Literacy Journey Journal #3: Do you read children’s literature?

I do read children’s books, because I work with children and because I have a 12-year-old.  If these things were different, I’m not sure I would seek out children’s books to read; that would be my loss.  It is true that I have to  read children’s books for my work, but I genuinely appreciate the layers and complexities found in so many picture books as well as the entry points for conversation that so many chapter books offer.  I

recently read Milo Imagines the World by Matt de la Peña and Christian Robinson.  In the book, the young boy Milo imagines the stories of the people on the subway train with him.  A well-dressed boy with a perfect part is obviously a prince on his way to his castle.  A woman in a wedding dress is obviously going to meet her groom for their wedding day.  An old man is going to his cat-filled apartment to eat cold soup.  When Milo arrives at his destination, the little boy with the perfectly parted hair also exits the train.  Milo realizes he has the little boy’s story all wrong.  He thinks he may have gotten everyone’s story all wrong, so he reimagines them all.  The vignettes in Milo Imagines the World are reminders that people are more complex than our first impressions of them; their stories are not necessarily the ones we create from our own experiences and biases.  While an entire 400 page novel could handle this same theme, a 35-page picture book does an amazing job of it.   

The layers and nuances of picture books are appreciated, but is there any other joy that compares to sharing a picture book with 400 children and getting the chance to hear their questions and thoughts about what they read, hear, and see?  If you haven’t had the chance to listen to questions, thoughts, and reflections from children beyond your own, well, you’re truly missing out.  

I still read to my almost 12-year-old almost every night.  It is still one of my favorite parts of the day.  Reading together gives us a chance to talk about our opinions of the book, which characters we like, what we think might happen, why something is well written or clunky, why we’re just not into the book or why it’s our favorite so far, what we might want to read next.  Lately, we’ve been reading a couple of historical fiction novels, which opened up conversations about current events.

Through the nature of my work and my own child, I’m moved to keep up with children’s literature.  While I definitely have reading gaps, I’m glad children’s literature isn’t one of those gaps.

Literacy Journey Journal #2: Reading for Pleasure

Reading for pleasure seems like such an indulgence in my adult life.  Over winter break on some mornings, I woke up, let the dog out, made coffee, let the dog back in, and got back in bed to read for an hour or two.  it felt incredibly decadent, but at the same time it revived my soul.  Truly.  At some point it occurred to me to incorporate this holiday habit into my regular weekend routine. Of course that didn’t happen though.  There’s too much to do.  

I’m doing better about reading at night before going to bed, but there’s only so much reading I can do at night.  I’m tired!  My son and I still read together most nights.  This is a routine I look forward to, and I hope it will continue for a while longer.  My son is almost 12, so it gives us a chance to talk about the book, characters, and events taking place.  Sometimes it’s a chance to read something that I might not ordinarily pick out.  

I have so many great memories of getting lost in books as a child.  There were many afternoons spent reading without nagging obligations like house cleaning or grocery shopping or the haunting feeling that one should be doing this instead of that.  I suppose it’s disingenuous to claim that adult obligations like cleaning and cooking and such keeps me from reading.  I can easily spend a few hours playing Animal Crossing on the weekends.  Animal Crossing, like reading, is relaxing, but it demands less from my brain, which sometimes really needs a break.  I guess as a child my schedule wasn’t filled with the responsibilities of caring for a home and family and also carrying the weight of work.

It would be nice to recapture what seemed like limitless time to read, but I might have to settle for scheduled and shorter reading retreats. And that, I suppose, is fine too. 

Literacy Journey Journal: Early Reading Life

Entry #1 Prompts:  What Is My Reading Identity?  Your Early Reading Life

  • What is your earliest memory of reading?
  • How was reading a part of your childhood?
  • What are three books that stand out to you from your childhood reading life and why?
  • Did you have any reading role models in your childhood?
  • What were pleasurable experiences you had with reading in school?
  • What are experiences that you did not like with reading in school?
  • How have your earliest reading experiences shaped how you teach/promote reading now?

At some point late this spring, I stumbled across a course at Longwood about the Literacy Journey and creating a culture of literacy and reading in school. It sounded intriguing, but I waffled on signing up. It would be nice to whittle down summer commitments and obligations, yet here I am. And it is ok. In fact, it’s really good.

