Category Archives: Special Stuff

Will He Like His Signed Books?

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to meet another great author and get a couple more books signed for Bubba!  I always love adding to his collection (which includes works by Newbery Medal winners like Rebecca Stead and Clare Vanderpool, local authors, Caldacott Medal winners like Mordicai Gerstein and Eric Rohman, beloved children’s book authors like Marc Brown, T.A. Barron, and David M. Schwartz, and on and on and on).

Some of the many books I've had signed for Bubba over the years.

Some of the many books I’ve had signed for Bubba over the years.

I can’t wait to give Bubba these books as he gets older because I can’t wait to see his reactions to each of them.  It’s really going to be hard to wait to give him books like Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me (especially when I’ve been collecting $2 bills for a Fred Flintstone bank that I’m to give to him with the book – and if you don’t get that reference, you REALLY need to read this book!) but I’m sure the wait will be worth it.

One of the books I had signed for Bubba this weekend will be especially fun to see his reaction.  On her book Rip Tide, Kat Falls wrote the following:

Bubba's latest signed book.

Bubba’s latest signed book.

How cool is that?!  When she asked who she should make it out to, I told her “Michael” (since I doubt he’ll want to go by “Bubba” his whole life), and I told her it was for my 2 year old son… She decided to add the “great dad” part, not me 🙂

I can’t wait to see his reaction to it… I wonder if he’ll see it the same way or if he’ll just think he’s got a big nerd for a dad!

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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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My Bad Habit

I’ve got a bad habit that I need to come clean about… I’ve got a habit of buying Newbery Medal winning books whenever I get a chance.  I like to think that Bubba will appreciate having so many award winning books when he gets older, but in the back of my head I know he probably won’t read most of them.

I keep buying them, though.  I buy them at bookstores, garage sales, Goodwill stores, and book fairs.  I just can’t pass up on an opportunity to buy a copy of a Newbery that I don’t have yet!

As of right now, I’ve got every Newbery Medal winner from 1967 to the present (and a smattering of others between 1922 and 1967).

Is this normal?  Should my wife be taking me to a Twelve-Step program to break me of this addiction?  Hopefully when Bubba gets older he won’t look down on his father for this habit!

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McDonald’s or the Library

The other day I asked my class of 27 first graders a question that I’ve never asked any of my other classes before:  How many of them had been to any of the three libraries in our city.  I don’t know why I never thought about asking the question before, but what I learned shocked me!  Almost half of them (12) said they had never been to any of our libraries!

Take a guess how many of my students have been to McDonald’s (on multiple occasions), though… all but two.  Does this surprise anybody?

Don’t take this the wrong way… I’m in no way judging the parenting skills of the families in my classroom because I know Bubba and I will take our fair share of trips to McDonald’s together (when his mom isn’t there to tell us “No,” of course)  However, it got me thinking about an article I read online about how McDonald’s in the U.K. ran a promotion that gave away books in their Happy Meals earlier this year.

I wish McDonald’s would try the same thing here in the United States (even if it was just for a week or two)!  Think of how many kids (like my students) could benefit from a Happy Meal book!

Most likely it’ll never happen here in the U.S., and I guess I’m okay with that because I can take my class on a field trip to the library and Bubba doesn’t need a Happy Meal book when he gets to visit our library multiple times each week!

Of course, Bubba doesn’t get much of a choice when it comes to visiting our library (much like my students don’t really get a choice when or if they visit the library).  However, I’m pretty sure Bubba enjoys our visits.

This week when we arrived, he immediately ran to the librarian’s desk and started “talking” excitedly to her.  Of course, neither the librarian nor I could figure out what he was saying, but his joy and excitement about being in the library was very apparent.

I just wish all kids (especially my students) could have the same opportunity as Bubba and share in his love for the library.

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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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Imagination Library

When people think Dolly Parton, they usually think award-winning singer, songwriter, TV and movie star, amusement park owner, etc., but many people don’t even know about one of her ventures that I think is most impressive: Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library!

Here’s what it says on the Imagination Library Website:


“In 1996, Dolly Parton launched an exciting new effort, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, to benefit the children of her home county in East Tennessee, USA. Dolly’s vision was to foster a love of reading among her county’s preschool children and their families by providing them with the gift of a specially selected book each month. By mailing high quality, age-appropriate books directly to their homes, she wanted children to be excited about books and to feel the magic that books can create. Moreover, she could insure that every child would have books, regardless of their family’s income.”

What started in just her home county in Tennessee became so popular that it was made available for replication in any community that was willing to partner with Dolly. Today, nearly 40,000,000 books have been mailed to children throughout the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom!

It’s truly an amazing program that every parent should sign their child up for the day their child is born!  If you’re a parent of a birth to 5 year old and you haven’t signed up for the Imagination Library yet, you need to head over to the website ( ) right now!

Bubba was signed up before he even left the hospital, and the books that he’s received have been absolutely perfect for him so far – age appropriate, engaging, educational, and fun!  He has loved every single one of his “Dolly Books!” (and has had each one to him MANY times)

If you don’t have a child this age, I hope you’ll consider donating some money to keep this wonderful program going in your community, because it’s one of the greatest literacy programs I’ve ever seen… So great that I believe it will go down as one of Dolly Parton’s greatest accomplishments!

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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.


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