Sunday, October 30, 2011


Say what?!?!  That's Picture Book Idea Month (and my scary Halloween this year).  PiBoIdMo is a chance for picture book writers to force themselves to look for ideas for new picture books.  An "all-monther" of ideas (instead of an "all-nighter" for an exam).  Adjectives that come to mind for me thinking about this: daunting, overwhelming, insane, impossible, frustrating.  But from a more positive light: hopeful, helpful, challenging, improving.  The idea is to help writers find ideas anywhere and everywhere, to teach the brain how to look.

No, this isn't about what I've been reading lately, but it is certainly what I'll be reading in the future as I try to take my ideas and turn them into something that hopefully you'll read one day.  But I've also found that I haven't been reading as much as I'd like to lately either.  Maybe I'll get really into it and make it PiBoIdMo/RePiBoDaMo (Read a Picture Book a Day Month).

Maybe PiBoIdMo isn't for you, but it could be your jump-starter for something else.  Set a goal.  Maybe you'll only succeed to some extent, but it's a step at getting better at something, or becoming more of who you want to be.  And at least then you can say you tried.

Good luck, and let me know what you're crazy acronym is!

Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The View from Pride Rock

Broadway recently held its first ever autism-centered performance, debuting the idea with "The Lion King."  There are scads of articles online and video clips from local stations, but I wanted to add one more.

Being a teacher, I've had some experience with children on the autistic spectrum.  Granted, I teach in a regular education setting so any students I might work with would be "higher functioning," but experience is experience.  We've taken field trips to plays, had performers come to school, had students perform in front of their peers, and even shown a video or two (dare I say that!).  There have been loud noises and flashing lights (fire drills, need I say more?).  Sensory overstimulation can cause anxiety.  I don't like loud unexpected noises (thunder), and I don't like unexpected flashing lights (lightning).  While Broadway may be something spectacular and a special treat I enjoy, you can imagine the anxiety it could cause for someone on the autistic spectrum.

I teach my students to be accepting of everyone.  I teach my students that everyone is different and people have different needs depending on who they are, regardless of any "special needs" they may or may not have.  I teach my children to help others and be there for them, especially when things are upsetting or challenging.  Kudos to the Theatre Development Fund for reaching out to these adults and children.  With a few tweaks (lighting & sound), theatre-goers were able to enjoy a full production of "The Lion King."  Check out the article on, complete with a video clip.

Best part - I've read future performances are in the works.  Happy theatre-going!

Monday, September 26, 2011

"Haircuts for Hope"

New Jersey has just enacted the toughest anti-bullying law in the country.  It's become the focus of local news reports, magazine and newspaper articles, and professional development meetings.  Amidst all this, it's nice to see a story that emphasizes kids supporting each other, especially in a high school setting.  Check out what students at Downingtown West High School are doing:

My favorite 3 parts of the video:
1. the girl who had her head buzzed
2. the dean of students initiated the supportive action
3. haircuts were given in the cafeteria, not out of school

What's your favorite part?


Saturday, August 6, 2011

Remember to Say "Thank You"

I'm working at a concert venue this summer, and before each show, they play the national anthem.  To many, it seems to be a simple tradition that carries little real significance.  People go on buying food and souvenirs, looking for their seats, and texting other friends attending.

In light of the recent deaths in Afghanistan, I want to say thank you to all those who serve our country.  We may not always agree with what the government decides to do, but these men and women put their lives on the line every day to help ensure our freedom and safety.  Most of us will probably be fortunate enough to never personally know someone who gave their life for our country, but each person willing to take that risk deserves our heart-felt gratitude.

Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was quoted in the article saying, "We ought to remember that the troops we lose in this war aren't just statistics or numbers on a wall.  They were parents and siblings, and someone's child.  We need to make sure we do all we can to comfort and support the families whose lives are now forever changed."  I'd like to take that one step further; everyone who fights for our country is someone's parent, child, or sibling.  None are statistics or numbers.  While we need to comfort those who are mourning loss, we also need to support those who are still here.  Next time you see a member of the military, please stop and thank them.  Shake their hand, and let them know you're grateful.  And more than that, stop and listen the next time you hear the national anthem.  Show respect to those who have gone, and those who still bravely fight for you.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Kite Runner & A Thousand Splendid Suns

Hopefully by now you've realized I'm not the source for the most recent book reviews.  There are only so many hours in a day, and too many books in the library to keep up.  But if you find your summer reading list is running low, here are two books worth adding.

