PPBF: Josias, Hold the Book

Today I'm excited to share a book that connects with me all the way back to my roots on the farm. Prepare to fall in love with Josias. He's one responsible kid! 

Title: Josias, Hold the Book
Author: Jennifer Riesmeyer Elvgren
Illustrator: Nicole Tadgell
Publisher: Boyds Mills Press
Date: 2006 (reprint edition January 1, 2011)
Suitable for: grades 1-4
Themes: Haitian culture, responsibility, poverty
Realistic Fiction
Brief synopsis: A young Haitian gardener, Josias can't help but notice that his family's beans aren't growing like they used to. Though his friends invite him every day to "hold the book" - an expression that means attend school to learn - Josias repeatedly declines because he's working diligently on the family farm to find a solution to their issue with the beans. Is it possible that if Josias agrees to "hold the book" he'd be able to research other options and save his bean crop?

Opening pages:  Josias frowned at the bare rows of dirt between the sweet potatoes and peas in his family's tiny garden. "The beans have grown well here every year. Why not this one?" He wiped the sweat from his brow as the Haitian sun climbed higher in the sky.


Read a Kirkus review {here}.

Why I like this book and how I would use it:  

First-grade teacher Margaret Limmer first introduced me to this book a few years ago during their farm unit. She said that it reminded her of me since I, too, grew up working on a farm. She also said it was an excellent book to teach problem solving and responsibility. After reading it, however, my first question had to do with fairness: Was it fair that Josias had to work and wasn't able to "hold the book" like his friend Chrislove? That led to my next inquiry: Is education a right or a privilege? These would be interesting writing prompts or discussion points before reading Josias' story aloud to your class. 

While reading aloud, ask students to keep track of the ways in which Josias attempts to help his beans grow. What, if anything, would they have done differently to solve that problem?

Might the books that his friends are reading at school hold the solution to this problem? Is not being able to hold the book holding Josias back? A teacher helps by explaining about crop rotation, and Josias learns a valuable lesson that could even help modernize his family. An author's note at the end of the book gives her readers an insider's look into the plight of the Haitian farmer and the schooling issues that rural children face in that third-world nation. 

Have students compare and contract their life with Josias' way of living. What, if anything, is the same? And what do they note is different? This might also lead to a study of the people, customs, and traditions in Haiti and could even springboard a service project. What is one of the needs that we could help fill there? After the earthquake there, we collected gently-used shoes and sent them through Soles 4 Souls, an organization designed to wear out poverty. Seize this opportunity to find out what they understand about poverty. Are Josias and his family rich or poor? How do they know?

Follow up the story with a writing lesson. What would your students say in a letter to Josias? Tell him about your country and ask him about his. What are your responsibilities as a student? As a family member? As a friend? What are his? 

Want a science experiment? Plant some beans and try watering them with different liquids: water, milk, coffee, lemonade, cola. What do your student predict might happen? Write a hypothesis, then plant those seeds. Help students keep data; measure and document. Track growth and other reactions to the treatment and care. Let students discuss their observations and outcomes.

Check out this book and the other gems on our PPBF list.


Changing Everything

I found this quote on the Live The Golden Rule Facebook page
 and I paired it with this picture of a knitting club mentor.
Don't you love PicMonkey?

Just look at how she is loving kindness.
She used her time and talents to make that hat 
to help reduce the infant mortality rate.
A life-saving tool. 
Knitting kindness, one stitch at a time. 
A project with a purpose that could change everything.

Recently, we've had a few chances to give a sweet sendoff to some of our Hometown Heroes from Friendswood High School. We take our students out front to congratulate them, encourage them, and cheer them on.

First, we saw the Academic Decathlon Team off to State Competition, then the Swim Team as they headed to Austin, and finally the Lady Mustang Basketball team as they headed to their big playoff game. Just look at how tickled those teenaged girls were. One of them tweeted this:

With one kind gesture ...
living the Golden Rule ... 
because one day it could be us on that bus.

How will you change something today?


Crucial Friends

Warning: Today's post will be a bit more 
spiritual even 
than usual.
But it's what's on my heart and mind.

Sometimes we wait for God to do something ... anything ...
to help us through our trials and tribulations ...

... because life is hard. Really hard. 

{What's on your plate today?
And what's your plan?}

But here's what I'm finding ... it's not about our plan.
We can't go it alone. We just can't.
But I have good news!

