Kathi Appelt New Book Review

Kathi Appelt 2013: Simon & Schuster, Inc.
Kathi Appelt knows the swamp and she can guide the most North Eastern New Englander, through the forested wetlands of Louisiana. A few pages in and you will see the golden eyes of a peering gator; smell the fast drying dampness of the moss-draped canopy, and hear the slow sounds of the decaying baldcypress. In The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp there are a lot of characters and natural beauty to root for. By writing in third-person omniscient narration (where the teller of the tale appears to be the author and they assume an all-knowing perspective on the story being told) the reader gains a multi-lens insight about swamp-ecology and an extended stay into the culture and heartbeat of the people who call it home. This story weaves the soul of memories and the whisper of stories once told with the sweet sugar smells of pure canebrake sugar fried pies and a twelve-year old boy who wouldn’t dream of letting developers destroy everything he knows and has yet to have the time to learn. Did I mention Bingo and J’Miah? The two raccoons that live in a half mud sunk rusted 1949 DeSoto?

Jellaby by Kean Soo

Jellaby (who has the appearance of part grub, part dragon, and a splash of monster) needs a friend. So does a young daydreaming girl named Portia. Soon another friendship develops with a bullied little boy, and together they develop a commitment to not only keep Jellaby protected, but to set out on an adventure to the city to find Jellaby's family (if he has one).

The characters are lovable and the story line moves swiftly and paced with some great text and use of panels to extend the potential to infer and relish in the what ifs. I do prefer a more colorful graphic novel, but if an artist is going to go with a few tones, I do like the pinks and purples and hard black lines.

Another quality option for the graphic novel fan who is looking for innovative stories that step outside of the superhero box. I think we will be seeing more to come from Kean Soo and I look forward to future journeys with Jellaby and friends!

Water Can Be...

Each page a chance for a new conversation, The text offers ample poetic vocabulary and is sparse enough to let the reader and listener reflect. The illustrations have you sailing the high tides and snuffing out forest fires. I appreciate how the illustrator and writer splash and drip upon the pages in the harmony of the softness summer rains and harshest February sleets. It just works and feels effortless. In the spirit of reading and writing in the science classroom, this book is another entrance for information. I would look out for this book to be released in April and consider it for your science or poetry shelf. Could serve as a mentor text for a unit on weather, liquids & solids, water, or for a variety of writing mini lessons. This book has a wide age appeal because of the conversation and learning potential each page offers, for example the "salmon highway" or the "woodchuck warmer." I think it is impressive with few words and illustrations what the author and illustrator have offered in this book. The Resources in the back; More about Water, glossary, and further reading was a welcomed surprise.

Morning Sniff

Preston and I walk every morning before work. Wish I worked full time as a writer and could stay home with him and write all day in my studio. That's what dreaming big is all about, right? Some day.

The Fault in our Stars

By page 10 I had tears in my eyes and they never went away, rather they turned into a full on sob by the time I got to the last third of the book. Such a beautiful story about love, the human spirit, life and death. So many of us have been touched by the cruel grips of cancer,either ourselves or someone we care about. This story is an important reminder that life is yours and every minute of it should bring you reflection and wonder. No one can validate your importance and a legacy really matters most to the people who love you the most. This book is a must read. A special read by John Green.

Apples, Farms, & Corn Mazes

Apple Glasses help us prepare for our apple picking field trip. We made a list of all the things we might see at the apple orchard and talked about specific apple vocabulary (core, seed, Macintosh). We explored the life cycle of an apple tree. We shared stories of apple trees in our yards or places we have seen them. Everyone was excited to visit a real apple orchard and pick apples.

Maine has ample apple trees and in our region we are lucky to have several pick your own apples orchards. It has always been a favorite field experience for kids and families alike. I always pick a giant basket for the class and when we return we sort, graph, explore, eat apples, and make apple prints until they are all gone! Some years we are lucky enough to press some apples and make apple cider too.
 Farms and farming topics, vocabulary, and schema building often seem to be a natural flow following apples and since we always try to visit a corn maze and farm after the crows have eaten most the fallen apples and pumpkins are a vibrant ripe orange. For reading groups my student made take home "Baa Baa Black Sheep" books and pointers to practice one to one matching and fluency. They loved their pointers! I explain to them that when they slow down and point (even if they can read the words) it will build their spelling knowledge when they slow down and match one to one. I find front loading those early concept of print tasks in the fall, established good habits and by the time students are reading level 3 they are much more comfortable removing their finger and one to one matching without it, while maintaining fluency and the ability to problem solve words.