I just finished reading A Thousand Splendid Suns, and before that, The Kite Runner, both by Khaled Hosseini.  Being that I'm 8 years behind in reading The Kite Runner (not to mention that it then became a movie in 2007), and 4 years behind with A Thousand Splendid Suns, I'm going off the assumption that some of you may have already read the books.  What are your thoughts?  Which did you like more?  It seems everyone I talk to has a definite opinion about which they favored, but it's a 50/50 split between the two.  For me, it was The Kite Runner.  I'm not sure why, just seemed to pull me in until I had completely blocked out everything else in my life (sorry "To Do" list!).

If you haven't read them, get to the library!  At this point, the waiting lists shouldn't be too long.  They're well worth any wait you may have, or postponing your own "To Do" lists to read.  Be prepared for heart-breaking moments, sacrifices made selflessly and without hesitation, and for every last detail to find its way into the plot later on.  Hosseini is a master craftsman and can weave with the best of them.  For those who miss the nightly 6:30 world news, these two humanitarian tales will open your eyes and change your perspective.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

How High Can You Climb?

My brother's getting his Ph.D at Berkeley, so for the last few years, we've taken west coast vacations to visit him.  Washington was the winner this year, and since California and Oregon were last year's winners, I suppose it was a bit uncontested as far as the coastline goes.

It's a cross-country flight, and I'm notorious for my lack of sleep on/in moving objects so I brought along Peak by Roland Smith.  It's the Intermediate School's assigned summer reading, and since I work with some of those students, I figured I should probably read the book.  I knew students who had read it and didn't like it at all - just what I wanted to hear prior to boarding the first of two flights, totaling over 6 hours.

Holy cow!  If only every one of those kids who found the book not their cup of tea, to be polite, had been on my trip!  I teach reading, I focus on background knowledge and connections you can make to your own life while reading, I've read the research and know how important those things can be to a reader's understanding.  But never have I seen it in action quite like this.

Haven't read the book?  Here's the skinny: a teenager (Peak) gets caught scaling a skyscraper and ends up attempting to summit Mount Everest as a way to avoid juvie.  There's snow, there's ice, there's climbing.  I was vacationing at Mount Rainier.  There was snow, there was ice, there was climbing.  Okay, I didn't summit Mount Rainier, and maybe I didn't even climb above the 8000 ft mark, but let me tell you, I felt like I was living Peak's adventure, albeit a watered-down version.

Here's my personal Mount Everest:
Okay, not really.  That was through one of those park-owned telescopes.  But it certainly helped me imagine what the summit of Mount Everest would look like if you were preparing to climb it.

Here's my climb:
Those little dots are "serious" hikers, complete with hiking poles, hiking clothes, and real crampons (not the $15 rentals we had that looked like short, fat water skis that swallowed something spiky).  This doesn't look so steep from where you are on your couch, but trust me, it was!

This is my brother, patiently waiting for the rest of us to make our way up to the top of Panorama Point.  Notice how well we dressed for the trek.  Then compare the angle of the people to the angle of the mountain - I told you it was steep!

Getting up was one thing, down completely another!  There's a glissade (luge minus the sled) for those more experienced climbers (i.e. not me).  Then there's the good old-fashioned "use your poles and slowly hike down."  We opted for #3.  Sit on your butt and bump your way down everyone else's foot-holes.  It wasn't as fast as the real glissade, and probably a bit drier than a 10-minute "sit and scoot" in jeans, but I made it down in one piece.

Long story short, I loved the book!  While my trip wasn't quite as intense (no one developed HAPE or had to be carried down the mountain, fingers crossed that they'd survive), the vacation definitely made the book that much more exciting, and vice versa.  Looking to make your book more interactive?  Travel with it!

Monday, June 27, 2011

1/2 Marathon, Part 2

My first attempt at a half marathon didn't go as well as I had hoped.  It's almost time to start training for the second, hopefully much more successful, race.  With that in mind, I'm looking for motivation to keep me going when I want to hide the laces from my shoes.

