Tales of an Elementary School Librarian

Is it a Classic? Round 3: Miss Nelson is Missing and The Giving Tree


A few weeks ago, I stated this thing with my 2nd-5th grade classes where I read them an old, classic children’s book or two and then we discuss the merits and flaws of the books. After we discuss them, they vote on whether they think each book is a classic or not.

I am finding that it’s very hard to find a book that they won’t think is a classic. Usually they are enthusiastic about them all, and with the exception of a few fifth grade classes , they almost always vote a book a classic.

Sometimes, we read books that a lot of them have never seen. Not this week. This week, I picked two that I was sure that most of them had heard. I wasn’t wrong. A majority of all of my classes knew both of these well.

Miss Nelson is Missing

What a brilliant book! Even in 2019, thirty-four years after it’s publication, I still feel like this book is one of the best. I read it to kids pretty frequently. Allard and Marshall pretend to discreet, but  are actually pretty obvious. They found a way to tell a kid exactly what is going on, while making the kid feel like they figured it all out on their own.

For fun, I asked a lot of the kids when they figured out that Miss Nelson was reallyViola Swamp. Most of them said that they didn’t realize it until the end. There were very few who caught on early, (and even fewer who I actually believed ;)) It’s so well done, and the delivery at the end is perfect.

From my point of view this was the most popular book that I’ve read in this series, so far. When I asked, “Who doesn’t think this book is a classic today?” In every class, there were very few hands up, if any.

The Giving Tree

Oh, The Giving Tree. You either love it or you hate it, right? I’ve talked to so many adults who despise this book, and so many kids who love it.

I don’t really know how I feel about it. I go back and forth. I was very interested to see what my students thought. I figured that for sure, there would be some classes who voted against it, maybe even a couple. No such luck. Even after we discussed how selfish the boy was and how unhealthy the relationship seemed, every single class voted it a classic. I was honestly a little disappointed that I only really got positive feedback from the kids.

This got me thinking. Maybe kids don’t mind the take-everything-and-give-very-little-back relationship the boy has with the tree because it doesn’t seem that strange to them at this point in their lives. Most of them have the exact same dynamic going on with their parents. The  book was written for kids, after all, and Shel Silverstein really seemed to get kids. I liked this book myself, as a kid, and didn’t have second thoughts about until much later.

Things the kids liked about it: The illustrations, the story, how nice the tree was, how they got to be together in the end, and lastly, the scary Shel Silverstein photo on the back of the book.


Next up: The House on East 88th Street.

Is it a Classic? Round 2- Big Anthony and the Magic Ring


I’ve been doing this thing where I read a classic picture book or two to my students. We discuss the text and the illustrations, and then I get the kids to vote on whether they think the book should still be considered a classic or not. I want to answer this question: Do the books written for yesterday’s kids still appeal to the kids of today?

Last week, we looked at Swimmy and King Bigood’s in the Bathtub, and both books were voted classics by a majority of my classes. I thought it would be fun to read a book this week that isn’t normally considered a classic, but one that I still think it awfully good.

The book that I picked is Big Anthony and the Magic Ring. It’s a sequel to Strega Nona by Tomie dePaola, a book that is very much considered a classic. Like Strega Nona, it’s a book about Big Anthony messing with magic that would be better off left alone, and the mayhem that comes of it.

I’ve always felt that sequels, especially well-done sequels, get a bad rap. They hardly ever win major awards, and are generally seen as a continuance of the original story. Of course there are exceptions, (The High King, The Grey King and Dicey’s Song stand out in my memory) but it seems to be difficult for a sequel to win big.

I asked the kids if they had heard of Strega Nona, and in every class a majority of kids had. (Most of them had heard it from me.) No one was aware of Big Anthony and the Magic Ring, though, which isn’t a surprise. It’s a book that has been mostly lost in time, and that’s a shame. I very much enjoyed reading it to my classes.

90% of the kids loved the book. They thought it was funny. They liked the illustrations, and they appreciated the great dePaola storytelling. A lot of them said they liked the message of “Just be yourself” and “Don’t mess with other people’s stuff.”

One class, though, out of the twelve that I read it to, didn’t like it very much. It was a class of 5th graders, and they thought that it was just a retelling of the original Strega Nona, and that it was a way for the author to keep on making money off of the success of his first book. I disagree with the second half of that statement, but I can see how they saw it as a retelling. There are a lot of the same elements in play in both books.

