We say potato, they say patata

Having some fun with Mr. Potato Head as a springboard for writing our story

Having some fun with Mr. Potato Head as a springboard for writing our story

For those of you old enough to catch the lyrical reference of the post title, no, we didn’t call the whole thing off! For those of you not old enough, a quick Google of George  and Ira Gershwin should enlighten you.

But back to the potatoes.

Last month I posted about an on-the-fly read aloud collaboration between my school, Peaslee Elementary School, and the school my daughter teaches at outside of Madrid, Spain in honor of World Read Aloud Day.

This four-minute video was such a hit at both our schools that other teachers expressed an interest in working on a project perhaps a little more substantial and with some specific learning objectives.

And so the cross-continental storytelling collaboration was born. Working with Miss Miranda’s fifth grade class here in Massachusetts and two seventh grade classes in Mahadajonda, our goal was to create a story written and illustrated by both the American and Spanish students in four alternating sections. The Common Core learning objective for our American students was to “write a narrative to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, descriptive details, and clear event sequence” (ELA W.5.3) and more specifically to “use narrative techniques such as dialogue, description and pacing” (ELA W.5.3b).

Since fluency was also an objective on both sides of the Atlantic, in addition to writing and illustrating, we recorded the students reading the story for a final production to be launched on El Dia Del Libro, International Day of the Book, April 23rd. Elena Gosalvez, a teacher of Ingles at IES Leonardo da Vinci produced this marvelous Prezi slideshow of the collaboration.

But wait, didn’t you say something about potatoes?

Crazy Mr. Potato Head

It was agreed that the students in Spain would write the first installment of the story. We had no idea what to expect and so eagerly awaited the arrival of the email with the story attachment. Imagine our surprise when we opened it to discover they had provided us with a story starter about Mr. Potato Head (and his look-alike Senor Patata!) Due to a mix-up at the airport, the potatoes are headed home with the wrong families. Oh the possibilities!

Here in the states the brainstorming began and the story developed. We sent our installment off into cyberspace and anxiously looked forward to the next episode. We were not disappointed and neither will you be. But no more spoilers. You’ll just have to watch the Prezi yourself to find out what happens!

In closing, I quote the words of Ira Gershwin from the refrain of the mystery song paraphrased in the post title, “We know we need each other so”.  At the risk of sounding a tad maudlin, we do all need each other so, whether we eat potatoes or patatas, waffles or churros. Thank you. Gracias.


Razia’s Ray of Hope

Razia's Ray of HopeWith a world of outstanding kiddie-lit blogs already in existence, it was never my intention to use this blog for book reviews. As a teacher-librarian, children’s books feature prominently in my daily life, but I’ll leave reviewing to the experts.

Except today. Today calls out for this review. Full disclosure here, I am privy to this book pre-publication because it was written by my sister-in-law. But that is not why I am reviewing it. The events of this week are why.

Boston is my home. Although I live in a suburb thirty miles away, The Hub (as Bostonians refer to it) is my city—the place I look to for culture, dining and my beloved Red Sox. And this week we are in mourning. The senseless and sickening Boston Marathon bombing, followed by the horrific events that are still now unfolding, need a counterpoint. They need a ray of hope.

Razia’s Ray of Hope, written by Elizabeth Suneby and illustrated by Suana Verelst, is a fictionalized account of the building of the Zabuli Education Center, a school for girls, in the Afghan village of Deh’Subz. Told through the eyes of a young girl who dreams of an education for herself, it is a slice of life story beginning with the laying of the first stones of the school and ending with Razia’s enrollment.

Although Razia has the support of her baba gi (grandfather), her father and brothers refuse at first to give her permission to attend the new school. Limited by their own upbringing, their concern about losing Razia’s contribution to the family’s income and their fear for her safety, they initially say “no” after a family council meeting. It isn’t until a visit from Razia Jan (the founder of the school) and an assurance of safety that they begin to understand that allowing Razia (the young protagonist shares the name of the real life founder) to attend is good for the family, the village and the country.

