Cracked Corn and Snow Ice Cream

Every year I teach Reference books to 4th grade. Most may not have seen a dictionary – I’m not joking, or a thesaurus, and they think of encyclopedias as “Google, but in a book.” Some have never looked at a road map so an atlas is a new concept too. But I can show them physical copies of each of these items and they get the idea. He last type of reference book is an almanac. I can explain until I’m blue in the face about needing to know when it’s best to plant, and when to expect rain, but for the most part, it’s just not something we typically use in our technological age.

I don’t buy the yearly Farmers Almanac because they aren’t cheap, they aren’t super durable and there just aren’t that many kids concerned about when the tides will change.

But yesterday, I made a Thrift Store Score with this book:

I bought it for a couple of reasons. First, it’s not for a specific year so it can’t really become outdated. Second, it’s hardbound, so it will last awhile on my shelves. Third, it gives me a physical copy to show students during lessons, and fourth, it’s just old-timey country goodness.

Besides the monthly advice there are little tidbits scattered throughout the book like HowTo Find Your True Love:

  • Walk around the block with your mouth full of water. If you don’t swallow it, you’ll be married within the year.
  • Set a silent supper late at night, taking care to do everything backward. Keep perfectly silent. Take your seat backward and at the stroke of midnight you will see the face of your true love.
  • Count Fifty white horses as you see them, and a white mile. Your groom will be the first unmarried man you shake hands with afterward.

This book is so fun, I can’t wait to show it to one history-loving teacher in particular. Of course, that’s after I read the whole thing!

Separate but Unequal 

This year for Teacher Appreciation, one of the greatest Mother/Daughter duos that I’ve had the privilege to work with gave me the book Stella By Starlight by Sharon Draper. Draper’s name should be familiar to my followers, as she is the author of Out of My Mind, one of my all-time top 3 middle grade books. I’ve shared about it in previous entries, probably more than once.

Stella By Starlight is nothing like Out of My Mind, but it was a very touching story in its own way.

The story is set in 1932 in the town of Bumblebee, North Carolina. Bumblebee is a segregated town. There are two schools, one white-one black, two doctors, one white-one black, and two neighborhoods, one white-one black. There are townspeople who do not follow the segregation laws, but for the most part the town is split in two based on the colors of the citizens’ skin.

Stella is like any average girl, she has to deal with school work – she hates writing, a younger brother who sometimes bugs her, and is sometimes her best friend, family life and friends (maybe even liking boys.)

But Stella has other things that factor into her everyday life. She has to, in a limited way, interact with people who only see her skin color. She knows not to speak out of turn, or look many white people in the eye. The two sides of town have an uneasy peace, but one night Stella and her brother see a burning cross on the other side of the pond. The Ku Klux Klan has reemerged in their tiny town.

The 1930s were not any easy time for most Americans, race issues aside. The Great Depression had left many people out of work and struggling to take care of their families. It was not hard for groups like the KKK to capitalize on people’s fears and insecurities. 

In such a time of turmoil, men like Stella’s father chose to stand up for their right to vote, wanting a say in who would hopefully bring the country out of the Depression. Draper wrote a tense scene where three African American men stood up for themselves and registered to vote. Draper is not shy about telling young readers about the inconsistencies in the “rules”. Stella’s father and his friends must take a test proving they can recite the preamble to the Constitution, answer questions on American history and so forth. The white man who conducted the test could barely read, a detail that Stella was quick to see. The men must use peaceful resistance to accomplish their goal but they finally do.

It would be nice to say that the men only had to face the farcical test to register to vote and then after proving themselves to be upstanding citizens, they were seen as equals in Bumblebee. Unfortunately, they brought the wrath of the KKK down on the “colored” side of the community. These white men were cowardly enough to burn down a man’s home while he, his wife and their 13 children were inside. The Klan wasn’t satisfied with endangering innocent lives in the fire though. Stella’s friend is beaten mercilessly in broad daylight when he attempts to stand up for Stella when she is accused of being a thief.

Stella’s eyes are opened up to the craziness of the world around her, and in discovering the realities of life for a African American in segregated America, she discovers an inner strength she never knew she had. That inner strength is fostered by her community of friends and family and she becomes so much more than she thought possible. 

