Across the Alley

March 17, 2018

Stories embedded into my heart are my favorites like Pricilla and the Hollyhocks by Anne Broyles. Although I came across this book in 2009, I still recall the richness of the words and the endurance of the character.

Across the Alley by Richard Michelson, illustrated by E.B. Lewis, is a new books to add to this favorite list of powerful stories. I have read it five times trying to comb the craft and I just sit in the story. Richard Michelson brings to life the friendship of two boys, one Jewish, one black, both separated by many cultural differences, but blend through nightly conversations through their bedroom windows. Not allowed to be friends during the day and in the open, the persist for the good.

Abe plays violin. Willis plays baseball. Through their nightly, across-the-alley window talks they teach each other their skill. Ironically, the switched activity becomes a natural talent for the other. Read how the boys rise above the grown-up expectations and bridge a friendship between their families. My guess is you’ll be cheering at the end like I did. Share this sense of hope with your students.

Willie’s real quiet now and I wonder if I said something wrong. Maybe he doesn’t know about the Nazis.
“My great-granddaddy was a slave too,” Willie finally says. “I never knew any white folk that were.”

Click on the link to view a preview of the book. My guess is you will be drawn to the story too. You can also listen to Jay O. Sanders read the book on this link (scroll midway down the page).

Share this 2 minute video with your students as he talks about writing fiction.

Savorings for Across the Alley:

  • Figurative language/ Visualization
  • Overcoming racial differences
  • Friendship
  • Sharing talents – the arts and sports blended
  • Show not Tell – “My palms turn sweaty.”
  • Sequence of pivotal scenes
  • Sense of hearing – descriptive in order for the reader to feel as if they are watching and hearing the scenes unfold

I Wanna Go Home

March 1, 2018

Karen Kaufman Orloff captures the voice of a child begging to change his circumstances. Kids are the best at persuasion. They insist. They give reasons. And they insist some more.

In I Wanna Go Home, Alex isn’t not thrilled with going to his grandparents instead of staying with a friend. His view point is limited. David Catrow captures the many faces of Alex as his perspective changes. The reader learns of his pleas to his findings to his adventures through letters (a delightful writing habit that many kids may not even recognize.)

Karen Kaufman Orloff has created a website with activities linked to her I Wanna books. Clink on the link here to see ways to use this text for persuasive writing.

Enjoy hearing from Karen in this 2 min video.  (Read an interview with Karen about writing this book.)

Savorings for I Wanna Go Home:

  • Persuasive
  • Letter writing/ emails/ correspondance
  • Dedication – the grandparents’ names in the dedication are the same in the book
  • Voice
  • Childhood encounters – false teeth, hearing aides
  • Parent vs. child perspective
  • Different meanings – “Did you know that when you go square dancing you actually spin in circles?”
  • Generation Connections
  • Descriptions before his name – Swam Boy Alex

Squirrel’s New Year’s Resolution

January 28, 2013

Dear BONS,

It’s January and I have been thinking about goals, a New Year’s resolution of sorts. I know Ruth has shared her goals with us. Any others? Me – I’m going to set a time limit for myself to write daily instead of just being arbitrary about it. So I find it fitting that the book Squirrel’s New Year’s Resolution by Pat Miller happened to catch my eye. It’s super cute and Tammy, I think your first graders would like it. Tam, your gran kids would enjoy it too.

Squirrel wants to know what a resolution is, so he goes to the best place ever to research it – the LIBRARY. Of course, my favorite place! The definition he finds is as follows:

A resolution is a promise you make to yourself to be better or to help yourself.

As squirrel thinks of resolutions for herself, she helps others along the way. In the end, her friends remind her of how she helped them in their time of need.

Isn’t this a great book to share with a class and talk about community building and how each person in the class can help support the goals for the class? I also thought of you with the encouragement to keep writing. So hooray for writing!

Resolved to create,


Savorings for reading and in writing for Squirrel’s New Year’s Resolution:

  • Bucket Filling -“I resolve to help someone every day!
  • Apostrophe usage – contractions vs. possessive
  • Narrative weaving of thoughts/feelings
  • Community Building
  • Library reference 🙂

Winston the Book Wolf

August 19, 2011

Marni McGee theme in Winston the Book Wolf is the love of reading. Winston the Wolf feeds on words. He loved eating books. When banned from the library, Rosie(with a familiar looking red-hooded sweatshirt) came to his rescue. She asks why he eats books.

