SOLS 2013:13 Story Treasure Box

sols_6One of the reasons I LOVE going to conferences is meeting authors of the books I have loved and shared over the years. Guilt sometimes washes over me as I think there might be some that think I should attend a “how to teach reading” session. But then my heart and head take over…stories matter…a lot.  There are times when I’m frustrated because I have had to choose between author sessions that are scheduled at the same time. Which one? But I’ve been blessed to hear many of my most favorite writers for children. I collect their stories and store them in my mind treasure box to pull out as needed.

I am a reading coach for our district. There was some unexpected unscheduled time  last Monday. So I went hunting to find a class that was ready for independent practice reading where I could quietly slip in to confer with readers. BINGO! A third grade classroom. Teacher was fine with me coming in with no notice. I sit beside one reader after another and we talk about reading and their current read. I approach a boy who has a picture book opened. As soon as I sit down, I notice the illustrations. Clearly Tomie dePaola. “Are you familiar with this author?” I ask. He turns to the cover and looks at the name and shakes his head no. I smile as I think of my memory of sitting in a school auditorium several years ago in Goshen at the “feet” of Tomie dePaola.  I remember the auditorium ringing with laughter at thestrega_nona_cameo stories Tomie dePaola tells about his mischievous escapades as a child although some school experiences were tinged with sadness.  “Oh, let me tell you about Tomie dePaola. When he was your age he was mischievous. Are you ever mischievous? Wait until you hear this. His grandmother was a wonderful Italian cook and Tomie loved her and her cooking. In fact Tomie now enjoys having guests over at his house and cooking for them. Often his Grandmother would use a recipe that would call for chicken but she didn’t go to the store for chicken. She would butcher the chickens she needed. She had to remove the chicken’s head and feet. Tomie would always ask for the chicken legs and feet. He would then put them in his coat pocket. When it was time for recess he would hold the chicken feet and legs in his hands and then pull his hands inside his coat sleeves so that only the feet and legs would be showing. He would then chase the girls all over the playground.  I need to tell you something else about chicken feet and legs. There is a nerve that is attached to the feet and legs. As soon as Tomie would get close to the girls, he would pull on the nerve. The chicken’s feet would move as if the feet were alive. Oh, the girls would scream and run away. Tomie would just find more girls to chase or chase the same ones over and over.” The Tomie chicken and feet story again pulled out from the treasure chest…to unlock the magic of story.


This is excellent autobiography to share with young elementary students.

This is the book the third grader was reading.

This is the book the third grader was reading.

watch out for chicken feet

Wonderful book…will bring warm memories especially if you are an American -Italian family. Bread recipe in the back.

Posted in American-Italian, Conferring, Family, Tomie dePaola, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 9 Comments

SOLS: 2013:12 Finally, I’m A Big Girl

Background Knowledge: I’m very fond of the aroma of coffee. I always breathe a little deeper when coffee is brewing. Both of my parents drank coffee. My husband has to have a morning cup. My friends drink coffee. My colleagues drink coffee…except for Ruth Ayres. She had me worried when we were attending a workshop a year or so ago and there was a steaming cup of coffee she had sitting on her placemat. “What’s up with the coffee?” I asked. This is not a direct quote but her answer was something like this: I think writing and coffee go together. I think I’ve acquired a taste for it. “REALLY?” I say. So I think, maybe I need to try coffee again. I pour myself a cup from the carafe on the table. Gingerly I put the cup to my lips to take a small sip and act writerly. UGH! Coffee has the most wonderful smell but it still tastes like dirt. I give Ruth one of my looks as she nurses her cup of coffee and looks very writerly.