The corn maze is so much fun! We practice mapping skills, following directions, team work, and have a great time while building our vocabulary and knowledge about corn, pumpkins, and all things autumn that become part of our histories and traditions and encourages students to reflect upon the natural world and their local ecology when they think about traditions and seasons.

The tractor ride sure is a highlight too. next stop the pumpkin patch and everyone bringing home their own pumpkin from the patch. Such a wonderful time of year to be outside and enjoy the sun...now that it is half way through November, it is getting dark around 5pm so getting outside often is important to all of us!

Doreen Cronin RULES!

October Fun

Caution: Enter if you dare...books about zombies, magic potions, tricks and treats could always be found behind cobwebs in October at the school library. Decorating the library makes it fun for readers to settle in for an extended period of time and activate all their senses while reading an October read aloud pick. To be respectful to all students beliefs, you can always have a corner that is "theme-free" too.

Spooky roll the die, count, and match

There was a candy called Dem-Bones that came out at Halloween. It had a variety of bone shaped candy. I made this graph for them to graph their bags of candy and we did a giant class graph for class totals. After I made a few dice and reused the graph for a new center without the candy.

Halloween Stories bring out a new emerging writing energy

October Word Wall in Kindergarten fosters independence at writing time, while building literacy skills.

Word Card helps with Letter ID, spelling, vocabulary, writing, art, risk taking, editing

Black Cats took some real fine motor and following direction skills.

Island Teachers Conference

Read Aloud in the Science and Social Studies Classroom Presentation at the 2013 Island Teachers Conference, Belfast, Maine. Thank you to the Island Institute for putting on this special conference. During the conference I spoke with several really interesting and innovative island teachers. I find their commitment to island teaching to be really inspiring. It was a nice opportunity to encourage discourse around an important topic in education.

Representing  Island Readers & Writers

Author Visits

Today author of Kunu's Basket, Lee Francis shared her inspiration and insight into writing her book. Students in grades 3rd & 4th listened to her read aloud and participated in a weaving activity.

Richard Peck

A charming little story about a very small mouse with a question mark shaped tail, and a very big secret (one that he doesn't even know about yet). The setting is Buckingham Palace and the small mouse with no name will have you scurrying all over the palace grounds, while he searches for his sense of self and place. An adventure story with a mouse hero to root for. A Victorian style mystery adventure, that will sure to please all the rodent fans out there. Richard Peck is a Newbery Award Winner and Two-Time National Book Award Finalist. Copyright for this book is 2013.

Ten Birds Meet a Monster

Shapes, shadows, and surprises through spectacular black and white ink drawings, offers a new favorite for those readers who value art in picture books. 10 birds are trying to scare off a "monster", so they experiment with the draping, wearing, and hiding under various articles of clothing; from an upside down blazer that looks like an opening scallop shell to a roller skate with wheels open wide like eyes. The creative illustrations were interesting to look at. The text was almost unnecessary. The story could reveal itself as a simple counting book or playful celebration of some silly birds, or perhaps it leads to a conversation about fearing what we don't know and how sometimes breaking down fear into influential elements, might just be the strategy of support. A special little gem.

Sight Words & Letter ID

Sight Word Center: Students can use materials like markers, colored pencils, stamps, water color paints, and cut paper to create their sight words. With emergent writers I liked to start the year off with Letter ID and Sight Word Centers.

A student's word work with a variety of mediums and materials. I love the cut paper. Please note, I pre-cut out the letters ahead of time (yes it took a very long time and my hands were sore and red when I was through). It actually was fun it an odd way. I am fond of fonts and collage so that might explain it.

Oh how the magnetic letters collection seem to expand. A very handy tool though. I use to love to start fall off with a rainbow table Magnetic Letter Match. For the duration of the center students at this center are going through the bins of mixed up magnetic letters and they are matching them to a letter label. It is a great sort technique. I always liked to store my magnetic letters in plastic fishing bins too. It is a great fall center. Depending on my numbers, my literacy centers started out with 4 centers at 15 minutes each for a total of 60 minutes. I would run a center and if I had a parent volunteer or other staff member, they would run a center, and two centers were independent. The independent centers were blocks, housekeeping, felt board, puppets, library corner, motor skills (play doh), puzzles and games for some examples.

Classroom Set Up

Setting up my classroom for a fresh new year was always one of my favorite things to do. I felt a sense of responsibility and happiness in creating a space for learners that allowed them to be both organized and innovative. It is a lot of work but it pays off to have a great space. Fact is, you spend a lot of time during the school year in that space, so you need to feel innovative too.

