BBAW Interview!

Last year I somehow managed to miss all the buzz about Book Blogger Appreciation Week.  I promised myself I would be involved this year so I immediately jumped at the opportunity to participate in the BBAW interviews.

I was able to interview Daphne at Tanzanite’s Shelf and Stuff.  She is so sweet and I already added her blog to my reader. 🙂

How long have you been blogging and what inspired you to start?

I started my blog almost three years ago.  One of the biggest problems I had when I was in school was that I would quickly forget what I had read and when I started reading again in early 2006, I was finding I had the same problem.  I started thinking about different ways that I could keep track of what I had read and I what I thought about each one.  I played around with an Access Database for awhile, but it wasn’t really working out that well.  Several people at one of the online book forums I participated in had blogs and I really enjoyed reading them.  After about 6 months, I decided “I could do that” and started my own blog.

What is your favorite book of all time?

That is a really hard question.  I did not read much after my daughter was born and I finished my post undergraduate degree.  For about 15 years, between family and work, there just really wasn’t much time so my reading life really has two distinct parts.  I honestly can not remember what my younger self’s favorite book was although I remember being especially fond of The Little House on the Prairie series.  My current reading choices are pretty much limited to historical fiction and history related non-fiction books (I always loved history in school and at one point considered becoming a history teacher).  As of now, my favorite book is Here Be Dragons by Sharon Kay Penman.

Has blogging introduced you to any new authors or books that you might not otherwise have read?

In the beginning, I would say yes.  As I discovered more and more blogs I discovered more and more authors.  But since my reading interests are so focused, by now I have a pretty good grasp on what’s out there as well as on out of print authors.  Occasionally I’ll run across one I haven’t heard of before, but it’s becoming less and less frequent.

Did you like to read as a child? Did you have a favorite book or author?
I loved to read as a child.  Before I could read myself my mom would spend hours a day reading to me and I had piles and piles of books (kind of like now!).  One of her favorite stories about me is that I had convinced myself at an early age that I could actually read – what I had really done was memorized the words that went with the pictures – but I would sit and “read” outloud to myself.  I read constantly through elementary and middle school; less so in high school and college.  When I was a kid, I especially loved the books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, the Nancy Drew books and A Wrinkle in Time.

How many books are on your TBR pile?

I own over 200 books that I have not read yet.  This doesn’t include the approximately 100+ books on my wish list at Paperback Swap and even more on Amazon and the post it notes I keep in a journal type book.

Are you a cover-judger? Or do you use another method for choosing books?

I do have a weakness for book covers (I’m an admitted cover slut!) and I even have another blog devoted to historical fiction book covers.  As far as choosing books to read, I have a spreadsheet which lists all of the books I own (as well as a few books I can get from the library) which sets out the order in which I plan on reading them.  When I get new books they are added into the spreadsheet at an appropriate place.  I try not to read books about the same person/era too close to together, except that I will read a non-fiction book immediately after a related fiction one.

Obviously blogging is a hobby of yours. What are some of your other hobbies?

Reading!  I also like to travel (wish I could do it more) and spending time with my husband.  We recently moved to another state and our daughter stayed behind to go to college so we have a lot more time on our hands to do things we want to do and a great new state to explore!

What is your day job?

I’m a manager in a government human services agency.

Thanks so much, Daphne!  It’s been great getting to know you.



I don’t usually recommend music, but I have to do it tonight.  For anyone out there with kids or who teaches in elementary school- you MUST get this album!  I know a lot of teachers play music in the classroom so I have to share it with you.

The Flannery Brothers Love Songs for Silly Things is hysterical, fun, and great for all ages. It’s kids music that won’t drive adults insane. In fact, I’ve had a few of the songs happily stuck in my head for the past few days. The songs are intelligent and don’t talk down to kids.

You can get the album on Amazon or from itunes (link below). Give it a listen. I guarantee you will fall in love!

My personal favorite song is Broccoli Yet.  🙂

I’ve known Dan Flannery since high school and his brother, Mike, also went to my high school.  But I would recommend the album regardless. It’s that good!

Never Forget

(A version of this was originally written on 9/11/03, in my personal journal. It has been edited for this posting. I have reposted it every year since 2003.)

the view I see each year from the beach at home.

I can’t forget. This morning, between classes I was sitting in my car listening to the radio. I listened to the children read off the names of those who perished in the WTC disaster. As I listened to the small voices read the thousands of names, tears ran down my cheeks. I managed to miss hearing the names of anyone I knew, but still…….

I can remember that day like it was yesterday. I remember eating breakfast with Erin (we barely even knew each other at the time). The dining hall had talk radio playing over the speakers and they were talking about the WTC bombing. I remember Erin and I wondering why they were talking about something that had happened in 1993. We tuned out the radio as it became nothing more than white noise in the background. We finished breakfast and I went to my Women and Public Policy class.

