Thursday, December 22, 2011

Changing Directions a Little

Look at how lame I am, not posting anything for months, just letting my poor little blog wither in the dust.

I couldn't decide what to do about this blog because the point was to 'blog' about the books I read by authors coming to the 2011 Illinois Reading Council Conference last March, and now that it's long over ..... should I keep going?

My original goal was to read all of the books by all of the authors coming to the conference, and of course I didn't reach that goal, but I did pretty well!  I haven't counted up all that I read, but one of these days I'm going to.  Meanwhile, I also considered trying to read all of the books by all of the authors coming to the 2012 conference, but to be honest, I had to get some other reading done, more grown-up stuff like about changing my life, blah, blah, blah.  I just wanted to expand a little bit because I'm writing a book about books, and I needed to diversify for a while to get more material.

This is me, looking confused.  I think that's what that look is ....
So I can quit this blog completely and start a new one, or I can change the purpose of the blog and keep going.  I'm still not sure.  I HAVE read some other books in the last several months that are 'outside the box' in their own way, so I don't know whether to discuss them here or to start a new blog where I can discuss any kind of literature that I want.  Still pondering that one.

Meanwhile, I'm continuing to do my research on successful teaching, so I'm going to use this blog post to shamelessly ask readers to take my five minute survey on teaching (for those of you who are elementary teachers) OR to share the link with your friends who are elementary teachers.  I'll be doing more of this later with middle and high school teachers, but for now I'm just looking at what elementary teachers think makes them feel successful about teaching.  Seriously, if it takes more than five minutes, you're thinking way too hard.  And I don't just want people in Illinois to answer this survey, either - I want to know what people from all over the United States think.  Why, you might ask?  Because I teach preservice teachers, and I want to help them feel genuinely successful.  Bill Gates can do all the surveys he wants; that's important data too, of course, but me and my piddly little survey are important, too, as far as I'm concerned.

So here's the link to the survey:  And here's to figuring out what I want to do with the rest of my blogging life.  Any and all suggestions are welcome!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Contest for a free book!

Hey, folks, if any of you are fans of Jodi Picoult's books, you might want to check this out:  Sarah has come out with a debut novel, and Jodi likes it, so it must be good!  Anyway, Sarah has a contest going on - all you have to do is leave a comment about what you are reading this summer, and your name goes in the hat for a drawing for a signed copy of her book along with a box of goodies!  And how easy is that, to just let her know what you're reading this summer?  But no fair making fun of the LONG comment I left!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Elementary Teachers' Survey

Hey, while I'm slacking on my postings (it's berry season!) please feel free to respond to my survey monkey survey, if you're an elementary teacher.  I don't care if you've just finished student teaching or if you're close to retirement, and by all means, share this with others as well.  I promise it won't take you five minutes.  Promise, although the first question might give you pause to think.  Please and thank you!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Thirteen Days to Midnight

Literacy Outside the Box - in Africa!

So it’s the first of June, and I have neglected to post entries about books on this blog since the conference ended.  But as I stated in an interim posting, I have not stopped reading the books!  As a matter of fact, I believe I’ve read five since then, but I may not be counting correctly.  Other things have happened since the 2011 IRC conference besides the birth of my first grandchild (the ASCD conference in San Francisco, the IRA Convention in Orlando, and most recently, my trip with colleagues and student interns to the country of Gambia, in Africa).  It’s been a busy 2 ½ months!  And summer school begins tomorrow on my campus, bringing with it a flurry of other activity. 

Today I had the opportunity to talk to a woman who was a bridesmaid in my brother and sister-in-law’s wedding a LONG time ago.  First of all, it made me reflect on how some friendships last and last while others flutter a little more: she and my sister-in-law have maintained their friendship over the years and miles and are planning on celebrating a big birthday with a trip this summer.  I admire that.  She also had her daughter with her, who is required to read a book this summer and then discuss it with her teacher at the beginning of school in the fall.  Of course we talked about books!  And if I’d had a notepad with me, I would have taken down titles from her.  The good news, of course, is that I know she’s not too far away:  I just need to ask my sister-in-law for her email address or request her as a 'friend' on Facebook and we can be connected.  One of the best wonders of technology. 

So the daughter is going to be a freshman in high school; if anyone reading this blog has a good idea for books for her, please let me know.  Of course I’m recommending some of the ones I reviewed here, but I know there are many other books in the world!  It should be something that is emotionally and cognitively appropriate for someone in her age range and something about which she can be thoughtful and reflective, at least to a point.