God is doing something ... 
every minute of every day.
Every time He sends someone to support me.
A colleague.
A parent.
A friend.
A student.
A neighbor.
A family member.

And those crucial friends, those gifts from God, were called to do something, like send me a warm thought, a smile, a caring email, a beautiful song by Matthew West, a note of encouragement, a text to say hello, a phone call just because, an affirmation, a compliment, a flower, some chocolate, a fresh loaf of homemade bread, an invitation for a walk or a dinner date, a prayer, a copy of 
Jesus Calling by Sarah Young in the mail.

Trusting dependence ... I like it ... in theory.

But I get SO caught up in trying to control my circumstances.
And the more I try to control ... yep ...
the more out of control I spin.

Trusting dependence ... 
depending on my higher power ... 
so important. Critical even.
Because He's got this.

From theory to practice ... that's my challenge today.
To know that God has sent people to me ... to do something.
To trust it. Without question.
And then to act ...
because He's also called me to be that crucial friend to others.
To do something. 
To send a warm thought, a smile, a caring email, a beautiful song by Matthew West, a note of encouragement, a text to say hello, a phone call just because, an affirmation, a compliment, a flower, some chocolate, a fresh loaf of homemade bread, an invitation for a walk or a dinner date, a prayer, a copy of Jesus Calling by Sarah Young in the mail.

Every day.

How will you be a crucial friend today?


Our Little Nut

Today we're celebrating our youngest child turning 15.

Seems like just yesterday that we were signing him up for preschool. 

He had kind of a bad day at school because he was teased for being small for his age; truth is that, at barely 5 feet tall, he does look like somebody's fun little brother. Things got better when his sister called, after which John and I celebrated with him at his favorite restaurant and he got sopapillas as his birthday cake.

The other and clearly more important truth is that our littlest Gruener is a bright light. He's a happy young man who whistles and hums when he doesn't know anyone's listening. He wakes up easily and stays up until he's gotten his day's work done. He works hard and will be the first to ask us to honor and respect his pace. He's forging his own way in this world with a smile on his face and happiness in his heart. He's a sensitive, inquisitive boy whose English teacher tells me keeps her in stitches. 

We probably don't tell him enough that we love him.
And that we're proud of him, no matter what.

And tonight, after a difficult day because our town lost one of our teens to a terrible car accident, I'm reminded that life is short and that we need to appreciate every moment that we get to spend with our loved ones. Hug them and keep them close by. Let them know that you love them and that you're in their corner.

Birthday blessings, Joshua.


School Tools TV

Today I'm excited because Dr. Michele Borba tweeted this yesterday:

You may know that I'm not on Twitter (yet!) but I was able 
to find this after she'd told me she'd tweeted it. So fun.
Mr. Whitlock had the idea that this week ought to be 
Marq-tweet Week (or something like that)
If it were, what message would you share?

Have you seen the clips for character kids at School Tools TV?
 Click the graphic to see a week's worth of videos.

On his website, counselor and author Rusty May explains 
why he created STTV:

"I created SchoolToolsTV (STTV) to help teachers and students connect and create the kind of relationships necessary to allow the class to achieve at the highest level possible. I created STTV to teach children about the social skills they need to really succeed. I created STTV to help children find better ways to solve problems and reduce bullying." 

Well who wouldn't want that? So I decided to watch of few of the samples and I have to say that he's on to something!

Rusty's basic premise is that students are all diamonds in the rough. That being said, all they need is to be polished with relationship, connection and some social skills to help them shine like the gems that they are meant to be. 

Classroom teachers could totally incorporate these one-minute snippets into their morning meetings or as a writing/reflection center; school counselors could easily use them during individual sessions, in small group classes, or with whole group guidance. Check out the weekly conversation starters {here}.

Then share a few of these thought-provoking clips with
your diamonds and see what they think.


Something Wonderful

Yesterday morning I dragged into the office, opened my door and saw a caramel frappe from McDonald's on my desk with my name on it, staring at me, begging to be enjoyed. Yep, along with her smile and a her huge heart for kids, my intern brought me something wonderful. 

What a terrific treat (unless you're counting calories)!

It's not really a surprise, though, because I know her parents, and they both go out of their way to do something wonderful for people all of the time. Since he retired, for example, her dad is always stopping by with sweets for our faculty, 
just because he can.

Reminds me that we reap what we sow.