The course is one way to get my reading habits back on track. I’m also participating in the #bookadaychallenge, which I’m enjoying more than I thought I would. I was worried posting something every day would be a burden, but it’s actually been nice to take a few minutes out to read a picture book or to think on a chapter book I’m working through.

Journaling is a required part of the Literacy Journey course. Prompt #1 is posted above. And here goes my draft.

Several of these prompts seem to mesh together. Can I talk about my earliest memory of reading without talking about how reading was a part of my childhood? Can I talk about my early reading memories without talking about my reading role models? Can I talk about my earliest memory of reading, how reading was a part of my childhood, and my reading role models without discussing my reading experiences in school?

I don’t remember much about my maternal grandmother and great aunt. They both exist as faint memories, almost as one person in thick black heels with a patent leather purse that smelled like Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit gum. But I do have a hazy flash of a memory of sitting in the laps of one of these women reading a story. It is my earliest reading memory.

My sister and I did not want for books. The basement of our childhood home houses the many picture books we had as a child. Some of those found their way upstairs and into the hands of my niece and nephew. Both of my parents were readers, and while I don’t remember my mother reading to me–thought I’m sure she did–I do remember lying on the floor of my bedroom as she told us Little Lulu stories that were either totally made up or straight out of the comic strip.

I don’t remember learning to read. I don’t remember being told that I had to read at least 20 minutes a day or keep a reading log. I just read. It was just something that I did as a child and that I continue to do today, and when my reading falls off for one reason or another, it is something that I miss.

I struggle to remember reading experiences in elementary school. There are only two that really stick with me: my first grade teacher, Mrs. Jones, reading Eloise (she did the BEST voices, and Eloise remains one of my all-time favorite books to this day) and making an effort to read all of the Paddington Bear books in the school library. That’s it. Those are the only two early reading memories from school. Oh, and racing through the SRA reading cards so that I could win a prize for being the first student to finish. It is here that I confess for the first time ever that I think I may have cheated in order to win a… paperweight… something every elementary school student needs!

Now that I really think about it, I find it interesting odd that I don’t early reading memories tied to school. The school librarian was a little scary. There was a pet rock in the library. Paddington Bear, for one reason or another, was the series to read. At least for my sister, cousin, and me. I’m sure the librarian read to us. I’m sure every teacher I had in elementary school read to the class. The only teacher I remember reading aloud is Mrs. Jones; the only book I remember is Eloise.

I feel like i should have more pleasurable school-based reading memories. I certainly hope that when my students are 45-years-old, they’ll recall a few joyous reading experiences. My reading role models were definitely my parents. My positive reading memories were made at home through plentiful access to books, self-selecting the books I wanted to read, and talking about books with my sister.  

from the library: Reading Challenge

It’s reading challenge time!

The first thing you need to do is make a reading tracker, so you can track the genres you read over the next month.

You’re going to need: Paper, a pen or pencil, a straight edge (a ruler if you have one)

I made two sample reading trackers: one is a 3×4 tracker and the other is a 3×13 tracker.

3×4 tracker and 3×13 tracker

You want to include the following genres on your reading challenge tracker: historical fiction, mystery, science fiction, fantasy, realistic fiction, autobiography, biography, informative non-fiction, adventure, newspaper article, poetry, graphic novel

Our reading challenge is officially starting today. Anything you’ve read since Friday, March 13th counts towards your reading challenge. We’ll wrap up our reading challenge on Friday, May 1st.

When you finish your challenge, take a picture of your tracker and email it to me at The student who reads the most genres, WINS! If we have multiple winners, I’ll post a list of the students who completed the challenge and then draw one name to be the prize winner.

EXTRA CHALLENGE: Have an adult in your home accept (and hopefully) complete the challenge too!

You are welcome to email me to let me know how the challenge is going, if you have a question, or if you need help finding a book that fits one of the genres.

Here are a few places to find some of the genres mentioned:

Junior Library Guild

Audible Stories

Poetry Foundation

Mrs. El Koubi’s daily touchpoints (for newspaper articles)

Richmond Free Press (for newspaper articles)

Time for Kids (sign up for free access to Time Magazine for Kids)

Time for Kids is offering access to its digital issues through the end of the school year.


