SOL: At the Library


“Our childhood experience of the world is a deep well that we keep turning to again and again in writing.”

Joyce Sidman

Isn’t it funny how some memories lie buried for months or even years, then suddenly two or three things happen all at once to remind you of some long-forgotten event or person? A visit to the library yesterday started me thinking about going there as a child. Then, this morning, there was a story on NPR about the important role libraries play in helping parents and caregivers develop their children’s early literacy skills, and more memories came flooding back.

I actually don’t remember going to the library before Kindergarten. But I do have very fond memories of the library once I started school, even though our school didn’t have it’s own library. We had something better.

Every week, each class would walk 100 yards or so to the town library next door. There we were greeted by Mrs. Rothschild, a tiny woman with a white bun wrapped tightly on the top of her head. We quickly settled into one of the three or four red-cushioned window seats, or found a spot on a narrow wooden bench. Then Mrs. Rothschild began to read.

She read Where the Wild Things Are and The Little House. As we grew older, she introduced us to Pippi Longstocking and Ramona the Pest. I loved being transported out of our tiny town to the wide world beyond, all while sitting in the cozy children’s room in the basement of the library.


This painting, by John Clymer, was part of the children’s room for as long as I could remember. I confess there were a few times when this cat making tracks through the snow was more interesting to me than Mrs. Rothschild’s read aloud. Where was he going? Where had he been? Was he carrying a mouse home? Where was that house, anyway?

When Mrs. Rothschild was finished reading, we searched the shelves for books to check out for the week. I loved Charlotte’s Web, and was always searching for stories about animals. (Hence the interest in the cat?)

So I was pleasantly surprised to see it hanging over the main circulation desk when I walked into the library yesterday. I immediately thought of Mrs. Rothschild, and the stories she read to us, all those years ago.

Saturday Evening Post cover by John Clymer, 1956
Saturday Evening Post cover by Bridgewater resident John Clymer, 1956. Burnham School is on the lower left, Burnham Library is the stone building in the center.

Many people read to me throughout my childhood and helped me become the reader I am today. Thank you, Mrs. Rothschild, for being one of them.

Thank you to StaceyTaraDanaBetsyAnna, and Beth for this space for teachers and others to share their stories each Tuesday. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?


I haven’t written an IMWAYR post in months, but one of my goals for the new year is to blog more often, so I’m starting early with this post.

Telephone (Chronicle Books, 2014) by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jen Corace
Telephone (Chronicle Books, 2014) by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jen Corace

I was a little late to the Mac Barnett party, but I’ve been a devoted fan ever since I discovered Extra Yarn (Blazer + Bray, 2012). Having been on something of a bird kick this year, when I saw Telephone at my local bookstore, I grabbed it.

Barnett’s simple text and Corace’s illustrations work together to evoke a bygone era when kids played outside until it was time for dinner. The avian world on the telephone wire above echoes the human world below where kids are outside reading, running, and climbing. The story begins with Peter’s mother’s simple request, “Tell Peter: Fly home for dinner.” The young cardinal she asks is toting a baseball bat and hears what he wants to hear— “Tell Peter: Hit pop flies and homers.”  The birds along the wire continue to mangle this message until it is unrecognizable. Meanwhile, back in the human neighborhood, kids are waving goodbye as they get called inside. Finally, a zany, high-strung bird turns to an unflappable owl and tells him an outrageous mishmash of all the previous messages. The owl gives the other bird a sidelong glance, then calmly turns to Peter and tells him to “fly home for dinner.”

Corace’s illustrations are full of fine comic touches that add depth to the birds’ personalities: a distressed looking turkey is “too high on this wire,” and a rock-loving wren is decked out with star-shaped glasses and electric guitar.

Kids will love this book just for the pure silliness of it, but they’ll also love playing their own game of telephone. The witty word play also makes Telephone a terrific mentor text. Kids could have fun playing with rhymes, near rhymes, and synonyms to create their own version of Telephone. 

Don’t forget to visit Jen at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee at Unleashing Readers to find out what other people have been reading lately. Thanks, Jen and Kellee, for hosting!

Slice of Life: Holiday Baking



The pumpkin bread you baked for me

was gone within a day.

But the love you put into

measuring the sugar,

cracking the eggs,

stirring the pumpkin,

sifting the flour,

greasing the pan,

checking the time,

and wrapping the loaf

will stay with me

for months to come.

© Catherine Flynn, 2014

Baking breads, pies, and cookies for the holidays is a huge part of my family’s holiday tradition. Both of my grandmothers were excellent bakers and each had special holiday recipes we looked forward to. My father’s mother, my nana, baked delicious spritz cookies and decorated them with colored sugar and silver balls. She always had a plate of them ready for us by the kitchen door when we arrived on Christmas day.