All in all, though, my students liked Big Anthony very much. 11 classes out of 12 thought it was a classic and that kids everywhere should still be reading it in 2019. Not bad.

Several of my students wanted to travel a little further with Big Anthony and Strega Nona, and checked out some of the other books in the series. Strega Nona’s Magic Lessons, Merry Christmas, Strega Nona and Big Anthony: His Story all ended up in a kid’s backpack.

Next week, I’m reading two very well-known classics, Miss Nelson in Missing and The Giving Tree. I can’t wait to see what my students think.

Is it a Classic? Round 1

Inspired by Besty Bird and her sister Kate’s podcast Fuse 8 n’ Kate, I decided to try something new. It’s called, “Is it a Classic?”

Basically, I pick an old classic picture book (or two) and read them to my students. Then, the kids and I discuss the book. We look at the merits and the flaws and the kids then vote on whether they think the book should still be considered a classic. I told them that for our purposes, a classic can de defined as a book that is one of the best, and one that they think should still be read by kids everywhere. Pretty Simple.

For the first week, I chose two picture books: Swimmy by Leo Lionni (1963) and King Bidgood’s in the Bathtub by Audrey and Don Wood. (1985)

Both books received a Caldecott honor in their day, and we’ve been discussing the Caldecott a lot these last few months, so I thought they would be good books to begin with.



I remembered this one very well from my childhood. (or least snapshots of it) The image of Swimmy as the little eye in the big red fish formation has stuck with me over the years. For some reason, I had the impression that Swimmy faced some prejudice because he was a different color than the rest of the fish, but a reread 28 or so years later, showed me that I was remembering wrong. The fish don’t seem to care that much that Swimmy does’t look like them. They’re much more preoccupied with the possibility getting eaten by the bigger fish.

The kids all loved this one. Of the 12 classes I read it to (2nd-5th graders), every single class voted it a classic. Some of their comments were that they liked the bright colors in the illustrations, the liked Swimmy’s courage, intelligence and how he used his difference as a positive.

A few of  the kids didn’t like how the book started out so sad. (A big tuna fish eats all of Swimmy’s school, except for him) Other kids just shrugged their shoulders at that comment. One kid said, “That’s just what life is like when you’re a tiny fish in a big ocean. Sometimes your friends and family get eaten.”

King Bidgood’s in the Bathtub


This is one that I didn’t read as a child. It’s not that surprising. I went to a small Christian school without a school library, and a book about a king who spends the book in a bathtub isn’t one that my teachers probably would have read aloud to the class.

The kids, for the most part, liked this book as well. The positive comments were mostly about the humor and how detailed the illustrations are.

The concerns were that the illustrations are very dark, and that the king being in the bathtub made some of them uncomfortable. A few even told me that they think this book copied President Taft is Stuck in the Bath. I told them that this book came out 30 years before President Taft, and that seemed to take care of that concern 🙂

Of the 12 classes, 10 of them voted it a classic. The two that didn’t were a 2nd grade class and a 5th grade class.

I had a lot of fun with this. I love discussing the books with the kids and hearing their opinions. I have big plans for the next few weeks.

Coming up: Is it a Classic? Round 2 Big Anthony and the Magic Ring by Tomie dePaola.

Ukulele tabs: Hedwig’s Theme


Last summer, I was sitting around with my uke, and started plucking out the beginning to “Hedwig’s Theme.” I kept going until I had something that sounded kind of close to it.

These last few weeks, I’ve been teaching my ukulele students how to read and play from tablature, and they’ve been begging me for the “Harry Potter song.” I finally sat down and tabbed out an easy version for them. I don’t know if any of you out there teach ukulele to kids, or would just like to learn how to play this one. If you do, here’s a pretty simple version.

Happy ukuing!



Cybils Fiction Picture Book and Board Book winners!

Happy Valentines Day! Also, happy Cybils announcement day!

This year, it was my honor and pleasure to serve as a round 2 fiction picture book and board book judge  for the Children’s and Young Adult Bloggers’ Literary Awards (or Cybils.) Our task was to read the 7 picture books and 7 board books selected by the  Round 1 judges as finalists, and to pick a winner in both categories.

There were a lot of good books to choose from, but I am super excited (the most excited I’ve ever been as a Cybils judge) to announce our two spectacular winners.

