Monthly Archives: July 2013

Summer Reading: Hold Fast


Hold Fast by Blue Balliett.  (@BlueBalliett) Realistic Fiction/Mystery

Early Pearl and her family dream of one day owning a home of their own.  Their plans are crimped however, when her father mysteriously disappears, and her apartment is ransacked and robbed.  She, her mother, Sum, and brother, Jubie, have no choice but to seek refuge at a homeless shelter.

Themes/Content: Family, home, homelessness, Langston Hughes, poetry, onomatopoeia, figurative language, etymology, vocabulary, quotes, libraries, theft, shelters, rhythm, writing, writer’s craft, text features

Recommended for: Grades 5 and up.  Learning about the plight of the homeless, learning about figurative language, teaching poetry, students who love a good mystery, discussing words and word origins, students who like books with some drama, read aloud

My Two Cents:  Donalyn Miller (@donalynbooks) writes, “How would children see reading differently if we taught language arts as an art appreciation class?”  Blue Balliett has created a masterful work of art filled with the commitment and courage, repetition and rhythm.  From the very first pages I wanted the Pearl family to find their dream.  They are such strong and loving family, with intelligent and compassionate parents who are providing the best for their children even though they can afford very few “material things.” They have a plan, and they hold each other up as they work toward putting that plan into action.  When Dash disappears and their home is robbed the family is shocked and devastated.  This family holds fast to each other as they persevere and face the toughest challenges they could imagine.

Balliett deftly crafts this story.  She draws on the poetry and rhythms of Langston Hughes in several ways.  Hughes writing provides the Pearls their smooth soulful voices.  Every conversation is poetry.  Hughes’ poetry and writing also play a significant role in the mystery of Dash’s disappearance. Balliett does a brilliant job of weaving the story with word play and figurative language.  Words are tossed and twisted and taken apart.  You’ll have blast finding those gems.

This book would make a great dramatic read aloud.

Similar/Paired books from EHUE Library:

  • Bauer, Joan. Almost home. New York: Viking, 2012. Print.
  • Bunting, Eve. Fly away home. New York: Clarion Books, 1991. Print.
  • Burleigh, Robert. Langston’s train ride. New York: Orchard Books, 2004. Print.
  • Carlson, Natalie S. The family under the bridge. New York: Harper/Trophy, 1958. Print.
  • Clements, Andrew. Room one : a mystery or two. New York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2006. Print.
  • Cooper, Floyd. Coming home : from the life of Langston Hughes. New York: Putnam & Grosset, 1998. Print.
  • DiCamillo, Kate. Great joy. Cambridge, Mass.: Candlewick Press, 2007. Print.
  • Hughes, Langston. The dream keeper and other poems : including seven additional poems. New York: Knopf, 1994. Print.
  • Langston Hughes. New York: Sterling Pub., 2006. Print.
  • Lewis, Barbara A. The kid’s guide to service projects : over 500 service ideas for young people who want to make a difference. Minneapolis, MN: Free Spirit Pub., 2009. Print.
  • O’Connor, Barbara. How to steal a dog : a novel. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007. Print.
  • Perdomo, Willie. Visiting Langston. New York: H. Holt, 2002. Print.
  • Perkovich, Olugbemisola R. 8th grade superzero. New York: Arthur A. Levine Books, 2010. Print.

Favorite Quote: “Reading is a tool no one can take away.  A million bad things may happen in life and it’ll still be with you, like a flashlight that never needs a battery.  Reading can offer a crack of light on the blackest of nights.”  (Balliett, Blue. Hold fast. New York: Scholastic Press, 2013. 166. Print.)

The Final Word(s): Wow-ow! Read it! 😀

Unconferences and EdCamps as PD


Recently I’ve been reading and hearing the terms “unconference” and “edcamp” more and more frequently. I first heard of an “unconference” in reference to the first ever PSLA Unconference hosted by Joyce Valenza (@joycevalenza) and Stephanie Brame.

From the PSLA 2013 program:

“Share, learn, exchange ideas, solve problems, build community and capacity at our very first PSLA Unconference. No spectators allowed! Come prepared to start or participate in relevant, timely conversations and help us prepare an exciting, interactive agenda, culminating in a fast-paced Smackdown.”

