Category Archives: Classroom Connections

The Problem With Free Books

Sixty-four days. That’s how long it’s been since Bubba and I stepped foot in our library – more than nine long weeks! Obviously I’m still reading to him every night, but we’ve had a different source for books the past couple months… so we haven’t had to visit the library.


I’m sure you’re probably wondering, “Where is he getting so many books if he’s not going to the library?” Well, I was able to start up a ‘Little Free Library’ in my school this year (thanks to a retired teacher who had been collecting gently used books for years as part of her “Book Shack” program), and I get to be the person who keeps the free library stocked with hundreds of gently used books!


As I fill the shelves each week, I always find titles that I know Bubba will love… books about fire trucks, tractors, animals, and more! When I find a book I know Bubba will enjoy, I bring it home to read to him before putting it back on the shelf. And this works out great because I can then talk to my students about all the great (free) books that are available to them and recommend titles to my reluctant readers!


The only problem is that I haven’t been taking Bubba to the library – and that needs to change! I’m not sure how I’m going to do it, but I think I need to either STOP borrowing books from the free library at my school or START reading more books to him each night before bed.


Can you guess which option I’ll choose?

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My Guys Read Club Made Me An Armed Robbery Suspect

A while back, I wrote a post about starting up a Guys Read Club at my school, and (at that time) I thought only positive things would come from the club…  I never could have imagined that it would play a part in me becoming a suspect in an armed robbery case!

Here’s what happened:

My Guys Read Club has been going very well, so I applied for some grants to help us establish a “Guys Only” section in our library – and I got a call one morning from the Rock Island Kiwanis Club to see if I could come to their meeting at noon (that same day) to pick up a $500 check for the Guys Read Club.

Needless to say, I was excited about what this meant for our club, so I called my mom to see if she could watch Bubba while I picked up the check.  She was more than willing (like always) to take care of him, so I dropped him off and started driving to the Botanical Center where the Kiwanis meeting was being held.

On my way there, I thought I would send a text to my principal to let him know that we got the grant, so I pulled into a park’s parking lot and started to type up the text.  A few words in, I looked up from my phone and noticed a police car driving slowly by – and the officer inside was staring at me.  I didn’t think much about it at first, but when the officer pulled his car into the parking lot, got out of his car, and started walking towards me, I was a little curious.

I rolled down the window to see what he wanted, and next thing I know his hand was moving towards his gun and he’s shouting at me to, “put both hands on the steering wheel!”  After giving him my ID and explaining why I was there, he told me that there was an armed robbery in the area and that I matched the suspect’s description… and I was free to go.

Armed Robbery

I never did finish the text I was about to send, but I did see this article the next day:

I couldn’t help but smile after reading the article (considering the suspect’s description said he was mid-20s and weighed 175 lbs), and thinking about the whole situation.  I never could have imagined my Guys Read Club would cause me to be a suspect in an armed robbery case… I wonder what else might be in store for me because of the club!


Filed under Classroom Connections, Lots of Laughs, Special Stuff

A Wonderful Surprise

Months ago, Bubba and I were reading through a bag of books when we came across a couple good ones by Jill Esbaum.  I always enjoy reading the back flap of dust jackets to learn more about the author and illustrator, so I was surprised to find that Mrs. Esbaum lives on a farm just minutes from where Bubba and I live!

I ended up going to Mrs. Esbaum’s website to learn more about her, and I was amazed to see how many books she’s had published!  There were both fiction and nonfiction, and they all looked interesting!  Of course, our little library didn’t have all of them, so I placed a “hold” online and within a week or two, they arrived at our library.  Bubba and I got started on them right away, and it wasn’t long before I was thinking, I need to see if she could come to my school and talk to my students!

Next thing you know, I was back on her website to see if she does author visits… and she does!  After emailing back and forth a few times, she agreed to come speak to my kids (at a very reasonable price) in early December!  For the next month or so, I spent 15-20 minutes each day after lunch reading her books to my class to prepare them for her visit.  The kids loved them so much that, not only did we read most of her books, we also looked at her website and found an interview she had given online to learn more about her.

The kids were really excited when the day finally came for her to visit the class (it was the first day in a LONG time that I didn’t have a single student absent)! Mrs. Esbaum told the kids some great “behind-the-scenes” stories about her books, read one of her new books that comes out in January, shared a copy of another book that comes out in May next year, and answered all the questions the kids could think to ask.  Not only that, she signed more than 60 books (one for each student in 1st grade at my school – and a few more for Bubba and my niece and nephew) before she left!

Needless to say, my students and I were thrilled to have such a kind and talented author visit us!  I’m already thinking about asking her to come back every year to speak to each of my new classes… and you can bet I’ll make sure Bubba’s teachers and classmates get the same experience!

It’s cool to think that it all happened because of this little journey Bubba and I started earlier this year… I wonder what other surprises are in store for us as we continue trying to read every picture book in our library!

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Guys Read

One of the main reasons I’m trying to read every book in the library to Bubba is because I want him to see how much I love reading, and I want him to share that love of reading.  I want Bubba to know that reading’s not girly – that boy’s read, too.

Obviously, I want to do the same thing for the boys in my class, so I’ve recruited another male teacher in my building and we’re going to start a Guys Read club this quarter.

This past summer, a colleague introduced me to Guys Read (which is a literacy program for boys founded by author and First National Ambassador of Young People’s Literature, Jon Scieszka).  Guys Read’s mission is to help boys become self-motivated, lifelong readers, so I’m really excited about getting a club started at my school.

Does anyone have experience with Guys Read (or have any good ideas for my Guys Read Club of 1st-3rd graders)?  I’d love to hear your ideas!

