Happy Poem in Your Pocket Day!

April 24th is Poem in Your Pocket Day and I got to celebrate by helping 3rd graders write Mother’s Day poems. (see School Visit Mother’s Day Poems for the full lesson.)   I also pulled this wonderful poem by the late Elaine Laron from my pocket throughout the day:


No One Else
by Elaine Laron
Now, someone else can tell you how
To multiply by three
And someone else can tell you how
To spell Schenectady
And someone else can tell you how
To ride a two-wheeled bike—
But no one else, no, no one else
Can tell you what to like.
An engineer can tell you how
To run a railroad train
A map can tell you where to find
The capital of Spain
A book can tell you all the names
Of every star above—
But no one else, no, no one else
Can tell you who to love.
Your aunt Louise can tell you how
To plant a pumpkin seed
Your cousin Frank can tell you how
To catch a centipede
Your Mom and Dad can tell you how
To brush between each meal—
But no one else, no, no one else
Can tell you how to feel.
For how you feel is how you feel
And all the whole world through,
No one else, no, no one else
as well as YOU!

Ms. Laron (1930-2013) wrote the anti-war song “Hell No, I Ain’t Gonna Go”

recorded by civil rights activist Matthew Jones, and was a writer and lyricist

for early children’s television programs such as Captain Kangaroo,

and The Electric Company.

This poem can be found in FREE TO BE YOU AND ME,
by Marlo Thomas and Friends.
What poem did you pull out of your pocket today?

Confessions (& Reviews) of a no-longer-Teenage Readaholic, pt5

I haven’t posted a book review for a while

and since today is my GORGEOUS friend

1911632_10152226786240926_1677233742_nJill Sanford’s BIRTHDAY (Surprise! )

(And I loaned her my copy of Paul Rudnick's YA novel--which she read in one sitting...)

…and I loaned her my copy of
Paul Rudnick’s
YA novel
–which she read in one sitting…

I give you herewith, her very first book review:

 I loved Becky and was never dissatisfied with her as the heroine of GORGEOUS (Scholastic Press). I appreciated her pluckiness and discomfort with being Rebecca although this could have been explored further, especially in the first half.  

I also found Rocher to be wonderful, lovable, and completely essential to the story, because all girls need a best friend and side kick like her.

But why did Becky never ask Tom why or how are any of these things possible until the end? I found her lack of incredulity not believable and wished the author, Paul Rudnick, had gone more into this. There was also a polarity of this world that didn’t really sit right with me.

On the one hand, GORGEOUS is a humorously portrayed and engaging take on the “real” world that felt a lot like Meg Cabot’s writing (please tell me you have read the Princess Diaries and not just seen the movie–the books are HILARIOUS.) But we also see the magic that isn’t fully explained or even acknowledged.

I would have loved more stressing of the fairy tale like aspects of the story- the little people who make her shoes, the perfumer with the giant nose, and her mom’s ring tone that precedes a magical event. For the most part, these aren’t emphasized very much and often seem a little down played. Rudnick missed an opportunity by not exploring these further. That being said, I enjoyed the second half of the book more than the first. (Her interview to get the Queen’s blessing was priceless!)

And because deep down in my oh-so-jaded-and-worldy-now-24-year-old heart I have a fair amount of a sighing 16 year old romantic, I also loved Gregory and his kind-hearted princely-ness. The whimsical nature of the story made me laugh and smile when she (possibly--you never know–READ THE BOOK AND FIND OUT!) ends up with a prince. I didn’t feel the need to gag or roll my eyes at this at all.

Because in a world with magical dresses,

why can’t a girl like Becky

(who is really a girl like all of us) marry a prince?

Happy 24 Jill !!!

Happy 24 Jill !!!

What To Expect When You’re Expecting–a BOOK! part13: Season’s Readings*!


(*Credit to Paul W. Hankins for that clever phrase.)

It feels like Christmas came early this year, thanks to the wonderful people at @scbwi 

who included THIS CRAZY BLOG on their main page BLOGROLL for the month– along with some incredible names in children’s publishing.


(For those of you visiting for the first time, my blog series WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN YOU’RE EXPECTING–a BOOK! starts here. )

This morning I took a holiday stroll over to the sites that SCBWI recommended, and I highly recommend you do the same. As authors and illustrators–aka busy book-parents–, it’s so important for each of us to TAKE TIME from the hustle and bustle of our lives and READ.

