Mock Caldecott Winners!

Neither snow nor conferences could prevent our class from picking this year’s Mock Caldecott winners! Despite not having school all last week, and despite Ms. Houghton’s two-day absence this week at the National Title I Conference, our class has arrived at a decision.

Two books received honors, two very different books, in my mind. The first honor book selected was:

Queen of the Falls by Chris VanAllsburg. I actually didn’t read this book to the class until the day before our first round of voting, but it just barely made it onto our 11-book short list. Students say they voted for this book because we were amazed by the story of a woman going down Niagara Falls in a barrel. The book pointed out she was an old lady and a woman, and we thought it was strange that people were disappointed that she was so old.

The second Caldecott honor book we selected was a write-in candidate that made it onto our short list:

Sidekicks by Dan Santat. Sidekicks made it as a write-in candidate because it was funny. Specifically, we liked when they fought the hippo that was eating fish and he sat on the pile of fish (one critter was talking). It was also funny at the end of the book because at the the end Vapor Man goes out to his car and sees that it exploded.

OVERWHELMINGLY, the winner of this year’s Mock Caldecott award is:

Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick. Despite the fact that Wonderstruck got no Caldecott or Newbery love, this book was by far the tops in our class. SPOILER ALERT: We liked that Ben never knew that Rose was his grandma. A lot of times books try to trick us but we figure it out before the end, but not this one. We enjoyed the part of the book where Rose escapes from her house and sends a note saying “HELP ME” across the water as a boat. We discovered that William was the brother of Rose — that helped us put together what the “Wonderstruck” book meant.

Congratulations to our talented winners!

Mock Caldecott: First Round of Voting TOMORROW!

We’ll have our first round of Mock Caldecott voting tomorrow! It’s going to be so fantastic! We’ve read so many books so far this year!

Here’s an alphabetical list of the books we’ll be voting on. In this first round, students can rank their top five books. The field will be narrowed to ten books, and then we’ll have final voting next week!

  • The Artist Who Painted a Blue Horse
  • The Astonishing Secret of Awesome Man
  • A Ball for Daisy
  • Bone Dog
  • Brother Sun, Sister Moon
  • Bumble-Ardy
  • Charlie the Ranch Dog
  • Dinosaur vs. the Library
  • Except If…
  • Heart and Soul
  • I’m Not
  • I Want My Hat Back
  • Ice
  • Jonathan and the Big Blue Boat
  • Me… Jane
  • Melvin and the Boy
  • Mine!
  • Monkey: A Trickster’s Tale
  • Moving House
  • Never Forgotten
  • Neville
  • Over and Under the Snow
  • Owly & Wormy: Friends All Aflutter
  • Perfect Square
  • Queen of the Falls
  • Sea Monster’s First Day
  • Where’s Walrus
  • Wonderstruck
  • You Will Be My Friend!

Middle Grade Read-A-Thon

This week, I knew I’d have a hard time committing to reading during the transition back to school. Plus, I had a National Board meeting on Saturday, which rendered me so exhausted I basically spent the entire weekend sleeping.

So I agreed to join the Marvelous Middle Grade Read-A-Thon. Although the challenge ends at midnight, I’m just going to post now, as I imagine I will fall asleep as I attempt to read this evening. Here’s what I accomplished:

I.M. Pei: Architect of Time, Place, and Purpose, by Jill Rubalcaba. This book has been sitting on my kitchen floor for weeks. I avoided it because I thought it’d be overly specific and boring. Nope. I may have a biased opinion, though, because I’ve had a chance to see almost every building featured in this book.


The Voyages of Dr. Dolittle, by Hugh Lofting. As of this writing, I’m not quite done with Dr. DoLittle, but unless the book ends on a huge letdown, I doubt my views of it will change. The pacing of the book is swift, and I’m loving it. I’ve been thinking A LOT about the fact that the library copy I digitally checked out is the “censored” version. I’m perplexed by how much I like an edited edition… the out-of-date language wouldn’t make me NOT want to read the book, but I have found that I’m not as distracted by cringe-worthy language, and I stay more in the story. WAT DO?

The Luck of the Buttons, by Anne Ylvisaker. Betsy Bird said fans of historical fiction would like this book, but at first I violently disagreed with her. What the heck, I groused, all these characters are dopey and have no clue what’s going on around them. Then I settled down and things picked back up.  Final thoughts: It’s a good read, but when you ask me about it in five years, I probably won’t be head over heels in love with it.



