fun!


This one cracks me up! Just an example of the cool rocks we drove next to on the road–here we stopped to look at the water running down the walls. Obviously it was more interesting than smiling at me for the picture!

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We also learned that Asheville is home to the highest point east of the Mississippi river–Mount Mitchell.  So fun to trek to the top of it!  Such beautiful views from way up there!

IMAG0854IMAG0882IMAG0872Doesn’t that picture just say it all?  WE HAD FUN!!

What did you do this summer?  What adventures did you go on?  Where did you visit?  Leave a comment and tell me all about it!  Send me a picture, 5th grade friends, and I’ll add it to the blog! 🙂