Rainy Day Thoughts on Fenway and Hattie by Victoria J. Coe

One rainy Saturday in April, a day much like today, I read Fenway and Hattie by Victoria Coe in anticipation of the Global Read Aloud this fall. What a delightful, humorous tale told from a dog’s point of view.  Victoria Coe, you captured the mind of a puzzled dog in a way that made me chuckle!  I see and understand Fenway perfectly as he experiences the world.

As I read, I reflected on how to use this book in my program this fall. How could this book help students develop a deeper understanding of themselves, each other, and their world? What kinds of thinking skills could this book promote? What kinds of activities will deepen student’s growth as literate individuals?

Victoria Coe develops Fenway’s perspective delightfully and readers will respond with amusement. Children with pets, and especially those who have attempted to train a pet, will immediately make connections to familiar experiences. Owning a pet, training a pet, and understanding the behavior of beagles or terriers would enrich student’s understanding of the story. And so I am thinking of a visit to the SPCA, an animal care facility, or arranging a visit with dog trainer or a service dog. A Google Hangout with an animal expert would be perfect too. Listen to this quote from another book,  The Best Man by Richard Peck about Argus, a pet dog: “Argus was practically a four footed lesson plan. We were learning stuff this morning and that didn’t happen every day.”  A four footed learning experience sounds like fun!

Readers are compelled to understand Hattie’s actions through the mind of her pet. It becomes evident that there are different interpretations of an event when we learn about each character’s thoughts. Fenway seems to think that the backyard is a dog park with very few dogs. Certainly he deserves better.  Fenway amusingly describes what he sees, but his dog brain does not understand the meaning.  There are opportunities to visualize what is really happening. I am thinking… could we design a perfect dog park for Fenway?

Finally, there are parallel stories happening here.  In one, Fenway is learning about family routines and dog life, and in the second Hattie adjusting to a new neighborhood, new friends and trying to train her rambunctious, little puppy.  This second story is more subtle.  Fenway does not have complete comprehension of what is happening to Hattie, and his frustration and challenges seem overwhelming but a sensitive reader will see that Hattie is having her own struggles with the situation and readers will celebrate with Hattie when she finally gets Fenway to not only walk on the evil floor but also obey her and, Sit! Hattie is delighted and showers Fenway with kisses.  Fenway thinks…., “A deliciously happy moment that I hope will never end.” So true Fenway!  I felt the same way.

The story of Hattie’s growing confidence and sense of power in her world is one of the deeply satisfying messages of this book.  A great message for kids to hear. Fenway describes Hattie in the moment: “She puffs out her chest, and gazes into my eyes. Her expression is full of love. And power.” Oh Fenway you gave her that feeling! How well I remember my own 9 year old, owning the moment, as she trained her dog to obey – one of those small significant events that empowers kids to know that they too can have an impact on the world.


Reflections on, ‘Creating a Passionate Literacy Classroom’

Today I had the opportunity to hear Pernille Ripp, a Wisconsin 7th grade teacher, who started The Global Read Aloud in 2010.  Check her blog: Blogging Through the Fourth Dimension to learn more about her passion for students, learning and literacy. The session, Creating a Passionate Literacy Classroom, was organized by the Edmonton Regional Learning Consortium.

It was inspiring to hear Pernille speak and while I have lots to share and think about, for now, I want to identify some of the resource gems she provided in her presentation.

The Human Digital Library:   The website states: ‘The Digital Human Library (dHL) is a nonprofit organization that connects Canadian teachers and students with hundreds of organizations and experts around the world who are delivering interactive curriculum-based opportunities for learning using technology – for free.’  I like this, for free. Take note, dHL is spotlighting A Kid’s Guide to Canada ‘a national teacher-led initiative organized by elementary teachers from across the country.’ I’ve registered on this site and now I’m thinking about the ways my students will be involved.  If you are planning a project contact me, maybe we can share ideas.

Pernille spoke about the value of global projects as a way to create connections and promote empathy. Here is a link to a Padlet (online bulletin board) with a variety of global projects. Take a look, in what way might your students get involved? Padlet.com/P10/globalprojects.

As a book lover I was curious to hear about her favourite books.  Pernille shared a number of picture books, middle school books, and young adult books. Of course like all readers, she explained that her book lists are ever evolving, as you will see if you check her blog. Each book she described had appeal.  Here is a sample of a few that I appreciated because of the connections to history and social issues.

Picture Books:

When We Were Alone – David Alexander Robertson, an author from Manitoba, The story of a mother and her grandmother.  Sharing the memories of the native boarding school.

This House Once by Deborah Freedman out next week – different pieces of the house as the house is built is shows where all the parts came from.

Stepping Stones –  A Refugee Family’s Story by Margriet Ruurs and Nizar Badr Canadian Author in English and Arabic.

She challenged all of us:  How would you describe your reading/writing identity as a teacher?  Who are you as an adult reader? As an adult  writer?  And… Who are the literate role models for our students?

This was a keen reminder to me. While I occasionally share my own experiences as a writer with students, her questions prompted  me to try write more often, and to be that role model of writing that kids need to see.  And as for reading?  I am an avid reader and so I loved her advice, the best planning for instruction that a teacher can do, is read.

Summer Reading


Writing and reading on a summer afternoon.

Writing and reading on a summer afternoon.

As I sit reading and writing on a summer afternoon it’s hard to imagine a prettier spot to reflect on Donalyn Miller‘s two books: The Book Whisperer, and Reading in the Wild. Her clear message is that we go beyond teaching children how to read and comprehend; we are to create life long readers. And she asks the question:  What are the habits of life long readers?