Smaller writing tables and areas allow students flexibility during writing time and supports them with their current writing needs. I always seemed to over hear writing conversations at this table and witnessed how writers at a very young age are open and reliant on good feedback for their writing. Writers of all ages are capable of editing along the process, it takes practice and quality feedback.

 Nothing like a table for 4 when sushi is on the menu. How much fun is it to set up the table in the housekeeping center? Please never stop advocating for dramatic play /housekeeping centers in early childhood classrooms. Hopefully the research on the academic and social value is being read by policy makers.

  I can only find old pictures of my kindergarten classroom. Why are my photos hiding when I want to share them? I'll post photos of my 4/5th grade classroom and library spaces later when I have the patience to search longer and harder for them. In the meantime, Check out the silks covering the harsh lights. I love them. I put my life in danger on a tall ladder alone in my classroom at night, trying to hang the things the same height! Not so cool.

This photo of my traveling lioness sculpture bench does not do it proud. It is such a beautiful and functional piece of art that demands the attention of everyone who enters into the space it owns. Over my nine years at the Pemetic Elementary School, students played with wild life animal toys on her, stretched out across her and read, named her, told her secrets, wished her good night and good bye, drew her and wrote stories where she stared as the heroine. 

A cooking word wall with interesting words that might not be on your typical word wall. When students wrote stories about cooking they could take the word cards off the pocket chart and to their table (they could copy the spelling). An interactive word wall can support emerging writers as they experiment with word choice and build their vocabulary around topics of interest and relevancy.

The Secret Pool

What do you get when you put a naturalist and science writer with an illustrator who always reveals the shining light of all mother nature's creatures? Throw in some interesting facts and empathetic energy and you get -- The Secret Pool by Kimberley Ridley and Rebekah Raye. From fairy shrimp to wood frogs, the wonders of ecology are abundant in vernal pools. For a budding 21st century ecologist, I couldn't imagine a more relevant and mysterious book to nurture their curiosity and inquiry. I'm now in love with every smiling critter in the vernal pool and armed with information that could help protect their crucial habitat. Every home with children and every science classroom would benefit greatly by adding this treasure to their book shelf. Brilliant topic to address with children and a validation to their natural tendencies to discover what is there in their world and to imagine what the eye can't see.

Early Math Center


I love this activity as a independent math center. The building of the towers begins with spatial and fine motor skills as well as building aesthetics. Putting the pencil to the paper to copy and draw the tower has participants practicing drawing shapes and requires revisiting, editing, and experimenting throughout the process. You will witness the skill of one to one matching, which transfers to reading text. Of course the coloring is also beneficial to fine motor skills and also the learning and talking about colors and patterns. The counting provides an extra math challenge for the builder. The best part is the happy smiles that cover the faces of the students engaged in this independent math center. It is times like this I really miss being in the classroom and creating meaningful activities that children love and learn from.

Gary D. Schmidt

I have had the pleasure to once again hear Gary Schmidt talk about his writing and how he shares his passion and talent with kids. This guy just knows how to tell a story to any audience and have them inhaling every syllable that is released from his heart and soul. A talented writer who writes books that make you want to slow down your reading a few pages in ; already dreading the moment when you finish a book and have to live without the characters you are deeply invested in, and a setting you feel part of, as if you are there yourself. All his books are winners, but I will say that Okay for Now is in my top 10 favorite books read. I'd love to know what you thought of it or if anyone is using this book with students? It would make an ideal book club read or a present to a middle school or older reader in your life who is always up for a new book to read and love!

Kunu's Basket

Kunu's Basket: A Story from Indian Island by Lee DeCora Francis 

Kunu and his family live on the Penobscot Indian Reservation in Maine. When Kunu starts learning how to make a traditional Penobscot basket, he begins a journey of discovery and connection to who he is. His grandfather is right by Kunu's side. Basketry is part of a Penobscot's family's history: basket-making has been passed down from grandfathers and fathers in the tribe throughout the decades.This is an important read aloud about the value of family, culture, tradition, and perseverance leading to discovery and sense of self.

Kindergarten Boot Camp

Does this stuffed Chihuahua have personality or what? Sigh. This photo was taken back in the day when I taught kindergarten. The students ran a Stuffed Animal Day Care in the classroom...for months! Big brown eyes was one of the stuffed animals attending day care. She joined stuffed teddy bears, cats, bunnies, and several other dogs too. Kindergarten is such a magical year of school and I hope that all the new kindergarten students this fall get a wonderful teacher who takes the time to look them in the eyes every day. A teacher who knows their likes, dislikes, fears, and dreams. A teacher who will enhance their literacy skills, embrace their strengths, and nurture them like they are the most important kid in the world...because they are. If anyone has any burning questions or concerns about kindergarten please post here and I will respond to all! I will put together some tips for new kindergarten students and a book list soon. Thinking Kindergarten Boot Camp of some kind.

