Pink and Say: The Hand that Shook the Hand of Abraham Lincoln

Tomorrow is Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, a fact I remembered while looking for a picture book to use with older students.

cover Pink and SayI remembered Pink and Say  by Patricia Polacco.

This true story about the author’s great-great-grandfather, Say Curtis, describes his meeting with Pinkus Aylee, a black soldier, during the Civil War. They are both Union soldiers trying to avoid capture by Southern troops.

One of the most powerful moments in the book is when Say recounts his meeting Abraham Lincoln. Sitting with Pink’s mother, Moe Moe Bay, and listening to Pink read from the Bible, Say speaks:

“I wish I could read,” I said without thinking.

When Pink saw I was ashamed, he took my hand.

“I’ll teach you, Say, some one day I’ll teach you.”

I could feel my face flushing up, then I spoke up.

“I done something important,”  I announced.

"Now, you can say you touched the hand that shook the hand of Abraham Lincoln.”

the hand that shook the hand of Abraham Lincoln

“Of course you have, child, of course you have,” his mother said.

“I touched Mr. Lincoln’s hand. It were near Washington. We were quartered there, just before Bull Run.  The President himself were shaking everyone’s hands, and I just put my hand right out.”

“And he took it?” Pink asked.

“Yep, he took it,” I answered.

“Now, there’s a sign, ain’t it ?” he said smiling broadly.

“Touch my hand, Pink. Now, you can say you touched the hand that shook the hand of Abraham Lincoln.”

“Next best thing next to touchin’ him,” Moe Moe Bay said wonderingly.

Polacco’s story of Pink’s humanity and compassion is conveyed in both word and illustration. She proves that best stories are true.


Literacy Night Seuss-cess!

One of the goals for all teachers in our West Haven School District is the “parent communication” goal. For this goal, teachers’ efforts to engage families in the instructional program are supposed to be “frequent and successful.” While the literacy nights the schools run annually are not frequent (two a year) one cannot argue with their very obvious success.

IMG_0072Over 400 people attended this particular literacy night, which was thematically dedicated to Dr. Seuss. A great deal of interest was generated by the school’s art department and the reading department….Cats in Hats were everywhere!


Over 400 people attending Literacy Night at the Savin Rock Community School (in collaboration with Washington School)

The ziti dinner proved so popular that tables and chairs were soon in short supply. Families crowded side by crowded side. After the meal, students sat on the floor to learn about the life of Dr. Seuss. They wrote short responses to a prompt that asked what they would do if they were visited by Thing One and Thing Two.

Families sat around the tables chatting with each other, teachers circulated, and students proudly displayed literacy skills. Most importantly, every child was given a book.

Literacy night=Parent goal achieved.

“Tuesday” by David Weisner is the Book on My Shelf

One of the best questions that was posed by one of my professors in a graduate teaching class was based on an authentic problem. “A teacher has become ill, and you have been asked to fill in a class down the hall for the next period,” he explained, “what book do you take from your shelf before you run down the hall, and what would you do with that book?”

He paused, but I already knew what book I would take.

Tuesday by David Weisner,” I replied.

Tuesday is a picture book with only a few lines of text, and that text refers to time.

Tuesday evening, around eight.

What Tuesday offers is an imaginative flight of a phalanx of barnstorming frogs who float, swoop, dive, skim, and buzz around a small town on lilypads, much to the amazement of a flummoxed German Shepherd. Their magical adventure is recorded in Weisner’s illustrations that are layered with details that readers of any age will enjoy. His illustrations are the reason to have this book on a shelf to grab.

Tuesday can stir the imaginations of readers to do any one of a number of tasks:

  • provide the narrative from an omniscient narrator;
  • provide the narrative from a different point of view;
  • sequence the story;
  • caption the illustration with dialogue bubbles;
  • explain the mythology of the lilypads;
  • name the frogs based on the illustrations;
  • create a police investigation report of the frog invasion.

Weisner’s Tuesday is that book that is on my shelf, ready to be used in a lesson for any audience.




Students Choose to Share What They Read with Parents

The data created by the “How I Feel About Reading” survey (based on Kelly Gallagher-Readicide) has given teachers a snapshot of their students’ reading habits at the beginning of the school year. Some of the most interesting statistics generated by the teams of middle school students (grades 7 & 8) who took the survey are the selection students chose in response to the question on how they are sharing their reading:

Screenshot 2014-09-08 21.31.09


On this particular team of 7th graders, and also on every other team, students indicated that sharing what they read is primarily done with their friends…. and with their parents.