As my classmates settled into our seats in the small lecture hall our TA, Jen, apologized for having to keep her cell phone on during class. She explained that she had flight reservations later that day, and she needed to keep up on any airport delays due to the incident in the city. That was the first that I heard about a plane crash. But everyone in class seemed fairly calm. We talked about what had happened for a few minutes, but most of us assumed it was just an errant pilot, a tragedy, but still. So from 9:50-10:30am we continued on with our normal class schedule. As class ended I remember walking back, over the Hickman bridge, and hearing people around me say classes were canceled for the rest of the day. Yet I still really had no idea what was going on.

I walked back to my dorm on the other side of campus planning to turn on the news while I got organized for the day. Then I remembered that I didn’t even have a tv (stupid no cable). As i walked into the building, you could sense the panic. The stress and tension in the air was palpable I walked up the 3 flights of stairs to my room and immediately saw that my answering machine was blinking wildly. Each message was from my mother, trying desperately to get in touch with me. I grabbed my cell phone to call her back, but by that time the lines were down, and you couldn’t get through on cell phones.

As I kept hitting the redial button I watched my floormates pace up and down the halls. One of my floormates walked past my door no less than 20 times in 2 minutes. She was trying to get ahold of her father, who worked in the Towers. Others were just trying to find their parents even if they didn’t work in the city. I walked back downstairs to the lounge and sat on the couch with my dormmates, staring at the images that were being flashed on every station on our TV. No one spoke.

Still dialing, I headed back upstairs to my computer, sure that I would be able to find more information on the internet. The news anchors were so unsure and so frightened. I finally got through to my mother (while reloading over and over) and she was relieved to hear from me. She told me you could see the flames from the beach by our house, and that there was a huge cloud of smoke and a smell enveloping Middletown. She asked if I wanted to come home, and while I considered it I chose to stay.

The panic in my dorm just increased all afternoon. My friends and I sat in stunned silence watching the television coverage. At one point, military planes flew over the campus, and people ran for the basement. No one knew what would happen next. That sense of terror was something unimaginable only hours before.

We watched the news for hours on end. I IM’ed and recieved IMs from friends who were at school in the city. People I hadn’t talked to in months came to mind. I went to an tiny high school, 60 kids to a graduating class, and our network of students was reaching out to one another. We just needed to know that everyone was all right. I remember the anxiety we felt when we checked on all the Maryland people, friends who went to school near the Pentagon and Washington, DC. Eighteen years old and we were frantically searching for people just to make sure they were still there.
I will never forget signing on to our high school BBS and reading the the public announcements, a forum usually reserved for messages about upcoming school dances and PTA fundraisers. The message on top was from a fellow Techer. Her dad was supposed to be on Flight 93. Reading that message, as she begged anyone reading it to look for his name on ANY list, my heart sank. This was a classmate, a high schooler. She should not have been going through this. And the tragedy began to hit home. As new lists were posted it became more and more apparent that he had probably been on the plane.

Only a few minutes later my mother got through to me again, telling me that my brother’s best friend’s dad was missing. That’s when I made the decision. I went home.
I stayed home for a few days. School was canceled for days. The next few days were filled with phone calls “Did anyone hear anything? Any word?” My mother told how on Sept. 11, ferries came from the city to the local harbor. Ferries that were based all over NY just packed with passengers from anywhere in NJ. People who just had to get somewhere besides Manhattan. They stumbled off the boats- people covered in ash, people in shock. They were hosed down immediately by men and women in hazmat suits, for fear that they were carrying biological agents.

The papers talked about how Middletown was the town in NJ hit the hardest by the tragedy. We lost so many. So many people from my church, people I knew from middle school and high school.
Then, my worst fears were realized. A friend was put on active duty. Along with all this tragedy, I had to deal with the idea that one of my best friends could be sent into the city. Thankfully, he never was.
I learned that another friend had worked at the pier in Jersey City on September 11. Unloading and loading ferries and boats, for days at a time. But her story had a happy ending- she became engaged when she grew closer to a friend who took care of her at the time.
My brother spent days with his girlfriend and their best friend. A sophomore in high school and he was trying to hold up his friends while they learned that the man they loved was never coming home. I admired my brother immensely for the strength he showed in those days. He grew up more than I ever knew he could.

We all grew up.

And we will never forget.
God Bless all those lost on 9-11-01……

An Author Scolding Teachers for Reading Books Aloud?

I love Horn Books monthly email, Notes from the Horn Book.  This month’s issue has been causing quite a stir on Twitter, though.  I admit to being a part of that stir, but the subject matter is near and dear to my heart.

Richard Peck has a fantastic interview in the latest issue, Five questions for Richard Peck. Having heard Peck speak, I was looking forward to reading his latest thoughts.  However, my eyebrows were definitely raised when I read this:

You talk a lot with young readers. What are they telling you?