So, my friends, I urge you to treat yourself to these musings and inspiration.

Reflect. Renew.

I have a feeling it will help us all


Isn’t that what Season’s Readings should do?

Happy Holidays to ALL!

Hohoho– “It is resolved that DECK THE WALLS teaches kids bad manners.” *Using DEBATES to teach Close Reading!

Tomato SnowmanI had the pleasure of presenting at the California Reading Association’s PDI again this past November, to a packed house of AMAZING EDUCATORS, including the innovative crew from Loomis Grammar School, recipients of the 2013 California Exemplary Reading Program.

Everyone participated in one or more of my FLUENCY GAMES & SONGS for Common Core and at the end of my session I proposed a re-invention of one of my favorite classroom activities:


Confession: OK, OK–I admit that I was trying to find a way to mention my new holiday book, DECK THE WALLS, in my presentation when I came up with this idea initially but…still… it works! And it’s fun for kids of all ages. (Especially the ones who LOVE to ARGUE.)

“But wait–,” you say. “Aren’t we supposed to be teaching Common Core, Project Based Learning, and Close Reading?”

Yes, Virginia–but it doesn’t have to be tedious and boring….

DEBATES address the following Common Core English Language Arts and Literacy Anchor Standards:

Standard 1: Teams must find evidence in the text.  

Standard 2:. Team must delve into the author’s message.

Standard 3: Teams may address characters’ feelings.

Standards 4–6: Teams may find evidence in craft and structure.

Standards 7–9:  Teams will integrate knowledge and ideas.

Nice, huh?

“But aren’t DEBATES for older kids?” you ask.

Nope. Adjust the speaking times a bit (see below) and coach them through in the following demo and you’ll have them hooked–at any age.

In fact, right before my CRA presentation, I discovered an article by Thom Markham,The Challenges and Realities of Inquiry-Based Learning,  On CUE Magazine, Fall 2013, p. 18-19, wherein Markham says he introduced debates to his SECOND GRADERS.


According to Nancy Boyle’s article for ASCD (Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development): Closing in on Close Reading, Dec. 2012/Jan 2013, “We can’t wait until middle school to teach close reading.”


DEBATES teach listening, controlled argumentation, persuasive argument, evidence, cross-disciplinary understanding, presentation, and technology. That’s a lot of educational food groups, my friends. Not to mention the fact that they’re fun.

Thus, I hereby urge you to try this activity.

DEBATES as a springboard to Close Reading (for all grades)

Step 1: Choose a book the whole class has read recently–from picture book to YA.

Step 2: Brainstorm a topic for debate.



Topic: “It is resolved that the Big Bad Wolf was framed.”

WonderWONDER by R.J.Palacio

Topic: “It is resolved that, ‘Your deeds are your monuments.'” (inscription on an Egyptian tomb/from Mr. Browne’s precepts)

Deck the Walls cover by Erin DealeyDECK THE WALLS by

Erin Dealey

Topic: “It is resolved that DECK THE WALLS teaches kids bad manners.”

(*Pick me–pick me–pick me! We had hilarious results with this at the CRA PDI.*)

Step 3: Select two kids for each team and introduce the debate terminology–


The teams will speak in this order: (adjust times for your specific age group)

First Affirmative–2 minutes

First Negative–2 minutes

Second Affirmative–1 minute

Second Negative–1 minute

Two minute “RECESS” to prepare Rebuttals.

Rebuttal order: (Allow anywhere from 30 seconds to 2 minutes each for speakers, depending upon age level. )

2nd Affirmative–2nd Negative–1st Affirmative–1st Negative

Step 4: (Yes–I borrowed this from TV Game shows and not from formal debate procedure.) Each team may pick one “Phone a Friend” helper (especially for the lower grades) who will stand behind the team (thus out of the pressure-filled limelight) and offer ideas, evidence, persuasive points via notes only–NO TALKING unless the teams are in Rebuttal RECESS.

Step 5: Preparation–Once teams are formed, each team gets to work developing their argument for or against their topic; scour the selected book for evidence to support the argument; brainstorm what the opposition might bring up and find evidence to prove them wrong; write up notes for their speeches to present their cases.

LOWER GRADES VARIATION: *For the DECK THE WALLS demo at CRA, I gave teams 5 minutes to re-read the book and prepare. If you use this with upper grades–and thus more in depth novels–give them more time to prepare.