My mother’s mother baked pies: apple and pumpkin and mincemeat. We lived next door to her when I was growing up and I was often at her house to watch or, when I was old enough, to lend a hand. This was years before Pillsbury pie crusts, so my grandmother’s crusts were always homemade with Crisco. There was always extra dough and she made delicious little crescent-shaped treats filled with raisins, cinnamon and butter. I don’t remember if she called them anything, but I’ve since seen a similar use of leftover dough called a pinwheel.

After college, I began my own baking traditions, which I’ve added to over the years. Candy cane cookies (sugar cookie dough dyed red and green with food coloring, then twisted into candy cane shapes) is a universal favorite, as are “Kiss” cookies, chocolate cookie dough wrapped around a Hershey’s Kiss, then dusted with confectioners sugar.

Each year I try to make at least one new type of cookie, but this year I haven’t had time. A jelly-filled sugar cookie recipe keeps popping up on Facebook and I may make that tomorrow. Tonight I’m writing this while making traditional Toll House cookies to take to my son on Thursday.

Baking is one of my favorite holiday traditions. Some years I’m able to bake with my sister or daughter-in-law; other years, I’m in the kitchen with my favorite Christmas albums for company. But whether I have company or am on my own, I look forward to continuing for years to come. I wish I could share a loaf of pumpkin bread and a cookie or two with all of you!

Pumpkin bread ready for gift bags.
Pumpkin bread ready for gift bags.

Wishing you all a joyous holiday!

Thank you to StaceyTaraDanaBetsyAnna, and Beth for this space for teachers and others to share their stories each Tuesday. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

Poetry Friday: The Coming of Light


The Coming of Light

by Mark Strand

Even this late it happens:

the coming of love, the coming of light.

You wake and the candles are lit as if by themselves,

stars gather, dreams pour into your pillows,

sending up warm bouquets of air.

Read the rest of the poem here.

photo credit: johan wieland via photopin cc
photo credit: johan wieland via photopin cc

Wishing you all love and light and joy this holiday season!

Be sure to visit Buffy Silverman at Buffy’s Blog for the Poetry Friday Roundup.

Slice of Life: Close “Reading” in Kindergarten


Be curious always! For knowledge will not acquire you; you must acquire it.

~ Sudie Back ~

It’s hard to believe NCTE was almost a month ago! Amidst the chaos of the holidays, I’ve been reading books snagged in the Exhibition Hall (thank you, publishers!), reviewing my notes, and sharing the wealth of knowledge I gained from the terrific sessions I attended.

I was lucky to get into Chris Lehman, Kate Roberts, and Kristi Mraz’s standing-room-only session, CLOSE READING AND THE LITTLE ONES: HOW IT’S DIFFERENT (AND INCREDIBLY FUN AND EFFECTIVE) IN EARLY ELEMENTARY GRADES. With their characteristic blend of common sense and humor, these three inspiring educators shared routines K-3 teachers can use to capitalize on the natural curiosity of kids.

Chris, Kate, and Kristi pointed out that close reading in these early grades is akin to close study, or observation, “something that little ones are doing already.” Giving students opportunities to engage in close observation accomplishes many goals that support young learners, including opportunities to talk to others about their ideas. It also encourages students to “open up” their thinking through “meaningful, enjoyable experiences”

Close reading is only one part of “a balanced diet of reading instruction” that should

  • serve a specific purpose
  • focus on details in high success texts
  • allow kids to discover new meaning through carefully looking at details

Adapting the paradigm for middle and high school readers Chris and Kate laid out in their book Falling In Love With Close Reading (Heinemann, 2013) for young readers resulted in this structure, or instructional routine, which should be repeated so often that it becomes a habit, which leads to independence.

Photo courtesy of Fran McVeigh
Photo courtesy of Fran McVeigh

Kristi, Kate, and Chris emphasized that this close reading isn’t about teaching kids how to read, nor should everything be read closely. Rather, this routine is about “teaching kids a way of looking at a text or an image or an object so they can develop ideas about it.

This makes so much sense! I was excited to get back to school to share this thinking with my wonderful Kindergarten colleagues. Using Kristi, Chris, and Kate’s ideas about “close looking,” we designed an object study that coordinated with the Kindergarten’s current unit on the animal kingdom AND laid the foundation for daily close observation. As Kristi so wisely pointed out, “If you want to do strong work in reading, you have have to do strong work in other places.”

