Letting the Children Lead

Two weeks ago I decided to mix up the regular library routine with my kindergarten classes. Rather than starting with a read-aloud selected to support their classroom curriculum or a particular library lesson, followed by book choice and borrowing, I offered my take on a “flipped classroom”.

I gathered dozens of picture books and early readers that the children don’t normally gravitate to when they get up to borrow. Translate–not a Star Wars, LEGO, Jack and Annie (aka Magic Tree House), or Minecraft book among them. Dividing them up into six baskets, I spread them around the rug and had the students work in groups of three to complete two assignments:

  • Choose a book for me to read at the end of the lesson
  • Find a book they might want to borrow (with the understanding that Star Wars, LEGO et al were still allowed if they just couldn’t find something they liked)

After the borrowing, we regrouped on the rug and I reviewed the six books that were selected by the groups and chose one to read aloud in the remaining time. The purpose of the lesson was to encourage the students to move outside of their comfort (and copycat) zones when it came to borrowing and to empower them by allowing them to choose the read aloud.


What I didn’t expect was that one of the books chosen would lead to the following week’s lesson. Too Many Toys by David Shannon is the cautionary tale of a boy who is inundated with toys and can’t/won’t part with any of them. Finally (finally!) he agrees to box up some of the excess but when his mother comes to collect the box, she finds all the toys dumped out and the box nowhere to be found. As it turns out, the box was the best toy of all. Not a surprise to any adult who has witnessed present-opening at virtually any occasion.


Clearly I had to incorporate playing with boxes into the following week’s lesson. Preparation was easy. I gathered up boxes, corrugated cardboard, tubes and other paper goods from our low-tech mobile maker cart, added some masking tape, markers and scissors and then posed the following question: “How would you play with these boxes and what would you make?”

Mobile Maker Cart 1

What would they make indeed!!

Laney and her dogLanie and her dog:

“I got the idea from my stuffed animals. I’m a fan of dollhouses and animals. I’m going to name him Spot. I putted cones for his ears. A long one for his tail and a short one for his nose.”



Logan’s rocket:

“You move thingies to make it blast off. I got the idea of a rocket from the book. I want to add more detail.”




Ari and his house:

“This is the chimney. This is the fire and this is the smoke. The pipes exploded and the water is coming out.”




Nate and his bird feeder:

“I cut this. I put this string I cut off from a party hat and I tied a knot in it.”


Evan and his creation

Evan and his rocket tank:

“It’s called a rocket tank. People can sign their name if they want to sign up for programs. These are heaters. The red is heat.”



Jamie and his truck

Jamie and his truck (built with Lukas):

“It’s an ice cream delivery truck.”



Eli and his house:

“I need to finish this at home. See the details-a couch, bed, TV, table and chairs, even a bowl.”


And there was a pirate ship “with no plank, like in the olden days”. A sled–“We’re pretending that we’re in real snow. It’s the best sled ever. There’s a front handle and a back handle. Hold on to the pencils to make you stay on.” A blower ship: “You blow on this and it will go in here and back up to make it move.”



Though this activity grew organically from David Shannon’s Too Many Toys, it would work just as well (maybe even better) with Antoinette Portis’ classic Not a Box. That might make the best lesson ever!!







Book Reviews for a New School Year

With the ever-changing educational environment, new demands and new priorities, my blogging career came to a halt last year after my initial post. I decided to put more energy into my library classroom and less on my musings.

I have found, however, that I miss the writing and the opportunity to communicate with those interested in libraries and books. So, this year, I am writing reviews for the Massachusetts-based Youth Services Book Review.

I am focussing on picture books (my first love in youth literature), but you will find reviews of middle grade novels as well, including one by Northborough’s own Sarah Beth Durst.

Read them here and let me know what you think: Youth Services Book Reviews

On Your Mark, Get Set, Go!

Excited to begin another year at Peaslee School!!


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Kudos and Thanks

When you care about your students, program and teaching/learning space (aka the library and its collection) as much as I do, it can be a very difficult decision to take a leave from school and bequeath your professional world to another (albeit temporarily).

Fortunately for me, while recuperating and rehabbing at home from hip replacement surgery, my library has been in good hands under the direction of my former student teacher, Jenn Potter. This post is dedicated to her. Kudos and thanks to Mrs. Potter for inspiring the children, supporting the curriculum and taking such good care of the library itself.

While I planned out the first week of lesson plans and left a general direction for the remaining four weeks of my leave, I encouraged Jenn to improvise, test out lessons she will use next year in her own library, and to be responsive to what the students and teachers needed while I was out. That she did!

In her second week of teaching, she devised creative mini-projects for each grade applying not only the learning objectives from the previous week, but also special get well and birthday greetings for me. These she hand-delivered, providing me hours of reading pleasure during my days cooped up at home missing Peaslee School.

Here then is a retrospective of their work– designed by Jenn as assessments, but for me they were gifts bestowed, full of sensitivity, imagination, humor and the hearts and souls of my students.

Kindergarten students learned about the five senses through the book Hello Ocean (by Pam Munoz Ryan). Each class then created a gigantic birthday card featuring presents I could SEE, pizzas I could SMELL, favors I could TOUCH, happy party sounds to HEAR and cakes to TASTE.