11 Birthdays, by Wendy Mass. Our class voted for this book as our next read-aloud. It’s PERFECT for our new unit focusing on how characters change throughout a book. I’d read it last year when it was announced as a Battle of the Books title, but it seems a ton funnier this time around.




Huzzah! What fun! Now, I must head offline to finish answering Letters to Ms. Houghton!

New Traditions

This year was the first Christmas I celebrated away from my Michigan family. Mom and dad, I missed you sooooo much! The hope was that my new husband Toby and I would be able to develop new traditions to make the holiday our own. Due to my mopiness and gross indecision, nothing earth-shattering was created, except lots of fires, tea, and reading. And mediocre Indian buffet food for Christmas dinner. And frankly, that’s just fine by me.

But now that I’m looking forward to returning to school today, I’ve been thinking about the traditions my students, colleagues, and I have been developing in the five years I’ve been teaching. Here are some things I’m looking forward to in the new year.

Mock Caldecotts. This started last year officially, although I’ve been holed up in front of a computer the morning of the ALA Midwinter Conference ever since Katherine Schlick Noe told me about the awards livestream when I was at Seattle U. My students come in early (if the conference is held on the East Coast) and enjoy breakfast snacks as the awards are announced. If it’s an award they’re not familiar with (last year I neglected to explain the Sibert award to them — MAJOR oversight on my part), they usually look to me to gauge what their reactions might be. This year, though, I think we’re pretty well-prepared to critique the official choices.

Preliminary voting on our classroom Mock Caldecotts, which were featured last year in the Federal Way Mirror, will begin the end of this week, with the final votes cast January 21 or 22. I haven’t yet decided.

Math Team S’Mores. Sometimes, traditions are started for no good reason. I can’t remember why we decided to microwave S’Mores for our math team members at the last meeting of the year, but this tradition is entering its fourth year. Our first math team competition is coming up this month at Green Gables Elementary. Whee!

Tour guide Ms. Houghton on field trips. I’m SO EXCITED to take the next step in this tradition. Every time we head up to Seattle, I put on my best newspaper reporter voice (which is also my best documentary voice-over voice) and point out relevant landmarks. Smith Tower, once the tallest building west of the Mississippi, Port of Seattle, Amazon headquarters, Starbucks Headquarters, the Convention Center that goes right over the freeway (and contributes to Seattle’s traffic woes), the U District, Space Needle, etc. My goal is for my students to take over this role on the remaining field trips we have this year. Wheeee!!!

Reading Challenges. I started my 50-book-a-year reading challenges when I was in college. You can see an early list here. This year I’ve committed to a few challenges, and created a new one. You know I love any excuse to pull out a new retro lady header.

Book of the Week: No Problem

Every Monday, I highlight a book from our school bookroom along with lesson plan suggestions. I hope you find this useful, and please leave a comment with any suggestions or additions!

No Problem, by Eileen Browne

You can see a preview of No Problem on Google Books.

Start typing here

There is a CAFE menu included with this mentor text, and I’ve highlighted these as suggested lessons:

  • Make a picture or mental image. Part of the trouble the characters in No Problem run into is that they’ve never seen the contraption they’re supposed to be building. Talk with students about how they’re being alert in their readerly lives so they can continue to build their schema, which is particularly critical for our students in poverty.
  • Ask questions throughout the reading process. The author and illustrator made some deliberate choices in how they placed text in this book. It reminds me of the way David Wiesner shows movement over three panels in a row. Why did the author/illustrator make these choices? I’ve been thinking that some of the panels make the text look like an instruction manual, but I wonder what students think?
  • Use text features (titles, headings, captions, graphic features). Related to the mini-lesson above, you could discuss the position of text in a fiction book versus a nonfiction piece, such as an instruction manual. Here’s an excerpt of a Flip Camera instruction guide to use as a comparison. A copy of this is included in the No Problem book bag. Not satisfied with that example? Head over to Manuals Online until you find exactly what you’re looking for.

Please add any lessons or supplemental materials to the book bag so future teachers can utilize your good thinking!

Comments and constructive feedback are always welcomed. Please let me know if these lessons were useful in your class!


Sibert Challenge

All this chatter about the various ALA challenges going on in 2012 made me long for a few more nonfiction books on my to-read list. And although the Sibert Informational Medal hasn’t been around for that long, I realized I’ve read woefully few of the winners and honor recipients.

So I present to you this year’s Sibert Challenge, which you can find on Twitter as #nerdibert.