The Man with the Violin

Kathy Stinson; art by Dušan Petričić
This is a fictional account based on a true event that exposes questions around  music and value, and reminds us to reclaim our sense of curiosity and inquiry, that came so naturally with childhood. The event was when (on January 12, 2007) one of the best violinists in the world, Joshua Bell, dressed as a regular street musician played his priceless violin to a busy metro station in Washington D.C. for 43 minutes. Only seven out of thousands of people stopped to listen for more than a minute. This is a violinist that fills concert halls with $100 seats. In the post script of this story about a little boy who tries to get his mother to stop and listen to the music that has ignited passion and emotion inside of him; Bell confirms that it is true to his experience, in that it was the kids "who were turning their heads, straining to listen while their parents dragged them away". Building off this idea of kids curious and imaginative nature, we all should ask questions of ourselves about our own willingness to absorb true lessons and moments of undefined beauty. Defining and finding those important moments and values all around us, demands we listen more. This book would make a beautiful read aloud for any music teacher and is a must have on any mentor text set around music. I am pleased that this event (which I first heard about on Facebook) is in picture book form. Bravo to the author and illustrator for validating the intellectual and critical thinking skills of young readers and listeners. A story that needed to be told in this platform.

Doll Bones

Holly Black is is the author of The Spiderwick Chronicles too.

Holly Black delivers a story infused with friendship and adventure with an air of creepiness throughout. Friends Poppy, Zach, and Alice are fueled by their imagination and somewhat ruled by an off limits old china doll imprisoned in a cabinet at Poppy's house. After Zach's dad betrays his childhood by throwing away his "toys" and Poppy keeps having dreams about the ghost of a little girl who can not rest in peace until the bone-china doll is buried in her empty grave, the three friends head off for an epic journey. Through hurdles, more dreams, and adversity, their travels will slowly unravel bits of the mystery and insight to what the china doll means to them.

Readers 10 and up will especially appreciate this type of mystery and will surely relish in the creep factor! The three characters are likable and the plot moves swiftly, making this the type of book that gets read in a few days for even the most reluctant of readers. Add this to your summer reading list and if you have a classroom or library to share this book- be prepared to hear a chatter about it and to see it move off the shelf often!

Nel Noddings & A Book List

"If we decide that the capacity to care is as much a mark of personhood as reason and rationality, then we will want to find ways to increase this capacity." - Nel Noddings

In the spirit of Nel Noddings, I have started to put together a mentor text list of books that encourage a dialogue around ethics, choices, and caring. One idea for extending conversations might be to have small groups of students write prologues or epilogues to help express how they saw through a character's lens. Exploring the diverse characters and how they came to make and reflect upon their actions, will offer participants critical discourse opportunities.

Picture Books
  • Little Beauty by Anthony Browne
  • Voices in the Park by Anthony Browne
  • Willy the Wimp by Anthony Browne
  • Gorilla by Anthony Browne
  • Wiener Wolf by Jeff Crosby
  • Hey, Little Ant by Phillip & Hannah Hoose
  • Fox by Margaret Wild & Ron Brooks
  • Night Diary by Paul Hunt
  • The Lion & the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney
  • Thanks to the Animals by Rebekah Raye
  • Friends by Catherine Thimmesh
  • Everyday Dress Up by Alko
  • The Robot & the Bluebird by Lucas
  • Woolbur by Leslie Helakoski

Books for Grade 4 and Above  

  • The One & Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
  • Flawed Dogs by Berkeley Breathed
  • The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo
  • Hole in My Life by Jack Gantos
  • Okay for Now by Gary Schmidt
  • Paperboy by Vince Vawter
  • Rules by Cynthia Lord
  • Because of Mr. Terupt by Rob Buyea
  • Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick   


I just finished my first summer read, Paperboy by Vince Vawter.  A story about a reflective young boy, who happens to stutter. A boy who experiences a summer that exposes his inner strengths, through listening to what others around him can offer him, as well as their embrace of all he can offer too. I think it is appropriate that author Rob Buyea commented that he loved this book, as Vawter, like Buyea or a Gary Schmidt, develop characters that are as real as someone you know, and you find yourself rooting for their happiness and well being during and after you finish reading. I also know a book is special to me when in between reading it, I think about it and offer insight, as if I am reflecting about someone I care about in real life. For anyone who feels defined by their tangles, or can relate to how that feels, this book will reveal the confidence we all have and need to survive adversity. This book makes a great family read, independent read, and would be a well received read aloud too.