sols_6August 2012: The road beckons me in the summer as I love to use my “vacation” time from school for traveling. Often I go alone as my husband only has two weeks off for vacation time annually.  I usually plan at least one summer road trip with Boy Blue, my grandson whom has blue-green eyes that are framed by long dark lashes. One of Boy Blue’s responses to my question, “Where are places you would like to explore?” was the The Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C. Sounds like a plan. Our trip is planned and we’re off. Before too many miles are traveled Boy Blue requests a Cafe Mocha. “Is it ok with your mom if you drink coffee?” I ask the almost thirteen old. “She lets me have it sometimes.” he answers. I order him a Cafe Mocha and a diet Coke for myself.  My Diet Coke is quickly consumed before many miles go by and Boy Blue is snoozing in the passenger seat. Hmmm…maybe I’ll try one of these fancy coffees. I peek over to see if his eyes are still shut and sneak a sip. Hmm…doesn’t taste like dirt. How could that be? Pretty soon, I’m becoming bold in taking sips and I hear, “Grandma, what are you doing?” I responded, “Christian, can you believe it? This coffee actually tastes pretty good.” We decide we need to stop and try another kind of coffee. Christian can’t believe it. It is our big news when we return home. Grandma is drinking coffee.

When school begins and I see Ruth, I share my news, “I’m a big girl now. I drink coffee!” She smiles in a very writerly way.

March 2013: I’m still a big girl and drink coffee although not everyday. Sometimes it is not even once a week. Yesterday Steve bought me a tall iced coffee from a town errand. I pour some of the coffee into a large glass of  milk and ice. I open a few packets of natural raw sugar and nurse the glass all day long wondering if I have truly made the crossover to the big girl drink. And is coffee drinking something I really want to pursue?  : )

I usually suggest a book to go along with my post but not one book popped into my head until I thought about why Americans are coffee drinkers. It all began here!

I love this informational series. Very engaging.

I love this informational series. Very engaging.Boston Tea Party by Pamela Duncan Edwards

Posted in Boston Tea Party, Road Trips, Uncategorized, You Wouldn't Want To Be Series | Tagged , | 12 Comments

SOLS 2013:11The Hunt of the Wolf

sols_6Guest Blogger: Blog-stalking Husband, Steve

The story of the Howl of Love is absolutely accurate and I must admit tears came to my eyes as I was transcended to those early times. I admit I do stalk my wife’s blog but I try to respect her boundries. She gave me “permission” to reply and I was about to do so, but realized it would be longer than any reply should ever be. My comments to Deb led to the result that I could do a guest blog. Please understand that there is no way I can weave the stories she does and give you a good book at the end. But each one of you who blog must know that there are those that are consumed by love for you for who you are!

Yesterday’s blog pretty much tells the story of how I started to fall in love with the one that married me. What it does not tell you is how that really went down. I WAS that guy leaning against the table. I was a previous empoyee of the camp since I gave horse trail rides to groups coming to the camp during the winter from Chicago as well as other places. A buddy of mine and I were greeting and “checking out” the newbies. I was not looking for a romantic  prospect. That does not change the fact that by the end of that two weeks of training this older college girl “possessed” me!

I spent the remainder of the summer spending every moment with our Water Safety Instructor that I could. After trail rides and horsemanship classes I would take my favorite Arabian horse (Charger) to the beach to see Deb. It took me and the smartest horse I have known in my life most of the summer to capture her. There are some stories about our romance that involve both her dog, Rattler,  and Charger that could be told..but not today.

I will strive to keep this short as possible. I can not count the number of times I asked Deb to marry me! I will tell you I remember COUNTLESS (closer to hundreds than dozens) responses of “You have to be kidding”, to “I don’t think so”, to “maybe” to “okay…if you quit asking!” That was it! I never got a yes before the “I do”. The okay was good enough for me! I dare say the time beteen the howl of the the wolf and the capture of his life partner was well worth it!

Some more favorite wolf books from Deb:

One of my newer favorite authors. Talk about plot tension. Students are always engaged with this one!

One of my newer favorite authors. Talk about plot tension. Students are always engaged with this one!

Is this one a classic yet? Still love it after many readings in the classroom.

Is this one a classic yet? Still love it after many readings in the classroom.

