“You can’t find anything in here!” – Organizing Our Library


We had just returned from our monthly walking field trip to a local park, where we had found a fallen log and spent some time investigating and talking about what might live there. I was reminded of a book I had, A Log’s Life, and went over to our nonfiction book bins to look for it. The kids were waiting patiently on the rug, (as patiently as kindergarteners can wait), as I was looking furiously through the many nonfiction bins we have. I finally found the book – just after one of my kids said,

“We need to organize this library better! You can’t find anything in here! Why don’t we make it like the big library?”

Yes! She was right. The books that we had sorted in September as “learn about the world” or “stories” – were ready to be sorted again, with all the book knowledge that my kindergarteners had gained this year. I invited anyone who wanted to help with this project to gather on the rug during Explore time and we would organize the library better.

Several kids were interested and started working together, sorting the books into piles and having such wonderful conversations!


“We should keep all the dog books together. And all the monkey books in one place. And the snake books….wait, there’s a lot of books about animals. Maybe we can keep all the animal books together. But there’s a lot of books about dogs. I think dogs need to be on their own or there would be too many mixed in the animals. Then we couldn’t find dog books.”

“We have books about people…like farmers and nurses and Native Americans…Martin Luther King, Jr. and President Obama. We can make one place for books about people.”

“Here’s a book about colors. We read this book when we were making art and learning about colors. People use colors to do art, so it should go in the people place.”

I listened carefully and was amazed at how the kids negotiated the task, the organization and the labeling to make sure the library worked for them. Their conversations were so authentic and I loved listening to how they talked about where books belonged. They spent over two hours on this task and then proudly shared their accomplishment with the rest of the class.

It’s been one week and I’ve noticed how books are being returned to the correct bin and that this part of our classroom library has been revived – more kids are getting books from here and sharing new finds with each other. Ownership, pride, persistence, problem solving…these five and six year olds never cease to amaze.


Labeling the bins with interactive writing


The newly organized and labeled bins! We will add pictures next.

Screenshot 2018-03-01 22.18.35

Day 2



#nf10for10 Nonfiction Picture Book Event!

Screen Shot 2013-02-04 at 11.55.24 PMIt’s the 10 for 10 Nonfiction Picture Book Event! We are joining up with many of our Twitter and blogging friends to participate in this event celebrating nonfiction books. Check out the jog here to see all the other posts sharing favorite nonfiction picture books!

Children love nonfiction. It engages, excites and helps children wonder, reflect and celebrate the world we live in.  Here are a few of our favorites. Enjoy!


Pat’s Picks:

51BL21P6hlL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_Anything by Seymour Simon is so well-researched and beautifully written.  Kids love reading about these animals who have been given a bad reputation.  Simon tells us, “Animals are not bad or evil.  They do what they must in order to survive.”  This one is written in easy-to-read text, but a few pictures might be too graphic for the very young.



6146nrCbOwL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_Yes, it’s been around a long time, but People, by Peter Spier, has always been a favorite of mine.  Of course, it’s perfect for helping kids realize the variations in homes, written languages, games, traditions, and so on, around the world. Not everyone considers the same things as “beautiful”, nor does everyone have the same tastes in foods. I love the message brought home on the last two pages of illustrations. “But imagine how dreadfully dull this world of ours would be if everybody would look, think, eat, dress, and act the same!”  This book pairs nicely with Mem Fox’s Whoever You Are. Both books will lead to great discussions, not only in schools with diverse populations, but in all schools.

512-77Vd+aL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_Steve Jenkins & Robin Page created the wonderful book What Do You Do With a Tail Like This? which is a Caldecott Honor Book.  I’m sure many of you already own this one!  It’s fun to learn what various animals do with their feet, eyes, ears, noses, and tails. I love the big question on a two-page spread (giving time for kids to wonder) and then the way the text is placed in so many different ways when the answers are given.



51M-XAFUa5L._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_With only one or two lines of text on each page, I’m amazed at how much information John Himmelman squeezed into his book.  Earthworms are so easy to find and set up for observation in the classroom.  My favorite part is when a little boy picks up the earthworm and moves him to the garden to avoid getting stepped on.  A good book for talking about respect for all creatures.


Here are three other titles that a librarian friend recommended to me that I have yet to find, but certainly will, because she never steers me wrong!



Katie’s Choices:

41kQ77hBvbL._SL500_AA300_Beautiful photographs and equally beautiful language make Step Gently Out a wonderful book to help children notice the world around them.





me-jane-coverMe…Jane is an amazing book that tells the true story of Jane Goodall. It inspires children to follow their dreams and live with wonder. It is written simply and is accessible to our youngest learners – and our older elementary or middle school students will also enjoy the story and the inspiration that Jane gives.



41fphodps0l__sl500_aa300_Press Here is one of the coolest books I’ve read in a while. It holds children spellbound as they interact and use their imagination in this magical book.





9780439666534-1Chameleon, Chameleon is a class favorite! I use this book early in the year as a writing mentor text. The children love the repetitive, yet rich, language and the detailed photographs. It is an excellent nonfiction text to read and reread.