This story would be a great read-aloud for middle grade students. It not only teaches readers that separate is never equal, but it shows quite clearly that the prejudices of many were not held by all. Sadly, segregation continued legally into the 1960s in America, and I’m sure in some ways it still exists. The only was to stop such history from being repeated is to teach our children the truth.

 We promise to teach you, and to guide you. Each of you is a David, and you will face many Goliaths in life. The job of adults is to prepare you. And we will.

Hazy Bloom

I am reading every day in preparation for the class about what’s new in children’s literature that I’m teaching (?) in July. Today I read the first book in a new series about a third grade girl named Hazy Bloom. 

Girls in 2nd and 3rd grade are going to love Hazy. For real live. (Hazy says that. A lot.) one night Hazy sees something odd: a vision of flying peas….?

Yeah, I’d be confused too. But the next day there’s a food fight at lunch and it all starts with some flying peas. Hazy’ best friend realizes this is a superpower, and therefore must be kept secret. Except that the visions are starting to get Hazy in trouble and she can’t explain because it’s a secret.

Her week goes from bad to worse with the visions keeping her from helping her friend win a cupcake competition and having to bunk with her brother while her quirky aunt visits.

Hazy finally gets a handle on things and the visions help her save the day. She even starts to feel closer to her Aunt Jenna, who always seems to have just the right thing for Hazy when she needs it….like maybe Hazy isn’t the only one in the family with tomorrow power.

This story was a fun read with cute pictures and language that sound authentic to third grade girls. Like I said, this will be a popular series with them. I don’t know if book two is out yet, but I’m definitely going to watch for it!

🎶School’s out for summer!🎶

Finally! Summer break is here! It’s time to close up classrooms and mournfully think of our former students all summer long….yeah, right! Teachers love summer break as much as kids, so you’d better believe we celebrate when the last day comes.

This story is actually about the hijinks teachers get up to on regular school nights but I thought it was fitting for today. The book has dancing, food fights and a science experiment gone wrong, but we usually save that stuff for winter break.

Yes, we do finish up cleaning and organizing our classrooms, and we do think fondly of our former students, but we’re also planning ahead to how we’ll spend the time until next fall.

Our school always has a final get together. Today we honored staff who were moving away, retiring or leaving us to continue their education. We laugh and we cry, and we relax.

I have a temporary summer job at the public library, and I need to prepare to be the speaker at a what’s new in children’s literature class later this summer. 

I also have project ideas!!! I am going to make giant truffula trees (The Lorax) for my Seuss area, a 3D Taj Mahal puzzle to construct for my English as a Second Language shelf and I’m sure I’ll come up with more as summer goes on.

I’m pretty excited for the free time but guess what I’m most excited about?!? Sleeping in for a week before my summer job starts. Hope your summer is awesome!


Tomorrow is the last day of school for us, and while I’m ready for summer break, it’s hard to let students go. I am saying goodbye to four 4th grade classes this year. I know that it is even harder for their classroom teachers. As a tribute to those teachers who are so amazing, I wanted to tell you about a few books that touch the heart of what our teachers mean to us all.

Every year Mrs. Spritzer prepares her room for her new packet of ‘seeds.’ She plants and nurtures them, knowing each is different: some are late bloomers, some have bright eye-catching colors, and some need extra patience and love to grow. 

Miss Maple gathers up all the orphaned seeds in the fall and cares for them through the winter. She reads to them and tucks them in snug and warm before planting them in the spring.

“Take care, my little ones, for the world is big and you are small.

I don’t own this one yet, but it’s got two great things going for it: Deborah Hopkinson wrote it and Nancy Carpenter is the illustrator. I’m sure it will bring tears to a few teachers’ eyes.

Sometimes it’s the teacher who is leaving the school. Kelly DiPucchio has given us the lovable Mrs. McBloom, who has years and years worth of mementos from her former students. It’s time to retire but no one is sure how she’ll get her room clean. As one of the best loved teachers in her town, Mrs. McBloom gets some help from all of her former students. Everyone takes a memento and when it’s all said and done, the room is clean and the whole town has celebrated their time with Mrs. McBloom.

So hug those teachers or drop by to visit from time to time to share memories. They help mold us into the people we are and teach us how to grow up strong.

Mr. Peabody’s Apples

Tomorrow will be my last 4th grade classes of the school year. I worked hard to get Out of My Mind done with them and I think I’ve found a nice way to finish their careers at my school.