Posted in Family, Uncategorized, Wolves | Tagged , | 15 Comments

SOLS: 2013:10 The Howl of Love

Time: Summer 1975

Place: Cassopolis, Michigan

Dedicated: To my blog stalking husband.

sols_6My destination was Living Waters Camp located outside Cassopolis, Michigan to spend the summer as a lifeguard, swim instructor and camp counselor. Only my student teaching experience and a few classes remained before I completed my education degree. Many changes had taken place the previous year. My father had died. The house we had lived in for several years had been sold. Mom was moving to be closer to my grandmother.  My college “love” was no more. I had changed schools at semester and was looking at another school change to begin my senior year in the fall. I was traveling out of state alone to begin a summer job. Well, I wasn’t alone. I had my faithful beagle dog with me, Rattler. Rattler and I arrived at our destination and parked outside the lodge at the campground. Being on the shy side I’m sure I sat in the car for a few minutes and took a few deep breaths before entering the doorway. What I noticed first as I walked through the door was a dark-haired young man leaning against a table with his hands crossed in a friendly way across his chest. Big smile and a hello. I learned he was in charge of the horses and horseback riding. And his name was Steve. Others walked in and the summer began. For the next two weeks our days were filled from early morning to late night with  learning all the things that needed to be known before the first campers arrived…Bible study, archery, horseback riding, camping skills, crafts, swimming, music, shooting, first aid and on and on.  The group of counselors bonded together as we experienced our training together. A special friendship between myself and the leaning-against-the-table young man developed over the next few days.

Our last training activity was a drop-off trip to somewhere in southwest Michigan. We were only supplied with a piece of plastic, a sleeping bag, water, and a Bible. Maybe we were given a compass. I don’t remember. The mission was to spend hours of solitude in the woods overnight. We were dropped off at different points and admonished, “No contact.” I love nature. I like solitude. BUT there was a growing feeling of fear in the pit in my stomach. I have an imagination. And did I REALLY know these people? What about snakes? Big wild animals? Creepy, crawly things? Jack the Ripper? Axe murderers? I was far from home. Even though the night was beautiful…it gets really DARK in places where there are NO lights. Besides being acutely aware of the thumping of your heart, what was that rustling sound over to the left? Was that breathing I heard to the right? Footsteps?   Then I heard the howling of a wolf…except it sounded a little human. Some laughter. I recognized the “wolf”s” voice…Steve. A few other “wolves” howling in response. A little more laughter. I was then able to get a few hours of sleep. The next morning I found out that this “wolf” had climbed a tree and gave out the howl. Since I married that young man  less than year from that evening I believe that was the howl of love.

Fast forward thirty-seven years. We discovered Wolf Park near Battleground, Indiana when we were on a weekend camping trip. The advertisement beckoned visitors to howl with the wolves. We couldn’t resist. The link to this park is listed before.

Some favorite wolf books include:

One Wolf Howls by Susan Detwiler

Julie of the Wolves

Look to the North

Howl with the wolves at Wolf Park near Battleground:

Posted in Battleground, Jean Craighead George, Uncategorized, Wolves | Tagged , | 8 Comments

SOLS: 2013:9 Yes, It Was Bright Orange

sols_6Time: 1957 – 1975

Place: 9401 Kerwood Drive and 226th Street

As far as decor I have nostaglic leanings. I’m drawn to decorating in rustic and primitive styles.  Was my decorating taste influenced by all those books I read as child that were rooted in the past…Little House on the PrairieChildhood Biographies of Famous AmericansIsland of the Blue DolphinsCaddie Woodlawn? The rustic style certainly didn’t come from my mother’s influence.  She decorated with a modern urban flair during the fifties and sixties. Furniture in our house had a space-age feel. One of the pieces I remember so well was the orange chair that survived decades of moves. Bright orange chair.  A recliner. Far from a Lazy Boy though. It didn’t begin as orange but a dark conservative color. When my parents moved from their first apartment to their first house my mother had the chair reupholstered. Bright orange. It was the focal point of the living room and it pointed to the television.  Every evening my mother would relax in the orange recliner. In a way the orange chair was like a kitchen table where family gathered round.  The orange chair was the safe place for a three- year-old me to hold her newborn brother and have a photograph snapped. Another memory is coming home from school one day and seeing my mom sitting in the orange chair crafting items for a Holiday Bazaar. In the evenings my brother and I would stretch out on the floor beside the orange chair and watch Donna Reed or Leave It To Beaver or Bonanza.  It was at the foot of this recliner that mom taught us to play Canasta, Monopoly, and Yahtzee. Those countless evenings of playing taught my brother and I how to play fair, take turns, how to win and lose, and how to have fun. Life skills at the foot of the bright orange chair. Many years later my mom had to move back to an apartment. There wasn’t room for the orange chair so my aunt inherited it. Time marches on and I’m not sure what my aunt did with the orange chair when she had to move to an apartment. Many memories sat on that orange chair.