For the fiction picture book category the winner is We Don’t Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins. 

we don't eat out classmates

I’ve written about this book a lot on this blog, even before the picture book finalists were revealed, and most of you know how much I love it.

Here’s the official blurb:

“This is a hilarious, well-written book to help young readers explore the concept of how we begin to live in community and develop relationships with our peers. The youngest school children discover the empathy needed to treat each other kindly. This book was the winner because it’s a great message that uses humor to get the point across. The giggles that this book generates will bring kids back to it again and again to enjoy and learn from it multiple times.”

And the winner for board books, is actually my six -year-old daughter’s favorite book at the moment. It is Llamaphones by Janik Coat.


“This is an ingenious tactile and visual board book, that utilizes bold colors, simple shapes, and humor to make homophones and quirks of the English language accessible for young readers. This book was the winner because of its beguiling simplicity that appealed to a range of ages from toddlers to early elementary.”

Congrats to Ryan T. Higgins and Janik Coat. You both have given us awesome books for  us and our kids to read and love.

Be  sure to check out the rest of the winners here. 


Author visit announcement!

So, sometimes plans don’t work out. I had an author lined up to come visit our school next month, but due to a scheduling conflict they told me last week that they would be unable to come.

Bummer, right? Well, that left me without an author this year, so I started panicking a little and sending out inquiries all over the place. I usually plan my visits a year in advance, and I’ve NEVER had to find someone so last minute.

Well, let me just say that I am so thrilled with how it worked out.

This May, right at the end of the school year, one of my favorite illustrators, (and a phenomenal author as well) is coming to visit.

Want to guess who it is?


I’ll give you another clue. He has a Caldecott medal.

If you can’t guess, you can find the answer here.

Needless to say, I am SUPER-excited.

I guess it goes to show that sometimes a lousy situation can turn out pretty great. We’re going to have a great time.


The 2019 Kid Lit Podcast Awards


Ok, so maybe this isn’t so much of a real award as it is the opinion of one humble elementary librarian who happens to listen to podcasts every day while washing dishes.

I like to listen to podcasts about a wide variety of topics, from music, to college football, to Dr. Who, but children’s literature has a special place in my heart. find myself listening to people discuss kids’ books more than anything else.

I have appointed myself as the sole member of the 2019 Kid Lit Podcast Awards committee. It comes with a lot of power, but it is also a big responsibility, and I take this responsibility very seriously.

The committee this year has selected two podcasts as honors.

The Children’s Book Podcast by Matthew Winner. (Formerly All the Wonders) I don’t know if there’s a kid lit podcaster out there who works as hard as Matthew Winner. He is always bringing in the biggest names in the kid lit world, and he seems to hit a home run at least once a week. His editing skills have gotten better and better these last few years, and he is really running a great show.

The Yarn by Travis Jonker and Colby Sharp. If you want a great, succinct story about and by a kid lit creator, but don’t have an hour to spend listening (a place I find myself in very often), The Yarn is the podcast for you. Travis and Colby are both very knowledgable about children’s books, but more often than not, they get out of the way, and let the guest tell their story. I have found myself in tears more than once listening to an author pour themselves out on the Yarn.

and the winner of the 2019 Kid Lit Podcast Awards is…..

Fuse 8 n’ Kate by Betsy Bird and her sister, Kate. This is my favorite podcast at the moment. It is full of what every podcast should have: interesting, fervent and hilarious discussion. They never have any guests, they simply open up a “classic” picture book and talk about it. Betsy and Kate bring completely different things to the discussion table. Betsy brings her knowledge and experience. (She also brings the book. Without the book there wouldn’t be much discussion) Kate brings a fresh set of eyes (She normally hasn’t  read the book that’s being discussed before the podcast happens.) and some freakishly good powers of observation. She sees lots of things in the books that neither Besty (nor I) had ever seen, even after hundreds of reads. Even though they decided that Doctor Desoto isn’t a true classic, something I disagree whole-heartedly with, I look forward to their podcast every week. I find myself wanting to be in the room with them taking part in the discussion.


Of course, this isn’t a real award. I just wanted to write a post recommending some great kid lit podcasts, and I thought this would be a fun way to do it. These are the three I listen to regularly. There are lots more out out there. I’m sorry if I angered anyone by not mentioning your podcast. I probably haven’t given it a listen. Send me a link, and I would love to. There are always lots of dishes to do, and I’m always looking for something to listen to.