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Scientific and Engineering Practices in Children’s Fiction

With more than 700 books read so far, I’m starting to notice some pretty consistent patterns.  These patterns have given me a better understanding of what I like in a picture book, and what Bubba likes in his picture books (at 2 years old).  They’ve also helped me determine what Bubba and I don’t like in our picture books.

Another thing I’m starting to learn is what publishers of children’s books think will sell.  Obviously, there will always be a lot of fairy tale, princess, superhero, TV, and movie character books.  I’m also noticing that leprechauns, dinosaurs, and certain other animals keep showing up again and again, too.

I’ve found it very interesting – learning these types of things – but I’m also a little concerned that there are a couple things that really seem to be missing when it comes to fictional picture books – in particular, science and engineering practices.

Yes, I know that sounds like a ridiculous statement, and don’t get me wrong – I love a completely nonsensical story as much as the next person… and I know there are books about scientists and engineers out there.  However, books that feature scientific and/or engineering practices seem to be few and far between.  Why is that?  As a teacher of 1st graders, I know that kids LOVE learning about science… so, why not feed that natural curiosity?

Why aren’t publishers finding more stories that feature these skills?  A book could feature a skill and still have a princess, be funny, rhyme, and be full of adventure.

I understand that there are plenty of non-fiction books that feature these skills, but lets be honest… kids love fiction a whole lot more than non-fiction.

It would just be nice if children’s fiction focused a little more on some of the “Scientific and Engineering Practices,” which are:

Asking questions and defining problems

Developing and using models

Planning and carrying out investigations

Analyzing and interpreting data

Using mathematics and computational thinking

Constructing explanations and designing solutions

Engaging in argument from evidence

Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information

Maybe someday this will happen… a guy can dream, right?

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Not Even 2, but Teaching 1st Graders

I thought Bubba wore me out during the summer, but first graders during the first month of school really wear me out!  Not only that, they really test a person’s patience!  I spent a TON of time teaching them how to do the listening center in my classroom, and they just didn’t seem to get it… until Bubba came to my room and taught them how to do it.

Now you’re probably asking yourself, “How did a one-year-old help first graders learn to do a listening center?”  Well, let me back up and tell you the whole story.

The other day my wife needed to drop Bubba off at my school because I was staying late (working with my FIRST LEGO League team) and she needed to be somewhere, so there was a 15 minute window that I needed to work with my students and keep Bubba occupied.

I decided I would sit him down at the listening center to see if he’d listen to the CD I made of myself reading John Scieszka’s The True Story of the Three Little Pigs.  What happened next was absolutely amazing… Bubba did exactly what I expect my students to do at the listening center: He sat there quietly, listening, flipping the pages, and paying attention to the book!

All my LEGO League team members couldn’t believe it (and neither could I), so I took some pictures and showed it to my first graders the next day.  We talked about what Bubba did and how a one-year-old could enjoy a story at the listening center, and they were pretty embarrassed that Bubba could do something they had so much trouble doing.

The change was almost instantaneous… from that day on, my students have been amazing at the listening center!  Maybe I need to bring him in the classroom more often!

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An Inappropriate Book?

Bubba and I read a book the other day called Ron’s Big Mission (by Rose Blue and Corinne Naden), and I liked it well enough that I wanted to share it with all of you.

It’s about a nine-year-old boy in the 1950s who wanted to check out a book at the library, but wasn’t allowed to because of his skin color.  The boy’s mother and the police were called, but the boy refused to back down.  People told the boy to just let a white person check out the book for him, but he persisted. In the end, he walked out of the library with the book he wanted checked out in his name.

It was the last page that really got me, though.  On that page, it tells how the story is a fictionalized account of a real incident from Ron McNair’s life (for those who might not know, Ron McNair was one of the astronauts who perished in the 1986 Challenger explosion).

Needless to say, this is one of those stories I definitely want Bubba to hear again when he gets older… the courage McNair must have had to face this injustice head-on is absolutely inspiring!

I even thought about using it in my classroom, but then I read some of the reviews on Amazon.  More than 25% of the people who rated the book said it was one-star because they felt it was “inappropriate” for children! One even said:

“my child never saw people as a “color” before this book. people were just people until this book was read to him. i have now spent 3 weeks trying to undo what this book has done.” 

Seriously?!  Are parents really going that far to shelter their children from the realities of the past?  Should I be worried about what the parents will say/do if I read it to my first graders at school this year?  What do you think?  Let me know by leaving a comment.


Filed under Classroom Connections, Great Books, Reading the Library, Special Stuff

Five Stars

Apparently I have really high expectations when it comes to rating books on Goodreads.  Most of the time, I’ll rate books as three (out of five) stars, and if I really like a book, I’ll rate it as four stars.  Out of all the books Bubba and I have read so far, I’ve only rated one of them as five of five stars.  It’s called “One” by Katheryn Otoshi.


Here’s how Amazon describes it:

“Blue is a quiet color. Red’s a hothead who likes to pick on Blue. Yellow, Orange, Green, and Purple don’t like what they see, but what can they do? When no one speaks up, things get out of hand — until One comes along and shows all the colors how to stand up, stand together, and count. As budding young readers learn about numbers, counting, and primary and secondary colors, they also learn about accepting each other’s differences and how it sometimes just takes one voice to make everyone count.” 

Obviously I’m not the only person who likes this book…  When I checked Amazon to get the description above, it had 81 ratings… and EVERY SINGLE PERSON gave it 5 of 5 stars!

I love this book because it has all the right things you would want a child Bubba’s age to learn (like colors and numbers), and the lesson of the story is one that can be (and should be) repeated over and over in childhood.

This is the first book on our journey that I feel is good enough to buy a copy to keep at our house, and I think you would agree if you read it, too!  Check it out and tell me what you think of it!

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