Mr. 142 Marathons in a Row is going to be my first line of defense.  He finished his insanity in November of 2010.  The real question isn't "What kind of training did you do to get ready for this?" but "Have you found the gusto to run since?"

While I don't envision running even 1/142 of what he ran, I'll go for 1/284 of it (that would be a half marathon for you non-math majors).

Saturday, June 11, 2011

A Mad Libs Eulogy to Leonard B. Stern

Leonard B. Stern, the creator of Mad Libs, died on Tuesday.  Though I wouldn't call them "award-winning" works of art or forerunners for any literary awards, who can forget these beloved children's past time creations?  And so, in honor of the silly, weird, bizarre, or just plain confusing stories children (and adults) can and have created, here's my eulogy to Mr. Stern.

Here lies    (noun)   .  He    (verb - past tense)    Mad Libs for    (noun - plural)    to enjoy.  But all the credit can't be given to him; his    (noun)   , Roger Price, helped him create such a/an    (adjective)    game for children and adults alike.  Next time you find yourself    (adjective)   , grab a    (noun)   , some paper, and a friend.  See what you can come up with!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Flash Dance Anyone?

Found an article online about a group of teachers who combined almost all of my loves as a way to say goodbye to their seniors:
1. dancing
2. singing
3. teaching
4. doing silly/embarrassing things at school

Really, the only thing this group is missing is reading, but I'm sure the teachers do that in the classroom, and this is the cafeteria.

Read the flash dance article, and check out the YouTube clip at the bottom.  Good news (just in case we want to build off our annual Lip Sync and start flash dancing at school), we've already got the last song down pat at my school.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Earth Day, Better Late Than Never

Good Friday and Easter took priority over Earth Day, so now that the holiday and time with family is over, here's an awesome Earth Day article about bottle schools.

Basic premise - don't cut down trees or dig up materials from the earth to create buildings; stuff small soda bottles with your trash and create walls (a bit "Tetris" in style).  I suppose the buildings may not be the most beautiful if not covered with cement to hide the bottles, though I would guess that some sort of tinting or stucco could be used to solve that problem.  I'm not sure how insulating trash-filled bottles are, but for a cost of less than $10K to build a two-room school, I don't think a little insulation will throw off your budget.

Years ago I worked as a counselor at a day camp.  We made a raft for the pool and a small bench out of bottles.  The raft floated, and the bench was strong enough to support my seven-year-old campers (though it wasn't very comfortable).  They didn't stay together as well as the schools are holding up, but we weren't engineers or contractors, so we'll blame any design flaws on that.

Mother's Day and Father's Day are both coming up.  Know someone who wants a shed for the backyard (or a raft or a bench)?  I'd be happy to send you some bottles!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Book of the Week, Easter Style

Spring Break started yesterday -  a chance for rest, relaxation, and refueling before coming up to the end of the school year, and high-stakes state testing for many.  It also means Easter is only a few days away, so I thought it apropos to pick a religious book of the week (in case some Easter baskets are looking a bit empty).

Gigi is a little girl who wants to be a princess.  Good news for her - Mommy and Daddy say she already is!  Gigi, God's Little Princess has a Fancy Nancy princess/royalty feel, while sharing that we are all princesses in God's eyes.  The message is there without being over the top, and Sheila Walsh finds a way to tie everything together without losing the sweet, innocent little girl quality that Gigi has.

The book is one in a series, and, while I haven't read any of the others, I'd love to see how Walsh incorporates other sweet, child-like components into the love of God, explaining so children will enjoy without feeling "lectured to."  This is definitely a book to consider if you know a little girl who will soon be making her First Holy Communion.

Need something for a boy?  Don't worry - Walsh has a series for them too - Will, God's Mighty Warrior.

Happy Easter!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Mysterious Benedict Society

A friend's seventh grade daughter recommended I read The Mysterious Benedict Society.  I was looking forward to another good MG/YA (middle grade/young adult) read, though I'll admit, I was a little surprised by the 485 pages (not including the excerpt from Book #2).  I finished the book last night, and it definitely makes the list of good reads for kids.

Premise of the book? Four children are chosen to help Mr. Benedict stop an up-and-coming world menace.  It may sound a bit "Harry Potter-esque" to you, and the main characters do face some pretty difficult challenges, but they attack them with ingenuity and creative logic.  Major themes include: thinking for yourself, friendship (what MG book isn't about friendship somehow?), and perseverance.