I’m not quite sure how to facilitate something like this, so I suppose I should ask you to please post any links to your versions of the challenge in the comments section. Here’s the complete list of award recipients, taken from the ALA site. For now, I’ll say that I’ll attempt to read them chronologically. If I’ve read a book, I’ve linked it to my Goodreads review.

  • Winner: Sir Walter Ralegh and the Quest for El Dorado. Written by Marc Aronson.
  • Honor: Blizzard! The Storm That Changed America. Written by Jim Murphy.
  • Honor: The Longitude Prize. Written by Joan Dash. Illustrated by Dusan Petricic.
  • Honor: My Season with Penguins: An Antarctic Journal. Written by Sophie Webb.
  • Honor: Pedro and Me: Friendship, Loss, and What I Learned. Written by Judd Winick.

  • Winner: Black Potatoes: The Story of the Great Irish Famine, 1845-1850. Written by Susan Campbell Bartoletti.
  • Honor: Brooklyn Bridge. Written by Lynn Curlee.
  • Honor: Surviving Hitler: A Boy in the Nazi Death Camps. Written by Andrea Warren.
  • Honor: Vincent van Gogh. Written by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan.

  • Winner: The Life and Death of Adolf Hitler. Written by James Cross Giblin.
  • Honor: Action Jackson. Written by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan. Illustrated by Robert Andrew Parker.
  • Honor: Hole in My Life. Written by Jack Gantos.
  • Honor: Six Days in October: The Stock Market Crash of 1929. 
    Written by Karen Blumenthal.
  • Honor: When Marian Sang. Written by Pam Munoz Ryan. Illustrated by Brian Selznick.

  • Winner: The Voice that Challenged a Nation: Marian Anderson and the Struggle for Equal Rights. Written by Russell Freedman.
  • Honor: Sequoyah: The Cherokee Man Who Gave His People Writing.  Written by James Rumford, translated into Cherokee by Anna Sixkiller.
  • Honor: The Tarantula Scientist. Written by Sy Montgomery, photographs by Nic Bishop.
  • Honor: Walt Whitman: Words for America. Written by Barbara Kerley, illustrated by Brian Selznick.

  • Winner: Secrets of a Civil War Submarine: Solving the Mysteries of the H.L. Hunley. Written by Sally M. Walker.
  • Honor: Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler’s Shadow. Written by Susan Campbell Bartoletti.

  • Winner: Team Moon: How 400,000 People Landed Apollo 11 on the Moon. Written by Catherine Thimmesh.
  • Honor: Freedom Riders: John Lewis and Jim Zwerg on the Front Lines of the Civil Rights Movement. Written by Ann Bausum.
  • Honor: Quest for the Tree Kangaroo: An Expedition to the Cloud Forest of New Guinea. Written by Sy Montgomery, photographs by Nic Bishop.
  • Honor: To Dance: A Ballerina’s Graphic Novel. Written by Siena Cherson Siegel, artwork by Mark Siegel.

  • Winner: The Wall: Growing Up behind the Iron Curtain. Written by Peter Sís.
  • Honor: Lightship. Written and illustrated by Brian Floca.
  • Honor: Nic Bishop Spiders. Written and photographed by Nic Bishop.

  • Winner: Kakapo Rescue: Saving the World’s Strangest Parrot. Written by Sy Montgomery.
  • Honor: Ballet for Martha: Making Appalachian Spring. Written by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan, illustrated by Brian Floca.
  • Honor: Lafayette and the American Revolution. Written by Russell Freedman.


  • Recipients to be announced January 23, 2012!

Nerdbery, Nerdcott, and an appeal for Nerdibert

So 2012 is nigh! I’ve come to the end of my 101 in 1001 challenge, so I suppose it’s time to reevaluate my reading life.

About a year or so into my 1001 days, I added “Read All Newbery and Caldecott Winners” to my list. Little did I realize how lonnnnnng and ollllllld and dulllllll some of the old winners would be. I succeeded in reading all the Caldecott winners and a good chunk of Newbery winners, but not what I had hoped for.

So it’s time to regroup. I’m trying to remain aware of the fact that I’ll be finishing my National Boards this year and I already have some responsibilities at the district level, but I think I can commit to a few things.

1. I will read or reread any Newbery medal winners I haven’t read in the past five years. I set my limit at five years because as I mentioned, I trudged all the way through The Story of Mankind, Smoky the Cowhorse, and Roller Skates recently, so I don’t know that I’d get much from rereading them so quickly.