Earlier this week, a truck-repair business just down the road from our school put this on their marquee:

Do something wonderful; people may imitate it. 

That gave Mr. Whitlock an idea:

And he ran with it. He asked me to take a picture of it and send it to our neighbors down the street. So I did. I thanked them for their inspiration, for being our neighbors and for setting the bar so high.

Sometimes it's the little things that turn into 
something wonderful!

Click {here} to read a simply wonderful letter ...
 from a veteran teacher to a newbie ... 
I'm lovin' that there's always something to learn.


PPBF: Something Else

Today's PPBF, one of my all-time favorite books to read aloud, is

Title: Something Else
Author: Kathryn Cave
Illustrator: Chris Riddell
Publisher: Mondo Pub
Date: April 5, 1998
Suitable for: ages 6 and up
Themes: Celebrating differences, empathy, acceptance
Brief Synopsis: Try as he might, this little blue creature named Something Else just doesn't quite fit in. But when an orange Something shows up on his doorstep, will Something Else recognize him as an opportunity for companionship knocking?
Opening page:  On a windy hill alone with nothing to be friends with lived Something Else.


A previous post at the Corner called It's Golden {here}.
Find some activities from Schools Linking Network {here}.
Engage with a Same and Different Lesson {here}.
Try these activities from Stonewall {here}.

In peace class, we used a ball of yarn to set up the story with an object lesson about differences. We brought a volunteer up and listed all of the ways she was different from us. With every difference, we wrapped her up with another round of the string. When we'd finished, she was stuck! I asked what her life would be like if each of these differences was something she worried about. They didn't know how she'd eat, open a door, write, or play. We all agreed that focusing on differences as bad or something to worry or stress about definitely ties people up ... but embracing and, yes, celebrating differences sets us free.

We also used this problem poster ... it fit right in with Patch, my pirate puppet, who wants to fit in but is quite different from us.

It's interesting to use this poster across four grade levels ... K students say that the problem is that the one zebra is too small, a first grader noticed that there wasn't any water for them, and by second and third they're able to notice that his stripes don't go the same way. Such a great picture for a "not good, not bad, just different" discussion.

Then a read-aloud of Something Else and our lesson on not only accepting but celebrating differences is complete!

Why I like this book:  

Not only is it a fun read-aloud with rich food for thought about differences, but it's got amazing illustrations, like this one:

I use this page to ask my students to put themselves in Something Else's shoes. How is he feeling? How can they tell? What would they need if they were to switch places? When they answer "a friend," sure enough, Something Else gets his chance at a true friendship on the very next page. But he doesn't see it like that right away.

Check out this book to see how your students react when Something Else tells Something that he is most definitely NOT his "sort of something else."

Note: In preK peace class, we played a fun rendition of London Bridge Is Falling Down using these lyrics that I wrote:

Everyone is di-fer-ent, di-fer-ent, di-fer-ent.
Everyone is di-fer-ent; we respect that.

And they went home with a unifying song in their heart!


Cognitive Candy? Sweet!

Have you seen this moving Free Spirit Press treasure?

Its layout is beautiful . . . and its content spot on.
Targeting infants through age seven (although you could totally extend it into the middle years), this guide by Gill Connell and Cheryl McCarthy fully supports what Dr. John Medina said in his book Brain Rules about physical activity being "cognitive candy." According to Medina, the brain opens up and releases endorphins with physical movement; when meaningful activity happens in concert with academic content, our capacity for learning increases.

It's been proven with these brain scans. 

Click graphic for source: Wichita Falls ISD

Connell and McCarthy would concur and share a wide array of activities that address the physical and academic needs of your young learners during their formative years. 

Want to maximize learning? 
Check out this book and try some active play. 
Join in the fun and treat yourself to some brain candy, too.

*Need more info? Click {here} for a review at Moving Smart.
*Check out the Moving Child Now Pinterest page {here}.
*Read another review at KinderChat {here}.
*Read AAPHERD's Learning to Move and Moving to Learn {here}.
*Grab more idea suggestions from WA State Dept. of Learning {here}.
*Enjoy some energizers from East Carolina University {here}.
Learn more about Head Start Body Start {here}.

Then, get mooooooving.


Fuel For Writing

Today I'm excited about a must-have 
writing workshop resource by Christine DePetrillo.

Click the cover image to purchase the digital version on TpT.