What-s-Up-What-s-Down-9780060297572What’s Up, What’s Down? is a book that is read in a variety of ways – from the bottom up, from the top down, sideways. It takes the reader on an exciting and engaging journey from many perspectives. Children will enjoy this fabulous celebration of nature as they read and interact with the book.



Thanks to Cathy and Mandy for starting this fun event! What are some of your favorite nonfiction books to read with children? Please share!

August 10 for 10: 10 of our Favorite Picture Books!

Cathy Mere at Reflect and Refine and Mandy Robek at Enjoy and Embrace Learning invited us to join in this 2nd annual fun picture book event. We happily accepted the challenge to join our Twitter friends and choose just 10 of our favorite picture books and highlight them here. Enjoy reading our choices and then be sure to head over to their blogs here to read about all the other great picture book recommendations.

Pat decided to pick “oldies but goodies” – a selection of tried and true read alouds for elementary classrooms. Enjoy!

Our Granny, by Margaret Wild

In a celebration of grandmothers, Wild lists all the things grannies can be, all the places they can live, all the hobbies they can have, and so on.  This book speaks to the diversity of the modern day granny.  The illustrations by Vivas are fabulous and even comical at times!

Guess Who My Favorite Person Is, by Byrd Baylor (out of print – check your library)

Just like all of Baylor’s other books, the beauty of nature and being outdoors plays a big role. This time a little girl and a young man describe their favorite color or sound, favorite thing to touch or place to live, favorite smell or moving thing as they play a game lying in the grassy meadow.  Try using this as a mentor text when talking about descriptive writing with students or just enjoy the beautiful language of the poetic free verse.

Koala Lou, by Mem Fox

I know it’s been around for a long time, but I still feel compelled to mention it because I love this book so much.  The theme of a mother’s love is so beautifully intertwined with Koala Lou’s undying determination and endurance.  I’ve never met a child or adult that couldn’t relate to this story.  Don’t miss hearing Mem read it aloud on her website.  Her voice will stay with you every time you read it.

Rough-Face Girl, by Rafe Martin

There are so many wonderful variations of well-known folktales, but this version of a Cinderella tale is one of my favorites. I love changing my voice to match the two haughty older sisters, or the timid Rough-Face Girl, and the sister of the Invisible Being who demands answers from each one of them who wants to marry her brother.  I’ve had many great discussions with 4th and 5th grade students about ‘what is truth, beauty, and true love?’

Edward the Emu, by Sheena Knowles

I practically have this one memorized, I’ve read it aloud so many times.  It’s a commonly told story of one animal wishing he were something other than what he is, but realizing his value by the end.  I like the rhyme and rhythm to the language.  The illustrations are incredible.  And the ending adds a little twist… leading right into the follow-up book, Edwina the Emu.






Katie decided to narrow her choices down to 5 of her favorite NEW books! A few are brand new in the picture book world and a few are just new to her. She’s looking forward to sharing them with her kindergarteners this fall.

Move! by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page

A wonderfully fun nonfiction book that introduces kids to how animals move. It has beautiful language, “A crocodile leaps to snag its meal after slithering silently into the water…” with text that moves all over the page to show the motion being described. Children will love exploring how animals move with this book.

Should I Share My Ice Cream? by Mo Willems

Another Piggie and Elephant adventure that will help teachers talk about sharing and friendship. The anticipation throughout the text and pictures, along with a twist at the end, will leave readers loving this new book by Mo Willems.

Who Hops? and Who Hoots? by Katie Davis

I can’t believe I’ve never heard of these books until now. They are amazing! I can’t wait to read these to my kinders. Fun, colorful pictures and an engaging text, “Frogs hop. Kangaroos hop. Cows hop. NO THEY DON’T!” will definitely pull young readers in and invite shared reading. I love how there are great nonfiction facts woven throughout as well. “Who squeaks? Hippos don’t squeak. Alligators don’t squeak. Mice don’t squeak. YES THEY DO! – Mice have very bad eyesight and give birth to lots of babies, and they definitely squeak!” Katie Davis has a great website, too!

Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes and Pete the Cat: Rocking in My School Shoes by Eric Litwin

Pete the Cat quickly became my favorite read aloud last year, along with this fabulous YouTube video showing the author and illustrator performing the song. Eric Litwin and James Dean have come out with a new Pete the Cat story where Pete is rocking his school shoes as he goes on a tour of the school. This is the PERFECT first day read aloud! And yes, school is “all good”!

Just One Bite by Lola Schaefer

This HUGE nonfiction book shows kids how much animals eat in “just one bite”. The book shows the life size animals and all or part of the mouths, along with the food of choice. More details follow at the end of the book for kids to learn more about the eating habits of each of the animals. Kids will love this giant book and the great illustrations.

We hope you are starting your year with some old favorites and some new finds that will really get kids loving books and loving to read. What books are in your “top 10”?