Do you consider yourself a life long reader? Could you identify the reading habits you have developed that ‘fit’, with being a life long reader?

I had to think about this. What makes me a life long reader? My love of books was developed early in life, and I delight in the connections I make as I read, connections that enlarge my view of the world and give me a better understanding of my self, but how does this love of reading translate into guiding students to become life long readers?  What is it that life long readers do?

In Reading in the Wild Donalyn Miller identifies and explains how she promotes these 5 characteristics of life long readers.

Life long readers:

1. Dedicate time to read. –  I am thinking that I need to guide my students to develop reading stamina and learn to read for longer periods of time.  Can students add to their reading time in other ways?  Yes! Donalyn uses the term, reading on the edge, for those small blocks of time through the the day, waiting for an appointment, or riding on the bus when we can capture a few minutes of reading time. Of course, it is helpful to carry a book with you wherever you go in case you have just such a reading emergency. 

2. Self-select reading material. How true this is! Students are keen to read books they choose themselves.

3. Share books and reading with other readers. A classroom community of readers who share and talk about books, sounds inviting. I love talking about books with friends and colleagues and I know that my students would love this too.

4. Have reading plans. I have never thought about explicitly teaching this to students. I can see that this characteristic propels readers onward. The onus is on me to continually increase my knowledge of children’s literature so that I can inspire my students to anticipate the next book they might read. Fortunately this is something I love to do.

5. Show preferences for genres, authors, and topics. In my experience grade threes are beginning to develop preferences and often it is books that are part of a series. There is room to expand their horizons and show them the variety of reading options available.

And so I wondered…  How do I encourage these habits with 8 year olds who are just on the cusp of becoming established readers. And more importantly how do I promote these characteristics with online learners?

The answer just fell into my lap last spring!  Tune in to my next post to learn about my plan.


English Language Learners in the Czech Republic

As I look back to the summer of 2013, countless memories remain from my experience as an English language teacher in the Czech Republic.

The beauty of Prague? Yes surely.
The challenge of daily communication? That too.
The warmth of people in the Czech Republic ? Absolutely!

All this and more….

What a crew we were, several accomplished ELL instructors and a group of enthusiastic, willing, professionals prepared to share part of their summer with English Language Learners in the Czech Republic. We were motivated by faith, striving in a meaningful way to share the life of faith in Christ, by leading a week long English Camp.

English Camp

Could all the hours of preparation prepare us for the unknowns our team might experience as we conducted our week long English camp? Hmmmmm….. likely not.

Lessons for several levels of learners had been prepared with care, daily welcome and ice breaker activities were ready to go, evening programs to close the day with energy and good spirits were included in our arsenal of plans.

In the Czech Republic, students age 12 to 25 and several adults aged 55 and 75 had set aside a week of daily life to be learners. They were an eclectic and amazing bunch, from all walks of life. Our classes included adults who had experienced the Russian occupation and young people who were eager for a new future. As I think of them now, a year later, they were role models of students eager to learn.  They were persistent, willing to learn from mistakes, and encouraged by each other’s success.

As a teacher I was happily immersed in the joy of learning for one short week with these lovely people.   These students demonstrated that ability and ‘smartness’, grows with experience.  These English language learners had a growth mindset when it came to developing new skills.

Learning involves risk taking and all of us, teachers and students, had to be willing to jump in and try something new. Each of us would evaluate our attempts at communication, revise, laugh to ourselves and forge ahead. How I applaud these students, who were willing to take the plunge. Sometimes it was with shyly spoken words and other times with full expression in a reader’s theatre.

Shared meals and conversation developed a learning community, as we laughed, cheered, problem solved, and persisted to share stories about ourselves. How could I forget, warm and gentle Pavell who came to learn this year because he heard about the class from others. Or wise and kindly George who approached my husband, Sid, on our last day, put his hand on his own heart, then reached out and put his hand on Sid’s heart, as he quietly said, “We are brothers. ” We reached beyond language barriers to truly communicate.

Our work was built on careful organization by our host church , First Baptist Church of Litomaurice. Every last detail, food, lodging, teaching facilities, and student registration was carefully thought out and arranged. How thankful we were for the love, care and commitment that went into this preparation.

We made connections across the globe and as I reflect on last summer I see no distinction between learners and teachers, we all came away changed.

Developing Lifelong Readers – Where to begin?

I held my father’s large, calloused hand and matched his stride as we walked up the steps to the library and through the heavy wooden doors.  We stood in the foyer, one long staircase before me led down to the children’s library and the other,  up to the distant unreachable land of adult books.  Perhaps someday I might venture there too.

After pausing, with some cautious uncertainty I slowly made my way down the stairs and opened the doors at the bottom.  What wonder and delight filled my young heart as I stepped through those doors!  In an instant I fell in love with books and reading. Books everywhere… colorful and inviting.  Perhaps it was at that moment that the reader in me was born.

The memory of sharing that Saturday afternoon with my father is fixed in my brain and when the Edmonton Public Library and  Vintage Edmonton displayed this image online it brought a smile.  Good things have small beginnings.

Edmonton Public Library - Central Library 1923 to 1966

Edmonton Public Library – Central Library 1923 to 1966

This building was my happy introduction to libraries and the wonders they contain.

Library Demolished 1966

Library Demolished 1966

It demolished in 1966, to make way for more modern architecture.

That which remains is the happy heart of a lifelong reader.