One of the books I recommend is one of Patrick Carman’s books:  Thirteen Days to Midnight.  It happens to be the one I’m reading at the moment.  Here’s what it’s done to me: I usually look forward to reading every night before I go to bed, but I’m so emotionally invested in this one and fearful for the main character that I almost dread opening it back up!  Don’t get me wrong – it’s a fabulous story.  The main character, Jacob, has received a power of indestructibility that he’s discovered he can pass around when it’s needed.  He and his best friend (Milo) and a relatively mysterious girl (Ophelia - who ends up being his girlfriend) work together to figure out how best to use the power to benefit others.  At least that’s what’s going on so far, and I’m about 2/3 through the book.  It’s the kind of story that raises all sorts of questions and opinions without even realizing it: “What if the power gets more comfortable in someone else’s body – will he be able to get it back?  What’s the deal with Ophelia: is she good, or is she really bad?  What is in the elusive box that his foster father left behind?  What if he had never shared the power in the first place?  Should he have kept it to himself?” 

While I’m reading, I feel a lot like I do when I’m watching a movie and see something happening that the main character can’t see … you know the feeling … when you just want to jump into the scene and tell him or her what to do or what not to do.  “Do NOT go into that room without a flashlight!”  It’s chilling without being horrifying and it bring up all sorts of questions of ethics without being preachy or even without being obvious. 

It’s a book for a bit older crowd than many of Carman’s other books, so while I love his other work, this is definitely one that’s appropriate for high school students.  True to Carman’s form, there is technology involved with the book: there is a website devoted to it where you can read an overview of the book and listen to the first chapter.  I hope this book is made into a film because it would be a huge success.

I’m worried about what Ophelia’s all about – that’s been gnawing at me all day - and I’m worried for Jacob and Milo’s friendship, and I think he’s going to be able to get into that box pretty soon, so if you’ll please excuse me, I think I’ll put my fears aside and go read …..

Friday, April 22, 2011


I'm so sorry - I know this has nothing to do with the topics addressed by this blog, but our first grandchild arrived last night, and I had to show him off!  He's gorgeous!  His mom worked really hard to get him here, and his dad did too!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

STILL Reading!

Okay, I know there are people who think this blog must be defunct because I've been so 'quiet' since the IRC conference, but nothing could be further from the truth.  I'm just busy, busy, busy, and I take a long time (believe it or not) on most of these posts, so I haven't been able to find a big enough slice of time to write a fulsome entry.  But since the last post, I've finished Burger Wuss (another M.T. Anderson book) and have read a big chunk of the second Octavian Nothing book as well.  I also discovered (duh) that I had already read one more of Jane Yolen's books (Girl in a Cage), so I'll need to tell you about that as well.  I might actually be able to get that done this weekend - I'm keeping my fingers crossed!

Anyway, I do want to encourage you to go the the IRC website ( and get on the ning.  You can share information with people, discuss specific topics, and share pictures as well.

Speaking of pictures, please don't be shy about posting conference pictures, and also please don't be shy about sending them to me as attachments to email.  You can do that right through the web site (email me from there), or you could send them to my mac email address, which is  I'd appreciate any visual mementos you wouldn't mind sharing!

Hope the weather where you are is not as gloomy as it is where I am, but if it is, well, that's just good reading weather!  Enjoy your weekend ...

Friday, March 25, 2011

Fun with Barry Lane at the IRC Conference

Okay, I just can't help myself:  I have to post this tongue-in-cheek video that Barry Lane and Christine Boardman-Moen put together at the conference with the help of some other teachers who are good sports.  It's a hoot, and very well acted, I might add!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

IRC Conference

Well, well, well --- wasn't that fun?  I sincerely hope that everyone at the conference enjoyed themselves as much as I did, learned a lot, and got a chance to recharge and get some new ideas to take back to the classroom.  A huge thank you to the volunteers, the conference committee chairs and members, the office staff, the executive board, the past presidents, the featured speakers, the attendees, and everyone at both of the hotels and the convention center who worked so tirelessly to make the conference run so smoothly and provide such high quality  professional development for everyone attending.

Over the next several days, I hope to post pictures here from the conference and perhaps some video, along with more information, like the fact that 25 IRC local and special interest councils brought Hall of Council displays to the conference - I believe that's got to be a record!  Good for them, and good for Karen Ringas, Director of Membership Development, who engineers the whole Hall of Councils event.

I personally had such an incredible time at the conference that it could only have been better if I could have cloned myself and gotten to more sessions.  AND if I had remembered to get the rest of my books signed.