2. I’m currently working on writing lesson plans for picture books in our school’s bookroom. A bunch of the books are Caldecott honor books I haven’t read yet, so I’ll read and post lesson plans for as many of these as I can track down.

3. What about the nonfiction books? I can’t find any information about a #nerdibert (#nerdbert?) challenge, so… anyone want to put one together with me?

I’m looking forward to hearing from you!

Early Book Box

Every year since I can remember, I’ve received a book box from my parents. Usually wrapped in green paper (my favorite color), usually attached to my Christmas card (which sometimes, but not always, indicates it is a “significant” gift), my book box has been a staple of holiday giving in our immediate family.

This year, I don’t know if I’m going to get a book box. I’ve been checking books out from the library a TON, reading free classics on our McHoughtKindle, and frankly, most of my book purchases have been turned over to my classroom. Oh, and did I mention this is the first Christmas in 28 years that I’ve spent without my parents?

So when I finally made it over to the post office, where they’ve been holding my box of American Girl books since October (whoops), I decided that in case I don’t get a book box this Christmas, I’d count this one instead.

When we moved from our Lake City apartment, we had more than 60 boxes of books. Sixty. And there were still more back home in Michigan. I think this American Girl box might be among the last of them.

I first learned about the American Girls in early second grade. Laura Ingalls Wilder had made me a historical fiction NUT, and the series fed my addiction through most of my youth.

Olive, inspecting our newest addition.

It’s possible at this point that you don’t fully understand the depths of my love for the world of American Girls. Everyone had a favorite American Girl, right? Mine was either Felicity or Molly. Many people owned an American Girl, right? It’s a bit embarrassing, and I’m aware of the privilege I had in my childhood, but I’ll admit that at the time, I had all of the American Girl dolls. All of them. And the books. And the accessories.

These were acquired over a lengthy period. Namely, my entire youth. I never got tired of receiving accessories for gifts or purchasing them on my own with saved spending money. After a while, I could even decode the heart-shaped labels Pleasant Company stuck to the bottom of every American Girl box to identify what was inside.

But it was always about the books.

The paperback sets, because hardcovers took up more room and weren’t really worth it. You’ll notice in the photo above that I also have Kit. But Kit is one of the newer American Girls, Shannon, you say. CORRECT. I GOT KIT FOR CHRISTMAS IN COLLEGE BECAUSE SHE WAS AWESOME AND FROM THE 1930S WHICH IS AN AMAZINGLY INTERESTING HISTORICAL PERIOD AND ALSO SHE WAS A NEWSPAPER REPORTER LIKE ME. WHAT AN AWESOME PRESENT!!!!! But aren’t the new slipcases ugly?

Did you know my mom worked at a bookstore when I was in school? BECAUSE SHE DID AND LOOK AT WHAT SHE SCORED FOR ME! They were like book group guides and I filled them out in my BEST HANDWRITING because I KNEW I WOULD WANT TO KEEP THEM FOR FOREVER.

Remember when they first introduced the Girl of Today? And there was only ONE outfit you could get for her? I asked for her, but was totally disappointed there were no books. Note the rad stencil I could have used to write my own Girl of Today stories, but I didn’t because writing the TALE of the GIRL of TODAY was intimidating.

There they are (don’t the Kit books look out of place? :( The times, how they change)! Staples of my bookshelves for so many years, finally reunited with me in Seattle!

I’ve missed you, ladies.

At home with some of my other children’s books. <3



Readerly Reflections on 2011

I hate doing posts like these before the END end of the year because I wind up doing so much post-Christmas reading and I inevitably leave something out, but I suppose I’ll try. This list contains children’s books, YA books, and grown-up books. One of the things I’m happiest about in my reading life is that I try to read a variety of books. Oh, and not all of these books were published in 2011. You can see my complete list at GoodReads. At this point, I’ve read 346 books this year. I hope to hit 365 by December 31!



I know I should have linked all the book titles to the authors’ websites or to my reviews, but that seemed like too much work and I wanted this to be fun.

Books I Liked That Got Some Hype
But Not As Much As They Should Have

  • The Aviary, Kathleen O’Dell
  • Packing for Mars, Mary Roach
  • No Passengers Beyond This Point, Gennifer Choldenko
Books That Lived Up To The Hype
  • The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins
  • Divergent, Veronica Roth
  • Wonderstruck, Brian Selznick
  • Hound Dog True, Linda Urban
  • The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, Catherynne Valente
  • Marty McGuire, Kate Messner
  • Me… Jane, Patrick McDonnell

Books That I Really Don’t Understand
Why Anyone Published Them

  • Pomelo Begins to Grow, Romanoa Badescu
  • Skippyjon Jones, Class Action, Judy Schachner
  • Pretty Princess Pig, Jane Yolen
  • The Green Mother Goose, David Davis
  • Charlie the Ranch Dog, Ree Drummond

Books That I Couldn’t Finish (but I still plan on trying!)