Perhaps unprecedented will be the word of the year for 2020. Or social distancing.

The word unprecedented seems both accurate and inadequate.

On Monday the governor ordered the closure of schools for the rest of the year. It wasn’t a surprise, but it certainly is a shock to the system.

And the shocks keep coming at unexpected times. While brushing my teeth, I remember that the 5th graders won’t be able to finish their podcasts. While loading the dishwasher, I remember that the 2nd graders won’t finish the books they were working on about their year working in the Beaver Garden. It seems over but not over as we all find some way to cobble together learning experiences for our students knowing that those experiences and opportunities need to be equitable for all students who may or may not have reliable technology or who may or may not have support from adults at home.

So we do what we can while we wait for guidance from our superintendent (who, I think, is doing a remarkable job keeping families and teachers updated on what’s going on) and the VDOE.

My school’s faculty is supposed to be getting together online this afternoon. I’m looking forward to that as well as the possibility of a teacher car parade along the school’s bus route Friday.

In the meantime, I’m taking the time to learn about teaching tools that I didn’t have time to explore during the school year, trying to offer short lessons for students who may want a distraction or who may want to see their old librarian’s face, and doing my best to cobble together come coherent learning for my own 4th grader.

What movie are we in again?

Back in January I was having dinner with a group of friends and the coronavirus came up. I didn’t feel like it was time to panic. It was something that needed watching.

Two weeks ago I was doing my pandemic prep at Costco. It’s amazing how fast things change.

On Thursday morning the coordinator of library services sent out a message saying we librarians should do all we can to get books in the hands of as many students as possible. It’s something we do every day, but there was more urgency. “See as many classes as you can today and tomorrow.” I had a feeling an announcement about closing was in the mail. It came Thursday evening; the district would close for two weeks effective Friday afternoon. WIth what seemed like the slightest bit of notice, teachers prepared work to send home with their students. The reading specialist in my school, a few of the tutors, a parent volunteer, the PE teacher, and I spent Friday distributing library books to all 400 students in the school–as many books as the kids could carry.

Set up for book distribution
Once full of books. Now empty and in the home libraries of students.

Most of the books given out were stored in the trailer as part of a past summer Reading Riders program. Some had recently been donated as an effort to enhance students’ home libraries (success!). Some students checked out library books for the two weeks off as well.

I buttoned up the library, took home some books and some work, and carried my plants out to my car. It felt weird. It still feels weird.

Things could change depending on how long we’re out, but as of now, we’re not doing distance learning. What does that look like in an elementary school anyway? And how does it get done when not everyone has access to reliable technology? Kids were given work to do and teachers are communicating with parents through Class Dojo (the parents who are connected to Class Dojo). Every few days, I’m posting a reading resource there too.

As of yesterday, our two week hiatus as morphed into a four week break (which includes our already scheduled spring break). Breaks are what I do best; there’s a lot do be done after all: house projects, knitting, reading, binge watching TV. This is different though. The uncertainty and worry takes some getting used to.

So here we are. I have ordered too many books from local bookstores who are offering free delivery to people who live within 10 miles of the stores.

Books I purchased from BBGB ( that were delivered to my door this evening

I’m making a list of restaurants and breweries that I need to support once I can get out… assuming they still exist. I’m hoping my husband doesn’t lose his job like he did in the 2008 economic fiasco. When will I be able to visit my family again? When will I get to see the kids again? All of this on top of the obvious worries: I hope we all stay well.

Today was day one of homeschooling my 4th grader (LOL, I can’t do 4th grade math!). I made a schedule for our weekdays. I believe my son appreciates it more than I anticipated. He keeps referring to it. “What’s next on the schedule?” I keep referring to it. “What do we do after this?” For me, it’s necessary to be grounded in routine these days.

Stay healthy. Wash your hands. Don’t touch your face.

Hello, Summer.