So we began by closely observing seashells. I modeled the cycle by looking closely at a shell, pointing to its surface and saying something about the color. Then I thought more about the color, and added more details about the variations of color on the shell. The kids couldn’t wait to get their hands on a shell to observe with their partners.

photo 1

Soon the room was filled with the hum of the children’s voices. They talked about the colors and the shapes and the textures. They noticed that some shells had bumps on the outside and others had spikes. They ran their hands along the smooth surface on the mouth of the shell and wondered why the texture was so different from the top of the shell. And they talked about the sounds they heard when they held the shells to their ears.

When we came back together so the kids could share their findings, it was clear they had developed some “big ideas” through their observations. Several children mentioned protection and camouflage when they talked about the colors of the shells or how hard they were. They all wanted to spend more time with the shells, comparing them and “getting to know [them] better.”

This is work we will return to daily. There are countless opportunities for close observation throughout the day, opportunities for kids to look at the world and say     “Wow!”

Thank you, Chris, Kate, and Kristi, for sharing your insights and pushing me as a teacher! Thank you to StaceyTaraDanaBetsyAnna, and Beth for this space for teachers and others to share their stories each Tuesday. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

Poetry Friday: Snowpiaries



According to the calendar we still have a week of autumn, but winter has definitely arrived! We had snow for Thanksgiving, and it seems like it’s snowed every day this week. Here are two poems inspired by the recent weather.


After the blizzard,

hydrangeas blanketed in white:


Children sledding, Heiloo, Netherlands, via


Giggling, laughing,

Come on, let’s go!

Sliding, gliding,

Through the snow.

Skidding, crashing,

Watch out! Oh, no!

Tumbling, crumbling,

into a heap.

Brushing, rushing,

up we leap.

Giggling, laughing,

Come on, let’s go!

© Catherine Flynn, 2014

Thank you to Paul, for hosting Poetry Friday. Be sure to visit him at These Four Corners for the round up.

Slice of Life: ‘Tis the Season


‘Twas two weeks till Christmas, and all through the house

there were presents to wrap, cards to write, and cookies to bake…

You get the idea. Throw in a stressful week at work, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed. I’m doing my best to remain unflappable amidst all the hubbub. Thanks to my sister, who shared this on Facebook today, I have a new motto:

“Don’t get your tinsel in a tangle” From Lily Pulitzer’s Facebook page.

If you do feel like your loosing control of your tinsel, watch this video. It will restore you.

Thank you, StaceyTaraDanaBetsyAnna, and Beth for this space for teachers and others to share their stories each Tuesday. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.




A Poem for Autumn

Back in September, the lovely Carol Varsalona created a “Summer Serenity” Gallery, a gorgeous collection of summer poems and photographs. Soon afterwards, Carol, who I was lucky enough to meet at NCTE, announced a “Finding Fall” gallery. Autumn is my favorite season, so I thought writing a poem about its beauty would be pretty straightforward. Alas, I have been scribbling notes and ideas for the better part of two months, but a poem has eluded me. Since winter is almost here, I knew it was time to sit down and “just do it!”

DSCN0025 2

Leaf Globe

I’d like to capture autumn’s glow

inside a globe of glass,

where leaves of red and gold

swirl like confetti in the breeze.

Beneath the fiery trees,

a multicolored carpet,

crackles and rustles

as chipmunks dash and scurry,

gathering nuts and acorns

for their secret cache.

A globe that I can gaze at

on snowy afternoons,

remembering these golden days,

which drift away too soon.

© Catherine Flynn, 2014

Thank you, Carol, for being such an inspiration!

Poetry Friday: NCTE Poetry Rock Stars


“Poetry is about loving the world and showing that love through words.”

Irene Latham

I’m still basking in the glow of NCTE. Many of the sessions I attended were about integrating poetry into the curriculum. I feel fortunate that I’ve gotten to know many of the poets and teachers who presented during these sessions through blogging on Poetry Friday. Meeting them face-to-face was a highlight of my weekend at the Gaylord. Their wisdom, humor and generosity have made me a better writer and a better teacher. I use their books with students every day.

During her portion of the CLA Master Class, Poetry Across the Curriculum, Heidi Mordhorst described her vision of integrating the curriculum as synergy. The definition she provided, “the interaction or cooperation of two or more organizations, substances, or other agents to produce a combined effect greater than the sum of their separate effects” not only characterizes what happens when we share poetry with our students. It embodies the spirit of the Poetry Friday community, a community I am so thankful for.

So many wonderful poems were shared during these sessions (thank you, Janet & Sylvia, for all the postcards!), I couldn’t choose just one to share today. I also wanted to express how grateful I am to these women. So I’ve stitched together a thank you of sorts using their own words.

What is beauty?