I was unable to attend the conference but during and after the conference, everything I read pointed to how valuable and inspiring this session was.

Fans of the Nerdy Book Club know about the first ever nErDcamp, an edcamp for which the praise seems to echo infinitely with the participants.  (For those of us who couldn’t make it (me) we feel like the kid who missed the bus on the day of the field trip… although we can life vicariously through the Idea Board.)

Correction (See comment below) Vicki Davis (@coolcatteacher) Angela Watson (@Angela_Watson) just returned from ISTE in San Antonio, TX.

From Cool Cat Teacher The Cornerstone

My best learning still takes place in unstructured situations. In both edcamps and the Hack Education unconference, there are no presentations or formal sessions, just opportunities for educators to get together in groups talk about topics that matter to them.”

The internet is a pretty big place and I don’t profess to know it all (even though I am a librarian) but I have yet to read anything negative from people attending these types of events.  Maybe the nay-sayers aren’t posting or maybe I’m just not following them, but the overwhelming majority of comments about unconferences and edcamps have been very favorable.

With all due respect, I have to say, as of late I have been less than impressed with the topics that have been presented for professional development during our in-service days.  Not that there isn’t a time and place for the district to voice their goals and provide information and strategies to reach those goals, but wouldn’t it be rewarding if, even once a year, we held an unconference or an edcamp on a professional development day.  The concept of these types of events as professional development is appealing because it provides the participants with the autonomy to decide which topics are most important to them.   They have the added benefit of providing the administration with insight into the priorities of the staff.

Do you think this could work?  What are the drawbacks? And can someone please tell me the difference between an unconference and an edcamp?

Curricu-Links: 19 July 2013



  • Graphite
    • (In beta) From Common Sense Media, a new website by teachers for teachers to help them locate quality digital media.  Filter your query by type of media, grade, subject, and price.  Common Sense Media is a “non-partisan and not-for-profit” organization that “provides age-based media reviews and information so that parents can make informed choices about the media in their kid’s lives.”

Language Arts

  • New Storytelling Tools
    • Blog post by ChristinaStoryBox showcasing several new digital storytelling tools.  StoryPlanet is in beta, and looks like it will be pretty high end, but also pretty cool!  Populr is also in beta and you can only use Chrome or Safari to create your webpages.  Slick! Can’t wait to play!  Unfortunately, they all seem to require login and registration, meaning the teacher can use it, but possibly not the students.  There are more resources discussed in her post.

History/Social Studies

  • Google Cultural Institute
    • “Discover exhibitions and collections from museums and archives all around the world.” Interactive exhibits, probably more for adults than kids, but you may find something that works for you and/or your classroom.


  • Bedtime Math
    • Designed for parents, but can be a benefit to teachers.  Daily real-life math problems that kids might find themselves facing.  The answers are provided too!
  • Envision the World in 11 Dimensions
    • I truly can’t get enough of TEDTalks! If you are a fan of “A Wrinkle in Time” you’ll totally appreciate this!  You’ll actually understand (kind-of) the fourth dimension and “tesseract.”

Information Literacy/Technology

  • ABCya Animate
    • I know a already provided a link to this website, but I thought this particular “game” deserved it’s own shout out.  Students can create 100 frame animations by drawing and using included clipart.  Can be used across the curriculum to animate stories, math problems, science concepts… Awesome!

I found many of these resources by reading posts from the following: Free Technology For Teachers @rmbyrne, @CoolCatTeacher, @TED_ED, @joycevalenza

Teach Mentor Texts: TMT Labels


I am frequently asked for recommendations for books that can by used to teach a specific skill, particularly a writing skill.  Often times that leaves me scrambling and Googling to find some choices for the teacher.  Teach Mentor Texts is a blog that “focuses on sharing books that can be used to promote all areas of literacy.”  Language Arts teachers should check out this blog.  When you do, visit the “TMT Labels” page:

Teach Mentor Texts: TMT Labels.