Razia Jan says, “I ask for your tolerance, if not support…If men are the backbone of Afghanistan, then women are the eyes…without an education, we will all be blind.”

This story is beautifully and honestly written. As part of the Kids Can Press “Citizen Kid” series (“a collection of books that inform children about the  world and inspire them to be better global citizens”), it serves as a powerful introduction to the lives of women and children in Afghanistan and the power of education to change those lives. It is an accessible story for children young and old. Enhanced by multi-media illustrations that capture both the beauty and harsh realities of the small village, this book truly does provide a ray of hope on this dark and gray day in Boston.

For more information about Razia (who was honored as a CNN Top Ten Hero of 2012, an honor which goes to ordinary people accomplishing extraordinary things ) and her Ray of Hope Foundation where the belief that “education is key to positive, peaceful change for current and future generations”, please go to http://www.raziasrayofhope.org/.


It all started with a(nother) book

The inspiration for a second grade enrichment project.

The inspiration for a second grade enrichment project.

It should come as no surprise that lessons in the library learning space start with a book. The wonder comes when the lesson morphs into something more than expected. The Readers’ Theater project (written about in an earlier post) began as a lesson in choosing “Just Right” books, but grew into a performance that showcased both the fluency and artwork of a first grade class.

A Peasleecott lesson earlier this year also segued into something far beyond the original intentions of the mock Caldecott unit it was a part of. Mrs. Greenspan’s second grade class voted for Unspoken by Henry Cole as their class’s honoree for Peasleecott gold. This powerful tale, told entirely in illustrations, gave the students a glimpse into the time and place of the Underground Railroad and raised a lot of questions that, quite frankly, I could not answer. And so, an idea was born. A small group of interested students was identified and we began to meet twice a week for several weeks to research the world of safe houses, drinking gourds and the brave souls who “rode” on the Underground Railroad.

Some of the research was messy. Some of the meetings got (slightly) out of control. But when all was said and done, seven young researchers were very excited to share their self-driven (for the most part) study with the rest of their class via a mural showcased in this video.

Underground Railroad Enrichment Project


It all started with a book

It all started with a book.

It all started with a book.

It all started with a book. The simplest of things. And then it grew. One iPad workshop, an inspiring fellow librarian (Jennifer Reed over at Reederama), my collaborative colleague Amy Melisi, and a class full of enthusiastic first graders later and  a Readers’ Theater production was born. Composed using the app Explain Everything, it features hand-drawn illustrations created by the students themselves, budding actors reading their parts with great expression and even boasts its own movie trailer.

Once upon a time there was  a first grade class who loved Somebody and the Three Blairs (by Marilyn Tolhurst). This modern classic (at least in my mind) is a fractured fairy tale version of, you guessed it, Goldilocks and the Three Bears. I read it every year to introduce a lesson on how to choose “Just Right” books. Every good lesson begins with a catchy story and this is one of the best. How can you resist reaching back into your childhood (way back in my case) to channel the little baby voice of Baby Blair whose dialogue primarily consists of one or two word proclamations: “Feeda ducks”, “All gone”, “Naughty” “Busted” and my personal favorite “Lotta water”!

This annual read-aloud has always been met with the wide-eyed faces and delightfully uncontrollable giggles of my young students. But this year was different. They immediately asked me to read it again. They joined in every time Baby Blair piped up. And, best of all, they asked me if they could act out the story. You never know where a lesson is going to take you. Readers’ Theater was not in the planbook. But it was in the cards. Thanks to Amy I was able to extend this lesson beyond the library. Thanks to Jennifer for posting all the wonderful things she does with technology which inspired me to take the plunge. Thanks to my administrators for sending me to the iPad workshop where I learned about Explain Everything. But, most of all, thanks to the kids. As they say, “Out of the mouths of babes.”

Lotta Water

See the video here:

Somebody and the Three Blairs Readers’ Theater

And so, a class full of stars was born.