Whatever you believe it to be. (1)

To listen, to look,

to think, and to learn. (2)

Opening your heart and sharing your feelings, (3)

with plenty of space to dream. (4)

I’m glad you are my secret friend. (5)

We’re just a link away. (6)

You fold the memory

into your hearts, (7)

turn outside to inside

stranger to friend, (8)

and look inside yourself to find

the good I see in you. (9)

I’m a piece of the sky

in a circle of sun, (10)

But none of it would matter much

without the likes of you. (11)

Thank you to all the poets whose work inspired this poem!

1: Tricia Stohr-Hunt, whose blog, The Miss Rumphius Effect, was one of the first I ever read, continues to be an incredible resource for poetry. These lines are from Tricia’s poem, “Beauty”.

2: Janet Wong, co-creator with Sylvia Vardell, of The Poetry Friday Anthologies. These books are amazing resources. Janet’s poem, “Liberty” provided these lines.

3: Irene Latham‘s newest book, Dear Wandering Wildebeest and Other Poems from the Watering Hole (Millbrook Press, 2014) has quickly become a favorite with my students. These lines are from an acrostic Irene shared during the session “Poem As Storyteller: Collaborating With Authors to Write Narrative Poetry.”

4. Sara Holbrook and Michael Salinger‘s session, “Writing to Increase Literacy and Learning Across the Curriculum” was full of practical suggestions for incorporating poetry into the school day. This line is from her poem, “On Becoming Proficient,” which can be found in Zombies Evacuate the School (WordSong, 2010).

5. Heidi Mordhorst is a teacher, poet, and blogger whose work I have only recently become familiar with, but I’m looking forward to reading and sharing more of Heidi’s poetry. This line can be found in Heidi’s poem, “Funday, Imaginary 1st”.

6. The poetry of Laura Purdie Salas is a staple of my classroom. I’ve been sharing her poetry with students for years and was thrilled to meet her at NCTE! This line is from Laura’s poem, “Just Like That”.

7. Georgia Heard is another rock star of poetry I was excited to meet. Georgia’s books about Awakening the Heart and For the Good of the Sun and the Earth have had a profound influence on my teaching. This line is from her poem “Ars Poetica”, which can be found in The Poetry Friday Anthology for Middle School.

8. Amy Ludwig VanDerwater’s blog, The Poem Farm, is a treasure-trove of resources for teachers and poets. This line is from “First Practice”, one of Amy’s contributions to the The Poetry Friday Anthology for Middle School.

9. I have long been a fan of Eileen Spinelli‘s picture book, Sophie’s MasterpieceBut I was less familiar with her poetry. These lines are from Eileen’s powerful “Poem for a Bully” which can be found in The Poetry Friday AnthologyK-5 edition.

10. I met Rebecca Kai Dotlich at NCTE almost by accident. We were each waiting for a friend, and, without having any idea who she was, I introduced myself. She was very friendly and introduced herself as Rebecca. We chatted, and through the course of the conversation I realized that I was casually talking with the author of some of my favorite poems for children. These lines are from an all-time favorite, “A Circle of Sun”.

11. Mary Lee Hahn‘s blog, A Year of Reading, is another inspirational resource. She and Franki Sibberson have set the standard for excellence in blogs by teachers. Mary Lee’s passion for teaching and poetic skills continue to amaze me. Mary Lee’s poem “Our Wonderful World” is the source of these lines.

Thank you again to every one of you! Thank you also to Anastasia Suen for hosting the Poetry Friday Round Up!

Slice of Life: Developing a Coaching Vision


Yesterday, the administrators at my school, the math specialist, and I spent the day with a coach from our regional educational consortium. Our goal was to improve our coaching practice. At the beginning of the day, Carly gave us a lengthy list of values that applied “to work and personal life.” She asked us to choose ten values that are central to our work with teachers and students. This was quite a challenge, as many of the words were closely related. For example, what is the difference between team-work and collaboration? Kindness & compassion? After we each had our list of ten values, we had to narrow our choices to five. Again, how to choose? Finally, we had to pick three core values that we felt best described our coaching practice. This is what I came up with:

Screen Shot 2014-12-02 at 11.16.58 PM

Obviously there is no right or wrong answer to this process, but I found it valuable because it did make me really reflect on what I believe about my work with teachers and students. On a different day, I might have chosen different words. But I do think that if we bring a positive attitude to our collaboration, and thoughtfully and honestly reflect on our work, then growth will be a natural outcome, for both teachers and students. 

My thoughts about this process are evolving. Carly shared a number of coaching strategies that had to do with inquiry and purposeful questioning. Inquiry is a word that has been buzzing around in my brain for a few months. Inquiry has many implications for my work with teachers, but also for our work with students in the classroom. I’m excited to learn more about the inquiry process and to put some of these ideas into practice. I’ll be sharing more about this journey in the weeks to come. 

Thank you, StaceyTaraDanaBetsyAnna, and Beth for this space for teachers and others to share their stories each Tuesday. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.