Things they didn’t mean to. Over and over they’re telling me that the books I wrote for them to read are being read to them by their teachers. And hearing a story read doesn’t seem to expand their vocabularies. If a teacher is going to take limited classroom time in reading aloud (and even giving away the ending), the least she could do is hand out a list of vocabulary from the reading to be looked up and learned.

Wait a minute.  WHAT?

No offense to Mr. Peck, a former high school teacher and prolific author, but I have to disagree with this.  Vehemently.

Read alouds are a vital and integral part of my reading workshop.  We read approximately 10 books each year as a class, and I have the only copy.  With school budgets in such dire straits, there is no way I would be able to get enough copies for my students to read along.  I have 100 students!  There are almost 700 students in my school.  It’s not even remotely possible.  If I waited for enough copies for each student to read along with me, we would read only the few class sets available in school.  The class sets we have are all wonderful books, but I want to be able to expose my students to more books, more genres, more authors.

Read alouds in my class are introduced as “fun”.  What does that mean?  For the students, their only responsibility is to listen.  Without fail they begin participating in classroom discussions after listening to only a few chapters.  But just because they are fun doesn’t mean students aren’t learning.  I model think alouds, comprehension strategies, and good reading habits.  I don’t hand out a vocabulary list, but we define words as we come to them.  We talk about author word choice.  Students become familiar with vital vocabulary.

What would happen if I handed out a vocabulary list along with read alouds and asked the students to define the words for homework?  Nothing.  Very few of them would do it.  And it would turn them off to reading/listening to the book.  Read alouds are a vital part of my class but they are only one tool in my arsenal.  I do use whole-class novels and literature circles/book clubs and students are responsible for vocabulary when we do that.  But we don’t hand adults a vocabulary assignment when they purchase a book at the book store.  So I don’t hand my students a vocabulary list for our read alouds.  I do everything possible to turn my students on to reading and into lifelong readers.  For me, that means read alouds are fun and not busy work.

I am hoping that Mr. Peck is being misunderstood in his interview.  Hopefully, he is referring to teachers who read aloud to students and do no other reading with them.  Those teachers tend to be the ones who read aloud because they think their students can’t or won’t read on their own.  Read alouds need to be part of a wider reading initiative, not a way to put students down.  When books are read aloud to make life easier for the teacher it isn’t right.  But when books are read aloud as part of the curriculum as a way to turn students on to reading, teachers need to be praised!

My own anecdotal evidence shows me that read alouds work.  Students become invested in the story and will even go out and do research on their own.  When my class read Laurie Halse Anderson’s Chains last year, they became obsessed with the Revolutionary War and the part that slaves played. They did research on their own in order to be able to debate during our class discussions! They had learned about the Revolutionary War in 5th grade, but it was in one ear and out the other. But when it was something they were learning about for the joy of learning (and because they wanted to), they suddenly wanted to go above and beyond to learn more! Months later, they were making connections to Chains, citing references they never would have remembered if we just read a textbook.

Inevitably, read alouds lead to social reading.  And social reading leads to kids picking up more books.  Could we ask for anything better?

Read alouds work.

I’ve seen it in my classroom. Thousands of teachers see it in their own classrooms daily. Jim Trelease has the research to back it up.

Sorry Mr. Peck.  But we will have to agree to disagree here!

First Read Aloud of the Year

We are about 15 pages into our first read aloud of the year- Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me.  So far I think it’s working out well with our 55 minute periods.  I’ve been dedicating the first 10 minutes of the class to our read-aloud in order to motivate my students to get to class on time.  Seems to be working so far!

What are you using as your first read aloud this year?

“In a Million Words or Less” First Week Assignment

One of my favorite back to school activities is “In a Million Words or Less”.  My mentor teacher used this activity when I was student teaching and I fell in love.  For those who don’t know, the assignment is for parents.  It asks each parent to write the teacher a letter, in a million words or less, explaining what makes their child special.  The responses I get are truly amazing.  There are just some things I would never learn about the student or would take me most of the year to discover.  When a parent tells me that their son/daughter has a special talent or a specific anxiety I can look out for them from the beginning!

I handed out my assignment on the first day of school.  The students always love that they get to give mom and dad homework!  I explain to the students that because their parents have work and outside responsibilities, I give them a whole month to finish their assignment.  That night, I already had my first emailed responses.  I share the responses with my teammates, special ed teacher, and specials teacher as needed.

“In a Million Words or Less” is an invaluable assignment.  The letters I receive are priceless.  If you are interested in trying it out, my handout can be found below.

Six Word Memoirs Beginning of the Year Activity

As a way to build community this year I decided to do an activity using I Can’t Keep My Own Secrets: Six-Word Memoirs by Teens Famous & Obscure. This week each student will be coming up with their own six-word memoir which we will then hang on the bulletin board for Back to School Night.  The memoirs will be anonymous but I think the parents will really enjoy them.  I know I hope to get to know my 100 students a bit better through this activity.

If you are interested, below you will find the handout I created for this activity.