This page features a glossary of all of the labels that Jen and Kellee have used to tag the books.  Then check out the word cloud in the right hand navigation bar.  Click on one of the tags and… “Presto!” you have books that match with that skill. The book reviews are very thorough (similar to the ones posted here but much more detailed.)

Read more:
Kellee is now blogging at

Faculty Field Trip to Randyland


A Visit to Randyland from M E Shenefiel on Vimeo.

There are hidden treasures everywhere!  I learned about Randyland through a tweet from @MrSchuReads (and posted about it here.)  When I told Deb about it, she immediately suggested that we go.  Today we visited Randyland in the Mexican War Streets section of the North Side of Pittsburgh. It’s mesmerizing!

colors and dots and swirls

and lines and colors and flowers

and signs and colors and chairs

and doors

and colors and music and words and colors

and dance and plants



There are just so many details, and there is such inspiration, and it just makes you feel so happy!  It’s like looking through a kaleidoscope with both eyes open.

After spending some time marveling, and giggling (and taking loads of pictures) we headed down about two blocks to the Mattress Factory Museum.  The museum is between installations so there weren’t a lot of pieces to see.  As it turned “not a lot” was just the right amount.  I had never been to the Mattress Factory before and have never experienced anything like it.  Suffice it to say that you’ll have to go an visit in person.  (Who knew there could be spoilers with artwork?)

The big take away though was the idea of faculty field trips.  Standing in the midst of all of that creativity and commitment you become excited about the possibilities.  My mind was racing with ideas for lessons, and displays, and collaboration.

I need more.  Pittsburgh is brimming with these hidden and not-so-hidden treasures.  Get ready EHUE.  We have a plan…

Summer Reading: 8 Class Pets +1 Squirrel ÷ 1 Dog = Chaos


8 Class Pets + 1 Squirrel ÷ 1 Dog = Chaos by Vivian Vande Velde.  Illustrated by Steve Björkman. Humor/ Fantasy.

When a squirrel, being chased by a dog, becomes trapped in the elementary school, there are chaotic consequences as all of the class pets team up to help him escape.

Themes/Content: Animals, class pets, teamwork, perspective (character), voice (character), alliteration, poetry, art,

Recommended for: Grades 4 and up; read aloud, teaching perspective, teaching voice, any teacher who has a classroom pet, animal lovers, beginning chapter-book readers, fictional tie-in when studying animal behavior

My Two Cents:  I decided I needed to review something for the younger crowd and this book will surely please our fourth graders.  Vande Velde crafts a hilarious story and commotion ensues as each critter adds to the tale .  Not only does she expertly capture the point of view, but each pet’s voice is based on that animals behavior in nature.  Björkman’s black and white illustrations are scattered throughout.

This book would make a great beginning of the year read aloud.  It would be even more effective if you are able to read the characters in different voices.  Your students will laugh out loud at the crazy antics of the animals and there is just a little twist at the end that will give them one more smile.

Similar/Paired Books from EHUE Library:

  • Birney, Betty G. Friendship according to Humphrey. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2005. Print.
  • Caudill, Rebecca. A pocketful of Cricket. New York: Henry Holt, 2004. Print.
  • George, Jean C. How to talk to your dog. New York: HarperCollins, 2000. Print.
  • Hatkoff, Isabella, Craig Hatkoff, and P Kahumbu. Owen & Mzee : the true story of a remarkable friendship. New York: Scholastic Press, 2006. Print.
  • Hollander, John. Animal poems. New York: Sterling, 2004. Print.
  • Jenkins, Steve, and Robin Page. How to clean a hippopotamus : a look at unusual animal partnerships. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 2010. Print.
  • Judge, Lita. Bird talk : what birds are saying and why. New York: Roaring Brook Press, 2012. Print.

Favorite Quote: (Spoken by the school of neon tetras) “We’re in a school.  We’re in a school in a school. We are tickled by that idea.” (Vande Velde, Vivian. 8 class pets + 1 squirrel ÷ 1 dog = chaos. New York: Holiday House, 2012. 23. Print.)