I know, Madonna isn’t the author you expect from a book with a great life lesson in it, but I can’t argue with the words on the pages: this is a book every middle grade kids should read.

Mr. Peabody is the beloved baseball coach and history teacher in a small town. One day a baseball player sees him choose a shiny red Apple at the grocery and take it without paying for it. Instead of confronting Mr. Peabody or even the grocer, he tells his friends. Soon the rumor has spread all over town and Mr. Peabody is asked to quit coaching.

Once Mr. Peabody finds out who started the rumor, he takes the boy to the countryside and they cut open a feather pillow. As the feathers scatter across the meadow, Mr. Peabody explains that an apology will never be enough to stop the rumor, which he compares to gathering all those feathers back up.

It’s a sad fact that in 4th grade, that’s kids 9 and 10 years old, you can already recognize bullies and mean girls. I’d like to say my four 4th grade classrooms are exempt, but they aren’t. My own daughter had a mean girl run in just yesterday.

I hope that the simple message of this book comes through and helps them make better choices as they venture out into the world.

Jim Nasium: Sports for early chapter readers

Jim Nasium is the perfect answer to kids who want to read about sports but find most of the books too hard. In this chapter book series by Marty McNight, and illustrated by Chris Jones, kids who are just getting started in chapters can enjoy Jim’s clumsy attempts to play different sports.

I just read Jom Nasium Is a Football Fumbler, and I can identify with being chosen lady and his struggle to be coordinated on the field. Jim doesn’t give up when he’s stuck on the bench, and in the end, he, with a friend’s help, figures out how to be a part of the team.

Incidentally, I know nothing about football, but the story was simple enough that I had no trouble following the game.

There is a boy on the team who bullies Jim and seems to think of himself as the greatest player of all time. I knew a few kids like that growing up and so I figure that type is still out there. 
I’m hoping the next generation (my daughters’) sees less of it, but there are egotists everywhere, and not just in sports. Thank goodness for wholesome books like this that show how unnecessary that attitude is.

The four books above came out in 2015, and two more were added to the collection in 2016. 

I’m hoping they continue to add more. A female counterpart would be nice, since girl-sports are so hard to get ahold of.


I thought today that it might be interesting to write about the topic of censorship and banned books instead of choosing a certain book to discuss. First and foremost, I am not advocating every child having access to every book. There are certain books my own daughters are capable of reading but not fully capable of understanding, hence they are not yet allowed to read them. That is my decision as a parent, and it’s not the same thing as a blanket ban on a book.

You’d be surprised how many children’s classics have been contested and banned in either schools or libraries. I did an Internet search for a list of the most commonly banned children’s books and came up with this from The American Library Association:

L. Frank Baum- The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (promoting magic and cowardice)

Dahl, Roald- Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (racism), James and the Giant Peach (smoking, violence, sexually explicit content), The Witches (misogyny)

Dr. Seuss- Hop on Pop, If I Ran the Zoo, Green Eggs and Ham (promoting homosexuality)

George, Jean Craighead- Julie of the Wolves

Hahn, Mary Downing- The Dead Man in Indian Creek

Hanford, Martin- Where’s Waldo? (partial nudity)

Henkes, Kevin- Olive’s Ocean

Kehret, Peg- Stolen Children

Kellogg, Steven- Pinkerton, Behave!

Kilodavis, Cheryl- My Princess Boy: A Mom’s Story About a Young Boy Who Loves to Dress Up (promoting homosexuality)

Kotzwinkle, William, and Glenn Murray- Walter the Farting Dog

L’Engle, Madeleine- A Wrinkle in Time (satanic themes)

Lowry, Lois- Anastasia Krupnik series
Lowry, Lois- The Giver

Mochizuki, Ken- Baseball Saved Us

Nelson, O.T.- The Girl Who Owned a City

Newman, Leslea. Heather Has Two Mommies (promoting same-sex lifestyle/marriage)

Park, Barbara- Junie B. Jones 
Parr, Todd- The Family Book

Paterson, Katherine- Bridge to Terabithia (depicting death), The Great Gilly Hopkins (foul language)

Pilkey, Dav- The Adventures of Super Diaper Baby: The First Graphic Novel, Captain Underpants series (partial nudity and disrespectful to school officials)

Polacco, Patricia- In Our Mothers’ House (promoting same-sex relationships)

Rey, H.A.- Curious George (smoking)

Richardson, Justin, and Peter Parnell- And Tango Makes Three (based on a true story of two male penguins who hatched an egg together)
Rodgers, Mary- Freaky Friday

Rowling, J.K.- Harry Potter series (promoting use of magic)

Sachar, Louis- Marvin Redpost: Is He a Girl?