This is my cousin sitting in the orange chair...he even looks on the orange side.

This is my cousin sitting in the orange chair…he even looks on the orange side.

a chair for always

Posted in connections, Family, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 5 Comments

SOLS: 2013:8 Leave Your Worries At The Door

sols_6Brightly colored paper chains adorn each doorway of the awesome fourth grade team at Milford School. The swag of chains provide a splash of spring against a backdrop of our recent snowstorm.

It is March. It is the first week of standardized testing in Indiana. ISTEP. Hearts of teachers and students beat a little more anxiously during testing weeks. Teachers have taught well. They have built mathematical, reading, and writing confidence. Students have learned well. But anxiety is still there. It is the unknown. It is the state’s “security measures.” It is the test. Remedy: Leave your worries at the door of the classroom. Students write their worries and anxieties on paper and make paper chains, stress chains. Students walk under the stress chains and are reminded that each of their worries are left behind at the door.

Here are some of the worries from fourth graders left at the door:

Will I get a bad grade?

I’m scared I won’t enough time.

Will I know how to add, subtract, multiply, and divide?

I’m nervous I won’t pass.

What if I my eraser runs out and I can’t erase?

I’m scared I’ll forget something.

I’m afraid I won’t come up any ideas for writing.

I’m nervous about reading because I read too fast.

I’ll forget everything.

I might get a wrong answer.

I’m nervous about failing the test.

Pretty big worries for nine and ten year olds. A good lesson for all us and our baggage of  worries…leave them at the door.

Favorite Picture Books About Worrying100th day worrieswemberly


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SOLS: 2013:7 Favorite Hang-Out

sols_6Discovery road trips for me usually involve stops at one of my favorite hang-outs…the buildings that houses books…libraries. Each one is as unique as each of us. The architecture. Some are from the Carnegie era. Some are small as they serve a small rural community but often have materials specific to the area they are located and not found elsewhere.  Some are large as they serve a city and you can get lost wandering through stacks that stand taller than a NBA player. Usually the older libraries have more than one floor that have walls outlined in oak wood. Bannisters that feel smooth from time and that are older than the people who use them.  You can feel the dip in the old slate steps that are worn down from countless book travelers climbing up the stairs. Some are modern with an urban flair. As I enter a library I take a moment to inhale the rich smell of … books. Love that smell. Love the ambience of a library.  A feeling of anticipation begins to build as I walk in. What treasures will I find? Will a  mystery of my family’s past be will be solved? Or will a new mystery be discovered? I open books and gently feel the paper…so many textures. I know, it is weird.  It makes me sad when I read the that books will be obsolete…I already see them in antique shops.  Oh, I know people will read but sometimes it’s difficult to embrace parts of this digital age.

Yesterday this article caught my eye as worry about one of my favorite friends, the library. My first thoughts were of disappointment. The phrase, “Don’t sell out!,” kept circulating in my head but then I thought…survival. Some of these ideas are very unique. What do you think?