The Final Word(s): A clever and fun read aloud! 🙂

Curricu-Links: 16 July 2013


After spending much of my summer following some of my favorite educators, librarians, and contributors, I’ve come to the conclusion that there are way too many amazing resources hiding on the web.  With that in mind, I’m going to try to organize and aggregate some of the gems that I think would be helpful and interesting for the EHUE community.  (Please note that I found most of these resources by following the blogs to the right and through twitter.  You should check them out!)


History/Social Studies

  • Create Free Interactive Timelines – Stories Displayed on Maps | myHistro.
    • Haven’t played with this one too much yet, but I thought it looked interesting.  Combine timelines with maps to tell a story.  Click on the “explore” link to see what’s already out there.
  • Map Lab.
    • A new blog from Wired magazine devoted to maps!  Look at the post about “Your Favorite Movies Laid Out as Vintage Treasure Maps.”  Can you figure them out?


Health/Physical Education


Information Literacy/Tech

July 31 #ScharpSchu Book Club Meeting


Watch. Connect. Read.: The July #SharpSchu Book Club Meeting.

Time to read!  The July #SharpSchu book club (linked above) will feature:

  • Sidekicks by Dan Santat
  • Bobby vs Girls (Accidentally) by Lisa Yee, Illustrated by Dan Santat

If you’ve never participated, here’s how it works.  The #SharpSchu Book Club is a Twitter based discussion.  You can participate from home (in your PJs if you want!)  On July 31st, at 7:00, login to Twitter and follow #SharpSchu.

  • 7:00- 7:15- Discussion of Sidekicks
  • 7:15- 7:30- Dan Santat will answer questions
  • 7:30- 7:45 they the discussion will focus on Bobby Vs Girls.
  • 7:45-8:00 Lisa Yee and Dan Santat will answer questions

+plus magazine…living mathematics


Let’s just say I have some math skills, but have become slightly intimidated since the advent of “new math.”  This site is for all of you math-heads out there.  +plus Magazine features articles, puzzles, podcasts and more.  I was drawn in by two articles…

To me, these were some thought provoking ideas.  I hope you find some interesting and useful as well!

-seen on Free Technology for Teachers

Summer Reading: Liesl and Po


Liesl and Po by Lauren Oliver.  Illustrated by Kei Acedera. Fantasy.

Lonely, grieving and locked in an attic, Liesl is befriended by a ghost, Po and its pet, Bundle.  An accidental mix-up by an alchemist’s apprentice, Will, soon has all of them entwined in a dangerous adventure as Liesl endeavors to return her father’s mortal remains to his final resting place.

Themes/Content: Friendship, family, death, grief, alchemy, ghosts, magic, drawing, apprentices, orphans, stepmothers, figurative language, imagery.

Recommended for: Grade 5 and up; fantasy lovers, read aloud,

My Two Cents:  I enjoyed this book so much, that I am having a hard time writing about it.  I just won’t be able to do justice to Oliver’s clever and magical writing.  I’d get that little “butterfly in the stomach”  feeling as a read certain passages and marveled at how she chose her words.  As I was reading I started taking pictures of the text with my phone so that I could remember some of my favorite passages.


Oliver, Lauren. Liesl & Po. New York: Harper, 2011. 142. Print.

You’ll have such empathy for the protagonists Liesl, Po, Bundle and Will, but my heart was stolen by Mo, the Lady Premiere’s guard.

Also worth mentioning… read the author’s note at the end of the book.  I always do, but this one was truly touching and gave me even more appreciation for the story.

Similar Book from EHUE Library:

  • Auxier, Jonathan. Peter Nimble and his fantastic eyes : a story. New York: Amulet Books, 2011. Print.
  • Barrie, J M. Peter Pan. New York: Scholastic, 2002. Print.
  • Gaiman, Neil. The graveyard book. New York: HarperCollins, 2008. Print.
  • Nimmo, Jenny. Midnight for Charlie Bone. New York: Orchard Books, 2003. Print.

Favorite Quote: “This was the other problem with the living ones: They were separate, always separate.  They couldn’t truly merge.  They did not know how to be anyone other than themselves, and even that they did not know how to be sometimes.” (Oliver, Lauren. Liesl & Po. New York: Harper, 2011. 92. Print.)

The Final Word(s): Read it immediately! 😀