I had anticipated students would choose friends, but the choice of parents highlights yet one more important connection within families.

There is a wealth of research on the role of parents in preparing students to read from when they are infants. Now, this anecdotal survey  given to over 800 in early September indicates that they will continue to rely on their parents as partners in their adolescent reading experiences.

So, parents, if all you hear when you ask “So, what’s new?” is the response, “nothing,” then maybe you should be asking, “So, what are you reading?”

The survey suggests they are looking to share!

Agree-Reading is Important; Disagree-Reading is Fun

The 7th and 8th grade teachers administered our  “How I Feel about Reading Survey” to teams of students based on questions suggested by Kelly Gallagher in his book Readicide. In this book, Gallagher discusses the systematic killing of the love of reading, often exacerbated by the inane, mind-numbing practices found in schools. Each survey provides a snapshot for each team of students and their attitude towards reading.

The student body is divided into four teams, and each team has taken the survey these first few days of school. As we look at the data, the results are contradictory. Take for example the results of two prompts: I think being a good reader is important for success in life juxtaposed with the results from I read everyday and look forward to my reading time.

Screenshot 2014-09-04 22.19.16

In the contradictory world of the middle school, students agree that reading is important, they just don’t look forward to reading.

The teachers will be working this year to change that “rarely” looking forward to reading to “usually” looking forward to reading.

Today’s Words? Book Flood!

photo 3

Six bags full for $180.00! Less than $1.00/book!!

In my new role, I am helping teachers at the middle school (grades 7 & 8) in West Haven, Connecticut, develop an independent reading program for their extended English/Language Arts period. To make the reading program a success, the teachers plan to offer student choice in reading and that means the classroom libraries need to be expanded.

Building or expanding a classroom library can be expensive, but by seeking out gently used books, the expense can be minimized to as little as $.50/book. One simply needs to know where to look….and the best place to look for gently used quality books for any age is at the Grandmother of all Connecticut Book Sales, the Labor Day Book Sale that benefits the Mark Twain Public Library in Redding, Connecticut.

I spent two hours at the sale combing through the tables and filled six bags of quality paperbacks that are popular with middle school readers.

I plan deliver this first load of books to the teachers, creating the “book flood” in their classrooms. As for the Mark Twain Library Book volunteers who so capably load the tables, organize the donations, and make the whole experience a “destination” for readers of all ages, they must be credited with helping more than their own library. Their hard work has made an expansion of classroom libraries possible.

A wonderful effort from a library named for the American writer who once said that, “out of the public school grows the greatness of a nation.”

Now, let us see how these expanded classroom libraries help grow the students of West Haven!

Day #96 Cheating on Leveled Reading Worked for Me

While I am not a fan of leveled texts, I accept why many believe they are important. I admit that I became a fiction reader using leveled texts, but that path of development was accidental. My growth was the result of reading through the Bobbsey Twins series, through the Hardy Boys series, and finally through my beloved Nancy Drew series. I made my way up the reading ladder of difficulty independently, in fiction, without much assistance.

SRAThere was, however, training in non-fiction through the SRA (Scientific Research Associates) platform in my elementary school. How I hated being placed in those levels of purple, brown, and green reading when there were obviously  better reading levels of aquamarine, silver, and gold. Just who thought these levels were too difficult for me? I was determined to move to those upper levels, and I confess that I cheated to get to the those level quite regularly. Taking the answer key for the story I read as well as the next non-fiction story, I would fill in the test responses without having read the corresponding story. I didn’t stop until I had reached the upper levels of metallic glory.

No one noticed the difference in my scores at those levels. I considered all non-fiction boring, especially the fake reading that was on the SRA cards, so who was I hurting?

Turns out I was right. Holding me back to those lower reading levels was what drove me away from non-fiction and straight into the arms of Louisa May Alcott and her Little Women.

There is a great deal of time (money) and effort in education given over to leveled text programs. These programs are not unlike the one pioneered by the SRA Reading Laboratory. There are advocates who can attest that for many students, this leveled system works. Students who start reading at one level improve in order to move up to the next level.

Except personal experience makes me think differently.