Words are so delicious!”

Ian Beck interweaves characters from familiar fairy tale stories – the Three Little Pigs, Little Red Riding Hood – throughout the setting. Winston transforms into Granny, the Story Lady, who reads at the library. What a great way to start the school year, inviting kids into the world of reading.

Savorings for reading and in writing for Winston the Book Wolf:

  • Spin on a familiar story
  • Problem/ Solution
  • Character emotion
  • Vocabulary
  • Magic of 3

Metal Man

August 4, 2009

Vacation was excellent.  I stumbled upon three discount bookstores, much to my delight.  My daughter has the book bug as well, so we had fun finding new titles and getting books for a dollar or two.  I still did not have enough time to sit and read like I wanted, but the memories we made were worth it. 🙂

Have any boys or girls who love to be hands on?  Metal Man will be a text that will grab their attention.  This text is written with shorter, staccato-like sentences.  The story focuses on a boy who daily hangs out with the metal man, a man who creates art out of junk.  The boy aspires to be like the metal man.

Aaron Reynolds molds his words to make you feel the heat of the garage.

But he pulls out his fire torch.

It howls like the El train comin’.

And he starts meltin’ metal pieces on.Metal Man

they stick,

hot and red,

like my sweaty back on the plastic bus seats,

cookin’ together.

Swet’s pourin’ down metal man,

but he don’t stop.”

The boy shares his thinking.  You really can understand him.  The boy reminds me of many boys I’ve worked with.  They are comfortable with the outdoors, the garage, the ball field, the hands-on.  They don’t always feel like that with spelling, writing, reading.  The boy feels at home in this setting and longs to be like the metal man.

When I hang out with the metal man, I get it right.

I see what I see.

Not like school.”

I want my classroom to be like the garage, a place where the kids aspire to be, to learn and to know that they will get it right.

Savorings for reading and in writing for Metal Man:

  • Apostrophe – adds voice; you hear the accent of the narrator.  It’s used as a contraction and also for possessive.
  • Similes – “That torch’ll tear you up like a thousand killer bees.”
  • Realistic Conversation – “Whaddaya wanna make?”  He ain’t never said that before.
  • Compare/Contrast -junk vs. art;   Summer’s cookin’ the streets outside, bakin’ ’em black.  But everything’s cool and comfy inside the silver star.
  • Internal Conflict – “I got a spark in my head, but i ain’t sayin’ it with my mouth.  ‘I don’t kow,’ I say.  It’s a lie, but I tell it anyway. … ‘Don’t be scared, boy.  Bring it out to play.’  That metal man can see inside me like glass.

Warsaw Public Library

A must-get book for me!!

Every Day Happenings

October 16, 2008

Through my work, I have noticed that young children, kindergartners especially, are enthusiastic about their writing.  They have fewer life experience, yet are content to write about ordinary, every day happenings.

Beverly Cleary is a master of writing every day experiences that kids relate to with her Ramona Quimbly series.  Abby Klein, author of the Ready Freddy series, has grasped the same concept.  Tomie dePaola shares everyday experiences from his life as a kid in the 26 Fairmont Avenue series.

As teachers, we need to be aware of modeling every day happenings in our writing.  The struggling writers are the ones who say, “I don’t have anything to write about.”  They have every day experiences, but don’t see those as being important.  How often do we model the ordinary happenings in the day-to-day life for our children?

One tried and true touchstone text for me is When Sophie Gets Angry  by Molly Bang.   The book is based on a sisterly argument that enrages Sophie.  Molly Bang creates vivid illustrations of how we often want to explode when we are furious.  Children connect to this story line; they’ve lived it.

Savorings in reading and for writing for When Sophie Gets Angry, Really, Really Angry:

  • Magic of Three  with sentences – “She kicks.  She screams.  She wants to smash the world to smithereens.”
  • Alliteration
  • Interweaving of Detail – character action, character thinking/feeling, character dialogue
  • Problem and Solution
  • Structure – For younger students, this book sets up the flow of a story that they can follow.