Reference Question of the Week


Usually the questions I get are pretty easy. “Where are are the Minecraft/Pokemon books?” “Where is this specific Amulet title?” They usually end with me directing the student to a waiting list.

This week, though, I got a doozy.

1st Grader: Mr. Martin, where is the Bow-Chicka-Wow-Wow book?

Me: umm. What was that again?

1st Grader: You know the book that goes bow-chicka-wow-wow ?

Me (trying REALLY hard to keep a straight face): I’m afraid I don’t. I’m sorry.

1st grader: Yes, you do. You read it to us last year.

Me: No, I didn’t.

At this point I’m thinking, Great. This kid went home and told his parents I read the bow-chicka-wow-wow book to his class.

1st grader: You remember. All of the letters climb the coconut tree, and it shakes and they all fall down and it goes. “Bow Chicka-Wow-wow!”

Me: oooooooooh! Come with me.

Of course, you’ve probably figured out by now, but if you haven’t, click here.

Left Out!

Another year of kids’ books has passed. The ALA Youth Media Awards committees have awarded the books they thought most distinguished and deserving. As always, there were some really good books that got left out. Completely blanked of any ALA awards. Sometimes there are some good reasons for this. The committees found something in the book problematic or less distinguished. Sometimes it’s just a matter of opinion. Someone on a particular committee didn’t like a certain book, and was very vocal about it.

It’s a shame, but they honestly can’t award every good book. I thought it would be fun to have a post recognizing recent books that I thought were great, but didn’t bring home anything from the Youth Media Awards.


As you can see from the cover, Ghost, was a National Book Award finalist, but somehow didn’t get any recognition at the 2017 YMA’s, which is a shame. I’ve had three fifth graders tell me this year, that this is the best book they’ve ever read. The whole quartet  is phenomenal. I’m sad to see it end. Ghost did get on the 2017 ALSC notable children’s books list. I am 100% certain of that 🙂


So many people thought this was going to take home the Caldecott. It didn’t. It didn’t even get on the notables list, despite my best efforts. I received quite a few Twitter dms and Facebook messages after the list was revealed asking me why it was left out. I didn’t really have a good answer. I think it should have been on there. It just goes to show that someone on a committee can really love a book, and it can still get left out.


This is one that I loved and hoped would be recognized more than it was. I was happy to see it on the 2019 notables list, though.


Sigh. Pax was my failed 2017 Newbery prediction. It was also a National Book Award nominee and was also on the notables list. I can tell you that the committee loved it.

potato pants

I knew this one probably wouldn’t be bringing home anything, because there wasn’t really an award whose criteria it fit perfectly. It’s a shame, though. It’s a great picture book.


Since I first read this one, I felt like it is destined to be one of those picture books that will be a classic. It’s brilliant. It got on plenty of lists, including notables, but didn’t win anything at the YMA’s


I thought for sure this one would at least get a 2014 Caldecott honor. Nope. Nothing. It made the notables list, though.


There was a collective gasp from Children’s librarians across the world when this one didn’t get at least a Newbery honor. Maybe not really, but that’s how it felt to me. It was also a National Book Award Finalist and an ALSC notable children’s book.


This one was on a lot of mock Newbery lists, and rightfully so. It’s a great book. My friends on the 2019 notables committee didn’t let me down with this one.

faithful spy

This book is good. It pretty much got left out of everything. I love it even more for that.

we don't eat out classmates

This was another one that I didn’t really see winning anything, but I know Betsy Bird had it as a Caldecott hopeful. It might be my favorite book of 2018. It’s definitely one of my favorites. It will be a back- to-school read aloud for years and years to come.


There were so many people upset when Wonder didn’t get even get a Newbery honor in 2013.  I was firmly on team Ivan, so I was happy with the choice, but yeah, this book is remarkable and could have been an honor. It was a notable book, though, and trust me, after the movie, Wonder is doing just fine, and will be circulating for a loooong time.


Another National Book Award finalist and notable children’s book that was left out at the YMA’s. You can group the followup,  Louisiana’s Way Home in with this one.

a perfect day

A beautiful, funny picture book that didn’t win a thing.

little charlie

ANOTHER National Book Award finalist that didn’t win anything. It didn’t even get on the 2019 notables list, which I admit that I don’t understand.


That’s it for now. I’m sure there are so many books that should be on this list, but I made it in like five minutes. It is by no means comprehensive.

Go check out or buy one of these books. They are good, and they need a hug.





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