Literacy Experts Get Down with Barry Lane!
Today (the Sunday after) has been spent in a fog.  I had four hours of sleep each of four nights in a row, and I am not allowed to have caffeine (medically), so I had to rely on vitamins.  They didn't do enough on that last day, but meeting and hearing the incredibly talented Marc Brown made the day a truly special one.  What a sweet and kind person!

The car is almost all unloaded, and most of the laundry is done, but my feet are still swollen and sore from the Literacy Cabaret and the last day.  Note to self: new black sandals must be on my horizon!

So what's up with this blog, now that the conference is over?  Honestly, I'm going to continue my quest to read books and write about them here; I see no reason to stop now!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Tomorrow! IRC Conference!

Where, oh where has the last year gone?  I don't know, but I know it wasn't enough time for me to read 546 books!  I still need to count up how many I actually did read, and maybe I will do that tonight before I go to bed.  I KNOW there will be people asking me at the conference!  And there are still lots of other details to still attend to tonight, including packing my clothes / shoes / electronics / schedule / etc.

My husband is in the next room helping me out with some little goodies that I'm giving to the Executive Board and the Office Staff as a thank you, and I am typing up my schedule for the conference.  I've found over the last several years that it helps tremendously for me to have a written chart for each day of where I need to be when and what I'm supposed to be doing there.  If you decide you'd like to run for VP and be the Conference Chair, you will need to plan out your time in great detail as well.  It's one of the reasons I'm not worried about anything going awry over the course of the next few days; the whole conference is planned in much more detail than most people can imagine.  We are so lucky to have the office staff that we do and the great volunteers that plan and execute in such great detail as well!  Thank you to everyone who has worked so hard to make this conference another wonderful one.

And I have to say that hard work has paid off: as of today we have 2,857 people registered for the conference!  I remember last year, when schools started cutting professional development money, I thought the only people who would get to come to the conference were the featured speakers and the executive board - and some of them weren't sure they could even make it until just recently.  So this is huge!  The teachers of Illinois have spoken, and they are saying clearly that they know what kind of professional development they want and they know where they can get it.  I am so proud to be from this state!

Check out the forecast for the Springfield area, too: it's going to be really nice, but we might get some rain on Thursday, so bring an umbrella!

If your travel plans allow, please plan on stopping by the Welcome Reception Wednesday night from 6:30 - 8:30 in the Abraham Lincoln Hotel Ballroom. There will be snacks and a cash bar, and the President of the International Reading Association will be there to say hello to you all!  We will also give away our awards to legislators, so you will get to spend some time with the folks who are fighting the good fight for the children of Illinois right along with you.

Don't forget - if you come up to me at the conference and tell me something you learned from reading this blog, you'll get a free door prize!  But also remember that it has to be something that someone else has not yet told me, so come with a couple of tidbits.  I hope I've provided you with enough information so far - and that you come grab me early on!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Reading Challenge

Well, just how far into my reading challenge am I?  I don't actually know, though I'm going to try to total up the books I've read before the conference starts next Wednesday evening.  I read 18 books at the Lincoln Library today and finished one of T.A. Barron's books in my car as well (The Great Tree of Avalon:  Child of the Dark Prophecy).

I've learned a couple of things about myself as a reader by listening to this book, and also about my car and what my next one will be like.  As a reader, listening to a book on tape reminds me of the strategy of rereading because yes, my mind does occasionally wander when I read and I need to back up and reread.  So you can imagine, while I'm driving, that I'm focused on more than the book at hand!  Mostly I listened to this book on the stretch of interstate between here and work; that's nearly half an hour each way.  But it was frustrating running errands in town or driving to the gym because I kept wanting to find out what was happening in the story, and I knew I shouldn't listen while I was navigating traffic lights and other vehicles!  So I'd have to occasionally back up the cd to 'reread,' and then I finally got smart and stopped listening altogether while I was in town.  As a listener, I found myself wondering about the spelling of words that are new to me, which in this case were primarily names of people / creatures, and places.  It was comforting to remember that I have copy of the book, so I can look up these words and see them spelled eventually rather than just wonder about it forever.

What I learned about my car is that, unlike my last one, this one doesn't let run the cd back; I can skip back to the previous track, but that's it.  That means that if I'm listening to a track of the book and about 2 1/2 minutes into it realize I've missed something, I can't just run it back a tad; I have to skip back to the beginning of the track, which means repeating the entire 2 1/2 minutes to get to the last little bit that I missed.  Not that the wandering actually happened often with this book: it's action packed and full of amazing descriptions of wild, new places.  I've decided Tom Barron just really likes to make things up, and he does an extraordinary job of doing it!