This little masterpiece is like a Reader's Digest guide to help writers in grades three through eight develop dynamic, intriguing, authentic, and engaging characters.
 Its 116 pages, divided into four major topics, are described in the book like this: 
Chapter one: Observing people to discover elements that reveal character 
Chapter two: Developing key aspects of characters - how they look, where they live, and what they say and do. 
Chapter three: Evolving character to show how a character develops over time 
Chapter four: Using voice, dialogue, and point of view to make a character come alive.

Ignite your writing instruction with five Common-Core-aligned activities per chapter, most of which will take about 45 minutes each. Sample entries and varied follow-up assessments enrich the text along the way. The goals, motivation, and conflict section has the potential to encourage self-reflection in the writers while they're creating the profiles of their characters. My personal favorite, the character interview, could easily serve to elevate empathy in the writers as they develop characters, and then get to know what they stand for, believe in, and value.

I enthusiastically recommend this exciting new teaching guide as an 
invaluable deposit for your writing fuel tank.

Click {here} for more information or to buy a hard copy 
and get the digital copy as a bonus.


The Gift Of Time

Today I'm still on a natural high from working with the McKinney ISD counselors yesterday. They were such willing participants who sang, danced and got silly with me. I enjoyed a wonderful Italian meal with my friend Tara and her family Sunday night, then warm hospitality at Janet's home overnight. 

We spent a fun-filled three morning hours before I was treated to lunch by Sheila and her boys from Pennies of Time. These new friends do something small to serve every day and truly are the kind of people with whom you want to surround yourself. They brought a blanket and Chick-fil-A for a picnic lunch; we danced the Six Pillar Shuffle together for dessert! After lunch, we got back to work on our character crusade, finishing up by about 3:30 as I had a plane to catch. I was taxied to and fro between McKinney and Love Field by counselors who went above and beyond to make my stay comfortable and I left there exhausted and energized all at once. My time with them truly was a gift.

Now I'm thinking about the Clothing Drive that our Good News Club just hosted. Every day for a week, we had curbside service to take donations from our school families to serve ... other school families through our Clothes Closet. 
And our friends in shelters or without homes. 
Repurposing at its finest. 
We've even invited our Hometown Heroes from Friendswood High School to extend our reach of caring for people in need.

Have you ever hosted a clothes swap? If so, how did it go? 


Puppet Power

I've recently welcomed four new family members into the fold at the Puppet Palace.

Meet Patch,



and PJ.

Aren't they adorable? Each one different, each one special.
Because they were gifts, from friends, to me.
I see them as gifts of encouragement, to keep on
writing puppet scripts and impacting children
through the medium of puppetry.

It's fun, because students will actually ask me things like,
"What problem is that one going to need help solving?"
and "What's its name?" or "Is it a boy or a girl?"

And I ask myself, "They DO know they're puppets, right?"

And when they fret about the safety of the puppets during a fire drill, for example, I'm not exactly sure the answer to that question.

What I do know is this: We've got the ability to positively influence and shape a child's thoughts, words, and deed when we've got a puppet on our hand. 
Students are instantly engaged and they're listening. 
They'll say things to a puppet that they wouldn't tell a person.
 They laugh. 
They teach. 
They remember. 
And they notice.

Just last Friday, a kindergartener noticed my basket of seals and he asked, "When are those walruses going to talk to us?" Just so cute!

After school recently, Luke, another kindergarten friend, brought by an empty and thoroughly cleaned out five-gallon cheese-puffs bin that he'd labeled Puppets Sleep Jar and asked if he could tuck the new puppets in so they don't get scared in their sleep. Super sweet!!

Here's what I found this morning ... a candle to keep them warm!

And when I get notes, students inevitably tell me that they love my puppets ... or their favorite puppet is Pillar ... or say hi to Boris.

Then when they see me in the hallways, they want to know which puppet I'm going to use next. I think it'll be Patch, when we discuss differences later this week. Shhhh, don't tell.

Never underestimate the power of the puppet ...


Your Role In Their Story

Today I'm excited because I'm putting the final touches on my plan for an all-day workshop with the counselors in McKinney ISD. I find it so gratifying and rewarding to be in a position to play a role in their story. 

I can't wait to see who the participants in my workshop are 
and what they're bringing to the room with them.

Yesterday I came across this clip that really clicked with me.
How many times has this been us? 

Without the benefit of the service spectacles, of course.