One of my favorite among many is: The Library Dragon

Here is a list of books about libraries from Good Reads:

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SOLS: 2013:6 The Beginnings of a Reluctant Writer

Time: 1962

Place: Nora Elementary School

sols_6Mrs. Rayle…my second grade teacher…loved her…all second graders wanted to be in her class. Mrs. Rayle, the teacher that sparked and flamed the love of reading for me. Now I realized I would jump through hoops to gain Mrs. Rayle’s approval and respect. Vivid moments of time from my second grade year are burned upon my being even after fifty years. Closing my eyes I can see the arrangement of student’s desks and Mrs. Rayle’s desk. Surprisingly the desks weren’t in rows. They are in a long U shape. Blackboard in the front. Mrs. Rayle moved my desk five feet in front of the board one day because I just couldn’t see. Trip to the eye doctor and soon had glasses resting on my nose. The SRA kit sat on the shelf under the row of windows that look onto the playground where we joyously played tag, pumped our feet to reach the sky or swung across the monkey bars. SRA was a favorite part of reading time for me because I could work at my own pace. I could choose the story folder I wanted to work on and I was trusted to check my own work and move on when I felt I was ready. Empowered. Close by to the SRA kit was a wood “tree” that held cool-looking fold out paper apples. Each student had an apple with their name written on the leaf. Your apple was placed at the bottom of the tree. Your appleapple “climbed” up the tree when you read a book and recorded the book title and number of pages on a 3 x 5 index card. Mrs. Rayle also required a parent signature on the card. THEN when your apple reached the top of the tree you were awarded a tagboard bookworm handmade by Mrs. Rayle. She would write To: Your Name and Love: Mrs. Rayle. You even picked the color of your bookworm. Imagine my joy when I received my pink bookworm autographed by Mrs. Rayle. Other sweet reading memories from Mrs. Rayle were her read alouds. The Boxcar Children. Do I need to say more? Who as a young child did not fall in love with The Boxcar Children? Second grade was the year that began my love affair with reading that became my life work. All because of the powerful influence of Mrs. Rayle.


My parents owned their own business when I was in second grade…a bar. I lived on the north side of Indianapolis before Interstate 465 circled around the city. My family lived in an area where most fathers were lawyers, financial investors and other white collar careers…not owners of a tavern. Every Sunday my mother, brother and I attended services at our church. Following service we would pile into the car and drive to the south side of the city to clean the tavern. While the grown-ups cleaned my brother and I had a grand time pulling on beer taps at the bar, admiring different bottle shapes full of liquor, and playing the juke box with fingernail-polished coins (my dad would get those coins back when the machine was emptied). Tag and hide-and-seek was taken to a new level with all of the booths, bar stools, kitchen, bar, and beer storage room.

Writing assignment…not a clear memory but the piece of blue-lined primary paper with perfectly formed letters that made words is. The story told of my typical Sunday experience. Two red-inked lines crossed out the correctly spelled word, tavern and the word town was written above the “mistake”.  As a second grader I couldn’t figure out why the word was crossed out. Town didn’t make sense. Tavern was spelled correctly. I knew I had disappointed my beloved teacher but I didn’t know why. The family laughed about it when the paper was passed around to grandparents and aunts and uncles. I didn’t understand what I had done. BUT I do know that I don’t remember any other writing experiences ( excepting for regurgitating facts for an informational text) until I reached college. That is another story.

I know Mrs. Rayle didn’t intent to birth a reluctant writer or silence a writing voice but…we as teachers are a powerful influence that can go one way or another. We can learn from both kind of experiences…I’m a better educator because of both experiences. Asking forgiveness from anyone that I unintentionally pushed backwards.

The Boxcar ChildrenStill a great read after all of these years. There are even graphic novels of the series although I prefer the book. The Boscar Children - Graphic Novel

Posted in childhood memories, Reading, Writing | Tagged , | 11 Comments

SOLS: 2013:5 Winter Dance

sols_6There has been a heavy sprinkling of comments and picture postings on social networks about the snow storm moving through our area. These postings are from disappointed and depressed people that are tired of winter. Beautiful pictures of sailboats against a summer sky with the words, “I Miss Summer” and “Come Sail Away” are filling my FB page. There was even a cursing of Phil the groundhog. By this time of the year I, too,  am weary of gray skies, cold and bare trees. Winter is not my favorite season but one of the things that keeps me sane through the winter is SNOW. Snow makes the world new. White and bright. I’m hungry for spring but I love the falling swirling flakes and the possibility of a school delay or even a cancellation. I smile at the possibility of a delay tomorrow as I look out the window and watch the winter dance. Yet knowing…spring is just around the corner.