Books & Boys – A Review of Pam Allyn’s Best Books for Boys

”Reading can feel as risky as walking a tightrope even if it doesn’t look nearly as daring.” – Pam Allyn

We feel very fortunate to be asked to read and review Pam Allyn’s new book Best Books for Boys: How to Engage Boys in Reading in Ways That Will Change Their Lives. It was a book that we found ourselves highlighting, nodding our heads and even saying “yes!” at several points while reading. Pam’s commitment to our boy readers, and all children, is evident through the work she has done with LitWorld, and her other books for teachers. This is a book that needs to be in the hands of all teachers – for them and for the boys in their classrooms. Best Books for Boys is for any teacher searching for ways to “hook” the boy readers in his or her classroom.

Allyn writes, “All of us, but it seems boys especially, are taught to dislike what we cannot do well. To avoid that trap, let us balance challenge and comfort.”  It is with challenge and comfort that she sets up her classroom environment, immerses boys in great books, provides opportunity for book choice, and encourages book clubs and partnerships where boys can talk, laugh, and explore books together.

Covering just about every topic and genre imaginable, Pam gives us a wonderful selection of books, including poetry, non-fiction, and fiction, to entice our boy readers.  She divides those titles and reviews into emergent, developing, and maturing to further make it easy for her readers to use this resource.  We can all expand our repertoire of great reads by keeping this book handy.

We love how Pam supports us in creating classroom environments that foster a love of reading in all students, including our most reluctant boy readers. Here is our “don’t forget list” as we plan for next school year.  We need:

–    a well-stocked, diverse classroom library that reflects not only the levels but also the interests of our students

–    to show boys why people read: “To laugh. To discover. To research, wonder, and imagine.” and help them develop reasons of their own

–     to invite male role models into the classroom to talk about their reading

–     to value different kinds of reading including magazines, web sites, blogs, comics, graphic novels and video games

–     to be responsive to active learners and to provide space for boys to be themselves

–     to provide lots of time for play and movement surrounding reading

–     to value and make time for daily independent reading, encouraging choice and supporting boys as they learn to choose books that match their interests

–     to honor the social aspect of reading by providing time for meaningful talk about books, poems, and stories.

Here are some of the wise words from Pam that caused us to ponder, connect with a particular student or remind us of the important work we do:  
“There should be little difference between reading for school and reading for fun: we want boys to approach all their books with curiosity and excitement.”
”Let’s align reading more with play than work. Let’s think of it more as a joy, a distinct pleasure of being human, than as a task. Let boys read, and let them read what they like.”

”Reading can feel as risky as walking a tightrope even if it doesn’t look nearly as daring.”

”Giving boys books at a variety of levels helps them to build a sturdy foundation so they feel safe in trying more challenging ones. It is also essential to value each book in and of itself, not just as a stepping stone to more challenging ones.”

”My mission is to help all children achieve not only functional literacy but transformational literacy. The kind of literacy that will allow them to learn something new every day, connect to all people everywhere, and to invent new ideas that could change the world.—And in this process, to learn, through reading, how to be the kind of person they want to become.”

We highly recommend Pam Allyn’s Best Books for Boys.  Read it, enjoy it, and keep it close on your bookshelf as a reminder of how important it is to reach our boys and as a reference as you strive to help every boy become a reader.

The possibilities in reading aloud

This week I had the pleasure of going around to classrooms, introducing myself as the new literacy teacher, and reading aloud to the kids. I loved it! It reminded me of the power of a well-chosen book – how it can build community, provide laughs, and allow you to connect to a group of kids in a matter of minutes.  In one fifth-grade class I read Rod Clement’s Grandpa’s Teeth. They loved the story and begged for me to read it again. For the rest of the week when I saw these kids they yelled “Grandpa’s Teeth – I love that book!” and “that was such a funny book you read – when are you coming back again?” What a great way to feel welcomed in my new school.

Whether you are teaching preschoolers, first graders, fifth graders or middle schoolers – don’t forget the many possibilities that a carefully chosen book can provide in your classroom. We believe that children should be read to daily – numerous times. Read alouds can be used in all subject areas, as well as just to connect, laugh and enjoy together. Below are a few of our favorite read alouds. In Catching Readers Before They Fall, (Appendix 8 ) you can find a lengthy list of favorite read alouds for a variety of purposes. And of course, talking to other teachers and spending a few hours in your favorite bookstore or library are some of the best ways to find your favorites.

The Sweetest Fig by Chris Van Allsburg

The Big Orange Splot, by Daniel Manus Pinkwater

Tough Cookie by David Wisniewski

Rough-Face Girl, by Rafe Martin

Every Living Thing, short stories by Cynthia Rylant

(thanks to literacy specialist Tania Dedham for some of these great suggestions for upper grade students!)

Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon by Patty Lovell

Whoever You Are by Mem Fox

The Recess Queen by Alexis O’Neill

Skippyjon Jones series by Judy Schachner

Toot and Puddle series by Holly Hobbie

The Baby Beebee Bird by Diane Redfield Massie

ALL of Mo Willems’ books!

Koala Lou by Mem Fox

Edward the Emu, by Sheena Knowles

Owl Moon, by Martin Waddell

See Donalyn Miller’s (The Book Whisperer) blog for more great read aloud ideas, especially for your upper grade students.

What are some of your favorite read alouds? Please share!