Experiencing books in different ways is one of the units I teach in first grade. I asked Jenn to read Mouse Match (by Ed Young). I love this book because of the surprising reveal at the end. The book is not as it appears. Rather than separate pages, the book is constructed as one long (folded) page, mimicking a Chinese scroll. The second surprise is that the story is told in Chinese characters on the back of the “scroll”. In honor of this book, the first graders created a two-sided get well scroll. Included in the illustrations were my favorite drink (coffee), my favorite team (Red Sox) and even an illustration of my new hip!

Second and third graders love folk and fairy tales and we do a great deal of work with them throughout the year. Retellings (or fractured fairy tales) are some of their favorites. So, they wrote their own. While not intended as get well stories, laughter being the best medicine, their curative power was potent. Whether it was three little chipmunks evading a chainsaw, book nerds evading a bully or squid elephants who like sushi, I chuckled the afternoon away and felt better immediately.

As part of our extensive research unit in fourth grade, we have just begun to venture into website evaluation. Our learning objective was for students to realize that they must be able to distinguish between fact and fiction, what is true and what is false on the Internet. After visiting several bogus and several real sites, the children were challenged to make a small project with a fact (or fiction) about themselves. It was my job to determine what was true and what was false, a fun activity for the long hours I was at home. I learned about Native American relatives, scrunchie collections and how much older sisters’ prom dresses  cost. Oh, and also that one of them is NOT secretly Bigfoot.

Cootie Catcher, Origami, Book within a Book and Popup Technology

Cootie Catcher, Origami, Book within a Book and Popup Technology

As Dick Van Dyke sang in Bye Bye Birdie, you can “spread sunshine all over the place (if you) just put on a happy face.” The reverse proves true as well. The sunshine radiating from my fifth graders sun-themed shape poems put a radiant smile on my face. Vibrant, amusing and lyrical, these works of art were shining rays of warmth during my recuperative phase.

Ally’s poem (illustration unavailable) sums it up best:

“When the sun rises. Up, up and up. Over the waving sea. On top of the never ending plains. Traveling across the mountains. Brightening the world. Sharing secrets with the clouds. All I can do is smile!”

Sweet Dreams, the Sequel

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It’s that time of year again, when I am invited into the home of one of my families to read bedtime stories to their children, as part of our school’s silent auction fundraiser. Last year I chose a chapter book that would work with siblings of kindergarten and third grade age.

This year (also with K and 3rd grade sibs), I opted for a favorite new picture book, The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers. I carefully wrapped the book (along with two other books chosen for each individual child) and presented it to brother and sister when I arrived at their house, along with the milk and cookies of course. There was quite a reaction when it was unwrapped, even more excited than I expected. Clearly I had hit upon the perfect choice as big sister ran into the other room and brought out the same book which she had borrowed from the library in hopes that I would read it to them! As expected the read aloud was a huge success! I was given such a warm welcome that I offered to read some more, so the kids scurried off to their rooms to bring back two favorites of theirs–Stop that Pickle (which I got quite a kick out of) and The Lady with the Alligator Purse (a burst of nostalgia for me).

The following day I received a lovely thank you note for my visit.

What was missing, I realized, was a thank you from me to them–for their gracious hospitality, for sharing their children, for supporting our school, for making books and reading a priority. May this post be a thank you to this family and all the families at Peaslee School who support the library, literacy and believe in the power of books.


Digital Balance

Dot by Randi Zuckerberg

Dot by Randi Zuckerberg


When my colleague, first grade teacher Eileen Badstubner, commented that she was concerned about the amount of time her young students spent in front of screens, my response was “Have I got a book for you!”

Dot by Randi Zuckerberg (sister of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and  a social media expert in her own right) is a simple, straightforward paean to a life that balances the connectedness of technology with the equally important connection to the world beyond the screen.

The recommendation turned out to be much more than a just-in-time readers advisory. The students loved the book so much that Eileen and I decided to take the read-aloud one step further. Taking a page out of Randi’s book (literally and figuratively) we came up with an idea that combined both old school and new school tools.  Using good ol’ markers and paper, each student created his/her own interpretation of one of the pages in the book. These were scanned into the app Explain Everything. Then, one by one (with the cooperation of Eileen and her co-teacher Jessica Alderman), the students joined me in the library to tap, touch, swipe and speak the words and actions to make their drawings come alive.

As I noted in my previous two posts about working with kindergarten students as individuals rather than in a whole class setting, technology that allows for every voice to be heard is worth a little time in front of a screen. Won’t you spend 2 minutes and 13 seconds for a little reminder about what life is really all about?

This is Dot. Dot Knows a lot.

This is Dot. Dot Knows a lot.

The very busy librarians

Thanks to the assistance of my high-energy, motivated and creative student teacher, Jenn Potter, we have had a very busy January and February at the Peaslee Library. Peasleecott Awards, Book Trailers, taking on the major task of reorganizing the Dewey Decimal section, first grade research starters, MSLA bookmark contest and a Leo Lionni inspired mural. I’ll have to up my game in March to keep up!