Winter is dancing around,

Trees bow down to waltzing partners

adorned with snowflake dresses.

Snow by Cynthia Rylant

Snow by Cynthia Rylant

Who else but Cynthia Rylant can describe snow and all the things one can do on a snowy day? I can see writers using this book as a model for making lists in their writing notebooks. It would also be a great mentor text for writing descriptions in Writing Workshop and making connections in Reading Workshop.

Posted in connections, Reading Focus Lesson, Uncategorized, winter, Writing Focus Lesson, writing notebook | 7 Comments

SOLS:2013:4 Thrill Ride Battle Wound


Time: August 1960

Place: Coney Island, Ohio

Peeking through my bangs in my first grade school picture is a bandage that doesn’t look like it’s hiding any serious injury. But behind the bandage is a battle wound. Before school began I had a row of fairly fresh stitches across my forehead from one of my several bike collisions with our stone bridge. The bridge was a crossing for the meandering creek that ran in our front yard.

For an end of the summer fling, our family visited Coney Island near Cincinnati, Ohio. I was only five, almost 6 and my brother was two. Apparently my father wanted the thrill of a roller coaster ride and the only viable option for a passenger to go along with him…was I. Was there any discussion or did my father just ask me, “Would you like to ride the roller coaster?” Or did I request to ride the roller coaster as we passed by? Or did my dad ask my mother if she would ride with him while I watched my two-year old brother? I can imagine protests from my mother on all the above ideas. I don’t think she much liked roller coasters. I am certain she wasn’t comfortable leaving a two year old with a very shy five year old in the middle of an amusement park.  I wonder what made her give in to my dad? Did I beg to go? And didn’t they have height requirements? The fact is that she caved in to my dad.

The thrill begins……

Before I know it I am at the queue line to ride this towering wooden roller coaster that seemed to reach the sky. It is hurry, hurry to get into our car. The seconds feel like several minutes as we wait for the ride to begin. The car begins to move on the track. Stomach butterflies flutter as the roller coaster click clacks up to the cloudless sky. Head and body are pushed back against the red covering of the seat while white knuckled hands clutch the safety bar. Excitement builds along with a sprinkling of fear, as the car edges closer to the top. I become aware of the thump thump of my heart because the click clacking noise is now silent. I are at the top of the hill. For a few seconds I feel suspended in air. It’s coming! Some people dare to put their hands in the air but I hang on for dear life. The car thunders down. My body jerks from side to side as the car rapidly whips around sharp curves with my hair blowing in the wind. The car travels up another hill and down and around and yet another hill. Tightly I hang on but all of a sudden my head jerks forward and cracks into the safety bar. Ouch….blood drips as my dad realizes that I have broken open the row of stitches in my forehead.  As soon as the car comes to a stop I carefully get out of the car with dad holding my head. You know how head wounds are. We rush to the first aid station that is nearby where they stop the bleeding. Homeward bound. The end of a summer fling trip now cut short. Wonder what the ride home was like between my parents?

I am assuming that it is the following day when we go to our family doctor, Dr. Brown, for damage assessment. This battle wound requires metal clamps to pull the skin together. I do remember that Dr. Brown said I was very brave as she put the clamps in…not a tear. It must not have been too much of a family trauma as we continued to attend fairs and visit amusement parks. On the other hand, I don’t remember riding another roller coaster with my dad. ??? Come to think of it I don’t often do roller coasters…even now.

rollercoaster book 2I’ve used Roller Coaster by Marla Frazee for Reading Workshop Lesson to model making connections. Most kids have all kind of connections to roller coasters or that tingling butterfly feeling in their stomachs! Marla Frazee has other great titles for Making Connections focus lessons: Fast Food and Birthday Presents.

Posted in childhood memories, connections, Marla Frazee, Reading Focus Lesson | Tagged , | 16 Comments