And I couldn't help but wonder ...
Who gives you that pair of specs?
How does wearing them change who you are and how you react?
To whom might you give that pair of specs?

Totally reminds me of The Sandal Artist by Kathleen T. Pelley. Only it's shoes that helps Roberto see his potential role in their story, his ability to look beyond himself and positively influence someone else's world.

Empathy is such a divine virtue; so is kindness. 
What will they help you see more clearly today?


Catawampus Combat

Sometimes things are just a little catawampus in life, so I decided not to straighten this, even though I was tempted.

My friend Deanna included it in her Valentine to me and I love it.
Not only do we get to see this dad nurturing his seeds with those all-important virtues, but we also get to experience the beauty of his labor of love. 
Just look at what he grew ...

There's no question that children learn what they live.

And in a catawampus world that's sometimes turned upside down for children and adults alike, it's increasingly important that we nourish those seeds with more tender loving care than sometimes even we think that we can muster. 

I used to think that we could cover up the bad seeds that grew 
with happy stuff, 
the negative with positive, 
the dark with light.

But as I visit with children, staff, and parents alike, I realize that simply covering it up isn't enough. That doesn't help send it packing, that just covers it up. Puts a bandage on it. Hides it away for later.

So this past year, I've been working more intentionally to confront issues head on (and carefront people if necesary) and find strategies to realign and straighten things out rather than just pretend they're not there.

I think in the end, it'll be a healthier way to approach life's challenges 
and deal with problematic areas.

In the meantime, I'll keep encouraging those with whom I'm blessed to cross paths 
to garden with grace, 
to sow with sensitivity,
to labor with love, 
 to cultivate with caring,
to reap with respect,
to water with wonder, 
to harvest with hope.

Here's to combating those bad seeds and weeds 
and keeping them out of our beautiful flowerbeds. 


PPBF: That Is NOT A Good Idea!

If you haven't already seen this (or maybe even if you have!), you simply must treat yourself to this hilarious Kid Snippets Valentines Day clip. 
Laughter is such a nice gift, isn't it?

Just like that clip, today's PPBF is hilarious.
Introducing ...

Title: That is NOT a Good Idea!
Author & Illustrator: Mo Willems
Publisher: Balzer & Bray (An Imprint of Harper Collins)
Date: April 23, 2013
Suitable for: ages 4 - 8
Themes: point of view, listening, choices
Brief Synopsis: A hungry fox meets a plump goose and a dinner invitation is extended. What do you imagine the secret ingredient will be?
Opening page:

Resources:  Read a review at Marin Mommies {here}.
Find activity ideas from Harper Collins {here}.
Enjoy an engaging post at Rubber Boots and Elf Shoes {here}.

View the book's You Tube trailer here:

Why I like this book:  I found this treasure absolutely intriguing. From the first page when I saw the mama goose's expression, I wondered why she looked so pleased to see the fox. But it never occurred to me that there'd be such a 
creative twist.  

I took it to Margaret Limmer's first grade to try it out yesterday. I asked for predictions before we read and, as you might expect, they pretty much thought that the sneaky fox wanted to cook the goose for dinner. And probably throw in her goslings for dessert. But then one little learner asked, "Why does the fox always have to be the bad guy?" and that question took her friends in a reverse direction. Is it possible that the goose would outfox the fox?

My friend Margaret is the kind of teacher whose kids are thinkers like that. They're curious and kind and they're intelligent and insightful! Some of them even thought that maybe the fox and the goose could become friends. How cute is that? It's because Margaret leads by example. When it's a family member's birthday, for example, Mrs. Limmer will get the phone number of that person and her class will deliver a singing telegram. When a student's grandmother was turning 100, these firsties wrote her amazing notes of birthday blessings and cheer. And as that granny was taking her last earthly breath days later, it was those cards that they were reading to her. As I left the room just this morning, Mrs. Limmer asked if I could mail some cards for her. I couldn't help but noticed that the envelopes were addressed to last year's students from her class. Valentines no doubt. So you can imagine that I love to spend time piloting new material with her class. They got so, so excited about this clever newcomer! Well, most of them.

Check out this reader's response reflection:

Oops ... cat's out of the bag ... so to speak.

And their text-to-self connections with a time that 
someone told them that is NOT a good idea:

For fun, why not do a free dance to the song
What Does The Fox Say?

I've got a good idea; check out this book, then head to 
Susanna Leonard Hill's blog for more intriguing titles.

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