Students’ last day was the 14th. Teachers left on the 18th. I’m finally starting my official summer break this afternoon. It feels like an eternity has passed between the 14th and today, but man alive did I get a lot done. I inventoried the collection, packed up some old tech for surplus, weeded a bunch, cataloged a ton of stuff that I wasn’t able to get to during the school year, and even put together a large order for our return to school in September.

I filed my end-of-year reports this morning, which was an opportunity to think back on the year. Though the format doesn’t necessarily have space for the details of all that happened in this space during the year. But if you’re dying to know, I added 1,201 books to the collection and saw 11,432 books circulate among students. 11,432. That’s a lot of books.

But the EOY report isn’t the whole picture. It feels like a very small peephole into the year. After looking through the photos on my phone, the EOY report doesn’t capture the relationships built this year, the things made, or the insightful thinking from students. One doesn’t necessarily see the student who discovered comic books in the EOY report.

I think I got to know a large percentage of the 420 (give or take) students at the school. And I feel good about making the library a place where students want to come and a space of their own. That’s how a library should be (I think). I do need to establish some expectations for behavior though. It got loud (A. Lot.), and every now and then students felt awfully entitled (as one sometimes does when one feels comfortable and at home). My big goal for 2019-2020 is to improve my classroom management so that the library is a space for everyone (not just the bigger personalities) and a space where everyone can learn.

I also want to integrate making with reading more. My school participated in three One School, One Book events this year. Two of them were organized by Read to Them, a non-profit that promotes literacy and reading with children. They happen to be based in Richmond. In the fall every elementary school in Richmond read Friendship According to Humphrey. In an after-school conversation, a colleague of mine pitched the idea of having students design and build prototypes for a new house for Humphrey. In case students weren’t able to read the book at home, we had them read a few pages from the book that described Humphrey’s cage. Based on that description, they then worked in teams to complete a design brief*, which involved brainstorming improvements and sketching those ideas. Once they thought through, wrote about, and sketched their ideas, it was time to build.

I collected recyclables from teachers, parents, and neighbors for prototyping. Building ensued, and everyone’s path differed. There were disagreements within groups. Some groups worked together with no problems at all. Some students were incredibly frustrated when their vision wasn’t easily realized. Some brushed off these hiccups with incredible ease and reevaluated the execution of ideas.

A prototype for Humphrey’s new home.

After a couple of classes of building, teams wrote reflections and shared their experiences with their classes.

We were able to do more prototyping at the end of the year in conjunction with reading Chris Van Dusen’s If I Built a Car. Students across all grades Loved. This. Book. They remarked on the rhymes, Jack’s wild ideas, and said things like, “If I could build my own car, I would…” They had the opportunity to brainstorm their own wild ideas and then build prototypes. If I thought about it, I would’ve taken a picture of Hazel’s unicorn car or Donnell’s dirt bike. Those slipped by me, but I did get some pics of other prototypes.

Some other favorite lessons included making story maps of well-known stories (and sometimes made-up stories) with Ozobots (inspired by this lesson).

Charging Ozobots

Keva Planks were a huge hit and got a ton of use in almost every K-1 class that I had either with makerspace stations or directly integrated with books like I Am Not a Chair and Dreaming Up.

Look. Listen. I’ve had totally faith in this making in libraries since 2012 or so, and I go home every day happy that I get to put into practice the ideas and philosophies shaped by things like Constructing Modern Knowledge and DS106. But more importantly the students love the chance to create. Before school ended, a kindergarten teacher said, “A student said she loved library the best, because we get to do everything in the library like art and moving around.” And it’s this interdisciplinary nature that I want to continue to grow next year….

… But with a little more emphasis on authentic research. In February, 5th graders started on podcasting which lasted until the end of school. We listened to a variety of different podcasts, worked in groups to develop their ideas for a podcast, wrote a script and interview questions, and then went out and recorded their stories or interviews. Poor planning on my part and a lack of technology required me to edit their podcasts into a final product for class listening parties.

The 5th graders were hard workers and excited to work on a project like a podcast. One group was even managed to sneak in a short, unplanned interview with the mayor when his visit to the school corresponded with their recording day. 5th grade Initiative!

