It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?


Take a five year-old’s favorite question, add Eric Carle’s joyous spirit and thirteen of the most accomplished illustrators working in children’s literature today and you have What’s Your Favorite Animal? (Henry Holt, 2014). This book is a glorious celebration of animals and art. Each artist responded to this important question with a short piece of writing and an illustration. The writing ranges from heartfelt recollections of childhood pets to whimsical imaginary pets. Nick Bruel’s Bad Kitty even gets to add her two cents.


The writing that accompanies each illustration is rich with description and rationale. Peter Sís describes “…many families coming with their carps to the river and blue fish swimming toward the ocean. This gave us all hope!” Chris Raschka’s keen observation of the lowly snail gives readers a new appreciation of an animal who’s often overlooked: “But all her life she works her craft, adding to it day by day, until, when she dies, she leaves us something of great beauty.”

These words could describe the work of these artists, who have given the world so much beauty through their books. It seems fitting, then, that proceeds from What’s Your Favorite Animal? are being donated to The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art. The Carle, dedicated to inspiring “a love of art and reading through picture books,” is one of my favorite museums. (Read more about my last visit here.)

What’s Your Favorite Animal? is a perfect mentor text for young writers making their first attempt at opinion writing. The CCSS calls for both Kindergarten and first grade writers to “write opinion pieces.” What better topic than animals, something every child has an opinion about?

I also found this book on my most recent trip to the bookstore:

Listography: Your Life in Lists
Chronicle Books, 2007

Lisa Nola, creator of this book/journal explains in a note that the book “is designed to help you create your autobiography.” But I was drawn to Listography for a different reason. It’s ideal for using with kids when they complain, “But I don’t know what to write about.” WARNING! Don’t just hand this book to students; adults are definitely the target audience. Rather, choose an appropriate page and write the topic on the board. Like What’s Your Favorite Animal?, everyone has favorite toys, games, and songs.

This book appealed to me on another level, though. I don’t usually need lists like this for ideas of what to write about. Rather, I can see using this book and these list ideas to get to know my own characters better. I have seen many writing exercises that do just this. But the idea of having this whole volume filled with these lists really appeals to me. I’m hoping they’ll help me find, to use Ray Bradbury’s perfect metaphor, what’s “hidden under the trapdoor on the top of my skull.” Or, in this case, my character’s skull.

Be sure 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: Christmas Trees and the Gift of Books


“A book is a gift you can open again and again.”

Garrison Keillor

Every year in late November, my town library hosts a cocktail party/silent auction fund raiser to kick off the holiday season. People donate gift baskets, wreaths, and gift cards to local restaurants and businesses, but the highlight of the event are the Christmas trees. The decorations on each tree are inspired by a book, which is of course part of the package. My dear friend, Colette (of Used Books in Class fame), and I have been contributing a tree for at least the last 15 years, and it has become one of my favorite holiday traditions.

The Nutcracker
The Nutcracker Tree, topped by Boalt’s Sugar Plum Fairy

Our trees have most often been based on a children’s book, but we have done a few trees based on adult books. Our Under the Tuscan Sun tree was especially beautiful.  Sometimes we’re inspired by the book itself; other times we find an ornament that strikes our fancy. Many of our trees were inspired by the incredible handmade soft sculpture ornaments by Gladys Boalt. These usually adorn the tree top. The rest of the ornaments are generally a mix of purchased ornaments and ornaments that we make. We’ve gotten very creative over the years about making ornaments out of almost anything. Tiny terra-cotta flower pots and raffia became bells on the Tuscan tree, yellow grosgrain ribbon was transformed into the yellow brick road with the help of a black Sharpie, and a hand-knit I-cord became the garland for a tree full of little sweaters and hats.

Alice in Wonderland Tree
Alice in Wonderland Tree

Ideas for a tree can strike at any time of the year. Colette is usually the mastermind, but I’ve had my share of brainstorms too. This year’s tree was inspired by a set of wooden magnets Colette found in the gift shop at the Eric Carle Museum back in March. With the help of brightly colored bakery string and scrap book paper (to cover the black backs), these adorable magnets became ornaments. Plastic alphabet links were turned into a garland, and the Very Hungry Caterpillar himself sat atop the tree.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar
The Very Hungry Caterpillar

Every year we ask ourselves why we do this, as it takes a fair amount of time to make sure we have all the materials we need, make the ornaments, and decorate the tree. Trees have to be delivered to the library (a big challenge in itself!) right before Thanksgiving, a very hectic time of year for teachers. But every year, as we’re making the ornaments, we remember why we do this. We love it. We love supporting our local library. We love using a creative part of our brain that we often neglect, and we love creating beautiful Christmas trees that bring joy to someone. Most of all, we love giving a child a book they will never forget.

This year's finished tree
This year’s finished tree

Thank you to everyone at Two Writing Teachers for creating and nurturing this supportive community!