Step 6: (Here’s where we sneak in the close reading–bahaha!) Guide teams to go beyond the story with questions such as:

  •  The author repeats the phrase “Fa-la-la” throughout the book. Why does the author do this? What effect do these falala’s have on the meaning og the story? (Standard 4/ use of language) Does it make the voice or tone formal or informal?
  •   Why do you think the author uses a traditional holiday carol to tell the story? How would the story be different if it were not sung?  (Standard 5/text structure)
  •  What is the narrator’s point of view about family by the end of the book? What is the evidence? When does the narrator’s point of view change? (Standard 6/ point of view)
  •  For picture books: What clues do the illustrations give you?
  •  This article by Nancy Boyles from ASCD/Educational Leadership will give you more ideas to guide the teams, depending upon the book selection.

Step 7: Let the games begin!

“Hold the phone!” you say. “My kids won’t be able to talk that long!”

Fear not, dear educators–Behold a detailed explanation of the duties of each team member. adapt as needed:

  • First Affirmative : 2 minutes *Introduces team and states the topic. Example: “Hello, I’m Sally Smart and I am First Affirmative; This is my partner Irving Intelligent, Second Affirmative. We are for the topic, ‘It is resolved that DECK THE WALLS teaches kids bad manners.'”  First Affirmative uses the rest of the time allotted to:
  1. Briefly outline all the facts and reasons their team will cover to prove their point.
  2. Give a detailed, organized, persuasive explanation of the AFFIRMATIVE side of the topic.
  3. Summarize and restate the AFFIRMATIVE opinion of the topic.

First Negative: 2 minutes–following the same order as above for the NEGATIVE side: ie–“We are against the topic, ‘It is resolved that DECK THE WALLSteaches kids bad manners.‘”

Both 2nd Affirmative and 2nd Negative must:

  1. Jot down notes (while your opponent speaks) about facts they mention that you can disprove.
  2. Remain SILENT when others–your team mate or your opponents– have their turn.
  3. Begin your part of the debate by persuasively tearing your opponents’ case apart and proving them wrong.
  4. Bring up facts that your opponent forgot to bring up or avoided.
  5. Repeat facts brought up by your partner that should be emphasized.
  6. Wrap up the case and make your final statement powerful.

REBUTTALS are the last chance to prove your point.

During the Rebuttal recess, students work with their partners to select facts and opinions that are most damaging to their opponents’ case. To prepare ahead of time, teams should brainstorm points the opponents might bring up and have on hand notes and facts that could disprove these points if necessary.


“How to evaluate them?” you ask?

May I suggest the following:

5pts    Correct introduction and statement of topic.

5pts.   Partner #1 talks for 2 minutes—no more, no less!

5pts.   Partner #2 talks for 1 minute—no more, no less!

5pts.   Rebuttals are well organized and the time is used wisely.

5pts.   Correct debate procedure is followed:  NO TALKING out of turn, or to team partners while opponent is speaking.

15 pts. Team notebook contains required information.

40 points total

Extra credit: I like to have the rest of the class take notes during the debate so that they can “vote” for Most Persuasive” by writing a paragraph that supports their opinion. The team with the most “votes” –in correct persuasive paragraph format–earns 5-10 pt. extra credit.  (Sneaky, huh?)


SPECIAL HOLIDAY OFFER: If  you try this debate with DECK THE WALLS, let me know how it goes. Classes who send me a video to post on my blog will win a FREE author Skype to be scheduled after the holidays.

: )

Meanwhile, THANK YOU TEACHERS AND LIBRARIANS for ALL you do for your students.

Never doubt how much you are appreciated.

Never forget what a difference you make in young lives. (And parents too!)

Happy Holidays to all —

 and to all a good book!Santa

What to Expect When You’re Expecting–a BOOK! part11 with Scott Blagden

I’m thrilled to welcome back YA author SCOTT BLAGDEN, the busy Book-Dad you met two months ago in Part5 of WTEWYE–a BOOK! 

Scott BlagdenYes, the author of one of my favorite YAs, DEAR LIFE YOU SUCK, is still busy, but um…I invited him on a blog-hop a while back and –nice guy that he is–he agreed–even though I sort of overlooked the fact that he doesn’t have a blog to put it on.


Anyway– this WTEWYE series is all about the unexpected–right?