Schwartz, Alvin- Scary Stories series

Sendak, Maurice- In the Night Kitchen (nudity), Where the Wild Things Are (disrespectful child)

Silverstein, Shel- A Light in the Attic
Smith, Jeff- Bone series

Snyder, Zilpha Keatley- The Egypt Game

Speare, Elizabeth George- The Sign of the Beaver

Stine, R.L.- Goosebumps series

Taylor, Mildred D.- The Land, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry

Telgemeier, Raina- Drama (promoting homosexuality)

Willhoite, Michael- Daddy’s Roommate (promoting homosexuality)

Winter, Jeanette. The Librarian of Basra: A True Story from Iraq, Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan

Yep, Laurence- Dragonwings

I cut the list down; these are titles I’m familiar with. If I know why the books are on the list, I’ve put it into parentheses. I also added a few books that I’ve heard of before.

Whether you see these books as harmless or not, the point I’m trying to get across is that what one person sees in a book, another may not. In America we are guaranteed freedom of speech, so it is not for me to choose what you can or cannot read. 

If you are concerned about what your kids are reading, take the time to read or even skim the book in question. You are responsible for helping them choose books that meet your family’s values.

Reading with Dick and Jane

Chances are you are familiar with the Dick and Jane series of books for early readers. Even though they use sight words instead of phonics to teach children to read, they are still around, almost 90 years after they debuted in the 1930s!!

We recognize the characters Dick, Jane, Sally (sometimes Baby), Mother, Father, Spot the Dog and Puff the Cat, although Spot was originally a cat and reworked as a dog after the 1930s.

The artwork most of us recognize is not the original.  I had never before seen the original artwork:

Illustrations were done by Eleanor Campbell and Keith Ward. Robert Childress did the illustrations during the 1950s. Richard Wiley took over the illustrations in the 1960s, and was the first to include African American characters in the book series. 

Yes, you read that right, there are African American characters. I’m pretty sure none of the Dick and Jane books I have at school have these characters in them.

The good news is that the Thrift Store Score that inspired this post, has some of Mike, Penny and Pam’s stories in it. I love a good multicultural book!

I found this book in hardback in great condition, with a sewn binding instead of glue, for 75¢!! My first graders will be so excited – too bad the year is almost over for us.

These books are an iconic piece of American history. They, along with The Bobsy Twins were some of the first books many of us could read on our own.

They have inspired a few parodies too. I think our public library owns this one:

Depending on your humor, you could be laughing your butt off, stifling a giggle or feeling outraged. I’m stifling a giggle. Google “Dick and Jane funny” and you’ll see a lot of jokes where the original illustrations or words are altered and some that just point out the innuendos that seem to hide in the original words.

I totally get the humor that people find in these jokes, but I also appreciate the simple lessons these books offer to young children. The mid century illustrations are so fabulous, it’s hard not to smile when I look at them.


It is not common in this day and age to find new species of animals. Usually when a scientist does, it’s a small and easily overlooked creature like frogs or insects. But in 2013 it was announced that Kristofer Helgen, the curator of mammals at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, had found a “new” small mammal, the olinguito, pronounced oh-lin-GHEE-to

I was very excited to get in Sandra Markle’s book, The Search For Olinguito: discovering a new species. I think it’s important that children know about conservation but I also want them to know that there are still frontiers and new discoveries awaiting them in this world.

Helgen did not set out to find a new species, but through diligent scientific research he did just that. I’m pretty sure kids are taught the scientific method and that’s exactly what Helgen had to do to prove the Olinguito was not an olingo as originally thought.

The olinguito and the olingo are both related to raccoons and kinkajous. They inhabit the cloud forests in South America and the foggy misty forest provides them the perfect protection from prying eyes.

Markle’s book is not the only one out about olinguitos:

I don’t own these yet, but I’d like to get more information on these adorable animals. And to make you smile, check out a baby olinguito:

No wonder they are nicknamed kitty bears!