I've been teaching my students a lot about endings of stories, and how important it is that everything adds up at the end, details throughout the book resurface at the conclusion, and the reader is left with that "cool jazz cat 'yeah'" feeling.  As I've been reading on my own, I've found a surprising number of books published recently that haven't been fulfilling, and let me tell you - that's really frustrating!  Not the case with The Mysterious Benedict Society.  While there were two minor components that seemed a little forced and "trying to tie everything up in the end," overall, the book leaves you satisfied and wanting to read the second in the series.  After spending 485 pages focusing on how to use logic and creative intelligence to solve problems, author Trenton Lee Stewart sums up the entire feel of the book with a letter from Mr. Benedict, urging readers to find and break "the code" to determine his real identity.  485 pages is too many to read again, but if you pick up the book and figure out who Mr. Benedict really is, please tell me!

Favorite part of the book: "discombobulated" is used on pg. 477.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Children's Book Picks for the Week

I don't want you to think I'm no longer reading.  Have no fear, the reading girl is here!

Here are this week's picks for recent fun children's books.

Fancy Nancy: I know, I know, how is it that I'm only just now reading this book?  Let's be real, I'm not a fancy girl.  Why would I be interested in reading about a girl who loves everything razzle-dazzle?  I don't even like to put concealer on in the morning.  But, slow and steady, I'm finishing the race and joining on the bandwagon.  The book is CUTE!  Nancy is adorable, and the pictures are the finishing touch to a great book.

Lizard Walinsky: While I'm not a dinosaur/lizard/reptile person, this book is more my style.  Lizard doesn't like to play with dolls - no dress-up, no pretend mommy-daughter play, no beauty shop.  (I didn't expect Lizard to be a girl from the cover.  There's your first surprise.)  And then you find out Lizard doesn't quite fit in because she's different from the other girls.  (I love you even more Lizard!)  No worries, Lizard finds friends who are perfect for her, though there are some bumps along the way.  This is definitely a book for the quirky child who may need some encouragement embracing what makes our differences special.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Children's Book of the Week

In honor of the annual reading challenge at my school, over the next few weeks I'm going to post my favorite children's books that I've recently read.  So without further ado, the book of the week.

Aliens Love Underpants takes on the weighty conversation of extraterrestrial life and why those aliens really come to visit Earth.  No worries - they're not coming for you.  They're coming for your underpants!  After all, who can resist a clothesline of drawers swaying in the breeze?  The book is typical picture book length and written in rhyming verse.  The print is big enough to encourage struggling readers, but will keep everyone laughing the whole way through.  It's become a quick favorite of mine and leaves me wondering...if aliens are playing in our underpants, are they also responsible for those lost socks in the dryer?

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss!

I suppose I should have logged on this morning and posted for his birthday earlier than with only a few hours remaining, but pulling off green eggs and ham, my own version of And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, and oobleck all occupied the brain during the pre-school hours.  A successful celebration at school now over, it's time for my own birthday wishes.

I love to read.  I love rhyming books.  I love silly illustrations.  I love books that are quirky and fun.  I love books that have a moral and encourage children to be caring.  I love tongue twisters that make you laugh and made-up words that only make sense between the covers of a Dr. Seuss book.  I love teaching to read, and I love watching children find their own love for reading and joy in the power of playing with words.  I love Dr. Seuss.

I'll save you from reading my pitiful attempt at rhyming because some of my second graders could craft a better poem than I can (as exhibited today).  Instead, let's have a little fun with Dr. Seuss trivia.


10 Things You May Not Have Known About Dr. Seuss (This would have been quite helpful when creating my multi-genre report years ago, but then, where's the chance to practice all those research skills?)

Dr. Seuss Quotes (I regret to admit that I only scored a 90%.)


Happy birthday, Dr. Seuss.  "Today you are You, that is truer than true.  There is no one alive who is Youer than You." (Dr. Seuss, Happy Birthday to You!)

And how about you?  What's your favorite?