So I look ahead excited and ready for the recharging that comes with summer. I say, “I’m not doing any school work!” But I know that’s not true. I’ll plan out lessons, prepare to integrate Scratch and Google CS next year, read some awesome picture and chapter books as well as Help for Billy and Teach Like a Champion, our professional development summer reading selections. I’m excited about the adventures to come in 2019-2020.

*The design brief was based on some of the guided portfolio from this research guide for K-5

Things done so far

I feel like I’m a reflective person. I think about lessons and what went well and what didn’t. I think about the library program and what I’d like to change, improve, and keep the same. A lot of this thinking happens on the drive to/from work or while walking the dog or washing dishes. What I don’t do/have time for/prioritize is writing it all down. So I missed my Sunday blogging deadline.


One thing I’m uncomfortable with this year is the lack of curriculum, so everything feels disjointed. I find myself asking, “Is this lesson worth it? Is it meaningful?” A more unified, less hodge-podgey curriculum is something I’m working to improve this spring and into next year.

It’s hard to believe that it’s already mid-January. The school year is flying by, and things we did early in the fall seem like they happened years ago.

So let’s pin it all so I can remember what to keep, what to make better, etc. etc.

The library is cozy and small and full of furniture, which I rearranged into a U-shape. Not only does this let us see each other, but it also creates a nice area for stories. More flexible furniture would be idea, but it’s not a priority at the moment.

What is a priority is creating a welcoming space for students. Here’s a picture of some students whose class earned a game day. I love the kid who opted to read in Big Joe.

A local community member who operates Fountain for Youth came to school in the fall to distribute free books to 5th graders. Any opportunity to help bulk up a student’s home library is a win!

Speaking of home libraries, Read to Them, launched the One School, One Book program in all elementary schools this year. All elementary school students in RPS were given a copy of Friendship According to Humphrey to read at home with family at night.

Some teachers read the book with their students in the afternoon and our principal even read it over the intercom as students packed up and had their afternoon snack. I got the impression that students enjoyed reading the book. Other Humphrey books have been circulating in the library, and some students still proudly carry around their copy of Friendship According to Humphrey.

One thing I enjoyed about the program is that it gave us a common language. A colleague of mine had the awesome idea to have students design prototypes of better houses for Humphrey. The quick version: we found a couple of passages from the book that talked about Humphrey’s cage, introduced the engineering process, and had student’s work in small groups to design prototypes, and reflect on what went well, what they would improve, etc.

The Humphrey project deserves a post of its own truth be told. Thanks to collaboration with a very creative colleague, the project morphed into using a design brief plan and reflect on the building of a prototype to reading a couple of articles related to science and engineering and documenting unfamiliar vocabulary.

Read to Them launches a spring One School, One Book program in March with Cleo Edison Oliver: Playground Millionaire, and I’m looking forward to the links to may have with design thinking and making.

We had some book tastings, which I’m looking forward to doing again.

And a paper bridge design challenge.

In December, kindergarten and first grade wrapped up the fall semester with gingerbread man traps built with Keva Planks, which I was able to purchase with a generous grant from the PTA/Boosters group.

Phew. It’s been a busy year so far.

My goals for the spring and next year is to tie in author/book studies with in-depth inquiry, design and engineering, and computer science if I can get my hands on some computers (right now there are four desktops in the library).

I’ll try to document it all here as I go along.


This is the part where I talk about how long it’s been since I wrote anything here and how there’s not enough time to do it all. It’s true, but that’s nothing new.

2019 is starting off with a lot of challenges. I’m doing the 2019 GoodReads challenge. I fell short of my 2018 goal by quite a lot, but 2019 is a new year, no?

My plan is to loop my GoodReads challenge with the 2019 BookRiot Read Harder Challenge. Hurrah! Books!

I’m also doing a fitness challenge: 28 for 28.

And then there’s the blogging challenge with Carolyn.

So here I am.

If 2019 is a year of challenges (in the “I want to get better and stronger” sense) then 2018 was a year of changes. I left independent schools for public schools and a high school for elementary. I miss high school students, but I adore the students at my new school. They’re hilarious, sweet, enthusiastic, and I can’t wait to see them again as we return to school today.

So like I said, there’s not enough time to do everything. But I’m hoping I can get back into the habit of reflecting a couple of times a week on what I do in order to be more intentional and focused.