And it turns out Scott’s WIP (work in progress) is a YA about a high school track star with a full-ride college scholarship who suddenly discovers he’s a DAD.

“His life is turned upside-down as he tries to care for his baby, finish high school, train for the state championship, and decide what to do with his life and baby,” Scott explains.

Which brings me to the aforementioned blog-hop questions:

How does your WIP differ from other works in this genre?

Scott: “Most YA books about teen pregnancy/parenting come from the mother’s perspective, so the fact that it’s told in first person from the father’s perspective is unique. The baby’s mom is not in the picture, so he has to deal with the issue alone. The story focuses on his struggle to decide what is best and morally right for him and his baby. He loves his daughter, but doesn’t see how he can raise her unless he foregoes his dream of college and having a successful career. Should he sacrifice his life for his child? Or would she have a better life being raised by adoptive parents who are more emotionally and financially equipped to raise her? Is it selfish to keep her? Is it selfish to give her up?”

Why do you write what you do?

Scott: “The only stories I seem to be able to write are those which feature a narrator I’m passionate about; one who is struggling with some emotional or psychological dilemma I can relate to. I know I’m failing with a character when I am not being emotionally moved as I write the story.”

  What is the hardest part about writing?

Scott: “Most of my characters have traits/personalities that make them somewhat unlikeable, at least on the surface, so for me the hardest part is getting the reader invested in the character long enough to hang around and discover the WHY of the character and eventually, hopefully come to like him or at least empathize and understand him.”

“For me, the worst thing is to get to the end of a book and realize I don’t care about the character. I was reading a YA book recently that got several starred reviews and with only a few pages left, I said to myself, “I genuinely don’t care what happens to this guy. He could win the lottery or get hit by a bus on the next page. I genuinely don’t care.”

Let me chime in here to add that if you’ve read Scott’s DEAR LIFE YOU SUCK, you know that one very strong aspect that connects the reader with his characters is VOICE. I asked him if he might share some tips about his process. 

Scott: “Character and voice are revealed to a great extent through what the main character thinks about other characters, as well as what those other characters think about him. Obviously the main character has to ask himself a million other questions about a million other things, but the following questions are designed to specifically explore the main character through what he thinks of others and what he thinks others think of him.”

This exercise helps Scott understand the MC and discover his voice:  He asks the questions in an interview format and has the main character answer in first person.

1. What do you observe physically about the other character?

2. What do you think about the other character?

3. What do you think the other character thinks about you?

4. What do you think the other character thinks about himself?

5. What do you think the other character thinks about the other characters in the story?

6. What do you think others in the story think about the other character?

7. What did you think about the other character when you were little and what did the other character think about you when you when you were little?

“Of course there are many more things we need to know about our character,” Scott adds. “Such as his beliefs, dreams, motivations, yearnings, etc. as well as what he thinks about his life and society. And what he thinks society thinks about him. And what he thinks about his world ( parents, school, adults, religion, society, work, money college, sex,–whatever the major factors are in his life. But the above questions help me to understand my MC in respect to his relationship with others.”


Now I see why he’s been a little busy lately.

Like babies–books take time.

So HUGE thanks to Scott for taking the time to blog-hop over.

I love this photo of Scott’s family and agent Rubin Pfeffer (East/West Lit) at the DEAR LIFE YOU SUCK book launch last March.

Are these amazing t-shirts or what?

Dear Life You Suck tshirts

This is where–if he had a blog–Scott would tag


author/Book-Dad of BULLY.COM , which released last April with Erdeman’s Book For Young Readers.


author/Book-Mom of the YA, INFINITE DAYS , and the second book STOLEN NIGHTS in the Vampire Queen series.

So–TAG--they’re it–their turn to answer to the blog-hop questions.

As for Scott–follow this amazing writer pal on Twitter: @sblagden

and congrats to DEAR LIFE YOU SUCK

which has been nominated by #YALSA for the 2014 Best Fiction for YA!

This brings me to another nomination –and an admitedly shameless plug for DECK THE WALLS,

Deck the Walls cover by Erin Dealeywhich made it to the semi-finals of #Goodreads  Best Picture Books of 2013!

Round 2 semi-finals close Nov. 16th. (Please vote!)

Round 2 semi-finals close Nov. 16th.
(Please vote!)

Thank you to all who have made this unexpected miracle possible!

Will there be a WTEWYE–a BOOK part12 next week?

Like babies and books, you never know…