Thursday, February 24, 2011

"Pictures of Hollis Woods"

FABULOUS!  There's my summary/critique of the book.  Patricia Reilly Giff really crafts a masterpiece in Pictures of Hollis Woods.  No wonder it was a 2003 Newbery Honor Book.

I suppose the previous paragraph probably isn't enough to sell you on the book, unless you trust my literary opinion with the utmost regard.  So here's the more "informational" summary/critique.  Hollis Woods is a girl who's shipped from one foster house to the next (she's a runner).  She loves to draw, and the story bounces back and forth between previous houses and memories she's stored through illustrations, and her current foster home.  The book follows your typical story structure in the sense that it ends leaving you feeling complete (as any good book will!).  As I tell my students, it's one of those where you get to the ending and go, "Ahhhh."  Giff paints a picture of Hollis Woods (pun intended) that makes you want to reach for your own colored pencils to immortalize your life.  She develops the plot and characters with subtle word choice that nothing feels forced.

I'd never heard of the book until a few weeks ago, and now it seems that every middle grade girl I talk to loves the book.  And, I won't lie, there are a handful of adults who enjoy curling up on the couch with a good middle grade novel that have also recommended Pictures of Hollis Woods.  As for me, it's up there on my "Favorite Middle Grade Books" list, joining Milkweed by Jerry Spinelli and Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Move Over "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition"

My apologies for being vacant for so long.  I've been reading, but not in the mood to type - perhaps because that would mean putting down my book...ahh, the Catch 22!

Today's post is thanks to Time Magazine, but I'm a bit behind in reading them, so it's from the January 10, 2011 copy.  Page 50-54, home of one of the most innovative and inspiring things I've read.  A program in St. Louis is completely changing the way foster care is run.  Instead of simply placing children with absolutely anyone who is willing to take them in, this program ("Extreme Recruitment") has hired detectives to find any and all family members of children in the system.  Then they go door-to-door to those relatives until they find someone willing to take in the child.  A minimum of 40 relatives for each child, and a 70% success rate.  To top it off, the children are moved out of foster care much faster than through the traditional system, and significantly more likely to be adopted.  The program has found that it's all about making a connection (the "Monkey Sphere" for those of you who are familiar with the concept).

It's possible that this article is part of what has me so into Pictures of Hollis Woods -- it's all about wanting to belong.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

"Golden Voice"

I find the story of the homeless "Golden Voice" man from Ohio so incredibly inspiring.  To go from hitting rock bottom like he did and continue through life, finding a way to pull himself through hell while realizing he has a gift buried within, a gift that others recognize and use to help him rebuild his life - it just makes you feel good about humanity.

I grew up outside of Philly, and I'm an Eagles fan through and through.  Regardless of how you feel about Michael Vick's punishment for the dog fighting, etc. or your thoughts on President Obama calling the owner of the Eagles to commend him for signing Vick, a genuine second chance in life for people who have messed up and want to start over is a gift.  It reinforces the notion that you can learn from mistakes and become a better person, and it makes this sometimes-awful-and-depressing world more human and loving.

Sure, Williams has a long road ahead of him, and there's certainly the chance that he'll slip here and there along his road to recovery, but that's just what it is.  He's traveling down a road with potholes and land mines.  He's been traveling that road for many years.  Now others are helping him during his journey, steering him in the right direction and offering support when he gets a flat tire.  And really, who doesn't feel better with a AAA card in their wallet?

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Good Old-Fashioned Books

I love to read.  I teach elementary school.  I get lots of gift cards to bookstores.  Add these together and you get one happy Lisa.

But I'm old-fashioned in some senses, and while I think the idea behind e-readers is really cool, they will just never be for me.  There's something about the smell of a new book, the feel of turning the page, and seeing your bookmark move from steadily through the pages.  I love the look of hardback books, I love knowing words have been printed onto a page, and I love thinking about type-set letters being painstakingly put into place hundreds of years ago to create the magic that is a book.

Yes, it's true that e-readers save trees and that you can carry hundreds of books on one small piece of equipment that will save space in your tiny apartment or on your cross-country trek.  No matter, the cons far outway the pros for me.

I was at a friend's house last night.  She has story time before putting the kids to bed.  I sat there looking at her two young children flipping through books and pretending to read.  For me, this is one of the most precious things to see, and I just can't imagine the thrill of holding a book being the same using one of these.