  • Small as an Elephant, Jennifer Richard Jacobson
  • Wildwood, Colin Meloy, Carson Ellis

Book That Was Good But Totally Ruined
by an Overdescriptive Back Cover Blurb

  • The Magnolia League, Katie Crouch

Books I Randomly Picked Up And Really Liked

  • Vintage Knitwear, Marnie Fogg
  • Sharing Our World, Ian Reid
  • Modelland, Tyra Banks (OH GOD HOW?)
  • The Melancholic Mermaid, Kallie George
  • How To Build Your Own Country, Valerie Wyatt

Grown-Up Books You Should Read

Best Books With a Message

  • Three By the Sea, Mini Grey
  • Bigger than a Bread Box, Laurel Snyder
  • The Fences Between Us, Kirby Larson

Books I Want To Hold Onto And Cuddle
And Reread Again And Again

  • Amelia Lost, Candace Fleming
  • I Want My Hat Back, Jon Klassen
  • Should I Share My Ice Cream?, Mo Willems
  • The Quiet Book / The Loud Book, Deborah Underwood

Best Author Discoveries/Rediscoveries

  • Gerald McDermott
  •  William Steig
  •  Kate Messner
  •  Jackson Pearce
  •  Andy Runton
Agree? Disagree? Wonder why I made the choices I did? Let’s chat in the comments.

I Want My Hat Back!

We read I Want My Hat Back today, and here were our initial thoughts:


  •  “Bear! Cause I like being tall and strong!” ~Ivy
  • “Bear because I would be mad too. And if I were a bear, I would eat him.” ~Anthea
  • “I vote for the bear because he got mad because the rabbit took his hat.” ~Alejandra
  • “Team bear because bear wants his hat back and maybe the rabbit knew about the hat but he didn’t want to give it back to the bear.” ~Juan
  • “Team bear because they’re awesome!!! And they’re stronger and faster.” ~Vy
  • “I pick team bear because I would be mad if someone took my hat too and I would want it back.” ~Kyle
  • “I go for team bear. Why? Because they all swim to catch fish.” ~Carlos
  • “I pick team bear because the bear just wanted his hat back and because bears have claws.” ~Frankie
  • “I pick team bear because bears are funny and I like bears so much. But in the book it was funny and the rabbit was too.” ~Vashti
  • I vote for bear because he remembered about his red hat that he knew it was his, he said to the rabbit. That’s why I go for bear because he is smart.” ~Kevin
  • “I want to be on team bunny because it was so funny ’cause bunny had a cool hat. He was just standing there.” ~Jeffrey
  • “Team bear because bears are bigger and better.” ~Antonio (here he included a picture of a bear with his toothy mouth open, saying “BEARS ARE BIGGER AND BETTER”)
  • “I vote for rabbit since he could get revenge in his stomach. Also maybe since rabbits have fur, maybe bear is going to get a hairball. Or rabbit could jump out of bear’s mouth when he put him in his mouth to eat him. Also, rabbit could jump out of bear’s claws or paws. I think bear is a big old jerk because he ate the rabbit just because the rabbit took his hat. If I was bear, I would just say, ‘Can I get my hat back?’ So I’m just saying bear is a big jerk.” ~Eduard
  • Team bear because after the bear ate the rabbit the rabbit was not seen on the book.” ~Vincent


  • “I am team rabbit because he can get revenge in the bear’s stomach. Also he is like me in a way because he is sarcastic like me and funny. He was like, ‘What hat, I haven’t seen a hat, what are you talking about’ and bear is not that bright because he just noticed that the rabbit has his hat.” ~Thessalonia
  • Team rabbit because if the bear ate him he would go to heaven with God.” ~Xochitl
  • Team rabbit because he had the hat but he didn’t know it was bear’s — probably he found it in the floor. I don’t know why bear ate him.” ~Leonel
  • “I vote for team rabbit because he probably did not know whose hat it was and also he was trying not to let the bear know. It was like he was hiding it. I really liked the way he did that.” ~Arianna
  • I pick team rabbit because he did not even know that he was wearing the hat. Well, he did, but he tried to get away with it!” ~Savanah

You can watch the book trailer here: